Thinking green(ways) in Knox and beyond

Betsy Pickle
Features columnist

There’s a reason Ellen Zavisca and her colleagues are big on greenways.

“People in this country have been hearing for years, decades, that we need to be more physically active,” Zavisca said last week to the Sierra Club’s Harvey Broome Chapter. “And yet if you look at the trends of the percent of the population that’s getting no leisure-time physical activity, it’s pretty flat. The percent of the population that has regular exercise or does regular organized exercise … is pretty flat, despite all our exhortations and programs. …

“It’s not just a matter of telling people, ‘Do this; don’t do this.’ We’ve got to create an environment that supports it.”

Zavisca, a senior planner for the Knoxville Regional Transportation Organization, is involved with pedestrian and greenway planning and Safe Routes to Schools. She brought a “bigger picture of greenway planning” to drive home the importance of greenways and encourage club members to become active supporters of them.

Lifestyle choices and genetics also play a role in health, but when it comes to exercising, walkers, runners and bicyclists are stymied if they don’t have safe routes,” she said. The danger shows up in the data.

Some 125 ped/cyclist injury crashes result in about eight deaths each year in Knox County. “About 10-12 percent of fatalities statewide involve pedestrians and cyclists.”

The TPO covers Knox and the urbanized areas of Anderson, Blount, Loudon and Sevier counties. Zavisca said there are more than 100 miles of paved greenway in the region – including roughly 50 miles in Knoxville, 16 in the Alcoa-Maryville corridor, nine in Townsend and nine in Oak Ridge.

Aside from improving health, greenways have been shown to reward individuals and communities financially. Zavisca noted a study in Charlotte, N.C., that found an average increase in home value of $3,200 for homes within roughly a mile of the trails. Research in Greenville, S.C., showed that retail sales near a trail region went up.

Planners want to link West Knoxville with Oak Ridge via greenways. Another project would connect Knox and Blount counties to Townsend and the Smokies. Both will take several phases over many years. County engineer Cindy Pionke has been prioritizing sidewalk investment around schools.

Zavisca says the typical cost for a mile of greenway is $500,000, but terrain can drive the costs to $3 million per mile.

The city of Knoxville’s Greenway Commission is wrapping up a study of 13 different greenway corridors, including priorities and cost estimates. A public meeting will be held in late May to get input. Once the plan is finalized, “there is money in the mayor’s budget to start implementation,” Zavisca said.

Not only is Cumberland Avenue undergoing a “road diet,” but also Central Street – home of the Open Streets event in May – has had some work in preparation for its own diet. It has been restriped to three lanes, and it will be landscaped and resurfaced within the next couple of years, said Zavisca.

“Both of these corridors are seeing a lot of development and redevelopment, which I think is really related to the investment.”

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