A Road Diet In Broadway’s Future

A sample section diagramming proposed changes in Broadway.
A sample section diagramming proposed changes in Broadway.

There are a host of road changes and modifications planned for downtown and near-downtown over the next couple of years. Of course, the Cumberland Avenue project is painfully working it’s way toward completion. Also on the docket are significant changes to Sevier Avenue, Magnolia Boulevard, Jackson Avenue and Central Street. Both the Jackson Avenue viaduct and the Broadway viaducts will be completely reconstructed.

Broadway is actually the topic of twin road conversations. A design charrette recently drew large numbers of people interested in discussing changes to Broadway, but the focus there was on the two blocks either side of the Kroger. That’s a complicated stretch for several reason. Parallel to that, conversations have continued and recently reached consensus regarding the stretch of Broadway from Central Street to Jackson Avenue.

I met with Jon Livengood, Alternative Transportation Coordinator for the City of Knoxville, who walked me through the history and thought behind the project, and brought me up to date on its progress. The move started when the city learned of TDOT’s plan to replace the Broadway Viaduct over the train tracks. The City and the Regional Transportation Planning Organization saw this as an opportunity to address some of the problems along nearby stretches of Broadway – much as some of us had hoped Henley Street would be improved during the bridge closure.

In this case, the city and TPO approached TDOT about the possibility of doing a road diet along this stretch. The initial response was tepid, but as TDOT looked at the need, the numbers and the possibilities, they became more supportive. The traffic counts for this stretch have dropped significantly in recent years, with current estimates below 10K cars per day. Typically, around 15K is toward the top end for recommending a road diet, though Cumberland runs about 22K. Jon noted that some cities have put successful road diets in place with traffic counts around 25K per day.

The road diet through that section would reduce the number of lanes from two each way to one each way. The additional space would be used for a center turn lane and bike lanes running each direction. TDOT really came on board when, to their surprise, they counted 60 bikes per hour during the time they measured. Given that 60 bikes per hour are using the stretch under current conditions, the likelihood this would group in the presence of bike lanes is almost certain. The number even surprised local cycling advocates.

When executed, the new plan would connect the bike lanes along central down Broadway to the World’s Fair Park, which is where a large portion of the cycling traffic currently flows. It makes sense: Who’s going to ride their bike south of Western onto Henley Street? The bike lanes would be separated from traffic by 2′ wide striping, as opposed to the standard 6” line, and bike lanes’ stop lines at intersections would extend past car stop lines, placing cyclists within view of drivers who may want to turn right.

As Jackson Avenue is re-worked, some of the changes there will intersect with the road diet on Broadway. For example, bulb-outs may be added near the intersection of Jackson and Broadway. A brightly painted (green) pathway for bikes into the World’s Fair Park will also be included. South of Jackson to Western lanes will be reduced (by TDOT) from six to five with two going south and three going north. Sidewalks will also be widened in that stretch.

The lanes on the new viaduct have also been altered in response to this project. Previous plans did not include bike lanes, but the current plans have included them. None of the bike lanes will be protected bike lanes as that currently presents a problem for sweeping the lanes of debris. Smaller street sweepers like the one used on Market Square are being investigated.

These projects have widely different deployment dates. The Jackson Avenue project is set to start in the spring of 2016. The Broadway Viaduct project seems to be more vague with a TDOT status update from July saying the “contract for construction is scheduled to be let in the 4th Quarter Calendar Year 2015.” Once started, the project could take up to three years.

The best news is that the road diet for Broadway and the ancillary projects to support it has already begun. Examinations of the “catch basins” has started in order to make them bike-friendly and work orders have been submitted to make the necessary changes. The bike lanes, re-paving and other changes should be in place sometime around summer of 2016. (Sevier Avenue restriping is set to start right away). The money is available and the project will definitely proceed.

It’s another step in what I believe will be a cycling revolution in and near downtown Knoxville. Better bike facilities will bring more cyclists. More cyclists will slow cars. Slower cars will encourage more cyclists. The change is evident in the larger than expected counts. The change is also evident to the casual observer anywhere around downtown. It’s a step in making Knoxville healthier for everyone and it’s exciting to watch it taking place.

A small programming note: It’s likely that I’ll take a day or two off this week from my normal publication schedule and I’ll definitely take Thanksgiving and the day after off next week. Sometimes other things just have to be taken care of and I’m in the middle of several big projects outside the blog just now.