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Monday, January 25, 2016

Shade Parade's Letter to the Mayor

Dear Mayor Barry,

First, a word of hearty congratulations on your recent election as Mayor!    We know you will do great things for our city of Nashville. You are a strong advocate for walkability, as we are, therefore it seems right to express our concerns and our desires on this issue now.   The timing of this letter is calculated.  We are so thankful that you have allocated additional funding towards sidewalks already.  We understand there are many pressing issues in Nashville but we know that walkability is a dire one that will require early and clear-sighted commitment.

In September, 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.  Transportation for America has deemed Nashville the 15th worst city for pedestrians in regards to pedestrian vs vehicular deaths.   The MPO reports that Tennessee is the ‘least active state in the Nation’.  With Nashville facing some grim health statistics, such as 36 percent of Nashville youth being obese or overweight, according to our own website, we would argue that now is the time to commit to a city wide plan to radically change our access to safe and reliable walkability. 

In addition, there are no great walking cities in the South so, we argue, why not make Nashville the first?  Nashville is ripe with tourism: with our energized food culture and fertile music scene, and our many young creative entrepreneurs who desire a more spontaneous way of moving around the city that simply requires two feet. Plus, the locals want it!  The latent demand for walkability is huge! But, without a uniform, well-designed and funded plan for sidewalks, we cannot move forward.   This is where we ask for your help.

We ask that you strongly consider a few changes with regards to sidewalk infrastructure investment.  

1. Uniformity.

Have a vision for a uniform, well-designed sidewalk plan.  Currently, Nashville feels like a crazy quilt of patchwork options when it comes to walkability.  You never know what you might get in terms of infrastructure: a sidewalk might be present, absent, directly next to the road, with a buffer, disconnected, with numerous barriers smack in the middle, thin or wide.  We ask that all arterial and collector roads have sidewalks planned that are of the appropriate width and include a green buffer where trees should be planted.  The Nashville-Davidson County Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways did a lovely job of delineating the appropriate dimensions of arterial roads requiring a 6’ buffer and 8’ sidewalks and collector streets requiring a 5’ buffer with a 6’ sidewalk (Appendix B, Figure 4).  Regrettably, we are slowly building sidewalks that do not match these standards.  With implementation of a consistent plan for sidewalks in regards to dimensions, the pleasure, predictability and safety of walking will be vastly increased.  

2. Completion Date.

We ask that the sidewalk plan have a realistic completion date with appropriate funding.  The Nashville-Davidson County Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways is a good one – it has just laid mostly fallow due to funding.   We worry that asking Council to allocate funds year by year does not allow for a clear long-term vision to be implemented.  As you may recall, as part of the recent election cycle we asked all candidates to pledge to complete the 2008 Strategic Plan for Sidewalks, or equivalent, within 10 years.  Seventeen CMs took the pledge or strongly endorsed this project, and we believe we will easily be able to achieve a 21-vote majority on Council to facilitate this vision.

In addition, we ask that developers chips in.  As you know, currently the In-Lieu Fee allows developers to pay a drastically reduced fee rather than put in sidewalks.  We think this is a mistake.  If developers were required to put in their piece of sidewalk, the grid could be woven together much more quickly.  It also sends the signal that we are creating the best walking city in the South as we create a more urban experience with higher density.  A win-win for locals as well as newcomers.

3. Safety.

In the meantime, to further the goal of making Nashville a safe and great walking city, consider speed reduction on our local roads.  These are the roads that are in purely residential neighborhoods and have a very low Sidewalk Priority Index Score according to The Nashville-Davidson County Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways.  Presumably, these roads may never get sidewalks and we understand that.  Since they are in residential neighborhoods, people use them to go for a walk, visit their neighbors and connect to the busier collector and arterial streets.  But without sidewalks, it feels unsafe to have vehicular traffic traveling through at 30 mph.  One very inexpensive gesture towards walkability would be to reduce the speed to 25 mph in these places - and ticketing could also generate revenue to help fund sidewalks!  We see this as a possible extension of the easily recognizable success of Nashville’s Greenways.  You could label these residential neighborhoods as Walking Districts with appropriate signage akin to a Greenway and really inspire people to get out on foot.   With the enhanced safety, we believe that you will see many more children and elderly walking in their own neighborhoods. 

Lastly, in Nashville there is no law that says you should give pedestrians 3 feet clearance, the safety buffer for bicycles.  On local neighborhood roads without sidewalks, pedestrians do not even have a law that protects them from fast paced cars.  Pedestrians are unsure of the law, as are drivers, which adds to the sense of danger.  A clear statement needs to be made so that everyone knows the rules.  

While still focusing on safety, another fairly inexpensive change that we strongly advocate for is an extensive public health campaign to educate the drivers of Nashville that pedestrians do, in fact, have the right-of-way and we would argue that they should be given 3 feet as well.   This could change our culture quickly into one where people move from expressions such as ‘I saw you risking your life walking’ to ‘really great to see you out walking’.

Please let us know if we can clarify any of the thoughts or concerns above, and we are always ready to help in any way you need to make Nashville the best walking city in the South!

If you want better walkability, now is the time to contact your council person & the mayor's office:

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