Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let's Talk about Henley St.

As you may have read in the Metropulse this week, there is a plan underway to repair and expand the Henley St. bridge. Jack Neely did a great job so I'm not going to rehash the same stuff he said, or at least I'll try not to, but I am going to discuss my perspective on it.

I live at the base of the Henley St. bridge, look out over it every morning and listen to the traffic on it every evening. the one consistent issue I notice is the speed with which people travel across that bridge. They treat the strip of road between Blount Ave. and Summit Hill like a drag strip.

Speaking with my neighbor (Brian Pittman who was quoted in Neely's article) it came to light that very few people even know they have options when it comes to the coming construction. Knoxvillians aren't simply obligated to expand Henley into a 6 lane speedway. I want this post to be a bit of a forum for others thoughts about the entire future of Henley and what type of traffic situation we think would be most conducive to our community.

I'll propose one idea. Having just come back from a trip to the British Isles I have once again come to appreciate the beauty of the round about. It keeps traffic moving smoothly while slowing drivers down considerably. I think Knoxville should install a roundabout at the intersection of Henley and Blount Ave. Just on the south end of the bridge. This would send drivers a signal that they are entering a residential, or at least mixed use, area and high speeds are not conducive there, plus it would ease the congestion that can arise during football games, rush hour, etc.

Hopefully, we can begin to correct the tragedy of separating the campus and Fort Sanders from downtown and start to bring the feeder neighborhoods back into the fold.

The city is moving in the right direction by encouraging TDOT to use bike lanes and more pedestrian. See the story HERE.

I'm glad to be back from the long break, looking forward to 2010. Much Wigshop love to everyone.


Unknown said...

Roundabouts are beautiful things. I think they cost more than stoplights though, which, knowing Tennesseans, will be a problem.

A handy article on roundabouts: http://www.slate.com/id/2223035/

Unknown said...

This ain't England. Here, they're called "rotaries". ;-D

Wax S. said...

Chattanooga has done a great job creating an extremely walkable city while not impeding the flow of vehicle traffic.

I think some nice pedestrian overpasses and a pleasant walkway along the bridge would work well, as long as there's something to walk to/from.

Just to play devil's advocate, mightn't the expansion of Henley encourage the street-level development of Main/Cumberland/Church/Clinch Streets? The lack of enough street level businesses in that area seems to be one of the reasons there isn't a lot of Fort/Downtown or SoKno/Downtown connectivity.

Much like the use of public transport in Knoxville, the infrastructure seems to exist to support pedestrian/bike use between downtown and its surrounds. There just doesn't seem to be much interest in using it.

The damage of isolating the downtown area from the residential communities that surround it has already been done. It seems like an unrealistic goal to change the routes or usage of Henley Street, JWP, or I40. But, like Chattanooga, attractive mini-conduits for bikes, pedestrians, and local vehicle traffic can be created, if there's reason to do so.

The Modern Gal said...

It's been a good eight years since I've used the Henley St. bridge on a daily basis, so I don't really know what the traffic situation is like. Also, I haven't had a chance to read Neely's story, so I'm probably going to say something way off base (but that's not going to stop me!)

Is Henley is only crowded during rush hours and big UT events like football games? If so, widening Henley may not be worth it then. I agree making Henley bigger sorta discourages pedestrian and bike traffic -- the bigger the street the less I am inclined to cross it by foot or by bike. Pedestrian walkways, crossovers, bike lanes -- all good. I'm not sure a roundabout would achieve what you're looking for though, Pol. I immediately think of Music Square in Nashville -- that roundabout has two speeds: dangerously fast for the people who are familiar with it and dangerously slow for the people who aren't. I could see a Henley roundabout having the same issue.

I'm not a traffic engineer, so I don't know if it's possible, but I wonder if tweaking the current stop lights and intersections on Henley might go a long way toward easing some congestion? What about making it easier for downtown-bound traffic to utilize the Gay St and JWP bridges?

I don't think much is going to change the street-level development near Henley though because the Henley end of downtown is so dominated by office buildings, courts, banks and the businesses that serve them. If you want more restaurants and shops near Henley, you're going to have to break the notion that Gay St+Market Sq=entertainment, everywhere else downtown=business.

Ok, I've put in my two cents without really saying anything.

B said...

I don't know, Pol. I'm not sure this idea would gain the approval of "the mountain folk" of South Knoxville. The equation of a roundabout and born-and-bred Knoxvillians equals complete chaos in my head, in a comical sort of way.

It's hard also not to think about the poor excuses for roundabouts in North Knoxville. I know they are well intended, but they're such a pain. If the main function of them is to slow traffic, I suppose they do their job.

Whatever will make traffic slow down on Henley definitely needs to be discussed-for cars, the city, cyclists, and pedestrians.

I think it was in the MP article where someone said we don't need to accommodate pedestrians on the bridge because that is not our culture. I'd like to punch that guy in the face.

Anonymous said...

I like walking the henley bridge.... at 1130 at night. other than that, I'm sure I will be whisked from the sidewalk by a speeding passerby.

B, I get to punch them after you're finished.

Jesse said...

For 5 years I lived in Vail/Eagle County, CO where the roundabout is king. Most tourists/first-timers find it terrifying at first, but they get the hang of it eventually and traffic flows freely. It's just a matter of putting more in so people get used to it.

ck said...

When The Pol says he lives at the base of the bridge, he means literally at the bottom under it. He's our homeless ragpicker correspondent. Let's save his home!

Thomas said...

The possibility of bike lanes being added to the bridge is wonderfully. However, if this is done, hopefully a bike lane will be added along Chapman highway and Hensley St/Broadway as well. If it's going to be done, do it right.

Discordia said...

I'm in the "mountain folk" minority, and live in one of the apartment complexes just off of chapman. Here's my take on this, since i guess i'm the first commenter that's actually a south knoxvillian.

For starters, a round-a-bout at the southern end of the bridge is a terrible idea. The average joe that drives across henley on a daily basis has never seemed to fathom the idea of "right of way". I can't even tell you how many times one of the elderly denizens of this town have come across lanes only to narrowly miss hitting me at the 2 lane right turn off of cumberland.

On top of that, the red light at the Blount Ave intersection is the cause for the majority of traffic/speeding on the bridge. The timing and cycle, especially around 5:15 pm, needs to be made more conducive for rush hour. I'd continue on how this still wouldn't fix the problems entirely, but i really don't have a tactful way of saying "knoxville is full of idiot drivers, and that's the cause of the problems being discussed", so i've got nothing more to add.

Temple House said...

Well I can't compete with sleeping under the bridge itself (Pol) but I live pretty darned close to the bridge. I also have spent 34 years living in South Knoxville. I'm very, very familiar with both how Henley Street works or doesn't and I'm very familiar with how those in SoKno use said bridge.

I couldn't agree more with almost everything Modern Gal states. The bigger the street the less likely anything but cars go on it. Just drive around and you'll see evidence of that. I just don't see the need to spend millions to widen a bridge that is rarely, if ever stopped up. I've watched it closely now for three years. It only does that at rush hour and games which in all honesty so does almost every other street in town, so that is not a valid argument.

Also as Jack pointed out in the article there are other options and I still for the life of me can't imagine why the first, and very inexpensive step, of encouraging motorist heading to the interstate, to use the JWP that's already built. Its faster too! Put up some signs and slow down traffic on Henley and it'll start getting used with virtually no tax payer money spent. Simple solution in my eyes.

I'm not sure about a roundabout but I agree that like most things just give folks time and they'll get used to just about anything. Hell, that's the problem with the bridge being still used as the only way to the interstate.....'they've always done it'.

In Dallas, years ago, they didn't 'desynchronize' the lights they synchronized them. If you drove the speed limit you'd never catch more than one light. If you drove too fast you'd catch many, if you drove too slow you'd catch many. So after just a few years the citizens learned this and tended to it and it's worked ever since. Why doesn't Knoxville and/or TDOT not look at precedent of other cities to see how Chattanooga, Dallas, and any other city solved their 'highway down the middle of downtown' issue?

Lastly I couldn't support the idea of bike lanes more. I love it. But as Thomas Jefferson said "Do not bite the bait of pleasure until you know if there is a hook beneath it". Don't be hoodwinked into thinking just because they give you a bike lane now, that they won't at a later date, and without public review, simply re-stripe the street for all six lanes to be cars. That my friends is the end desire because in all honesty TDOTs only directive is eventually to simply move more cars faster. Even through your neighborhood. Just look at the model used to calculate the traffic growth for this project.

Brian Pittman (The Temple House)