As we've learned by coping with Interstate 40 downtown, much of Knoxville's quaint traffic infrastructure is inadequate for modern vehicle volume. Knoxville's population continues to grow, overwhelming a fairly fixed grid. And while a lot of noise is made about telecommuters and virtual offices, the trend among those who do leave home to work is to live further from their workplace than in years past.
Homeowners in Sequoyah Hills—some longtime residents, some lifetime residents, some newcomers—have engaged local lawmakers and the Knoxville Police Department in conversations that the residents hope will lead to lower speed limits on Kingston Pike between Neyland Drive and Western Plaza (currently 45 mph) and stricter enforcement.
"The noise is a nuisance," says Allen Tate, who lives on Kingston Pike, "but it's the driving that feels very dangerous. There are a lot of driveways on Kingston Pike. There's limited visibility because of the landscaping, so pulling out is a challenge. Pulling in during rush hour feels even more dangerous; you signal to turn, and the person immediately behind you changes lanes so they can keep going 50 or 55. Then you've got someone else on your tail doing 50 or 55 who doesn't know you're slowing down, so they slam on their brakes. It's crazy."
According to the city, that stretch of Kingston Pike does not register large numbers of accidents. Tate attributes that fact to improved automobile technology and the development of anti-lock brakes.
"Nowhere else do we have a state highway that bisects a neighborhood in Knox County," said KPD Lt. Eve Thomas, at a meeting with Sequoyah homeowners earlier this month. "It's difficult to do enforcement. It's posted at 45 and it's difficult to pull out. It's very unforgiving and there's no room for error. There's no shoulder, there's no turn lane."
Over portions of April and May, KPD electronically monitored traffic volume and speed on Kingston Pike in Sequoyah Hills. The eastbound monitoring equipment malfunctioned, and the exercise is being repeated in those lanes. But westbound traffic was determined to travel at an average of 52 mph. KPD also made a concerted enforcement effort over that period, with motorcycle patrolmen visibly clocking traffic. Nearly 300 citations were issued, and on May 18 one officer perhaps demonstrated the cause for concern by crashing his motorcycle in pursuit of a speeder. (Officer Larry Presnell suffered a broken wrist and is expected to recover fully.)
Alternative to actually lowering the speed limit and increasing patrols, prospective measures being considered at present include "smart" speed limit signs, which flash when an oncoming car is speeding, and cameras that record license plate numbers and automatically issue citations, like those in use at some downtown red lights. To some, these options are favorable because they would keep officers away from the sort of harm that befell Presnell.
On June 24, a small contingent of Sequoyah homeowners are scheduled to meet with Police Chief Sterling Owens and representatives of the mayor's office and city engineering. KPD Public Information Officer Darrell Debusk says he does not expect that meeting to be conclusive. And at the meeting in early June, Lt. Thomas appeared to be bracing the homeowners for the possibility of disappointment when she reminded them that at the end of the day, Kingston Pike—also known as State Route 70—belongs to TDOT, and it will be TDOT that decides how to most safely move motorists across town on that road.