Walking Districts are mentioned in the last paragraph of the recent article in The Scene about the state of sidewalk production in Nashville. They are a viable option for those roads that are at the bottom of the list. They afford a quick way to make them walkable without getting mired in the regrettably tedious current way of making sidewalks.
This is a refresher on what a Walking District is...
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 safely usher neighbors 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.