By Mike Steely
On January 6th Knoxville bus service to West Town Mall will end. Currently the map shows the route entering the shopping center’s parking lot and circling the venue but that is ending in a month.
The ending of the service, apparently passed on a split vote of the Knoxville Transpiration Authority, will reportedly speed up service to West Knoxville but the news falls hard on disabled bus riders. It means that those riders will have to get off outside the mall parking lot, cross the parking lot to enter the mall to do their shopping, and then get back out of the parking lot to catch a bus.
At last month’s KTA meeting, Knoxville Area Transit Director Isaac Thorne reported that ridership has been down during the pandemic but expects it to increase now. He called on Stephanie Brewer Cook to speak on the cut in service to the mall.
Cook, the city’s ADA coordinator, reported she has been talking with mall administration and suggested adding some of those mall people to the disability board.
“Maybe we can figure out a happy middle,” she said. She said her email started “going nuts” after the word circulated that the West Town Mall service would be dropped.
“The reason I spoke to this issue at the KTA meeting is because I wanted to make them aware that since their last meeting in October, some developments had occurred regarding the West Town mall route change and that, in my role as the City’s ADA Coordinator, I had met with members of the disability community and am working with both KAT Administration and the West Town mall management to seek alternative solutions,” Cook told The Focus, adding, “The next step is to continue that conversation with KAT and the mall.”
“The disability community will also be a part of that larger conversation and nobody yet knows what the end result will be,” Cook said.
“KAT, the City and the Mall management are open to suggestions and finding resolutions that work best for the majority. Since this is still a ’work in progress,’ I can’t provide an update beyond this at the moment,” she said.
While the work is progressing between all parties, there is another option for those disabled seeking transport next month.
“I know that KAT and the City of Knoxville Disability Office is working on solutions. The KAT LIFT might be an option,” Karen Estes, the Community Action Committee director of Transit, told The Focus.
A call to KAT LIFT found that their service will continue to take people to and from West Town Mall main entrances. Getting a LIFT pickup requires an approved application and advanced notice of the times to be picked up and returned. KAT LIFT information is available by calling 865-215-7850.
Belinda Woodiel-Brill, director of Planning and Public Information for the Knoxville Area Transit, said that the changes may not even take place until mid-February due to workforce shortages.
Woodiel-Brill shared the memorandum she sent to the KTA Board:
“Pre-Covid ridership numbers seem to confirm that KAT passengers were not heavily using the stop at the mall entrance. Numbers for a two-week period indicate 8-9 boardings at that location, averaging less than one boarding per day. Discussions with Westview Towers residents indicated that their primary destinations were Walmart or inbound on Route 11. KAT staff has also had several conversations with Westview Towers residents and management regarding bus stop access both inbound and outbound along Gleason Rd.
“A new mid-block crosswalk or other pedestrian enhancements that would improve access to the inbound bus stop on Gleason have been requested of the City’s Engineering department, and that plan is ongoing. KAT staff has been working with the mall management on the issue of access as well. Reconfiguration of the parking area created additional challenges to direct service by bus. However, the mall management together with KAT and the City’s ADA coordinator have been working on options to maintain a path of travel from a KAT stop on Morrell to the nearest mall entrance. The mall is currently examining a couple of options, and they expect to have this completed within the next year.”
The KTA board meets on December 16.