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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Smart Growth America - new monthly webinar series. Nashville, educate yourself!

This could be highly interesting for Nashvillians!

The National Complete Streets Coalition is excited to announce a brand new monthly webinar series, designed to help professionals from a variety of disciplines put Complete Streets principles into action.

Implementation & Equity 201: The Path Forward to Complete Streets will explore a new issue each month related to creating safer, healthier, more equitable streets. The full lineup of topics includes:
  • Creating Value: Assessing the Return on Investment in Complete Streets
  • Making the Most of Main Street: Walking & Walkable Communities
  • Design Guidelines & Flexibility: The Latest and Greatest
  • Integrating Equity into Complete Streets Campaigns & Implementation
  • Urban Design & Complete Streets: Leveraging Human-Centered Design Principles to Maximize Public & Private Value
  • The Intersection of Vision Zero & Complete Streets
  • Debunking Transportation for Advocates: How to Effectively Engage with Transportation Planning During Implementation

Join the first webinar: "The Role of Public Health in Complete Streets"
What's the connection between public health and Complete Streets? And how can professionals in public health and transportation work together to create streets that are safe and convenient for a variety of active transportation choices?

Join us for “The Role of Public Health in Complete Streets”, the first event in our new webinar series. Co-hosts Voices for Healthy Kids and the American Public Health Association will join the Coalition in exploring all these questions and more during the event on February 15, 2017 from 1:00-2:00 PM EST.
Have a question about this topic that you’d be interested for us to explore? Email it to us ahead of time at, or find us on Twitter at @completestreets.

These events will be great opportunities to dig in on how to make Complete Streets happen in communities across the country. We look forward to having you join us.


Emiko Atherton,
Director, National Complete Streets Coalition
Smart Growth America

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Your Comments Needed! Walk N Bike - due Jan 31st!

Sidewalk Update:

Help Nashville shake this moniker

The Draft WalkNBike Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways has been released for public comment.  Comments are due by January 31, 2017.  

You can comment online here: 

You can view the draft plan here:

You can view the interactive sidewalk map here:  Hover over and click on the Priority sidewalks in red.  You can then submit a approve/disapprove vote.

You can view the Priority Sidewalk Network plan here:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sidewalks Improve Neighborhoods. They are a gift developers should want to give...

It is pretty frustrating when the development community in the boomtown (aka 'it' town) that is Nashville complains about contributing to the neighborhoods that they are richly profiting from.  They should do the right thing and put in their piece of sidewalk infrastructure. 

What I can say, is that it never gets cheaper.  Sidewalks are expensive but the easiest time to put them in is during construction - the equipment is there and the land already torn up.  

For more information:


new_builds__no_sidewalk.PNGOn November 15 Councilmember Angie Henderson introduced a bill, BL 2016-493, that could well be one of the most influential sidewalk bills in recent council history. This bill increases the requirement for when developers need to build sidewalks and would help reduce use of paying a fee in-lieu of, or rather than, building a sidewalk (the much maligned "In-Lieu Fee").

This bill has come out of a series of conversations around the Bike/Ped Master Plan update (it was one of our top 4 priorities) and ongoing discussions with Council, Metro Planning and Public Works. Since the majority of sidewalks in Nashville are built by private developers, not the city, it is essential that our sidewalk requirements reflect our city's desire to be a walkable and livable place.

While this bill is very complex, it would result in far more sidewalks being built across the city, and for this reason we strongly support it, and hope you will as well! Here's a quick summary of what it does.
If you love codes and policy, we strongly recommend you read the bill in its entirety here.


1. Require some sidewalks for residential development.
  • This bill closes a major loophole in our infill development requirements, by requiring single- and two-family infill development in the urban zoning overlay (UZO) to build sidewalks. And require sidewalks outside of the UZO on major and collector streets and near community centers (see here) to install sidewalk infrastructure. Currently single or two family developments aren't required to build sidewalks at all!  

2. Expands the area that requires sidewalks for commercial and multi-family developments.

3. Reduces the number of instances where a commercial or multi-family residential development can pay a fee instead of building a sidewalks. In other words, require more sidewalks!
  • ALL commercial or multi-family developments in the Urban Zoning Overlay, on a block with existing sidewalk, or along a major street will now be required to build a sidewalk.


  • This bill prohibits obstructions in sidewalk. For example, a utility pole.
  • This bill requires that a developer that is paying a fee in-lieu of building a sidewalk must still dedicate right of way for future sidewalk development.
  • Requires that if anyone seeks a variance, Metro Planning can recommend whether or not the variance is justified or if alternate design might be possible.


This is a complex bill and there will hopefully be a lot of discussion about whether or not this goes far enough (or too far).
  • Should we require sidewalks up to 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile from a center (currently it's just 1/4 mile)?
  • Should there be some sort of additional requirement around schools, parks or greenways?
  • Should the amount of the in-lieu fee be set by Public Works? How do we ensure it actually covers the cost of building a sidewalk?
  • Where does the in-lieu fee go? Currently they go to a neighborhood district, should it be required to be spent in the same neighborhood?


This bill will be heard by the Planning Commission on January 12 and at public hearing at Council on February 7. Contact your council member to let them know you support the bill! And consider joining us at both those dates to support expanding out sidewalk requirements. If you have specific questions there will also likely be a stakeholder meeting in December sometime to discuss the bill. So stay tuned for more details.


Here are some flow charts to help. Or feel free to email us or Councilwoman Henderson with questions.



In addition, sidewalks add value as they improve quality of life.  They increase the value of homes.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How We Talk About Pedestrian Deaths Matters.

This really hits home. It highlights one major reason I am so  passionate about pedestrians in Nashville. If I don't set a good example, I'm not convinced other Nashvillians will step up to that plate. 

Yielding to pedestrians is the law but I see & hear of drivers disabusing them everyday. We have a culture of treating pedestrians very poorly.  Just look at our infrastructure!!! It speaks to me & calls me to action.


How do we talk about about the ever present tragedy of people being killed by cars while walking in Nashville? It often seems this loss of life continues to fail to register as a public emergency. Far too frequently media outlets and police reports (in Nashville and across the country) cover these tragedies as mere accidents, placing subtle blame on the victims rather than looking more broadly at our street designs and why Nashville is one of the most deadly for pedestrians in the country.
We all have a responsibility to think carefully about how we talk about pedestrian fatalities, particularly those in the media. To end the week we wanted to share a poignant letter from one of our board members, Victoria Cumbow, who was disappointed by recent coverage of the death of Mr. William Smith in East Nashville on January 12th.
Victoria Cumbow is a member of theWalk Bike Nashville board of directors and works for JDRF International. The following is an excerpt from her response to a local story involving the death of Mr. Smith on January 12th. Emphasis was added by WBN.
I was very surprised by this story on your website today, and I wanted to share my thoughts. Originally, the headline reflected the injuries of the driver over that of the deceased. The lede of the story still reflects that, which denotes the importance of the driver's injuries over that of the person killed. It may seem insignificant, but the framing of that sentence is an ongoing frustration I see with the culture of Nashville traffic. I am an avid pedestrian and cyclist in the community, but I also drive my car each day to Brentwood from East Nashville for my work. I see many things on the road, and I see an increasing lack of concern for human life. That sounds extreme, but allow me to explain.
There have been times while crossing in a legal crosswalk, people have yelled at me in a threatening way. Once, a vehicle purposely sped up to "pretend" to hit me in a crosswalk and yelled at me for not walking faster. While cycling, people have thrown objects (once a glass bottle) at me or driven so close, I could reach out and touch the vehicle. And in my car while driving the speed limit, I've been passed, honked at, yelled at and a plethora of other things. It's terrible; the world is a mean place. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am a living, breathing human being with the capacity to love and to hurt and to feel. Every single one of those encounters could've cost me my life, and one of them almost did.
As a community, we are in such a hurry and so inwardly-focused, we are not taking the time to recognize the life on the other end of our reactions. I think this story signifies and perpetuates that very thing. Based on your station's reports, a vehicle was allegedly stopped allowing the pedestrian to cross, but another vehicle didn't slow or stop to find out why the first vehicle was stopped (per your account). In passing the stopped car, the driver allegedly collided with the pedestrian, resulting in a person dying. This article has such potential to explore what happened, to explain the scene, to shed light on the severity of the loss of human life, but it falls short. I walked away asking even more questions than what I came into the article wondering.
  • Were there crosswalks in the area?
  • Why did the second car pass?
  • Was it a two-lane road? (I believe it is making the passing of the second vehicle an illegal move.)
  • Was speed a factor?
  • A person died. Why is that not the lede?
A person's life was lost last night. Someone likely lost a brother, a child, maybe a spouse or a parent. A family's world is upside down, and the first thing you tell us is that a "driver was hurt". I would love to see news stories of compassion and feeling. I would love to see our culture become more caring and kind, and I believe that will start with those holding the microphone. Thank you for your time this morning, and thank you for what you do each day for Nashville.
After Victoria's email Channel 5 thanked her for reaching out and said they were going to do a follow-up on pedestrian safety in Nashville.
To everyone who walks, bikes, buses, or drives in Nashville, please remember that you are sharing the street with wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We're all in a rush to get home. Let's each take it upon ourselves to ensure everyone else on the street makes it home too. And always remember, traffic fatalities shouldn't be the norm. When talking about them try to remember that.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Nashville Introduces Ordinance to Disallow Parking on Sidewalks - photos included!

Great news for Nashville thanks to both Council Members Burkley Allen and Kathleen Murphy!  

Parking on sidewalks is already illegal (but not fully respected as photos show below) but now we have an ordinance amending Metro Laws prohibiting vehicles parked on the grassy median strip.  

You may wonder, was this necessary?   
Unfortunately, in Nashville,  it is.   

This is not exactly parking on the sidewalk but the bumpers are pulled so far forward, it blocks the sidewalk just the same

This kind of parking (on the green buffer) is no longer allowed.  You can see where a prior driver parked on the buffer, scraping away the grass, and dragging mud into the road.  

You can help!  
If you see a car parked on a sidewalk or the grassy median between the road and the sidewalk, call it in 

Non-emergency line at:  615-862-8600

An ordinance amending section 12.40.040 of the Metropolitan Code of Laws regarding prohibited locations for stopping, standing and parking vehicles.

WHEREAS, parking a vehicle on a sidewalk is expressly prohibited under the Metropolitan Code of Laws, section 12.40.040.A.1.b; and

WHEREAS, parking a vehicle in the grassy median located between a sidewalk and roadway often destroys the underlying grass or other vegetation, contributes to an unsightly appearance, and can pose safety risks to vehicular and pedestrian traffic; and

WHEREAS, it is in the best interests of the citizens of Nashville and Davidson County that stopping, standing or parking of vehicles upon such locations be prohibited.


Section 1. That section 12.40.040 of the Metropolitan Code of Laws is hereby amended by inserting the following as subsection A.1.c and re-numbering the remaining subsections thereafter as necessary:

12.40.040 - Stopping, standing or parking — Prohibited locations. 

A. Except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic, or in compliance with regulation of the directions of a police officer or official traffic-control device, no person shall: 

1. Stop, stand or park a vehicle: 
c. Upon any median, buffer strip, planting strip or landscape strip located between a sidewalk and roadway,

Section 2. That this Ordinance shall take effect from and after its passage, the welfare of The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requiring it. 

Sponsored by: Kathleen Murphy, Burkley Allen 

Introduced: January 17, 2017 
Passed First Reading:
Referred to:Planning Commission - Approved
Budget & Finance Committee
Planning, Zoning & Historical Committee
Public Works Committee
Passed Second Reading:
Passed Third Reading:
Next Consideration: January 17, 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why We Need Sidewalks: Nashville is the 37th most dangerous place nationally for pedestrians.

From the excellent Walk Bike Nashville group:

Nashville ranks among nation’s deadliest places to walk

New research shows people of color more likely to be struck and killed by a car while walking in US; lower-income areas correlated with more dangerous streets

CONTACT:    Nora Kern,, (615) 928-8801
Alex Dodds,, (202) 971-3927

NASHVILLE — 209 pedestrians were struck and killed by cars while walking in Nashville between 2005 and 2014. That number is enough for Nashville to come in as the 37th most dangerous place nationally for people walking, according to a new ranking out today.
Dangerous by Design 2016, the fourth edition of the landmark report from Smart Growth America, calculates a Pedestrian Danger Index, or PDI, for the 104 largest metro areas in the United States as well as all 50 states and the District of Columbia. PDI is a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work (the best available measure of how many people are likely to be out walking each day) and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths. 

With a PDI score of 92.9, Nashville comes in at number 37 on this national list of 104 metro areas (compared to 17 out of 51 in 2014). While Nashville’s PDI score has improved and our ranking has fallen slightly, the city still had 209 deaths in the 10 year period preceding this report, almost exactly the same as the 210 deaths from the previous 2014 report. 

The number of pedestrian deaths in Nashville is unacceptable,” said Nora Kern, Executive Director of Walk Bike Nashville.To achieve the Vision Zero goal of no roadway fatalities, we must change our infrastructure to prioritize the most vulnerable road users—people walking. Nashville must make it easy, convenient and safe for people to get around by foot, whether you choose to walk or you have no other choice. You shouldn’t have to worry if you will get to your destination alive.”

Who are the most vulnerable among these numbers? Nationally, people of color and older adults are overrepresented among pedestrian deaths. In Tennessee, people of color account for just 23% of the population but more than 32% of pedestrian fatalities.

In addition, the new report finds that PDI is correlated with median household income as well as rates of uninsured individuals. Low-income metro areas are predictably more dangerous than higher-income ones: as median household incomes drop, PDIs rise. Similar trends bear out with rates of uninsured individuals: as rates of uninsured individuals rise, so do PDIs, meaning that the people who can least afford to be injured often live in the most dangerous places for walking.

“The momentum for safer streets is building in Nashville. The release of the draft for the city’s Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways (WalkNBike) this week is a great step in the right direction, but it all comes down to implementation. This report highlights just how much work we have to do. The moment for making our streets safer is now.”

Download the full report to see the full rankings and analysis at

Vote for where you need a sidewalk:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One Early Criticism of the WalkNBike Map

One early criticism I see about the map is the use of the language 'Existing sidewalks and sidewalks under construction (the brown/tan lines) as this implies that there is sidewalk on BOTH sides of the street.  (Sidewalks = plural). 

This is often not accurate in Nashville.  Many streets have sidewalks on ONLY ONE side - which is much less ideal if on foot.  Consider if your destination is mid-block on the side WITHOUT the sidewalk.  How do you get there other than jaywalk???

Additionally, this takes a street that could be a priority and makes it look complete.  Bowling Av, south of West End is a prime example, where West End Middle School & Elmington Park sits.  As a neighborhood, there has been a lengthy and passionate amount of advocacy for a sidewalk on the east side of the street (the side with the school & park) as the only piece of sidewalk is on the opposite side of this busy road.  This is a serious safety issue & a major barrier for these students and the neighborhood as a whole.  The school, for example is mid-block.   

If you are talking sidewalks in Nashville, you have to be able to see on the map easily that the sidewalk is on one or both sides.  I can see that the brown line is double for both sides and single for single-sided but is this being weighed the the same in planning?  I would argue that a different color should be used so you can easily see which roads are one-sided and still need attention.   Any other designation is unacceptable as an accurate tool for planning.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Care About Walking in Nashville? Now is the time to act. Please review slides and comment

Nashville's Walk N Bike Plan is now available in draft form for your review.  There will be 5 more public meetings to discusses the important aspects.  

Michael Briggs, Angie Henderson and Mayor Megan Barry spoke today at the Downtown Public Library from 12-1:30 (slides below).  The main gist was sidewalks are expensive but are a 'top priority'.  The estimate is big but notably due to years of neglect (my words) in funding.  The number floated by Mayor Barry was $165 million per year for the next 5 years.  

Safety, equity, health, access to school and transit are the main goals.  

January 9, 2017

Noon to 1:30pm  
Metro Library Auditorium  
615 Church Street

January 9, 2017

5:00pm to 7:00pm  
MNPD North Precinct  
2231 26th Avenue North

January 9, 2017

7:00pm to 9:00pm  
MNPD West Precinct  
5500 Charlotte Pike

January 10, 2017

5:00pm to 7:00pm  
Madison Park Community Center  
510 Cumberland Ave

January 10, 2017

7:00pm to 9:00pm  
Stanford Montessori School  
2417 Maplecrest Dr

January 11, 2017

5:00pm to 7:00pm  
MNPD South Precinct  
5101 Harding Place

Slides from the draft release of the Nashville's Walk N Bike Strategic Sidewalk Plan today for your review:

Implementation Focus:  New sidewalks, low-stress bikeways, sidewalk repairs, vision zero, and living lab (to include tactical urbanism!)

37% of existing roads have sidewalks.  One thing missed today is that is sidewalks on ONE SIDE OF THE ROAD.  We are NOT fortunate enough to have a rich network of sidewalks on BOTH sides of the road.

This is critical to understand.
Take a minute to consider being a child, elderly or disabled with the singular option of a sidewalk on only one side of the road.  

What if you destination is in the middle of the road on the side without the sidewalk???

Prioritization process now based on:
safety, health + equality, transit access, neighborhood access, serves activity centers, Nashville Next centers + corridors, roadway characteristics, school access, recreational access, civic amenity access, private activity center access, shopping access, and previously proposed projects

New sidewalks:  4 main ideas -> destination + transit access, schools, safety, filling sidewalk gaps

Example of the new map of prioritization

All new sidewalks will need repairs.  The city is aware that this will increase the repair needs over time.

This was the part in the meeting where alarm bells began to ring.  We have suffered with little to no design standards in regards to sidewalks & it has left us with a maddeningly crazy quilt of limited options.

I would argue that we need to shoot high here.  Let's not be talking about compromise before the work even begins.

Have a high design standard with a small space for compromise.  A very small space.  The compromise should be a BIG NO, the way new sidewalk production has been historically, until there is literally no other option.  

The reason I am against compromise is that once the foot print goes in, that's it for as long as one can see.  These photos are a soft compromise.  Where I see this playing out is in sidewalks like the one below.

This design type of a sidewalk that is fairly narrow and without any type of buffer from the road is notoriously lacking in foot traffic.  They do not feel safe.  So, if this kind of design is part of the compromise - I would say no way!

Easements / right-of-ways slow the progress of new sidewalk production but not if they are donated to the city.  

Do you have an easement / right-of-way that you would like to donate to the city?

Contact me & I will help you through the donation process:

Friday, January 6, 2017

Interesting Article on the History of Sidewalks in Nashville!

It is important to note that when the article below says there are sidewalks on 1/3 of the streets in Nashville, this represents a single sidewalk on one side (NOT both).   It also may represent a low quality sidewalk without the proper green buffer which provides safety and comfort to pedestrians.  

We are severely behind our peer cities by design.  We just did not make the commitment to walking infrastructure.

Walking in Nashville

Only about half of the city’s roads currently have sidewalks, and no one knows where to find the money to cover the rest of them.

In 2015, 18 pedestrians died in Nashville, In 2016, mayor Megan Barry $60 million for sidewalk and road construction, the largest one-time investment for sidewalk construction in Nashville’s history.(Josh Anderson/AP)
Only about half of Nashville’s roads currently have sidewalks, and no one knows where to find the money to cover the rest of them. The sidewalk situation even became a point of contention in last year’s mayoral campaign. “We’re just chipping away at a huge deficit and huge need,” says Mary Beth Ikard, Nashville’s Transportation & Sustainability Manager. 

Sidewalks make pedestrians safer, which is especially important for commuters who rely on mass transit. In 2015, 18* pedestrians died in Nashville. According to a 2009 study, people living in neighborhoods with sidewalks walk anywhere from 35 to 49 more minutes every week than people without sidewalks do.

Build Your Own Sidewalk

Nashville’s fight for more sidewalks started in the mid-19th century. At the time, most residents worked, shopped, and worshipped in the neighborhoods where they lived. While they always expected to get where they needed to be by foot, the city still refused to pay for sidewalks. Instead, the city council made property owners responsible for constructing and maintaining their own walkways. Each month, the Committee of Sidewalk Law Enforcement would send out inspectors who would then make their way around town, listing owners in violation. If the property owner failed to build or repair the sidewalks within 30 days of notification, the committee would contract out the work and put a lien against the property.

A child sells newspapers on a busy sidewalk in Nashville, November 10, 1910. (Lewis Wickes Hine/Library of Congress)
Before the Second World War, this system of infrastructure construction was common across the United States, despite wide resentment. In 1917, the town of Minden, Louisiana, sued residents who failed to build their required sidewalks. The residents filed a countersuit, but they lost their case. Meanwhile, Nashville’s committee continued their work. Then, in 1931, they handed the task off to the newly formed Nashville City Planning Commission.

Of course, not all neighborhoods received equal attention. African-American communities in particular lacked both the paved roads and the enforcement needed to make this system work well for them. Some parts of Trimble Bottom, Nashville’s oldest black neighborhood, did not have sidewalks until the 1970s. And then there were the conflicts over who had the right to use the walkways. During the Civil War, former slaves who moved to Nashville often found themselves jostled off the sidewalk by white residents, historian Bobby Lovett reported in The African-American History of Nashville, TN. He added: “courageous blacks returned the insult.”  

In 1943, Nashville officials rewrote the city’s charter, omitting any mention of sidewalks or gutters. Panicked, the director of public works wrote to the city attorney, asking whether he could still charge negligent property owners for contracting out sidewalk construction. The answer was an unequivocal ‘no.’ The city amended the charter a few years later, adding in the section they forgot.Inspectors then sent out a flurry of notices, forcing residents to bring their sidewalks back up to snuff.
But these regulations only affected the areas inside city limits. The surrounding communities were exempt from the sidewalk laws. One of the first suburbs built on Nashville’s borders was Cherokee Park. Designed for the automobile, its developers set neo-traditional single family homes on large lots fronted by curving, sweeping streets and no sidewalks.
After World War II, more people in Nashville chose to live in new, sprawling suburbs instead of the old city. But the suburbs didn’t have money to build the amount of infrastructure that the city already had. New suburbanites soon discovered they did not like using septic tanks over sewage systems, nor did they want to rely on volunteer fire services rather than the city’s professional fire department. City residents, in turn, resented paying taxes to support libraries and other services county residents used freely. In 1962, voters approved an ordinance to consolidate the city and county governments into one large metropolitan administration. Nashville-Davidson County was the first community in the nation to choose a fully-consolidated regional government.

Sidewalks were not included in the new charter; neither the city dwellers nor the suburbanites wanted to pay for them. In the neighborhoods built in Nashville before consolidation, sidewalks fell into disrepair, and new ones weren’t built to replace them.

Nashville’s interstates were completed during this time, splitting many residential neighborhoods in half. Jefferson Street, a prominent black neighborhood in Nashville, was gutted by the construction of I-40, which cut the enclave in two. Half of the residents moved, and 120 businesses closed. Property values fell by 30 percent.

Suburbanization accelerated in the 1970s. In 1971, federal courts ordered the metropolitan public schools to implement a busing plan to desegregate the system. Within a year, 14 percent of students left the school system, cutting white enrollment by 24,000. Some of the students enrolled at one of the newly opened private schools. Many other white families fled just over the county lines into areas exempt from the city’s busing plan. Meanwhile, the metropolitan government encouraged development that turned downtown into a 9-5 district, easily accessible by commuters but lacking the vibrancy needed to keep people around before their drive home.

New Plans for New Urbanism

But a shift back to urbanism started in 1991, when the city passed new regulations governing subdivision constructions. Developers had to build sidewalks on one side of any new street. That same year, Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act. For the first time, the federal government allotted funds for the construction of walking and bicycling infrastructure by allowing local governments to reassign highway funds. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced it was the start of “a new, post-Interstate era.” A few years later, Nashville amended the construction regulations to mandate walkways along both sides of any new street.

In 1996, the metropolitan council created a special task force to addressNashville’s missing sidewalks. The first strategic plan for constructing sidewalks and bikeways was released in 2003. At that time, only about a third of Nashville’s roads had sidewalks, and very few of those were ADA-compliant.The city designated $20 million for sidewalk construction and rehabilitation, starting with ones around schools. After a few years, other projects gained prominence and funding for the initiative fell. It wouldn’t reach 2003 numbers again until 2015 when a new attempt to build a mass transit system in Nashville brought attention back to the state of the city’s infrastructure.

In 2012, then-mayor Karl Dean proposed creating a seven-mile dedicated bus line running from East Nashville through downtown and into West End. Historically working class and nearly 40 percent African American, East Nashville is one of the city’s fastest growing and most rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods today. West End is where much of Nashville’s old money moved when they left downtown. The average annual income in West Nashville is roughly five times that in East Nashville. 

According to the mayor’s calculations, 117,000 employees and 25,000 residents use that route regularly as well as the city’s 11 million annual visitors. This was exactly the sort of infrastructure program the Obama administration hoped to support. In 2015, the federal government built $75 million of support into the proposed budget. The Metro Council approved additional money to complete the design and engineering work for the project.

Current mayor, Megan Barry (center) put an emphasis on public transportation in her 2015 campaign. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
Resistance organized quickly and quietly, led by a group of West End residents backed by the Koch brothers. They believed the city’s momentum was unstoppable, so they looked for other allies. Some people voiced concerns about what the new bus lanes would do to traffic. Others asked whether anyone would actually ride them. Race and class both played into the discussion. Infamously, one woman bedecked in pearls stood up at a council meeting to announce that she did not want the “riffraff of East Nashville in our neighborhood.” But long-time residents also resented newcomers who were trying to redefine what it meant to live in their city. These newcomers lined the proposed bus route. They had snapped up condos in the formerly desolate downtown and urban working-class, minority neighborhoods. They bought places in the Gulch, previously an abandoned industrial area. They moved into East Nashville, often tearing down the older, smaller homes to build “tall skinnies.” They shopped at small boutiques and eat at concept-driven local restaurants. And they expected to be able to use sidewalks and public transit to get to these establishments. A Republican state lawmaker introduced a bill that successfully killed the project.

In 2015, Megan Barry replaced Karl Dean as mayor after running a campaign that put an emphasis on public transportation. One of her first actions? A new budget that set aside $60 million for sidewalk and road construction, the largest one-time investment for sidewalk construction in Nashville’s history. 

A few months after the announcement, officials from the United States Department of Transportation and representatives from the Congress for New Urbanism came to Nashville to lead a workshop for Jefferson Street residents. The group proposed a series of interstate caps to reconnect the bifurcated neighborhood. The proposed structure would include green space, affordable housing and parking. But would the Jefferson Street community be able to stay when property prices (and taxes) started rising? “It's amazing to see the vision,” one resident wrote to the Congress for New Urbanism. “I really hope that residents and businesses who've been there for a long time are treated with dignity, respect and are included in these future plans.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 110 pedestrians in Nashville died in 2015. That figure represents pedestrian fatalities across the entire state of Tennessee. Eighteen pedestrians died in Nashville in 2015.