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A Review of the Transportation and Urban Design Plan for: Chattanooga Riverfront Parkway 2009/12/09

Posted by cfpc3 in Transportation Planning.
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Downtowns play an important role in defining a city and region’s social, cultural, and economic vitality. Over the last decades, cities across the United States have recognized the importance of their downtowns and have sought ways to transform these urban centers from their derelict, homogenous, auto-dependent conditions to vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented centers. This has proved to be a challenge for many cities due to the presence of regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects that have severed the physical relationship of cities from significant and unrealized sources of social, cultural, and economic life. The Transportation and Urban Design Plan for: Chattanooga Riverfront Parkway prepared by Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin Lopez Rinehart, Inc. in 2001 provides an inspiring example of how transportation planners, engineers, and city officials engaged residents and stakeholders to creatively reconnect Downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee to the Tennessee River. The plan successfully established a framework for the realization of a world-class waterfront that has become a source of pride and economic development for the City of Chattanooga and the surrounding region.

The plan addresses the City’s major obstacle in revitalizing the downtown and re-uniting it with the Tennessee River, the Riverfront Parkway. This high-speed, barrier separated, 4-lane highway, was built in the mid 20th Century to provide the industrial based local economy with an efficient means to move large volumes of truck traffic to regional destinations. The highway effectively severed the relationship between the Tennessee River and downtown. Over time however, these industries relocated and downtown’s economy suffered. Residents, property owners, and city leaders eventually rediscovered their relationship to the Tennessee River and its potential for reinvigorating the downtown. Regionally significant cultural and recreational institutions, which included the Tennessee Aquarium and the Bellsouth Park, were conceived to leverage the revitalization potential of the river and provide downtown Chattanooga with a new source of life. The Riverfront Parkway however, diminished this potential by serving as a barrier to the Tennessee River.

The Transportation and Urban Design plan demonstrates how representatives from Glatting Jackson worked with the community to leverage the revitalization potential of the established cultural institutions and developed a plan to re-unite the Downtown Chattanooga with the Tennessee River. The plan for the Riverfront Parkway was based on over six months of site analysis and public participation. The design team put forth considerable effort in understanding public and stakeholder values associated with the Riverfront Parkway. After numerous stakeholder meetings, an intensive three-day public design charette, and a series of public workshops and presentations, the design team established consensus on a strategy that would transform the Riverfront Parkway from a high-speed highway to a more traditional urban pedestrian oriented parkway

The Transportation and Urban Design Plan for: Chattanooga Riverfront Parkway provides planners and aspiring planners with a few important lessons. The plan is a testament to the importance of establishing consensus regarding the community’s values associated with transportation infrastructure projects. The planning process used by Glatting Jackson to develop the plan created community-wide support that led to $120 million from private funding sources and the design and construction of a world-class waterfront in less than three-years. No money was spent from the City of Chattanooga’s general fund to build the project. Furthermore, the plan emphasizes the crucial relationship between transportation and urban design. The design team was careful to propose solutions for the parkway in a way that would encourage quality urban design and maximize the development potential of the surrounding areas based on the community’s values. Lastly, the plan underlines the importance of technical expertise and communication skills. The design team was able to demonstrate to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) how the strategies proposed for the parkway would not adversely affect the surrounding neighborhoods or reduce capacity along the parkway below inappropriate levels. The ability to also communicate this technical information in a fashion that was easy to understand by city residents was crucial in creating consensus within the community.

In summary, the Transportation and Urban Design Plan for: Chattanooga Riverfront Parkway enabled the City of Chattanooga to join the ranks of other US cities that have been able to revitalize their downtowns through the redesign of riverfront highways into vibrant streets. The plan provides planners and aspiring planners alike with strategies that they may be able to use to assist other cities in achieving similar objectives.

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