Oh, Nashville - we can do better. The recent piece on NPR about Nashville's Metro Codes being understaffed rings so true if you are someone who is highly interested in walking. Port-a-potties literally placed mid-sidewalk are, sadly, not terribly uncommon. Parking meters, also mid-sidewalk. Guide wires. Poles. All mid-sidewalk. No one is watching. No one is being held responsible. No fines collected. No corrections made.
Situations like this, of stuff in the middle of the sidewalk, should lead to a fine & correction. Preferably, a steep fine that is memorable to the contractor/developer & speedy repair.
NPR reports, with the provocative title of 'Metro Codes Is Understaffed And Handles Citizen Complaints With A ‘Skewed’ System, Consultants Find', that codes is 'understaffed and overwhelmed'.
'And it describes the system of responding to citizen complaints — about uncut grass, garbage in alleyways, and unsafe buildings — as “skewed more toward protecting the rights of property owners against unjustified complaints than it is toward providing relief to neighbors.”'
The consultants 'suggest several changes to add teeth to enforcement'.
If you live in Nashville, you know exactly what this means. You can call about an issue but then see the same thing pop-up on the next block over. It is EXHAUSTING to notice these things and make these calls/complaints. When you do call, you, as a citizen, are frequently asked to gather more information before action can be taken. In a city that is properly staffed, I don't think they would be asking you to do leg work. In Nashville, this asking for more, almost feels like a push-off. Like if they ask you for more, you'll just drop it. That is not the spirit and we can do better.
Had lunch at the Smiling Elephant today. Went directly from work so drove. Thought I'd beat the lunch rush but the parking lot was PACKED. Found the only parking spot available - in the back down a fairly steep hill into the tiny cramped lot also at a precarious incline. Arriving into the restaurant, I was surprised to see that it was not full to capacity. With my window on the lot, I noted that most diners arrived alone, parked, and headed in. Now, the Smiling Elephant is on Franklin Road/8th Av S. It is in the heart of a rapidly changing neighborhood, one that is becoming much more dense. Without consistent and well done sidewalks, it is a challenge to safely arrive on foot. There is a sidewalk out front but it is the type directly next to the fast paced cars - does not feel safe or inviting. And, it is peters out inexplicably as so many sidewalks do in Nashville. Hence, the steady stream of individuals arriving alone in their cars.
Restaurants, shops, and bars are natural allies in the push for better walkability in Nashville. I am sure there are days that people don't stay to eat if they cannot find a spot to park.
If you own or manage a business and would like to support better walkability, shoot me an email at: email@example.com and I will send you a Nashville Needs Sidewalks sign for your window. Consider a financial gift, too: http://thesidewalkfoundation.org. You can also vote for where a sidewalk is needed at this same link.
I have to say I completely 100% disagree with John Brittle of PARKS reality. The idea is to start. To start building sidewalks in earnest so we can knit them together to form a whole sidewalk network. Nashville knows we have been waiting desperately for walkability. It saddens me thoroughly that someone would call themselves an 'in-fill' specialist and not recognize that walkability is a key piece to the success of this kind of work.
If you would like to let him know that you also disagree - here is his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nashville considers new sidewalk requirements for developers
Joey Garrison , email@example.com 11:34 p.m. CST December 5, 2016
Sidewalks will take center stage at the Metro Council in the coming months as multiple bills seek to apply pressure to developers in Nashville to ensure that more are built and existing ones aren’t blocked during construction.
An ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Angie Henderson of Green Hills looks to close what she calls a “loophole” in Metro's code in which developers of new single-family homes and duplexes on many heavily trafficked roads in Davidson County don't have to build sidewalks. They would instead face a new requirement to provide them.
Her proposal also would sharply reduce the number of opportunities in which developers — for residential and nonresidential projects — have the option of paying a fee to the city instead of building sidewalks.
Henderson, a longtime advocate for improving pedestrian accessibility in congested Green Hills, said it’s long past time for Metro to take action to spur more sidewalks, particularly amid Nashville’s steady growth.
“The time was really 50 years ago and then the time was 10 years ago,” Henderson said. “I just wish the city had done this in advance of this building boom, but there’s no time like the present.
“We as a council hear loud and clear that people want sidewalks, and I’m of the mind that it’s a basic civic right to be able to safely walk where you need to go.”
But some in the real estate and development community oppose the measure and have given it a name to express their displeasure — “sidewalks to nowhere.” The new rules, they say, would have the effect of requiring small stretches of sidewalks on some roads that currently have no sidewalks at all.
“There’s just no reason for this at all,” said Nashville real estate agent John Brittle of PARKS Realty, who specializes in residential infill homes, particularly in Green Hills.
He said consumers looking for affordable housing would be most hurt by the sidewalk mandate because costs would be passed down to them.
Brittle said that Metro hasn’t done a good enough job of spending public funds on sidewalks. “And they want to make us start building little chunks of sidewalks all over town?” he said.
“Metro is the government. The department of public works builds sidewalks — or is supposed to be building sidewalks. They know how to do it. It’s ludicrous.”
Brittle said the city should instead allow builders of single-family or two-family homes to pay a fee that would go toward sidewalks. Under current law, only developers of subdivisions are required to either build sidewalks or pay into the fund.
Henderson’s bill is on Thursday’s Metro Planning Commission agenda, but it is scheduled to be deferred until Jan. 12. It would then head for a public hearing at the council and second of three votes Feb. 7.
Combating blocked walks
In a separate legislative push, Councilman Jeremy Elrod, who is chairman of the council’s Public Works Committee, has filed a pair of bills that would try to force developers to keep sidewalks next to their property open during construction.
He’s looking to combat a trend in which developers pay small fees to close sidewalks during construction of their buildings, often leaving pedestrians and bicyclists relying on roadways to get around construction sites.
The nonprofit Walk Bike Nashville this past year sought to raise awareness of the issue by encouraging Nashvillians to identify examples of sidewalk interference on social media with the hashtag #DontBlockMyWalk.
Elrod said the situation has gotten so bad in development-rich downtown that sidewalks on both sides of a road are occasionally blocked. He said now is the time for “big steps” instead of incremental measures.
Elrod has filed an ordinance, set for a first of three votes Tuesday, that would require approval from the council for sidewalk obstructions or excavations that close a public right of way for more than year. The requirement would be added to the sidewalk closure permit process overseen by Metro Public Works.
He’s also introduced a resolution, also scheduled for consideration Tuesday, that would ask Metro Codes and Public Works to produce recommendations for the council’s consideration to address the placement of construction equipment that blocks public streets, sidewalks, alleys and other rights of way.
“Sidewalks are closed too often for too long, and there’s not enough done to keep them open or to shorten the timeframe,” Elrod said. “We’re spending a lot of money on building new sidewalks, and yet the ones that we have in the mostly highly trafficked areas in town we’re closing on a regular basis.”
Earlier this year, the council passed an ordinance led by Councilwoman Burkley Allen that requires developers to create alternate paths during construction when sidewalks are closed. But enforcement has been a problem.
Under Metro’s code, developers can apply for permits to close sidewalks. It costs them $55 for up to five days and $10 for each additional day. The penalty is a flat fee of $165 as well as $30 for each day after the fifth day of closure.
Elrod plans to file future sidewalk legislation as well, including a proposal to raise the closure fees for developers, which he said is so low that they don’t even make line items on their budgets. He said the small fees mean that the public works department lacks resources for an adequate number of sidewalk inspectors to enforce the alternate route requirement.
“There’s no incentives or disincentives for getting folks out of the right of way except for their own bottom line,” Elrod said.
“It’s just totally out of whack and I’m tired of it, and I think a lot of Nashville is tired of it. We want development. We want growth, but we need our sidewalks open.”
Aligning sidewalk efforts
Henderson’s bill, which has more than 10 co-sponsors, would require that sidewalks be provided for multifamily and commercial development on streets in the Urban Services District that are defined as “major and collector” as well as secondary streets that are one-quarter mile away from neighborhood “centers.” These centers are outlined in the NashvilleNext plan, which was adopted by Metro last year.
Her ordinance also would require sidewalks in front of single-family or duplexes on any street in the Urban Zoning Overlay. Sidewalks also would be mandated for single-family or duplexes on major and collector streets in the USD and secondary streets that are a quarter-mile from neighborhood centers. This would extend the sidewalk requirement to many suburban areas in Nashville.
Henderson and Metro planners are in the process of mapping her ordinance to detail precisely which streets would face sidewalk requirements.
Former Mayor Karl Dean’s final capital budget included $25 million for new sidewalk projects, which involve repairs and sidewalk construction. During her first year in office, Mayor Megan Barry has allocated $30 million for sidewalks.
Some council members have grumbled about the rate in which new sidewalks are getting built from these recent infusions. The Nashville Scene reported last week that Metro failed to build any of the sidewalk projects identified for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
According to Billy Fields, interim spokesman of the public works department, Metro has completed or is in the process of building 4.1 miles of new sidewalks since July 2015, totaling $9.3 million.
He said Metro has made repairs along 34.6 miles of sidewalks, totaling $14.3 million.
Fields said every sidewalk project is different and construction time is often dependent on whether Metro has to acquire property.
Barry’s administration is in the process of updating the city’s sidewalks and bikeways master plan for the first time since 2008. Henderson said that’s even more reason why now is the right time for her sidewalks proposal.
Henderson acknowledged that sidewalk “gaps” would be a reality, at least initially, if her ordinance becomes law. But she pointed to NashvilleNext, a plan for the city's future growth that identifies neighborhood centers as places that need better connectivity.
Henderson also referenced ongoing efforts to ensure that future sidewalk projects are prioritized in a way that values things such as access to schools, parks and transit and that future sidewalk money goes toward the priority lists.
“We’re trying to bring things into alignment so that yes, the city is building more sidewalks but also yes, the development community is building new sidewalks,” Henderson said.
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.
I am currently working on a new concept called Walking Districts. Designed for local streets that are highly walked but have a low Sidewalk Priority Index (SPI) score. With our current system of using the SPI, these areas would be last on the list of sidewalk creation. And, maybe rightfully so. The areas I am talking about are low volume in vehicular traffic neighborhoods and many have a park-like feel.
The concept entails 3 things making it a quick, easy, and inexpensive fix. The first is signage: a sign announcing that you are entering a Walking District. The second is a street decal (think of the bicycle decal you see on roadways but change it to a pedestrian). The third is a speed limit reduction to 20mph.
I know it isn't perfect but it is doable. And, it could get the ball rolling for Nashville to be a great walking city, particularly if rolled out with Public Awareness Campaign on Pedestrian Rights.
The loop in my neighborhood of Golf Club, Woodleigh, Forrest Park and Timber is, for example, highly walked for its fairly quite streets and thick tree coverage. It already has a great park-like feel which is appealing to walkers. But, the roadway is narrow and the speed limit is 30mph. So, when walking, one has to often either wave to make sure driver has seen you or head off the road into the grass for safety.
Why not flip this, so that the pedestrian has the advantage? Some of these roads I have mentioned are 2 blocks long (& loaded with children). Does anyone really need to drive 30+ mph?
I like to think of this project as a 'Greenway Extender' - a way to create a Greenway-like space in an already well walked neighborhood with only minor changes.
I am writing to ask for your support for the concept of Walking Districts in Nashville.As Nashville grows, the demand for walkability increases. Traffic and increased density are major concerns to many. Inability to walk to public transportation, shopping or other areas of interests due to lack of safe sidewalk options is noteworthy in many areas. In addition, the ability to access Greenways, parks and schools often requires a car ride prior to launching out on foot. As you are well aware, the city is behind in regards to walking infrastructure and cost to build sidewalks is a sizable burden.
In September 2015, the US Surgeon General announced a national Call to Action, urging cities and towns to consider how the design of our roads and public spaces can encourage more walking by making it easier, safer and more convenient. While we wait for sidewalks, to further the goal of making Nashville a safe and active walking city, consider a proposal that would vastly improve our current situation for little cost. The proposal would reconceptualize select streets that are currently at the bottom of The Sidewalk Priority Index according to The Nashville-Davidson County Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways into 'Walking Districts'.
The project entails 3 simple changes: signage announcing area to be a 'Walking District', pedestrian decals on the roadway akin to those utilized for bikeways, and a speed limit reduction to 20mph.
This proposal allows for certain key roads to be repurposed into 'Walking Districts'. The roads could be strategically chosen based on their proximity to schools, parks, shopping or Greenways, their popularity as deemed by pedestrians or neighborhood associations, their residential nature or other points of interest.
Envision this as a way to motivate Nashvillians to get active. According to the CDC website, 62.1% of adults in Nashville/Davidson County are considered overweight or obese and 50% of adolescents. Average active minutes are reported at a dismal 4 per day. Envision this as a possible Greenway extender. This could be a way to safelyusherneighbors onto the Greenway and eliminate the need to drive to the park. In a similar fashion, this could allow for elevated utilization of public transportation. Envision this as a way to allow people to safely and comfortably walk to public transportation.
Consider the impact on public safety. Crash data supports the average risk of severe injury to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle reaches 10% at 16mph, 25% at 23mph and 50% at 31mph. Similarly, death occurs 10% of the time at 23mph, 25% at 32mph and 50% at 42mph (AAA data, 2011). Smart Growth for America rates Nashville the 15th most dangerous city in the US for pedestrians which stands in stark opposition to our popularity in many other domains.
Presumably, these roads we are proposing may never get sidewalks and we understand that. Since they are mainly in residential neighborhoods, people currently use them to go for a walk, visit their neighbors and connect to the busier collector and arterial streets. But without sidewalks, they are unsafe and uncomfortable when shared with vehicular traffic traveling through at 30 mph. With the enhanced safety, we believe that you will see many more people including children and elderly walking in their own neighborhoods and engaging with active transportation options.
When Mina Johnson was elected to Metro Council a year ago, she asked Metro Public Works about a sidewalk that has long been on the list of wishful capital projects, but never in the spending budget. Could the department install the sidewalk now? Students attending Hillwood High School who use free bus passes are let off on Harding Pike, and walk 0.7 miles on Davidson Road over train tracks and in ditches on the side of the road, alongside commuter traffic and school buses, sometimes in the dark.
The Metro Nashville Department of Public Works divided the project into three phases, citing budget constraints. The first phase covers 0.4 miles from Hillwood High School to H.G. Hill Middle School, which will be useful to the middle-schoolers who use the high school’s athletic facilities. The second phase will add 0.2 miles of sidewalk, and the final 0.1 mile phase will reach Harding Pike.
Only the first phase is listed in “Projects Planned and In-Progress,” just compiled by the department, and, along with 51 other sidewalk projects in the city, that short sidewalk remains mired in the design phase with no estimated date of completion.
“Something’s not right,” says Johnson. “They haven’t even done the first phase. Kids should be a priority.”
Dr. Stacy Dorris, a pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at Vanderbilt, agrees. Dorris has become a pedestrian crusader, fighting for new sidewalks and repairs on Bowling Avenue from West End to Woodmont, next to Elmington Park. “It’s not fair that families have to risk their safety to get to the park,” she says. Progress has been elusive. “I’ve been talking about this for three years, and I’m in the same place I was.”
Patience is waning all around the city. The Google group Walking and Biking in Nashville was started last year to keep residents informed. Hume-Fogg Academic High School students convened the community project Stop! Take Notice to increase pedestrian safety downtown. Newcomers from more walkable cities and longtime Nashvillians are meeting to discuss walkability in their neighborhoods.
Even with effort, funding and the mayor behind the sidewalks cause, improvement is hard to find. Want to walk to the nearest park or greenway? You could very well wind up walking inside a ditch and darting vehicular traffic, with no safe place to cross the street. How about if you decide to take public transit? Without sidewalks, it may take real courage to walk to the closest bus stop.
Metro Council members say they don’t understand what’s taking so long. When Burkley Allen was elected to Metro Council in 2011, she compiled a list of two dozen places in her Vanderbilt/Belmont district that needed better pedestrian infrastructure. “They did the repairs in the first two years, even some I didn’t ask for,” she says. As for new sidewalks, her district received its second a few months ago. “It’s a long, drawn-out process,” Allen says.
“I am frustrated, I think we all are,” says Ed Cole, president of the Alliance for Green Hills. “All trips involve an important component, that’s walking. It’s got to be upgraded and made more urgent.”
This has been a glaring problem for years. Former mayors Bill Purcell and Karl Dean recognized it, and began to allocate more funding. “The demand is there,” Dean says. “When I go to Kroger, people ask where their sidewalk is.” He urges patience. “We’re making up for decades of not doing it,” he says.
For the 2015-2016 fiscal year, $25 million was allocated for sidewalks. It was a welcome boost from outgoing Mayor Dean, who had already devoted $57 million to sidewalks in the previous seven years. But as the fiscal year came to a close in June 2016, none of the chosen new sidewalks for the year were installed. To date, not one of those sidewalks has materialized.
It’s bewildering. Where are the sidewalks? There are $35.5 million in specific new sidewalk projects in the works, for a total of 86,782 linear feet (16.4 miles). Even with those, Nashville remains well behind peer cities: Memphis has more than 3,400 miles of sidewalk, Nashville will have 1,119.
Yet the city can’t seem to get concrete poured for new sidewalks. Some of the projects on the list are a few years old. Date for installation is “as soon as possible,” says Billy Fields, spokesperson for Metro Public Works. “Historically, complicated projects can take as long as three years to complete.”
A shakeup in leadership at Public Works, a yearlong strategic planning process and investigation into a possible new Metro Department of Transportation are taxing resources, at least in the short run. The current stagnation is worth it if these efforts bring faster results, says Councilman Freddie O’Connell.
Methodical planning has tried the patience of thousands of residents who told the city of their desire for sidewalks three years ago, when the planning department initiated NashvilleNext, and they said it again for the Metro Transit Authority’s nMotion plan, and again for Public Works’ WalknBike. Others participated in the Chamber of Commerce and Urban Land Institute studies. There is universal fatigue.
“I’m actually sick of planning,” Mayor Megan Barry told a crowd at the Open Streets Nashville festival on Oct. 30. “I actually want to start doing.”
Though last year’s budget has yet to be exhausted — in fact, sidewalks are still being constructed with 2014-2015 funds — the mayor allocated another $30 million to sidewalks this year. However, half of the budget goes to repairs. With an average cost of $434 per linear foot, and individual projects ranging from $85,000 to $4.35 million, that $15 million can only do so much. Furthermore, planning is a long process.
“People think you pick a street [that needs a sidewalk], and you build it,” says Jason Radinger, bike-ped coordinator at Metro Public Works. “It doesn’t work that way. There are a lot of factors that go into getting a sidewalk shovel-ready. It takes eight months to a year to get a complete plan.”
It works like this: A street is identified as one that needs a sidewalk, with priority given to locations near schools and parks or where existing sidewalks need connections. Alternatively, a council member can propose a location. A survey is conducted. Radinger meets with the council member, community meetings take place for stakeholder input, and other Metro entities are consulted, including MTA and the parks and water departments.
Easements and right-of-way arrangements must be completed. An ordinance has to pass the Metro Council for each parcel that Public Works buys. Fair market value is determined by the county property assessor, but the property owner has to agree on the value. “If one person holds out, we have to go through a legal process,” says Radinger. He cites one owner currently delaying a sidewalk because reappraisals next year will likely raise the value. Occasionally, residents flatly oppose a sidewalk. “Sometimes you can do without the easement, but it pisses off homeowners,” Radinger says. “We want to make sure we’re all leaving happy, holding hands.”
Engineers plan the sidewalk. Then it is evaluated for stormwater effects, along with every other construction project in the county. “One of our projects is 37th in line for a storm water review,” says Radinger. The plan must be reviewed for Americans With Disabilities Act compliance, and the Tennessee Department of Transportation reviews it as well. The ongoing paving schedule is considered — would adding a sidewalk mean a newly repaved road would have to be torn up? Utilities are consulted, and poles may have to be relocated, adding time and expense.
Sometimes a sidewalk can be extraordinarily costly. For example, the new sidewalk on Hart Lane from Jere Baxter Middle Prep to Ellington Parkway is 800 linear feet, but is costing $2 million because tons of rock and dirt have to be removed, according to Fields. Public Works worked with TDOT to arrange partial state funding.
After months of planning, a sidewalk contractor is asked for a bid. Metro has to produce a bond. Then Public Works has to get time on the calendar of a busy contractor. Finally, a new sidewalk is installed.
Slow progress doesn’t sit well given that more than two dozen pedestrians have been killed since the beginning of last year. The outcry for more walkable streets has reached a crescendo in some neighborhoods. Residents near 51st Avenue North are upset that even though the street has just been redesigned, storm water problems fixed, and bike lanes added, there are still no sidewalks to access Richland Creek Greenway at the end of the street. Residents near Eighth Avenue South, and tourists renting houses there, are upset that they can’t safely walk to restaurants and bars.
The most dangerous place to walk in the county is Lower Broadway. More than a year ago, stanchions were installed to temporarily widen the sidewalk in the name of safety. With the influx of tourists and conventioneers taking over narrow sidewalks in a nighttime street jamboree, more pedestrian crashes took place there than anywhere else in the city. Intoxicated revelers were crossing the street mid-block, right into traffic.
Both Public Works and the Metro Department of Planning suggested widening the sidewalks, but businesses wanted to keep on-street parking for deliveries of beer and load-in by musicians. Instead of charging through these concerns and simply improving the sidewalks, Public Works took over the parking spaces and set up a 90-day experiment. The stanchions are still up a year later, and a permanent solution cannot be expected any time soon. A few merchants still want on-street parking, says Ron Yearwood, assistant director of the Nashville Civic Design Center, and another year of experimentation commences.
The urban designers of Gehl Studio (of Times Square revitalization fame) have been hired to consult. Their recent survey and stakeholder meetings revealed that there is a need for shade, storm water management, outdoor seating and dining, and more nighttime activity at the riverfront. And some people are still jaywalking. Gehl will host another stakeholder workshop to discuss pilot projects.
Yearwood sees testing as important to the process, noting that Times Square evolved over many years to become what it is today. Gehl’s recommendations for Lower Broadway will be issued in early 2017, and Yearwood estimates it will be at least another year before there is heavy investment to permanently fix the situation.
Temporary infrastructure is becoming popular in other parts of the city as well. “Sometimes the price tags and time involved in major projects get in the way of getting things on the ground quickly,” says Nora Kern, executive director of Walk Bike Nashville. Mayor Barry condones tactical urbanism, and the city granted $25,000 to TURBO, the volunteer organization behind pop-up walkability events and a demonstration “complete streets” block party.
There are high hopes for the $322,000 WalknBike plan, the update to the Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways, expected to be adopted early next year. It will include a five-year plan of sidewalk projects, shortening the planning time for each sidewalk by one to three months — the time it now takes to decide on the year’s projects. Furthermore, it will encourage sidewalk planning consultants to add staff, says Radinger. That heavy reliance on outside consultants may also be re-evaluated; Metro employs only seven part- or full-time bicycle and pedestrian staff, while Denver, an aspirational city, employs 26. Furthermore, Kern anticipates the new plan will abandon the 50/50 split between new installations and repairs to increase funding new sidewalks, and drop the requirement that every council district receive a portion of the annual sidewalk budget.
Advocates are bringing more solutions. Knowing that the pace quickens when city coffers are boosted by private funding, Cole is galvanizing support for a Green Hills Business Improvement District, identical to the one in the Gulch. Property owners would be assessed, and state and federal funds would match. “It’s an arrangement where people can know they’re going to get what they pay for,” Cole says.
Though statistics are not readily available through Public Works on sidewalks installed by real estate developers, they are often responsible for building sidewalks on a site. Council member Angie Henderson, who began volunteering in an effort to make Green Hills more walkable in 2000, thinks Nashville developers are let off easy. She has drafted a bill that would increase requirements, include the builders of one- and two-family homes located near a designated “center,” and make it harder to merely pay a fee and forgo the sidewalk. Disconnected coverage can be filled in by the city, Henderson says.
For side streets that are low priority for new sidewalks, Dorris has invented Walking Districts. “Cars would be the visitor,” she envisions. With minimal expense — Metro traffic engineer Chip Knauf estimates $5,000 a neighborhood — Walking District signage, decals on the pavement and lowered speed limits should make walking safer. Hillsboro/West End, Cleveland Park and Pinnacle Point are being considered for the strategy.
“It’s important to provide the opportunity to walk,” Henderson says. “It’s a fundamental civic right.”