Feedback on Magnolia Avenue Streetscape Plan

Hello Dawn,

Thanks for the note.

Also great to see you in action last night.

The slide sharing site I mentioned is called “”

When I used to build web sites for a living, one of my favorite features was that you can take a powerpoint slide deck, upload it to the site, and then get some code to insert into your Web page to provide an interactive presentation.

Or you can just view the presentation on the slideshare site.  Works great on mobile devices, too.

Here are some examples –

I’m sending those two particular links because the proposed streetscape enhancement is is exciting, but I feel like we’re taking another step away from what “Park St.” used to be – and that is a dual track light rail public transit system from downtown to the zoo.  After the meeting last night, I dug around in online photo archives to find out of my favorite photos – Chilhowee Park with tree-lined light rail that looks straight out of the English countryside. Here’s that photo:

Chilhowee Park, Knoxville Tenn

Entrance to Chilhowee Park, Knoxville, Tenn

I’m also disapointed the consultant’s presentation did not start by taking a moment to reflect on the rich history of East Knoxville.  This oversight echoed throughout the consultant’s work, from a stylistic perspective to a practical perspective (for example, displacing residents to extend Cherry Street to MLK, when the same connector already exists at Olive Street). Further, I felt the consultant did not effectively engage the public for input in the earliest stages of the design process.  I overheard remarks that the consultant “did not walk around to get a sense of the neighborhoods.” That too is a shame – since in strolling past homes built a century or more ago, you get the sense there is a story to tell here – and diverse personalities to convey.  The consultant’s plan failed to capture these characteristics of the community.

Many residents of my own East Knoxville community see the area as Knoxville’s “Parks and Gardens” district. I found the consultant’s concepts overly generic and therefore at odds with the unique, richly storied community of East Knoxville.”Parks and Gardens” is a designation quite apt, with the Zoological Gardens, Botanical Gardens, and myriad parks and gardens in the area. These attractions were all part of why Magnolia was once known as Park Street and is today “as wide as an interstate,” in the consultant’s words. In the old days Knoxville Traction Company trolley cars rolled from the old car barn at the current KAT facility out to Chilhowee Park.

If we go forward with this streetscape plan as is, then we’ll be taking another step away from this past. This is unfortunate, as it is an affirmation of the abandonment of a transit oriented community design the community sprung from in the first place. Also, in terms of wayfinding – nothing is more clear to me than a line of track. Even in an uneasy environment like a dingy subway platform, trains running on time is comforting.  I can see out-of-town families starting their day at Market Square confidently catching a Downtown trolley to a Magnolia light rail terminus for a quick visit to the Zoo.

Charlotte laid track for their LYNX system for 9 miles. Magnolia from Knoxville Station to city limits is less than that, something like 6.  I can’t think of a community more deserving of transit infrastructure investment or a corridor more appropriate than East Knoxville.  A re-born transit line from downtown to the city limits at the Holston River could connect to an AMP style “fast bus” jetting travellers down John Sevier Highway towards McGhee Tyson Airport.  The County has always wanted to develop East Knox County – collaboration with the city on transit might play a key part in that.  Future collaboration with Sevier County might extend the transit line down Asheville Highway to Exit 407, Smokies Stadium, Bass Pro Shops, and the planned Dumplin Creek shopping attraction, not to mention connecting to the existing transit hub in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg.

I’m grateful for the energy and attention the consultants brought to this project.  But I’m sad to think that if we take a step forward on this, we’re taking yet another step away from a proven, transit oriented design. Worse, we’re limiting our options to return to transit-centric design in the future.

On a related note – it sounds like Linden avenue would be another great choice for a “neighborhood greenway.”

Thank you for your invitation to share my thoughts with you. I hope the slideshare site proves helpful.  I’ll likely reflect further with additional review of the material shared last night.



About Tanner Jessel

I am a recent M.S. in Information Science graduate from the University of Tennessee School of Information Science. I was formerly a graduate research assistant funded by DataONE (Data Observation Network for Earth). Prior, I worked for four years as a content lead and biodiversity scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Biodiversity Informatics Program. Building on my work experience in biodiversity and environmental informatics, my work with DataONE focused on exploring the nature of scientific collaborations necessary for scientific inquiry. I also conducted research concerning user experience and usability, and assisted in development of member nodes with an emphasis on spatial data and infrastructure. I assisted with research designed to understand sociocultural issues within collaborative research communities. Through August 1, 2014, I was based at the Center for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Tennessee School of Information Science in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Posted on April 17, 2014, in Civic Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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