Fixing a Monstrous Mistake

Jack Neely is right: Henley Street is indeed a monstrous barrier that discourages pedestrians and pedestrian-oriented development on the western side of downtown. ["Our Monster: Henley Street," Secret History, May 28, 2009] With plans underway for major new development across from the Knoxville Convention Center (and possible new library and discovery center at World's Fair Park), we must find a way to civilize this monster.

Adding another sky bridge, as proposed, is not an adequate solution. What Knoxville desperately needs is an attractive, landscaped grade-level pedestrian link between downtown and World's Fair Park. Fortunately, such a connection is not really so difficult. The next time you proceed down Henley, notice the natural rise between Cumberland and Clinch Avenues. This rise crests near Church Avenue and offers our best opportunity to saddle and tame the Henley monster.

These two blocks of Henley Street could be gracefully lowered to allow for a grade-level pedestrian way connecting downtown with World's Fair Park and the Convention Center. Henley would simply dip down as smoothly as it now rises.  It would remain bright and open to the sky with nice wide sidewalks remaining at existing grade. The Clinch and Cumberland intersections would not be affected.

On downtown's east side, the Church Avenue viaduct and new KAT bus terminal make good pedestrian links across James White Parkway. Adding an attractive pedestrian crossing on the west end of Church creates a strong east/west pedestrian axis to compliment the north/south Market and Gay Street pedestrian corridors.

A grade-level pedestrian way across Henley is the only functional solution to the vast disconnect between downtown and World's Fair Park. It would improve the prospects for our lonely convention center and create incentives for new pedestrian-oriented development along Henley and Church. Lowering Henley for two blocks would be expensive and disruptive, but not nearly as much as the tunnels under Summit Hill or recent interstate closures through downtown.

The next time you walk or drive down Henley, take a minute to notice the rise at Church Avenue and consider the possibilities. If you like the idea of a grade-level pedestrian way across Henley Street, please e-mail me: henleymonster(at)gmail(dot)com

It is important to address and solve this problem right now, before new development makes a grade-level connection more difficult or impossible. Failure to do so would be yet another monstrous Henley mistake.

J. David Buckwalter, Knoxville, Tennessee