Gay Street to Get the Pedestrian Love It Deserves

400 Block of South Gay Street, Walking Tour of Historic Jewish Businesses of Downtown, Knoxville, October 2023
400 Block of South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2023

It’s something that makes so much sense, it is wonderful to see it happen in the real world: Gay Street will get a shot at a more pedestrian friendly vibe on a trial basis. For now, it’s just four weekends and eight weekend nights, but it’s a start. As I’ve called for many times, most recently and directly here last month, pedestrian safety and simple pedestrian enjoyment needs to be addressed by giving street space to pedestrians.

The announced plan will be limited to Friday and Saturday nights and to one block of Gay Street. The 400 block has the most congested sidewalks at any given time and they are near impassable on those nights, so it is a sensible start. Blocking those streets also does nothing to legitimate traffic flow as all garages remain accessible and side streets can get traffic through. The through traffic on those nights (if you are going through, why are you on Gay Street?) largely consists of the cruisers with loud music and mufflers making life miserable for everyone else.

The project will prove successful, and businesses and everyone downtown will love it and here’s hoping that this is just the beginning. Mayor Kincannon recently told me there would be a number of “demonstration” projects throughout the city in the future, determining whether they are practical going forward. Here’s hoping this becomes every weekend and that it expands to include Market Street beside Krutch Park, the 500 block of Gay Street and Union from Walnut to Gay.

Here’s the full press release:

he City of Knoxville is opening up Gay Street to pedestrians as part of a pilot project.

For four weekends, the 400 block of Gay Street from Wall Avenue to Union Avenue will be opened up, creating a new vibrant public space that is free of vehicles.

“This block is always bustling and full of people,“ said Mayor Indya Kincannon. “By opening this up for pedestrians it creates another community space much like Market Square.

“This is not a new idea. Cities across the world like Paris, New York, Nashville, and New Orleans are taking back their streets and turning them into safe spaces for pedestrians.  We are excited to see how residents and visitors utilize this space during these pilot weekends.”

The trial weekends are:

• November 10 & 11
• November 17 & 18
• December 8 & 9
• December 15 & 16

All closures will be from 7 p.m.-4 a.m. During those weekends, parking will not be allowed at any time in the 400 block of Gay Street, but ample parking will be available at all City garages and other metered spaces throughout the downtown.

Information gathered during these weekends will help City leaders decide if this project will proceed on a more regular basis and/or if other City streets may be opened up, as well.