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Knoxville officials ask for patience as they work to make the city more pedestrian-friendly

City leaders said it would take them around 100 years to complete sidewalk projects that came out of a 2019 study.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Community groups in Knoxville have been pushing for the city to build more sidewalks for years. That includes Bike Walk Knoxville and its president, Caroline Cooley.

"In our neighborhood, we do have a lot of walkers," Cooley said. "So, people do get out even though there are no sidewalks."

Cooley pointed out that is a huge problem.

"One of the biggest concerns right now is that cars are safer for the occupants, but they are not safer for the people outside cars," Cooley said. "People who are walking and biking are vulnerable users of the roadway and we need to share the road more successfully."

For that same reason, she helped form Bike Walk Knoxville ten years ago. The nonprofit's mission is to make Knoxville's streets safer for everyone—including people who rely on their own two feet or two wheels to get around.

The City of Knoxville said that according to a UT study, the Knox County population is set to grow by 25% by 2050. This means there will be a bigger need to invest in more sidewalks that connect neighborhoods, schools, parks, commercial areas and employment centers.

"In almost every place in Knoxville, people say, 'Where are the sidewalks?'" Cooley said.

Cooley, however, recognizes fixing the problem is no easy task.

"It is such an overwhelming issue," Cooley said. "It is hard to make any specific progress with it."

In 2019, Knoxville prepared a study that would allow officials to have a better idea of where there was a need for more sidewalks. More than 1,000 projects totaling more than 400 miles of new sidewalks came from that study. 

Karen McKeehan, Knoxville's transportation engineering chief, said it is very likely you will never see many of those projects come to completion.

"It would take us probably 100 years to build what is actually in this study because it is more than $2 billion worth of work," McKeehan said. 

With current inflation numbers, McKeehan said that the estimated cost of $2 billion could increase in the future.

So, with a lack of funding, how does the city prioritize its projects? There are a couple of factors they take into consideration, including:

  1. Proximity to places like schools, parks and hospitals
  2. Neighborhoods with minority or disadvantaged communities
  3. The type of roadway and its crash history

"Safety is our number one priority," McKeehan said.

Even though safety is top of mind, city officials are asking people one thing.

"I would just ask people to be patient," McKeehan said. "These projects do take a little bit of time and they do take quite a bit more funding than people realize, but they are certainly worth the wait and we do want to provide safety for people to be able to walk to destinations."

McKeehan said the biggest needs for sidewalks in Knoxville are in districts two and four. There are currently two big projects under construction—one on Texas Avenue and the other on Atlantic Avenue.

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