Granny White Pike is one of Davidson County’s most scenic streets — and one of its most potentially dangerous.
The recent cave-in of a portion of asphalt near Richland Country Club has focused new attention on the narrow, winding and car-heavy two-lane road, which is especially treacherous in certain segments between Harding Place/Battery Lane on the north and Old Hickory Boulevard on the south.
Because of land erosion and the lack of accompanying curb and stormwater management infrastructure, Granny White Pike — south of Harding and Battery — snakes along stretches of what is essentially an elevated land pedestal, with ditches and trees separating its asphalt shoulders by mere inches. One minimal overcorrection and any motorist would face the prospect of plummeting into dirt, rock and foliage.
“It’s brutal,” said Susan Tinney, a seven-year resident of the area. “I’m upset about it. I see other areas getting roads paved, and I don’t understand why Granny White can’t be improved. Where are the city officials here? If Metro officials had to drive through here, this road would be improved.”
Although most of Granny White south of Harding/Battery essentially splits Forest Hills and Oak Hill, Metro Public Works basically maintains the street.
Don Reid, who manages paving projects for the city, said addressing citizen concerns about Granny White brings about a multitude of issues, including obtaining costly right-of-way space, the installation of curbs and stormwater management infrastructure, and the possible moving of utility poles and street signs. He contends the road itself is in fine shape, with minimal cracks, potholes, excessively faded lines, and so forth.
“We’ve got 5,600 line-miles of curvy two-lane roads all through this county,” Reid said. “The amount of money it would take the city to go in and upgrade every [rural] road is not practical.”
Reid said the department is addressing approximately 150 street locations across Davidson County that Metro is repairing due to flooding.
As for Granny White, he said years of area subdivision development have resulted in a major traffic increase, which has contributed to quicker deterioration of the road and added to safety concerns.
But Tinney said there are other troubles with Granny White, such as potholes. She said she has talked to numerous neighbors who are upset.
“It’s frustrating,” Tinney said.
Travis Todd, president of the nonprofit mass transit advocate Transit Now Nashville and a civil engineer with Littlejohn Engineering Associates, said the Granny White segment “can be dangerous,” and that the potential danger can be minimized “if drivers are aware of their surroundings” and observe the speed limit, which is set — in part — to account for the road’s difficulty.
“That being said, Granny White has become a major commuter route spurred by Brentwood/Forest Hills development in the past decade,” he said. “It is time to look at this thoroughfare again and consider updates as the route carries more traffic than it was originally designed for.”
Metro Councilman Carter Todd, whose District 34 includes much of the rough segment of Granny White, said he has received a “good bit of complaints” from constituents.
Adding to their frustration was the time-consuming work on water lines on both Harding Place and Granny White, he said.
Todd said he would be opposed to a lowering of the 35 mph speed limit.
“Most people can navigate it,” he said of the road, adding he is optimistic it can be improved.
Like many Nashville streets that were once fully rural, Granny White has become victim to various factors that have evolved over time, including erosion of the land straddling the street, high-end development, heavy car traffic, and a 35 mph speed limit dictated by the city’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. A simple speed-limit reduction — though seemingly the least expensive way to help ease safety concerns — may not be practical, Travis Todd said.
Cracks in the pavement
Granny White Pike is not the only Nashville road that has devolved to a less-than-ideal state.
Countless streets lack curbs and sidewalks. Many are littered with mailboxes positioned a bit too close to their shoulders, with some mailboxes nastily embedded in sidewalks. Various secondary and tertiary roads are missing white edge lines, which some traffic experts say provide improved visibility (particularly at night) and, in theory, have the handy psychological effect of reminding motorists to reduce their speed.
For example, on the west side of Estes Road at Dartmouth Avenue (on what is the southwest corner of the T-intersection), there is no more than about three inches of asphalt from the white edge stripe to the point at which the asphalt ends and the eroding earth drops about two feet. Estes does boast a white edge stripe, but the room for motorist miscalculation is modest.
In East Nashville, the east shoulder of a segment of Cooper Lane between Demarius and Sandy drives straddles a ditch and a line of trees sprouting dangerously close by. Neither side of the road features a painted white edge stripe.
On the city’s north side, the 3000 block of Stokers Lane — between Tucker Road and Buena Vista Pike — instantly transitions from asphalt to ditch along the sides, with culvert-bolstered driveways pockmarking the street, which does not have a white edge line.
In south Nashville’s Radnor neighborhood, the east side of the 3200 block of Meade Avenue is rough. The same can be said for the 300 block of the south side of Crieve Hall’s Blackman Road, inches from the curbless shoulder along which sits a massive tree at roughly 340 Blackman.
Needless to say, examples are everywhere.
Of particular note, many of the problem streets are no more than four miles from downtown, their rural form and function contradicting conventional and useful urban streetscape design. To drive these streets is like zipping along a bucolic country lane — except in the middle of a large city with lots of cars and even some joggers and bicyclists.
To highlight the magnitude of the problem, consider this: In downtown Nashville’s SoBro district — at the northeast corner of the Peabody Street and Sixth Avenue South intersection, and one block south of the Music City Center site — both a stop sign and a massive utility pole rise from the street. A few feet from the ground, the wooden utility pole sports scratches and indentations, the effects of its being sideswiped and scraped by vehicles.
Freddie O’Connell, president of Walk/Bike Nashville, said Davidson County has numerous streets with bus stops along lengthy stretches of roads with no shoulders.
“We’re addressing the issue, but we still continue to have drainage grates throughout the city that are unfriendly to cyclists,” he said. “So I’d call the situation pretty serious. With such a large land area in a metropolitan government serving areas that are largely rural, it’s no surprise that the degrees of success in planning and operation have differed historically.
“But serious issues,” he added, “create serious opportunities.”