Highways for Habitats #7: Riverfront Parkway, Chattanooga

ChattanoogaTransportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

Chattanooga, Tennessee in the 1980s was enduring the same problems as many other cities in the United States.  The economy’s manufacturing and industrial base downsized, and Chattanoogans saw lay-offs, a deteriorating downtown, and worse-than-ever air pollution.  Chattanooga responded to this decline by launching an effort to improve its downtown and quality of life, and one tactic was to restore the city’s relationship to the river.

The Riverfront Parkway was originally built in the ‘60s as a truck traffic corridor, but decreased industrial traffic rendered it nearly obsolete, and its location through the city injured the downtown character and created a barrier to the Tennessee River.  Need for the Riverfront Parkway was evaluated, and it was concluded that the large highway was no longer necessary as most traffic was visitors to downtown, and therefore a smaller road would serve residents better.

Through analyzing traffic patterns, it was found that adding downtown access points would better distribute traffic and ease congestion on the existing access points, so four additional downtown entry routes were constructed.  Certain sections of road were narrowed meet automobile volumes, providing pedestrians headed for the water with a two-lane road to cross instead of four.  Streetscape enhancements resulted in a more urban parkway, with added sidewalks and landscaping, and the removal of median barriers.

The redesign of the Riverfront Parkway was a catalyst for the revitalization of the Tennessee riverfront and the city’s downtown.  Since its completion, a waterfront park was constructed, with event space and other attractions – like the Tennessee Aquarium – that have become popular waterfront destinations.  Property values downtown have risen consistently, bringing new investment and development, and a downtown population increase of over 30% since 1990.  Chattanooga has since been named one of America’s most livable cities.


Photo from skippytpe on flickr.com