A few weeks back, I noticed an AT&T truck parked on the sidewalk outside the Crystal Building on Union Avenue with the obligatory orange cones flanking it. It was occupying nearly the entire width of the walk, leaving barely enough room to squeeze by on foot.
A week or so later, I saw it again. The following week it was accompanied by another, this one with a boom lift. An employee was seated in one of the vehicles, and I asked if they were doing work in the building. “No,” he said.
“Well then, why are you parked on the sidewalk?”
And here’s where it gets weird: “Well, if we weren’t parked here, we’d just be taking up a parking space somewhere.” I was dumbstruck for a second. I mean, after all, isn’t that what parking spaces are for?
I told the guy that I had noticed the truck there in the past and explained to him that sidewalks are for people and not to provide convenient parking for AT&T employees. This was around lunchtime, and I suspect they were dining nearby at Pete’s. I also told him that if I saw it again, I was phoning it in. So far, I haven’t had to make that call.
You’d think it’s common sense that sidewalks are for pedestrian use and really not a proper place to leave your vehicle. The city’s codes are pretty clear on that. Nevertheless, it’s not an unusual sight, particularly in certain areas.
Utility trucks, postal vehicles, and delivery trucks can be found occupying part, or all, of our sidewalks on any given day. And in some areas, such as the sidewalk along Union Avenue at Locust Street, it’s a regular occurrence. The parking lot there, which serves as both monthly parking and an extension of the Chesapeake’s lot, has no blocks to stop vehicles from advancing beyond the marked space. And for some reason, some people prefer to park over the sidewalk. Sometimes it’s just one wheel, sometimes more.
If you walk around our downtown, you’ll find that many metal grates surrounding trees along the sidewalk are broken. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to the truck drivers that have driven onto them. They weren’t made to bear the weight of a vehicle. And, unfortunately, the city doesn’t always get around to replacing them. It just fills them to the brim with mulch, narrowing the usable sidewalk.
Knoxville police are fairly accommodating to some vehicles. Whatever is on the books, sometimes there is a legitimate reason for a truck to occupy a sidewalk. And exceptions are made as they should be. But just as with the AT&T vehicles, sometimes it’s just a matter of careless convenience and not for accomplishing work that needs to be done.
Sidewalks are generally considered pedestrian thoroughfares. But another kind of pedestrian relies on them, too—those in wheelchairs. And it’s not a simple matter for them to merely step around an obstruction or find a clear route. Summit Towers on Locust Street is occupied primarily by the elderly, handicapped, and disabled, many of whom require wheelchairs. And they often use Union Avenue as a route to Locust.
There’s another good reason to keep all of our downtown sidewalks as unobstructed as possible. They’re seeing a lot more use than they have in years. Contractors are doing their part these days by maintaining clear routes where possible—a far cry from a few years back, when closing a block of sidewalk for months was commonplace. And businesses like Mast General Store and the Regal Riviera are respectful as well. Mast doesn’t overcrowd the front of its place when it has a sidewalk sale, and the Riviera keeps its lines of moviegoers neatly controlled.
So whether or not you’re still stuck on the myth that downtown has a parking problem, our sidewalks should not be an option for parking. That’s what parking spaces are for. If you want to block traffic, fine. Just block your own kind. And see how well KPD tolerates double parking.