editorial (2007-05)

Upping The Strip's Stakes

Any improvements along Cumberland are worth the effort and expense

Upping The Strip's Stakes

Proposals for the revival of the Cumberland Avenue corridor show a lot of promise.

The most welcome aspect of the recently released draft of a consultants' study of Cumberland is in the initial streetscape steps that would augment safety and aesthetics along the Strip.

Almost anything that accomplished those objectives would be worthy of praise. The Strip has looked dreadful and has posed a danger to pedestrians and motorists alike for far too long. It is an embarrassment, in effect, as a western gateway to the downtown and as the main point of access to UT.

Streetscaping would entail reducing the number of traffic lanes from four to three, with the center lane for left turns into side streets or curb cuts, easing the traffic flow in the outside lanes. That lane reduction between 22nd Street and 17th would permit a widening of sidewalks and improvements in crosswalks to enhance pedestrian safety. There have been several people struck by motor vehicles while attempting to cross Cumberland or stepping off a curb in the recent past. The planned improvements should help immeasurably in preventing such incidents.

Furthering the aim of improving vehicular traffic flow are proposed offsets into the widened sidewalks that would allow delivery trucks, buses and trolleys to pull out of the through lane for their stops without impeding the passage of through vehicles.

Besides the safety features, street lighting is to be lowered to pedestrian-friendly heights under recommendations in the study, commissioned by the Metropolitan Planning Commission's Regional Transportation Planning Organization and the city of Knoxville. Included in the aesthetic embellishments are trees and shrubbery to be planted at curbside, and a proposal, not yet finalized, to bury the utility lines beneath the street and sidewalks.

Though the streetscape elements might be accomplished within a loosely estimated budget of about $7.1 million, the utility costs have not been projected. It makes sense to do the utility work at the same time as the street and sidewalks are being torn up for repaving, but no one would hazard a guess at the price. KUB is working on that.

The study was paid for with a Tennessee Department of Transportation grant and a small city contribution. It must be remembered that the Strip is a federal and state highway and has to be maintained as an arterial thoroughfare.

There is an abundance of other recommendations, separate from the streetscape itself. The overall plan is so complete in addressing the corridor's problems that it was likely a good deal at its $285,000 cost. It incorporates the ideas of the study's advisory committee and the dozens of private citizens whose input was secured in a series of open meetings that attracted from 40 to 75 interested parties.

Implementation of many of the recommendations, including the establishment and application of form-based coding for the entire corridor and creation of a Main Street look by eliminating setback for new buildings, will take longer to be realized. Any new structures would have to meet requirements in size that would tend to stimulate residential uses of upper floors.

Private investment will be the key to redeveloping the underutilized and plain ugly properties in the area under new coding requirements. That facet of the proposals could only be accomplished piecemeal over time, perhaps decades, but the enhancements built into the streetscape can't help but urge it along.

Cooperation between the city, the University of Tennessee, and Fort Sanders and Children's Hospitals will be required at every step along the way, especially in provision for adequate parking for the hospitals, UT and the public as it seeks to patronize area merchants, service establishments and restaurants.

The university is also encouraged to upgrade its landscaping along the stretch of Cumberland it occupies from 17th to 11th Streets, and it will very likely do so in the spirit of the general aesthetic emphasis and in the interest of its own curb appeal.

More greenspace, open to the public and students as a gathering and connecting place between the campus and Cumberland, is proposed in the form of an expanded Mount Castle Park that would run the length of Mount Castle Street between Caledonia and Cumberland. That's primarily a UT responsibility, and it's attractive to UT officials and students alike if it turns out to be doable.

There are a lot of areas of Knoxville that beg revitalization. Now that the downtown is bootstrapping itself back into currency with city support, there are hardly any neighborhoods more in need of drastic attention than the Strip, the South Knoxville Waterfront and the Broadway-Central corridor on the near-north side of downtown.

The city administration is moving in the right directions on each of those areas, and form-based coding is proposed for all three.

The administration's three-pronged approach is a bold attempt to gain fresh appeal for neglected properties near the city's core, and we hope it succeeds at every turn.

More information from the study is contained in this week's feature story.

Metro Pulse owner Brian Conley owns property leased to a business on 17th Street on the eastern periphery of the targeted corridor, and the family of John Wright, associate publisher of MP 's sister publication, Knoxville magazine, owns and operates a child care center on 22nd Street near the opposite end of the corridor.