Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday holiday, everyone. I hope you’ll take a moment to do something meaningful to note the occasion. A march will be held this morning for the hardy among us with a projected temperature of 17 degrees at start time. For those of us who wish to participate in a bit warmer, but still public celebration, you might want to attend A Night with the Arts: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Tennessee Theatre tonight at 6:00 PM. It is free.
I attended one of the listening sessions and then the first of the open houses to discuss the resultant proposal. There will be another such session this Thursday evening at the Knoxville Station Community Room from 4PM – 6PM. After initially feeling all had been said that needed to be said, I decided to add a few thoughts, publish the proposed changes and let you know, for a final time, how you might become involved.
In a very real sense there was no way this process could really produce meaningful changes. Trolleys in Knoxville are restricted to the CBID area and the goal for the current exercise included remaining budget neutral. In other words, they can only go certain places and without the purchase of additional trolleys any area included will necessarily cut out other areas. So, unless there are meaningless stops or portions of routes currently, we will lose something important for anything we gain.
A number of themes from the listening session didn’t center on routes, but on what would make the service better. Chief among these is that the trolleys do not arrive as often as advertised and frustrated would-be riders won’t use them unless they keep to their schedule better. Clearly an app is on a lot of people’s minds – an app that would show, in real time, the location of the trolleys. This would allow a person to decide to wait or move on. It’s simple, but doesn’t seem to be close to happening. Finally, better signage was a non-route theme in the feedback. For a tourist, particularly, the current system in no way helps them find the Knoxville Museum of Art or the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame – or the Riverfront.
The riverfront was also a theme with desired better connections to both that and the Old City, in particular. In the end, the Old City gets service, but the riverfront does not. I have little qualm with the lack of a riverfront route, though a simple connection to one spot on the river that looped back up would have been a good thing. Signage in the center of the city that told people where to board for the river could have been a big help.
But it seems a lot is lost. Whereas two routes currently pass the new apartments on E. Hill – logical users to get downtown – neither trolley goes there under the new proposal. And while the Old City gets service, the 100 block of Gay Street is no longer served, nor is any point to the north including all the new development up to Emory Place. Also excluded from the new routes: The Hyatt and Summit Towers. Summit Towers, particularly, seems unfortunate as so many of the residents depend on the trolley and have a difficult time getting down the hill to the new stop.
All of Fort Sanders and the Cumberland Strip are also excluded and while it could be argued that they are outside the CBID, so is the University Commons. Perhaps when Cumberland is back in one piece Route #1 will go through the strip in one direction or the other rather than repeating the same path through the university. It’s also notable that Market Square isn’t served, though stops are nearby and service there is very problematic with the frequency of street closures.
Another oddity is the lack of a direct connection from the transit center/Coliseum parking garages to UT. To make that trip requires two routes which, of necessity, includes a second wait for a trolley. Also strange, to me, is the fact that much of the data used to make the decisions is dated. A September 2014 study of “trips taken on our current” routes was used, as was 2013 data which profiles trolley users. Given the pace of change in downtown, 1 1/2 to 3 year old data is seriously dated.
As per popular request, longer hours have also been included. Each of the lines will run until 8:00 PM Monday – Thursday and until 10:00 PM on Friday and Saturday night. Service is promised every seven to fifteen minutes depending on line and time-of-day. I would love to see a late-night (say 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM) route circling in an express route from the Old City with one stop on Gay Street and a connection to campus.
So, now that the dust has settled on the recommendations, what to think? We gained some things and we lost some things. Trolleys can’t answer all our transportation problems – we do have buses – and remaining budget neutral restricts what can really be accomplished. Perhaps in next budget year we’ll regain some of what has been lost and the service can be expanded across the river to Blount/Sevier and out to Happy Holler.
In the meantime if signage could be improved so that destinations were listed at the trolley stops and if trolleys could maintain their schedule, those improvements would be enough to keep me enthusiastic about whichever routes are chosen. If an app could be released forthwith that allowed tracking of the trolleys, so much the better. Some talk of painting directions on sidewalks from the closest stops to attractions such as the river and KMA, etc. sound promising if done well.
What do you think? You still have chances to make your voice heard. The meeting this Thursday (details at the top) offers one last in-person chance before the public hearing on January 28 at 3:00 PM in main assembly room of the City County Building. You may email comments via http://www.katbus.com and using the “contact us” link. Call in comments to 637-3000 or mail them (yes, with a stamp) to KAT Trolley Plan, 301 Church Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37915.