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East Tennessee Best Practices
A number of studies have been completed that describe best practices for addressing some of the opportunities and challenges identified in the early portion of the PlanET process.
- Knoxville Complete Streets Guidelines. This document was prepared by the Knoxville Regional TPO to provide guidance and recommendations to design professionals and laypersons alike on how urban and suburban corridors can be transformed into facilities that are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users – motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and bus riders. These guidelines were based on the findings of two corridor studies that made specific recommendations on how to transform each corridor into a complete street.
- Knoxville and Knox County Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan. The plan recommends measures for preserving the community’s hillside and ridgetop areas, while at the same time allowing for more development flexibility in these sensitive areas. Building siting and design, flexible street design requirements, and land disturbance and clearing policies are just some of proposals addressed in the plan.
- Smart Trips Neighborhoods. The Knoxville Regional TPO staff has produced a prototypical guide for residents in several North Knoxville neighborhoods that identifies alternative transportation options to the automobile for trips within their communities. The guide, which will be replicated for other neighborhoods in the city, identifies transit routes and stops, bike lanes and routes, sidewalks, and parks and greenways, as well as several types of destinations that people travel to and from within the North Knoxville area.
Kingsport, Tennessee: Healthy Communities and Aging in Place
Straddling rural Sullivan and Hawkins counties in far Northeast Tennessee, the city of Kingsport, with 51,519 residents, is part of the Tri-Cities region of the state. With 20% of its population over the age of 65–compared with an average of 13% for the state as a whole– Kingsport continues to see its population age due to outmigration of young people and the arrival of retirees. This trend has placed new demands on the city’s infrastructure and services and brought changes to its economy and culture. In terms of the built environment, however, the needs of older populations largely mirror those of the young workers and residents that many towns seek to attract: transportation choices, walkable communities, safe streets, neighborhood vitality, and green space.
In 1992, inspired by the health benefits her patients experienced from just 20 extra minutes of walking per evening, family physician, medical educator, and community researcher Dr. Kathleen Beine began rallying support to outfit Kingsport with more walking paths and safer sidewalks. Recognizing that a community’s physical design impacts the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and economic well-being of its citizens, Dr. Beine and other volunteers conducted a “Visual Image Study” asking community members to envision what their ideal city would look like. With 1,100 participants, using photographs and survey tools, the study showed that residents valued five community characteristics: clean, green, with more sidewalks, parks and playgrounds, and neighborhoods with these amenities.
In 2009, Kingsport was selected by AARP to serve as a pilot for a Livable Community Survey, building upon the fruits of the Visual Image Study. AARP invited Beine to help design and conduct a survey for residents, primarily focusing on the senior population but also interviewing others about what would make the city a better place for them to live, work, and play. The 16-page survey covered aspects of community design and services, neighborhood issues, and personal concerns related to public health, aging, and livability. Over 3,000 surveys were sent out, with 1,439 surveys returned for a response rate of 43.6 percent. This was achieved as a result of a multimedia marketing campaign. “AARP is very pleased to be part of this effort. The collaboration between the city of Kingsport, AARP, local residents, and volunteer focus groups was instrumental to the success of the project,” said Margot Seay, a Kingsport resident and instrumental player in the project’s success who now serves as the AARP National Volunteer Director.
In March 2010, a final report was released, revealing that the majority of participants were very pleased with the city in which they live. There were, however, suggestions for improvements that could be made to increase satisfaction in each of the three categories comprising the survey. The first category was community concerns, and some items identified included a lack of job opportunities, urban gardens, and public transit. The second category, neighborhood concerns, included a lack of sidewalks, grocery stores within walking distance of homes, recreation centers, and parks. The final category, personal concerns, included health care affordability, maintaining independence, and safety.
To capitalize on the report’s findings, Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips did not want the project to end with the survey. He appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force on livability that included Kingsport leaders such as former mayors and aldermen, along with the leaders of four community organizations. The task force examined the survey results and conditions on the ground to identify key implementation areas that were feasible and shovel-ready. They discovered that the city was providing a number of services of value to residents, but community members were not aware of them due to limited communication. Actions initiated as a result of the task force’s work included improving public outreach efforts, enhancing local transit services, developing a Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, building more sidewalks, and expanding community centers and recreational opportunities.
AARP survey findings have been used to advocate for healthy community design, to develop successful grant applications, and to make real changes to the city. For example, Kingsport’s first community garden grew out of the survey. The Harvest of Hope Community Garden is a collaboration between AARP, the United Way of Greater Kingsport, the City of Kingsport, First Presbyterian Church, the University of Tennessee Extension Office, and the Master Gardeners of East Tennessee.
AARP and the City of Kingsport also held an Active Living Workshop with national expert Dan Burden to help the city government identify planning and transportation strategies to promote safe travel for bicyclists and pedestrians. Chris Campbell, the Transportation Planning Coordinator, said, “We realize that our economic vitality, public health, and transportation systems are intrinsically connected and that having more transportation options will improve the city’s livability, well-being, and retail vibrancy.”
Kingsport’s successful AARP survey project has served as a model for other Tennessee communities. In 2012, Murfreesboro, Crossville, and Blount County implemented modified versions to better understand the needs and desires of their own residents. Similar to Kingsport, their survey results showed that the majority of residents consider their community a good place to live and want to remain there in the future. The gaps in neighborhood features and services were similar for all cities participating and included issues like sidewalks, dependable transportation, services to help older residents maintain their independence, and walking and biking trails within a half-mile of homes.
Lori Munkeboe, Director of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Office of Sustainable Practices, said, “We are so pleased to see Kingsport represented among national recipients for this prestigious award. It’s advantageous to have a pilot city in a program designed with replication potential, as we continue to learn and improve upon the health, prosperity, and livelihood of the citizens of Tennessee.”
Bristol, Tennessee: School Siting and Safe Routes to School Implementation
Located in the northeast corner of Tennessee, on the Tennessee/Virginia state line, the city of Bristol is nationally recognized as the official birthplace of country music. Bristol’s central location and excellent transportation connections make it the center of a five-state area. State Street in downtown Bristol joins Tennessee and Virginia, and West Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina are within easy driving distance along US Highway 421 and Interstate 81. Seventy percent of the U.S. population is located within a day’s drive of Bristol.
In 2008 the Bristol School Board decided to demolish and reconstruct Fairmount Elementary School to better suit the needs of the growing community. The decision to keep the elementary school in its current location demonstrates a commitment to neighborhood and community revitalization efforts occurring in the city. During this process, parents and neighborhood residents raised concerns about what would happen to the neighborhood when the larger population of students and faculty began attending the new school. Specifically, they were worried about the increase in traffic the school would cause, as the Fairmount Neighborhood District is a traditional neighborhood not designed to accommodate large amounts of vehicles. City officials agreed that encouraging parents to walk with their children to school would alleviate some of these traffic concerns. Approximately 85% of the children who would be attending Fairmount live within walking distance, which is defined as a two-mile-or-less radius. However, the neighborhood lacked continuous sidewalks that could provide safe routes to school for these children.The Bristol Metropolitan Planning Organization partnered with the YMCA’s Pioneering Healthy Communities and Coordinated School Health Program as well as Fairmount Elementary, the Bristol Police Department, and the City to apply for, and ultimately receive, a $250,000 Safe Routes to School grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. With the grant funding, Bristol undertook a sidewalk survey to determine where repairs and connections were needed. The sidewalk sections in disrepair were replaced and new sidewalks were built in places where none had previously existed to create a continuous and safe pedestrian network in the Fairmount Neighborhood District. The grant also provided funding for educational programs to teach students about pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Residents of all ages are using and benefiting from the sidewalks, which are higher quality, better connected, and safer. Bristol’s reinvestment in an existing school location has also triggered significant increase in neighborhood revitalization efforts. The excitement about walking has spread to the rest of the community and there are plans to hold year-round walking events for the residents of Bristol.
Greenway Guidelines blaze a path for great new trails
Great greenway trails and corridors provide access for many different types of users to a rich variety of places, experiences, activities, and landmarks. Local greenway paths situated near urban and suburban housing developments offer residents everyday opportunities for exercise, access to nearby parks, and a chance to experience seasonal flora and fauna. When these local greenway paths connect to one another, they become part of a larger greenway corridor that can link neighborhoods.
These corridors are useful for commuters heading to work in town centers and business parks. They also as provide access to regional recreational amenities for residents and visitors alike. As the greenway corridors develop, they can grow into a regional greenway system that encompasses multiple counties and metropolitan areas, providing connections between population centers and amenities such as state and national parks.
Greenway Guidelines for the East Tennessee Region: Recommendations for Water, Rail, and Roadside Trails in Regional Landscapes is valuable for readers who are just beginning to learn about greenways and those already familiar with the subject matter.
Part I outlines the core principles of greenway development, explaining the benefits of greenway trails, defining commonly used terms, offering tips on funding sources, and presenting the basics of determining a route for a new corridor.
Part II illustrates how trails can be accommodated in common East Tennessee landscapes and offers compelling before-and-after images. This information is vital for readers who aim to inspire and encourage greenway development in their community. The greenway corridors illustrated in Part II cover roadside, railside, and waterside greenways in a range of local landscape conditions and will be helpful to professionals who can refer to the specific example most similar to the trail they are working with.
Of particular interest to experienced readers are the Visual Indexes in Part III, which graphically demonstrate solutions to common greenway obstacles and illustrate examples of amenities, materials, border conditions, buffer ideas, and signage commonly used on successful trails. Helpful appendices provide information on suitable local plants, trail maintenance, signage, and other topics.
Rather than a detailed construction or technical reference manual, this guide is meant to foster a general understanding of both the benefits and challenges associated with building greenways in East Tennessee. For detailed information on specific topics, this guide directs the user to the appropriate technical manuals and codes that have been developed by government agencies, transportation groups, professional organizations, and trail advocates.
Greenway Guidelines for the East Tennessee Region is available online at the Plan East Tennessee website. It was written and illustrated by staff and students from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Landscape Architecture program. Review was provided by members of the TPO’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Great Smoky Mountains Regional Greenway Council.
East Tennessee Index
During the three-year planning effort known as Plan East Tennessee (PlanET), staff gathered a tremendous amount of information about the region with the intent of making that information available to the public. ETcompetes — the entity that will take the results of PlanET forward — is proud to announce the launch of ETIndex.org, a user-friendly website stocked with community facts and figures.
The goal of the East Tennessee Index is to provide a common source of data and analysis on topics critical to the discussion, collaboration, and improvement of the region’s quality of life. With a foundation based on shared information, regional leaders can work together to address challenges and build on strengths.
Want to know how tourism affects the local economy? Or the average time area workers spend getting to and from work? How about the number of days the air in the region is unhealthy?All are examples of the nearly 90 indicators available on the ETindex.org website.
Community indicators tell the region’s story by measuring strengths and challenges, and focused efforts to improve quality of life can be backed up with local data. The 87 indicators on the ETIndex.org site track critical aspects of the region’s economy, health, housing markets, and environment. Each measure includes a description, an analysis of trends, a chart that visually displays those trends, and data tables for the counties. Comparisons of the region to the state and nation are also available. The indicators will be updated annually.
East Tennessee Competes
A valuable outcome of PlanET’s three-year effort was the building of relationships among dozens of local jurisdictions and organizations. Mayors, city and county officials, citizens, and business people began to think and plan regionally. Water, air, and even people flow between counties—so too should efforts to ensure a future of economic prosperity.
ETcompetes was born from this way of thinking. ETcompetes is a collaborative of organizations, businesses, local governments, and individuals from across the East Tennessee region. The group convenes to share ideas, coordinate projects, and align resources in a way that will advance regional competitiveness.
As PlanET moved from the planning stage to implementation, project leaders and citizens recognized the need to continue fostering cross-jurisdictional relationships. The challenge, as they saw it, was to find a way to build on the regional momentum generated by PlanET.
ETcompetes will bring together key constituent groups from the East Tennessee region and partner regions statewide to discuss implementation strategies that will ensure communities address shared challenges and capitalize on shared opportunities.