As intimated last fall, Open Streets will return to Knoxville this spring and the route will be similar to, though a bit different from the last run. Last October’s event was a success by any measure, with about 3,400 Knoxville citizens taking to the one-mile stretch of Central Street from the Old City to Happy Holler. With Hooping, dancing, running, biking and lots of walking as well as other physical activities, I like to say there were more smiles per mile than any event with which I’ve ever been associated.
Unlike festivals, these events focus on physical activity – something of which most of us could use more. It’s also an opportunity for businesses to gain exposure from people who are walking past as opposed to driving rapidly past and watching the road (or texting, but that’s another article).
I found Folly that day, for example, and they’ve found a lot of my wife’s money ever since. While all the physical activity exploded in the streets, businesses reported an increase in sales and 3/4 of participants reported spending money along the route. I’ve been told that the exposure continued to pay off in the weeks and months that followed as people came into businesses and said, “I noticed you at Open Streets.”
And people responded very positively in every way. Representative participants came from all parts of the city and most stayed the majority of the event, with nearly half staying the whole time. Nearly a fifth of the participants were children and 83% reported feeling better about the city after enjoying the event. I talked to several people that day who expressed as much, saying they never thought they’d see the city of Knoxville shut down a street to cars so people could get outside on their feet (or skateboards, bikes, etc.).
As was the case last time, Bike Walk Knoxville will present the event and they are looking for sponsors. It’s an expensive undertaking, primarily because of the number of policemen and EMT personnel required by the city. Fifty-seven officers and five EMT worked the last event, though it seems that perhaps those numbers should be reduced now that an event has happened and its low-impact nature was witnessed by all. It is such a family-friendly, low stress event that that proportion of officers just didn’t seem necessary.
Linda Gray is the coordinator of the event. David Brace and Steve King are heading up the support and coordination efforts from the city’s side. Many of the same activity providers will repeat their roles, but many others could be included. Want to provide a Zumba class, a Yoga class or any other group physical activity? They need you.
Three repeated requests were heard the first time around by those who participated. One request will be met, another could be met and the final request looks doubtful. First, people wanted more time. Just about the time people hit their groove, the event ended. The length of the spring event will be increased to five hours from the previous three. It makes sense: If you are going to all the trouble to set it up, why not go longer?
Second, people wanted more food available and that will be even more needed this round with the expanded hours. While no one is going to set up outside a restaurant, the route includes numerous food gaps perfect for carts and trucks. Really, why wouldn’t a food truck want to do this event? Whether this improves compared to last time is really up to caterers, trucks and carts stepping up and joining the effort (while making lots of money).
Finally, people wanted a longer route and/or specifically mentioned Gay Street. As of the end of last week, the route is planned to, once again, follow Central Street, but will extend out to Oak Hill (past Wild Love Bake House and Mid Mod), which puts it well north of the last termination point. What has not been settled, is the southern terminus of the route. What do you want it to be? You may have a small window of time to speak up.
Personally, I would like to see the route follow Central all the way into the Old City at Jackson, take a right up the hill to Gay Street and follow Gay Street all the way across the bridge. Now that would be a route! Gay Street on a Sunday is practically an open street, anyway, so why not?
Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ve heard it repeated a number of times that merchants along Gay Street would not support it. The idea goes back to festivals which, often, do not bring customers into businesses and restaurants. This not being a festival and being very likely to improve business, I wonder if it’s true that merchants along Gay would not want it? And what about the Old City? Do merchants there want it and plan to support it? If so, you all need to speak up or you will get bypassed for this great opportunity.
So speak up! Comment here if you own a business and you’d like to be included on the route. More important, contact Linda Gray at email@example.com. If the city and other planners hear from enough businesses along Gay Street and in the Old City, perhaps those will be included in the route. If not, it’s very doubtful. We aren’t Los Angeles where they have a $5 Million budget for open streets and we aren’t Bogota, Columbia where regulations may be much looser, but we are a growing, vibrant city and we can support a bigger route. Can’t we?
And when is this event? It falls May 15, a Sunday afternoon from 1:00 PM – 6:00 PM. Caroline Cooley of Bike Walk Knoxville pointed out that is conveniently the day after the International Biscuit Festival, giving each of us the opportunity to walk off some of those calories from the previous day’s consumption.
So, mark your calendars, spread the word, volunteer, become a sponsor and express your opinion about a route. Blow up Linda Gray’s email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m smiling already just thinking about it.