citybeat (2007-49)

Strip Maul Proceeding SlowlyAn Arm and a Leg

City Beat

Coding changes are still six months away for Cumberland Avenue, construction is even farther off

The long-term plan to recreate the dowdy and traffic-clogged Cumberland Avenue â“Stripâ” as an attractive, pedestrian-friendly â“Placeâ” is moving forward, slowly, nine months after the plan was first presented to the city, the state, the University of Tennessee, and Fort Sanders business and property owners.

Updating the projectâ’s advisory committee and establishing a city position to monitor and manage the ambitious planâ’s components from within the city administration were the main points on the agenda this week as the Metropolitan Planning Commission staff held a briefing on the projectâ’s status.

Jeff Welch, the executive director of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, and who has guided the planning process for more than a year and a half, says the MPC staff, on which he serves, has been conducting a parking study for the Cumberland Avenue/Fort Sanders area, but has yet to compile any comprehensive figures.

â“Weâ’ve identified 342 on-street parking spaces in the block on either side of Cumberland between 17th and 22nd Streets and have found them about 90 percent occupied during the day,â” he says, but other parking options are still being reviewed.

Welch says the MPC work has also turned up state and federal funding of about $600,000 for design work and $10 to $11 million for construction of the infrastructure improvements the plan will require.

Highway work, which is to include three-laning of much of the Strip, wonâ’t commence before the conclusion of TDOTâ’s current Interstate 40/James White Parkway construction, with a target date of July, 2009.

The reduced number of traffic lanes will allow for widened sidewalks, burying of utility lines and such green enhancements as tree and shrub plantings to make the western gateway to UT and downtown Knoxville more appealing.

Another important component, form-based coding, to replace the present commercial zoning for the area, is in the process of being codified, Welch says, and may be ready to go to the MPC and City Council in about six months. Similar to that approved for the South Knoxville Waterfront project, the coding will provide for minimum building heights, maximum setback and off-street parking requirements on future construction along Cumberland and nearby streets.

Infrastructure design work to accommodate the overall plan is â“probably 18 months awayâ” from completion, Welsh says.

One building currently under construction on the north side of Cumberland at 21st Street wonâ’t completely conform with the coding, but it doesnâ’t have to, since the coding is not in effect. It will, however, have no setback from the sidewalk and will use an existing curb cut to access parking at the rear of the building, as the plan specifies. Itâ’s to house a Guthrieâ’s Chicken outlet. When it and a nearby Zaxbyâ’s store are opened, the fried-chicken-strips specialty chains, including Sawyerâ’s at 17th and White Avenue, will occupy three slots in a five-block area, not a goal of the plan, which was created with the idea of encouraging local stand-alone businesses rather than chains.

The Cumberland project will be guided from the cityâ’s jurisdictional point by Bob Whetsel, the newly appointed director of development for Knoxville, who will report to Senior Director of Policy Bill Lyons and oversee both the Cumberland improvements and those in the Broadway-Central corridor north of downtown.

â“Iâ’m on the job,â” says Whetsel, who assumed the position on Dec. 1 and is looking to appoint a Cumberland-specific project manager with money from the cityâ’s supplemental budget, which City Council took up this week. It will allow Whetsel $110,000 to establish the managerâ’s office, with $25,000 coming from Covenant Health, the Fort Sanders hospital complex operator, $25,000 from UT and $60,000 from the city.

â“Weâ’ve been kicking ideas and names around,â” says Whetsel, â“but we donâ’t have anybody ready for that [job] yet.â” He says heâ’s glad to be able to introduce himself to the advisory committee, originally a 36-member group, and to lay out the progress he sees toward effecting the long-term Cumberland plan.

â“Thereâ’s lots of stuff moving forward,â” Whetsel says of the plan, â“Weâ’ve just got to build on the momentum.

â“If we can get all the engineering and design in place, we can go ahead full speed with construction in the last half of â‘09,â” he says.

Rob Dansereau, president of the Fort Sanders Merchantsâ’ Association, says the group, which endorsed the overall plan, understands the pace of progress so far and is not concerned that things are moving slowly. He says such comprehensive approaches take time to come to fruition and the TDOT schedule dictates the pace to some extent.

â“Weâ’re encouraged that UT and Covenant Health are kicking in money [for the projectâ’s city-side manager],â” he says, explaining that nothing so expansive as the overall plan could be accomplished without the participation of the university and the hospital complex.

One thing of particular concern to Covenant Health, says MPCâ’s executive director Mark Donaldson, is the likelihood that a reduction in traffic lanes on Cumberland would divert some traffic to the narrow street around the hospitals. He says MPC is considering recommending some traffic-calming steps to alleviate that potential problem in the form of further street-narrowing and pullouts, rather than speed bumps, to go along with parking improvements that will serve the hospitals, the university and the general public in their future uses of the Cumberland Avenue â“Place.â” â" Barry Henderson

The Knoxville-based Amputee Coalition of America faces a funding loss

Iâ’d give my right arm forâ.â” Itâ’s a common enough expression, usually thrown in for dramatic emphasis in lieu of an exclamation point. Deconstructing the cliché within the realm of reality, however, raises a few interesting questions, among them: How much is a right arm actually worth?

The cost is higher than the American government would like to pay, as indicated by President Bushâ’s veto of a bill in mid-November that would have given the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA), headquartered here in Knoxville, the increase in funding it needs to continue providing the nationâ’s lost-limb community with support and advocacy.

â“The bill is important to the ACA because it includes the funding we receive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is approximately half of our annual budget,â” explains Stephanie Guthrie, public relations and development associate for the ACA.

The FY 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill, as it was called, included appropriations for the ACAâ’s National Limb Loss Information Center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among other critical ACA programs. The Information Center, says Guthrie, helps individuals living with disabilities connect with the information, resources and support they need to reintegrate socially and economically into society.

Over two million Americans currently live with limb loss, due to diabetes, heart disease, trauma and cancer. Oftentimes, the physical, emotional and financial hurdles they encounter on route to leading a healthy and functioning life can be overwhelming. ACA has spearheaded a number of programs designed to serve amputees nationwide, including a youth camp for children living with limb difference, a National Peer Network that trains and certifies amputees to provide information and emotional support to new amputees, and an Action Plan for People with Limb Loss that seeks to ensure appropriate insurance coverage for amputees.

According to Guthrie, the cost of a single prosthesis can soar well over $40,000. And a child who becomes an amputee at age eight, for instance, might require multiple prosthetic limbs over the course of a lifetime, an even more expensive proposition.

The problem, Guthrie explains, is that, â“Many insurance plans cover only a small portion of the cost of a prosthesis or have lifetime caps.â” Insurance may cover only $5,000 of a $40,000 prosthesis, for instance, or place a limit on how much of the cost theyâ’ll front over the course of a lifetime. â“Again,â” says Guthrie, â“the burden of the expense is on the insured.â”

Bushâ’s veto came despite strong support from the House and Senate, whose attempt to override the veto two days later failed by a narrow margin (67 percent needed, 66.2 percent in favor).

â“There was a difference of $22 billion between the Presidentâ’s proposed budget and that of Congress,â” Guthrie says. â“Congress tried to renegotiate, closing the gap and meeting in the middle at $11 billion, but Bush vetoed. This is controversial because Bush significantly increased spending on the war, but is unwilling to increase spending on health and education.â” â" Leslie Wylie


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