Thursday, March 25, 2010

where to bridge?

It looks like Knoxville is getting a pedestrian bridge. For a river city, we have amazingly few ways to cross it. It seems that generations of Knoxvillians were content to stay on the north side of the river. That's changing with the South Waterfront Plan, which will essentially create a southern half to downtown. Part of that plan is a pedestrian bridge, a la the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga.

I'm all for it. I think if the city does it right, a beautiful new bridge could become as iconic to the city as the Sunsphere is. So the concept is sound, but where to put it? Mr. Flory has (rightfully) questioned the usefulness of the proposed site by UT campus. Given our river bluff topography and a plethora of obstacles (City/County Building, Baptist Hospital, UT Stadium/Arena), placing a bridge that works with downtown is a difficult task. But let's try it!

Blue shows our existing bridges, orange shows the "passes" that allow approaches through the South Knoxville hills, and red (labeled 1) is the proposed site. There are advantages and disadvantages to T-B Arena site, which I encourage you to discuss in the comments. However I would like to focus on a few alternatives here.

#2 Make the downtown pedestrian bridge connect to, you know, downtown. We could put it in between our two major bridges. All we'd have to do is tear down the City/County Building and the Baptist Hospital Complex. Yeah! As awesome as that would be, it's pretty improbable. Moving on...

#3 The bluff to the east of First Creek offers an interesting possibility. The north approach would be by the touristy part of town with James White Fort and the Hall of Fame. On the south side it would more intimately interact with the South Waterfront (something you can't say about the Scottish Pike neighborhood), terminating either at the unoccupied mound that Sevier Ave splits around (which would make a nice park) or centrally where Davenport Road comes over the ridge. There'd be some tricky threading by Ruth's Chris and those condos, but I think that'll be true of the T-B arena site also.

#4 Maplehurst to Blount Ave. There's an old railroad bridge there currently, but in the South Waterfront meetings it was confirmed that only ONE train a day uses it. This is the same track that awkwardly bisects Worlds Fair Park. The approaches on both sides are worked out- so we could either rehab the old bridge (like Chattanooga's Walnut Street and much cheaper) or dismantle the bridge and build the new one in its place. We might even be able to reuse the concrete piers (keeping cost down), something like this:

It would connect to a vibrant downtown neighborhood, the railroad right of way would easily connect its path to Worlds Fair Park and the Greenway system, and its southern approach would be much more central to the South Waterfront.

You can probably tell where I'm leaning. What do you think? Where would our pedestrian bridge be best placed?


OK, one more map. But first, a caveat: This bridge will be wonderful and scenic no matter where it's placed. What it's like over the water doesn't bother me, it's what happens at the ends that needs more thought.

The issue is our unusual topography. We're a river bluff city, with the occasional creek gorge separating elements (most significantly campus and downtown). What if the northern approach of was extended and more integral?

The bridge could come in at bluff level (with a side connection to Maplehurst) and "T" into ANOTHER bridge that bridges the Second Creek gap between the Hill and Downtown! This second bridge would tie into the 11th Street Garage bridge on its western end and into the Convention Center on the other.

At a convention? Want to see the river? Just walk down the elegant bridge between the old bluff neighborhood and the stately University. Suddenly the bluff drops away and the hills across the river reflect in its glassy surface. I can see it in my mind's eye...


Anonymous said...

I love bridges!

I have nothing intelligent to add. That is all. I really do love bridges though. I like to run over them, so a pedestrian bridge is good for that.

Great maps, CK.

Anonymous said...

I remember the first Boomsday fireworks show. (circa 1988?) I was living in the Neyland Hills apartments then, right at the end of that railroad bridge.

A bunch of us took guitars, coolers and a few firecrackers of our own, and walked out to the middle of the bridge to watch the show.

Talk about having the best seat in the house! It was awesome, although the fireworks that first year weren't anything like they are now.

I bet there were a hundred people at various places along the railroad bridge that night.

The next year, police officers were posted at each end of the bridge to prevent anyone from going out there.

A few of us were also out on the bridge one night when the train came. We just had to climb out on the support beams and hang on until it passed. Good times.

ck said...

This discussion is also happening over at Flory's blog. Here's my comment:

What about TWO pedestrian bridges (gasp)? we could have a new one AND a rehabbed one.

I agree with John- at Second Creek the bridge would interface with downtown, the convention center, and campus (via the Hill) instead of just the campus. P.S. having been a UT student, I can tell you that the Arena part of campus is rarely used by normal students- it's Athletic Dept. territory. You can't even eat at Gibbs cafeteria if you aren't an athlete.

An there's the Scottish Pike question: are we proposing to raze and gentrify that entire neighborhood? If the bridge is a public investment to spur private investment, shouldn't it be located where there's lots of ex-industrial property that's open (i.e. the railroad bridge's southern approach or over at Holston Gas)? Just sayin'.

Jimmy Ryan said...

Ah yes. I am so glad that you're writing about this. I hope that they look into your option of using the Maplehurst to Blount Ave railroad bridge. I'm not sure what kind of excuses they'll get into with redirecting that one train, but you might check out this amazing bridge designed by La Dallman in Milwaukee.

We could look into some options with spanning under the bridge as well.

As a UT student, I think that an additional bridge central to campus might be important in the future - in terms of connecting students and professors who might choose to live on the South Waterfront. However, an initial connection to central downtown might be a better option as a catalyst for development. A more central axial connection to campus at Volunteer Blvd and Circle Park would also be much better than an obscure connection to Thompson Boling.

Art Wagner said...

At the early South Waterfront meetings, there was talk about using that rail line (and rail bridge) for a light rail link from downtown/UT to the east and west South Waterfront. I know people grimace when hearing the phrase "light rail" because of the potential expense, but now is the time to be talking about future transportation. After all, we're talking about a pedestrian bridge now--who would have thought? Sooner or later, the idea of some kind of light rail between downtown spots and UT spots has to come up. The disconnect between the two doesn't have to be, and shouldn't.

The same goes for north shore to south shore transit. I think the discussion of the anchor spots for the bridge is good, but it needs to expand in scope to really address what the future will require with a fully exploited South Waterfront. The arena as a north anchor just doesn't do anything for me as it would benefit only those who are actually on the campus.

Wax S. said...

CK - Great topic, but I really want to leave a kudos that I freaking love your maps. They're such brain candy.

Wax S. said...

Another benefit to CK's #4 railroad renovation is the potential pedestrian connection to Fort Dickerson park. Was it here or in the MP that I was reading recently about some existing Civil War trench remnants...if that's made more prominent, you've got a sort of intuitive path of touristy things to do that would draw folks to/from the South Waterfront & Downtown...

Anonymous said...

Re: civl war remnants

I read that recently, too. I think it was one of Jack Neely's (always excellent) articles from a few weeks ago.

Those trenches and such were on the ridge across from Dickerson park, on the other side of Chapman Hwy.

The Modern Gal said...

CK -- I know you know this having lived in the Noog too, but that Walnut Street Bridge gets so much foot traffic. It was such a boon to downtown Nooga when it was opened, that I'm thrilled to see Knoxville is embracing the concept.

I really like your last option because it seems to embrace everything on the downtown side -- it would be accessible for convention goers, people on campus and downtown all the same. I'm not as familiar with the spots on the South side, but hopeful the bridge's terminus on that side would help spur some good development over there.

The Pol said...

#1, you’re right of course that a more central location of the bridge to downtown would be a benefit for the downtown development, which I suppose makes sense why we would want it moved, for our benefit.

#2 there could be an opportunity here though, a bridge headed to the arena connects that old neighborhood over there with the campus directly, it would make a lot of sense then to encourage new student housing on the south side of the river, a new fort sanders if you will. Bringing a lot of student to the south waterfront would quickly build up a mass of people that could service the other developments we hope to have in the coming years. So perhaps the placement is not a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Um - I LIVE on the South Side of the river. I OWN my home. It's been in my wife's family for three generations.

Raze my neighborhood? Student Housing? A "new Fort Sanders?"

On behalf of my neighbors and I: Kiss our butts.

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