ADVERTISEMENT
05-23-22 | Feature

A New Crossing at the University of Tennessee

A vibrant space that prioritizes pedestrian access
by Ross/Fowler Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Planning.
Photography by MOUNTAIN PHOTOGRAPHICS, INC., ICON AERIAL IMAGING, ROSS/FOWLER, P.C.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, the home of the University of Tennessee, a primary pedestrian and vehicular corridor called Volunteer Boulevard had major problems with peoples' access across the roadway. To help solve the problem, the university initiated the Volunteer Boulevard Campus Beautification Streetscape project. Ross/Fowler Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Planning was selected to oversee the venture. At this intersection, where approximately 15,000 students and faculty cross daily, the designers replaced the five lanes of asphalt, measuring 66 feet, with a new intersection that was raised to be flush with the adjacent sidewalks, concrete planters, bollards, lighting and a pedestrian refuge in the middle.
There were three project phases spaced out over five years. In that time, in addition to the eight intersections that were redesigned, four dedicated bus pull-off areas were added.
The existing street was lined with metered on-street parking on both sides, with a grassed median and sidewalks of varying widths. To compound issues, several buildings and small plazas had been recently built along the corridor, but they had little connection to the design of the campus.
The results of the project, which encompassed almost a mile, was a streetscape that gives precedence to pedestrian access and links 17 buildings and public gathering areas. To prioritize pedestrian movement, eight mid-block crossings were added along the length of the boulevard. These crossings incorporate raised concrete speed tables as a traffic-calming measure and include Belgard concrete pavers using a custom campus blend color palette.
A checkerboard pattern of concrete pavers was designed to emulate other motifs on campus, especially the iconic checkerboard end zones in the school's football field, Neyland Stadium.
The design included accessible pedestrian signals that give visual and audible warnings to deaf or visually impaired pedestrians at street intersections. And a new communications duct bank and wireless access points mounted on light poles were included.
To provide additional stormwater infiltration, pervious pavers were specified.
Green stormwater infrastructure was incorporated into the project to address EPA requirements for the university's Phase II Municipal Storm Sewer System (MS4). Towards this end, 151 bioswales were specified, each with specialized soil to filter, store and slow the stormwater discharge from the roadway and sidewalks. The bioswale plant material included over 12,000 plants, from 12 different adapted and native species. For even greater stormwater control, the tree wells include Silva cells.
The plantings included 21 species of trees (427 in all), 7,191 shrubs, 1,825 grasses, and 23,228 perennials. Trees serve to frame the corridor through the campus and provide carbon sequestration and shade for gathering areas. The plant palette changed along the length of the project in response to changing solar orientation as well as microclimate growing conditions, and to contribute to the biodiversity of the campus and attract a wide range of pollinators.

The Volunteer Boulevard Campus Beautification streetscape project was identified from the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus master plan as a primary pedestrian and vehicular corridor through the heart of the college campus. The existing street was lined with metered on-street parking on both sides, with a grassed median and sidewalks of varying widths.

Despite the slower posted speed limit, traffic and pedestrian conflicts were a constant concern. Pedestrian access across the roadway was limited to major intersections, and roadway lights provided the only light for the street and adjacent sidewalks. Several buildings and small plazas had been constructed along the corridor in the last ten years, but the spaces between them lacked unity and a connection to the campus as a whole.

The newly completed streetscape project, designed by Ross/Fowler, P.C., transformed the center of campus into a vibrant space that prioritizes pedestrian access and links 17 buildings and public gathering areas across 0.82 miles.
Over five years and three project phases, the project required the planning of eight intersections, added four dedicated bus pull-off areas, eight elevated speed tables to provide mid-block crossing areas and slow traffic speeds, and created 18 new outdoor gathering and seating areas for students. These new gathering areas incorporated campus standard benches, tables, and materials to reinforce the campus-wide aesthetic.

Accessible pedestrian signals were introduced to provide visual and audible warnings to deaf or visually impaired pedestrians at street intersections. A new communications duct bank and wireless access points mounted on light poles were included in the project to meet student requests for outdoor Wi-Fi and future building networking requirements. The project has been well-received by students, faculty, and campus administration, and has resulted in a major character change for the campus of 28,000 students and faculty.

Design Details and Materials
The intersection of the Joe Johnson/John Ward Pedestrian Mall and Hodges Library is arguably the most congested area of campus, where approximately 15,000 students and faculty cross this portion of Volunteer Boulevard each day. The original crossing required pedestrians to traverse 66 feet (5 lanes) of asphalt before reaching the curb on the other side. The new design raised the intersection flush with the adjacent sidewalks, giving pedestrian movement priority over the roadway.

img
 
Concrete planters, bollards, and lighting were used to provide a secure barrier between the two sides of the roadway with a pedestrian refuge in the middle. Concrete pavers laid in a large-scale, checkerboard pattern echo other checkerboard design on campus, including the brick checkerboard detail on historic Ayres Hall and the endzones in Neyland Stadium. Silva cells were used at the tree wells to ensure the trees planted would thrive in such an urban condition.

Mid-block Crossings
To prioritize pedestrian movement, eight mid-block crossings were added along the length of the boulevard. These crossings incorporate raised concrete speed tables as a traffic-calming measure and include Belgard concrete pavers using a custom campus blend color palette.

To improve connections to buildings along the corridor, the project design utilized site stairs and seat walls to address changes in grade and included campus standard materials to unify the spaces.

Site furniture and furnishings were strategically deployed along Volunteer Boulevard using a combination of the campus standard furniture, cast-in-place concrete step walls, and masonry brick seat walls which allow for new types of gathering and seating conditions.
Green Infrastructure
In addition to making roadway and pedestrian improvements, the University of Tennessee asked the design team to incorporate green stormwater infrastructure into the project to address EPA requirements for their Phase II Municipal Storm Sewer System (MS4) and to mitigate climate change and the chance for larger storm events. This request was answered with 151 bioswales containing over 600 cubic yards of specialized soil that receive water from the roadway surface and adjacent sidewalks and serve to filter, store, and slow the discharge rates of stormwater into the watershed.
The bioswale plant material was carefully selected to survive in harsh urban conditions and periods of inundation and included 12 different adapted and native species of 12,726 individual plants. In addition to bioswales, pervious pavers were incorporated to provide additional areas of stormwater infiltration.

Planting Design
Since Volunteer Boulevard changes from an eastwest to a northsouth orientation. Evenly spaced street trees form a unifying rhythm.

The bioswale plantings act as a buffer between the road mix plantings, playfully allowing the changes in texture to subtly mark the differences. Shrub plantings become more detailed to denote the separate entrances and seating areas found along the way. Ground cover is used generously to reduce the maintenance needs - most notably in the median which does not need to be mowed.

The beautification of Volunteer Boulevard was achieved using a mixture of native and adapted plants, including 427 trees consisting of 21 different species, 7,191 shrubs, 1,825 grasses,
and 23,228 perennials.
The bio-infiltration plant list includes Itea Virginica, Cornus Sericea 'farrow', Cares Lurida, Chasmanthium Latifolium, Rudbeckia Fulgida 'goldstrum', Fothergilla Gardenii, Juncus Effusus, Pennisetum Alopecuroides 'hamlen', Pennisetum Alopecuroides 'little bunny', Iris Versicolor, Deschampsia Flexuosa, and Rosmarinus Officinalis 'blue spire.

PROJECT TEAM
Client: The University of Tennessee
Prime Designer & Landscape Architect: Ross/Fowler, P.C.
Civil Engineer: Cannon & Cannon, Inc.
Electrical Engineer: Vreeland Engineers, Inc.
Traffic Engineer: CDM Smith, Inc.
General Contractor: Merit Construction, Inc.

img

Sign up for
LAWeekly newsletter. Get exclusive content today.