Report gives Nashville bad grade for pedestrian, cyclist safety

Monday, May 30, 2011 at 10:05pm
Jude Ferrara/SouthComm 

On one side of Lafayette Street are the J.C. Napier Homes, the public housing project that sits between Lewis Street and Charles E. Davis Boulevard. On the other are the Cee Bee Food Store, the Wishe Washe Coin Laundry and other obvious destinations for the many pedestrians who live across the street. On some days, particularly just before dusk with the sun dead ahead, driving toward downtown on Lafayette is like a troublingly real version of Frogger: pedestrians cross the street in random intervals and drivers must try to avoid them. 

In a sort of reverse, pedestrians along some sections of Harding Place headed toward the intersection with Nolensville Pike and the many restaurants and stores in the area — the Walmart Supercenter being the biggest — often must walk on the shoulder of the road or in the grass alongside it in lieu of sidewalks. 

And joggers in Green Hills at times tempt fate by running along and across the patchwork of that unique streetscape. 

While Nashville has made strides in improving pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists over the past few years, the city still has a long way to go, according to advocates for improving walking and biking conditions in Music City.

Last week, attorney and president of Walk/Bike Nashville David Kleinfelter drew attention to a recent study by Transportation for America that ranked Nashville as the 14th most dangerous large metro area for pedestrians out of the 54 largest cities. Memphis, by comparison, landed at No. 7.

The report, titled Dangerous by Design 2011, comes at a time when Transportation for America is urging Congress to include funding in the next federal transportation spending bill for safe walking and bicycle routes, for the completion of street networks as well as the connection of bikeways and sidewalks, and the adoption of a national “complete streets” policy that accounts for all users — from public transit riders to drivers to pedestrians to bicyclists to the disabled.

Muddying Nashville’s ranking is the fact that the data area in the study includes Franklin and Murfreesboro. The total population of that area, according to the study, was about 1.6 million people in 2009. Davidson County’s population is closer to 630,000, and its urban profile is quite different from the other two. 

According to the study, 204 pedestrian fatalities occurred in that Davidson County-Franklin-Murfreesboro area from 2000 to 2009. Over the same time period, 131 pedestrians were killed in Davidson County — 14.9 percent of the total number of traffic deaths, according to the report. 

In Tennessee, the number of African-American and Hispanic deaths per 100,000 people between 2000 and 2007 was nearly double that of non-Hispanic whites. Children and older adults also saw higher numbers of pedestrian deaths. 

The reasons for more pedestrian fatalities in certain areas vary. In some areas, a high volume of pedestrian traffic — some walk for convenience, some out of necessity — may be facing roads with no sidewalks, crosswalks or pedestrian signals.

But it isn’t all about the civic engineering. Even if those safety measures are in place, it doesn’t mean people will use them instead of darting across streets mid-block or into an intersection mid-green light. Part of increasing pedestrian safety could fall to educating pedestrians, or even police clamping down on enforcement of laws that go largely unconsidered. 

The concern of Transportation for America is that more people taking to the streets by foot or bike, encouraged by health benefits or even economic issues, may exacerbate potential dangers if the federal government doesn’t provide funding for state and local governments to engineer more multimodal streetscapes. 

The next version of a federal transportation spending bill is something the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is watching closely. The MPO — chaired by Mayor Karl Dean and composed of city and county leaders from Davidson County and most of its surrounding counties — prioritizes projects to distribute federal funds to supplement state and local dollars. 

The MPO’s latest update to its long-range Regional Transportation Plan, adopted in December, includes a significant shift in funding policy, to the Urban Surface Transportation Program funds for which urban areas within the MPO will be able to compete. Now, the funding plan sets aside 15 percent (where there had been none) of the total USTP funds (about $16.4 million for 2011-2015, after prior commitments) for “active transportation enhancements,” such as for walking and biking.

Also, the majority of the funds (70 percent) will be awarded to urban areas in the MPO based on how well their plans meet objectives that encourage multimodal transportation. 

Mark Macy, director of engineering for Metro Public Works, said the department has added 150 to 200 miles of sidewalks (bringing the total close to 1,000 miles) and 135 miles of bike lanes in the past 10 years.

Kleinfelter suggested it could take a sea change in the engineering field to displace old philosophies that he said harbor the idea of pedestrians and bicyclists as mere “obstacles” in the path of free-flowing vehicle traffic. 

But Macy said engineering regulations at every level — local to federal — have always taken into account safety for all modes of transportation. And, Macy said, with Metro’s 2010-2011 fiscal year capital spending plan allotting $12.5 million for sidewalks (double the historical average of $6 million a year), and another $3 million for bikeways (historical average: $118,000 a year), things are looking up. 

Kleinfelter praised Dean’s efforts so far in his administration. In October, the mayor signed the “complete streets” executive order, stating, “The Metropolitan Government desires to support and encourage a transportation system that is safe and convenient for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation through the development of Complete Streets.” 

(Requests to speak to representatives of Dean’s own Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee were redirected by the mayor’s office to Metro Public Works.) 

Dean “gets it,” Kleinfelter said, because he’s out there walking and biking, too. The 28th Avenue Connector, for which Metro set aside $18 million dollars of the capital-spending plan, is an example of the city heading in the right direction, he said. 

The “28th [Avenue Connector] is going to be a complete street,” Kleinfelter said. “My concern is … the mayor has said everything had to be a complete street. I think I still have concerns about whether the importance of that is trickling down to every project that the city’s engineers have any oversight over.”

Still, as Kleinfelter sees it, “We’ve got a big hole to dig out of,” adding that the report on dangerous metropolitan areas for pedestrians is a little misleading.

“The message isn’t that it’s unsafe, so don’t walk or bike,” Kleinfelter said. “The message is people are walking and biking more, which is necessary for their own health, for the environment — heck, for economic reasons.” 

And so funding and proper design may now be more important than ever. 

12 Comments on this post:

By: starkat on 5/31/11 at 5:24

Really...really... the Mayor's on top of it??!....then why don't we have crossing lights that actually WORK in alllll areas of town????...not just the Vanderbilt area that has pedestrians crossing AND autos turning at the same time!!

Coupled with the city endangering people's lives with their crazzzzy system...we have pedestrians UNAWARE that they should be looking both ways before crossing the street...

..we have major SPACE SHOT issues in this town!!...

PS to the multitude of "parents" that load and unload their children streetside???!!....QUIT IT....loading cars should be done sidewalk side...DUH!!

By: budlight on 5/31/11 at 7:09

And why do we have mothers trying to walk with children on a 12" path (or less) on Murfreesboro road in some areas, Hamilton Church Pike, Old Hickory Blvd, PinHook Road and Mount View Road -- all in Antioch. Because Antioch is not on Mayor Deans priority list.

I agree that some pedestrians are unaware of how to cross at intersections and proper crosswalks. They almost dare you to hit them. Cars hurt. And if hit by one, it can be a life time of pain or death. Educate some of these folks from other parts of the world where there are no laws or crosswalks. It could save their lives.

By: Radix on 5/31/11 at 7:53

This is a multifaceted problem. Public works, police, codes, and legislators ALL must work on this issue to get real results.

Public Works should be auditing streets and making changes to where you can park legally to get things up to current safety standards. Where we have sidewalks we need to stop putting brick mailboxes and telephone polls in the middle of them and parking on them. Where there is illegal parking police need to actually give tickets (every day if necessary).

Its going to take a lot more than just rolling out some sidewalks and bike lanes. Is the Mayors' task force coordinating these groups?

By: budlight on 5/31/11 at 9:54

Who parks on the sidewalk? Just everyone who is ignorant of the law. Who would that be?

I agree - parking tickets daily.

And I agree it will take more than sidewalks and bike lanes to cure our walk-about problem. But it's a start.

And pedal biker advocates and riders need to learn to follow the law the same as drivers of cars do. It's amazing how many of them break the law - riding the wrong way, turning without signals, not paying attention to red lights and stop signs. They are rude and careless as far as I'm concerned.

By: Kosh III on 5/31/11 at 10:30

It's not just Antioch. Drive up Dickerson Pike. You see NO sidewalks, ditches only inches from the pavement, utility poles right next to the pavement.
School kids and others have to try walk along a shoulder only inches wide, and often no shoulder.
It is difficult and expensive to install sidewalks in such a situation and of couse it's Dickerson Pike so the powers that be could care less.

By: DREIFMA on 5/31/11 at 11:47

Who cares, we dont have any statistically important percentage of people that want to, can or will ride their bikes to work or school. It might have been important 40 years ago when people actually did ride bikes to school. We have less bicycle riders than motorcycle riders, its just not important. We need to work on our mass transit for when the gasoline and natural gas run out. That is what we need to invest our brainpower and resources in. If we start building now at an affordable pace, in 50 years when these things begin to really run out, we will be ready.

By: nashtnman on 5/31/11 at 12:47

Add Stratford Ave in Inglewood to the list. I have been bitching about sidewalks there for years. School children have to walk in the street to get to school.

By: yucchhii on 5/31/11 at 1:22

yucchhii Yeah, Mayor DINK is on top of it alright! He's on top of keeping his little baby "The NEW CONVENTION CENTER" going! This is ALL he's interested in. He and the city councel DON'T care about anything else!!! "IF" He and the councel ACTUALLY cared, don't you think the "IMPORTANT" things would have gotten done by now? I don't care what ANYONE says, it's plain and simple and OBVIOUS that all he is concerned with is his little baby...the "NEW CONVENTION CENTER!" The "NEW CONVENTION CENTER" that was put to the vote and The VOTE said NO! The "VOTERS" said "NO! WE DON'T WANT IT!" See what THAT got them?" Now watch what happens on the "FAIR GROUNDS" issue. They want to put THAT to the vote also. HMMmmm, what do you think will happen there? If the VOTERS say KEEP IT, then mayor DINK will tear it out ANYWAY! So, it stands to reason that NONE of these things will come to pass anytime soon because of the previously mentioned! How about the street crossing lights? The cars are allowed to continue driving as you are crossing the street? I don't get it!! WHY, DO SOME PEOPLE INSIST ON DOING STUPID THINGS AND THEN ACTUALLY BELIEVING THAT EVERYBODY IN THE CITY IS STUPID?? I'm NOT looking to get hit by a vehicle, BUT, if I'm crossing WITH THE LIGHT, and I get hit, I "WILL" SUE THE DRIVERS INSURANCE COMPANY, THE PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT AND THE CITY HALL FOR NOT RECOGNIZING THE PROBLEM AND CORRECTING IT!!! NO IF'S, AND OR BUTS ABOUT IT!!!

By: gdiafante on 6/1/11 at 6:30

Uh do realize it costs money to institute all these changes to the roads...and if they started to do it, then you'd be complaining that we're spending taxpayer money that we don't have or could be better spent on something else.


By: Kosh III on 6/1/11 at 7:41


Yes, it takes taxpayer money and it would be well spent. I would like to see far more sidewalks and bikeways, as well as an expanded bus system. But no rail.
Just do it in the neighborhoods which need it, not downtown.

I'm not a conservative who is brain-dead from reichwing propaganda which demonizes government and taxation and thinks only of my own pocketbook.

By: Jason-Jaxan-Jas... on 6/1/11 at 10:57

Wow, Yucchhii. I hope you feel better.

By: localboy on 6/3/11 at 10:01

Wow... if we put our minds to it, we can still make it to no. 1!