urban_renewal (2005-38)

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Auto autonomy is easier than you think

Park and Ride

by Matt Edens

When gas suddenly jumped over $3 a gallon a few weeks ago, it wasn’t all that surprising that Knox Area Transit saw a boost in ridership, particularly on its deep West Knoxville park and ride routes. But, while it’s enlightening to see so many folks deep in the ’burbs embrace alternate transportation, even if only on a temporary basis, I wonder at what point the price of gas will push people into considering alternate housing as well. 

That’s because, if you think about it, the biggest weakness of the “park and ride” strategy is the parking part. And I don’t mean finding a place to put the car (although it appears the Farragut park and ride lot was full at the height of gasoline’s price spike). Instead I’m talking about the fact that, before most of those riders boarded the bus in Farragut, they first had to drive to the bus stop. For most people in a heavily suburbanized city like Knoxville, almost any trip—to the store, to school, to church, even to the bus stop—involves an automobile. And most places are simply too spread out to make alternative transportation practical, whether you choose a bus, a bike or your feet. 

Most, but not all. While we’ve destroyed density in pursuit of parking and built barriers for the sake of automobile access, it’s still possible to live a less auto-centric life in center-city Knoxville. Indeed the first indication I had that KAT’s ridership had risen came from a downtown dweller who makes do without a car at all. Working way out at HGTV, he uses KAT for his reverse commute.  After-hours he mostly uses his feet. An extreme example, perhaps, but one that shows a less car-dependent lifestyle is possible, particularly in those parts of town laid out before cars were common, or even invented.

Best of all, you don’t have to give up entirely on the suburban backyard in order to declare at least limited autonomy from the automobile. First laid out for streetcar service, most of the older neighborhoods around downtown offered city dwellers some of the same amenities as more outlying areas: a patch of land to call their own. And they still do, while still being transit- and pedestrian-friendly.

Consider this Victorian cottage on Leonard Place in Old North Knoxville. With oak and pine floors, plus two sets of French doors, this nicely restored home is certainly way cooler than any comparably priced place way out west. And it’s much more convenient, too. A 10-minute bike ride from downtown, it’s a block and a half off Broadway, one of KAT’s main trunk lines (with Night Rider buses running until 11:45 p.m.). There’s also a produce and flower market on the corner and an entire shopping center a short walk away as well. Oh, and if all that walking won’t be enough exercise, there’s also the First Creek Greenway and the new Cansler YMCA close by.

142 Leonard Place

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