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Friday, December 28, 2018

This Picture Haunts Me

This picture haunts me.

Once a property (or, in this case many properties) is developed in Nashville, there is little prospect for a sidewalk to go in.   Even if you are one block from a major shopping district or other walkable place such as this block on Warfield Dr near the Hill Center. 

New sidewalks are so intimately tied to development in Nashville. 

Miss the window, such as allowing a sidewalk variance request to pass, and you’ll be waiting DECADES to walk safely.

The Sidewalk Foundation

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Variance Requested: To build sidewalk to what exists OR to build to what is ideal?

Unfortunately, there are many variance requests to not build the recommended sidewalk AND also to not pay the in-lieu fee.  This happens ALL.THE.TIME.  And, they are not infrequently granted by our Board of Zoning (use link, scroll down, look for Related Documents, Results). 

These are frequently requested by developers.  To that, I typically say, ‘Oh, please’!   If a developer’s margins are so slim they cannot afford to build the sidewalk, he/she is the wrong business. 

This variance request below, for the corner of Richland and Bowling, is interesting & a bit different.  They are essentially asking to tear out the current sidewalk BUT replace it with what is already there on the remainder of the block. 

This may seem trivial but it highlights a very important question:  does Nashville keep building sidewalks as they exist (same foot print, not ideal) OR do we build a new sidewalk to the ideal proportions for pedestrians?

Ideal proportions based on road type


Welch College with view of corner and sidewalk in question

The big question is when to we start to build to the ideal specifications?

I wrote to the BZA and asked for the specifics.  The request is available on the BZA tracker, too.  

The sidewalk is very wide - 7'6" with no curb at this location.  The prior owners of the property was Welch College who used this site as a bus stop.  The existing sidewalk is across 5 properties & the developers are requesting to tear it out and replace it with some changes BUT NOT to current recommended standards. 

The importance of this is once a sidewalk foot print is in place, it is VERY DIFFICULT to change.  This COULD be the FIRST STEP to IMPROVING the sidewalk design to known best practices for pedestrians (ie a grass buffer, where shade trees can be planted, and allow pedestrians to be away from the roadway - much safer and more pleasant design). 

This is also a corner lot and so could change the dimensions for 2 important roads, both Richland and Bowling.

So, if this is approved, expect this arrangement to be in place forever essentially. If this is denied, then the sidewalk network starts to move towards the ideal. 
I'll try to summarize the variance request:

- the properties have an existing sidewalk on the Richland side and the Bowling side that do NOT meet current requirements:  they are not the proper width, do not have the grass strip and do not have curbing.
- the Richland side:  supposed to have a 4' grass strip buffer and a 5' sidewalk, with a 6" curb.  Currently, it has no curb and 7' 6' sidewalk without grass strip.  This does match the rest of the street.  BUT since this is 5 properties long, if a grass strip does not get started here - it probably will never be implemented
- the Bowling side:  supposed to have 4' grass strip buffer and 5' sidewalk with 6" curb.  Currently has 7' 6" sidewalk only.  They would like to match the remainder of Bowling despite it not being the recommended dimensions.  They want to put in a 2'6" grass strip buffer and 5' sidewalk with curb.

The green strip buffer, of the proper dimension for the road, is a huge benefit in providing comfort, safety and shade.  I would argue that these properties should be the START of BETTER PEDESTRIAN INFRASTRUCUTRE rather than a continuation of what is. 

If you have an opinion PLEASE write a quick email to:


I have emailed the builder, Mike Ford Builders of Franklin, and feel it is important to note that they have many projects in the neighborhood: 

If you have any questions regarding Richland Hall, lots 6, 7, 15, 17 or 11, please contact David West at or at (615) 815-4486.


If you have any questions regarding Richland Hall, lots 12, 13, 14, 16, or 105-108, please contact Justin Hill at or at (615) 290-6253.


So, this does, again draw into question why a large developer would need a variance...

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

One thing you can do is say something when you see something.

Want more sidewalks in Nashville?  One thing you can do is say something when you see something.  This is kind of the mantra when discussing Nashville's need for sidewalks.  Talk to your councilperson, write to the mayor, etc.  Nashville has sidewalks on a little less than 20% of our roadways.  We are a bit hamstrung - if major development occurs, the sidewalk technically should be built, but until then nothing can really change because it won't be ADA compliant. 

So, can an individual solve this systems issue by writing their council person or the mayor? 

I was listening to a radio report about Facebook's allowance of personal data to be shared with other large companies and felt the reporters made some parallel arguments that apply to working with a big agency such as city government. 

When you write to your councilperson, asking for a sidewalk, you are personalizing an issue that is really a system wide problem.  According to this radio report, these kind of issues - systems issues -  cannot be solved by individual action and personal fortitude.


Harpeth Hall, located at the SW corner of Estes and Hobbs, is a private girls school in Nashville.  The school has a rather sizable project underway but is not building any sidewalk infrastructure despite a clear lack in the area. 

Julia Green Elementary is also near by with 610 students, K-4th. 

In addition, Public Works has put in a new guard rail on Estes, which also does not have a sidewalk (see picture below).  Now, this expanse on Estes is possibly more dangerous for pedestrians than before...  

One crucial point is none of the 698 5th through 12th grade students can walk to school safely.   They must be driven by their parent which has an impact on traffic, safety and air quality to name a few.  Some of the Julia Green students are likely effected, too.

If there was a well designed sidewalk all the way around the school property, the students could walk to class safely and it would be the most generous gift to the neighborhood.

The shrubby area on the left side of the image is under construction currently


If you have an opinion on this, please let Harpeth Hall know.  I cannot say that it will help!  But, if we do not try, I am certain nothing will be done.

Harpeth Hall's address and number: 
  • 3801 Hobbs Road - Nashville, TN 37215
  • Main Reception: 615.297.9543

  • Dear Harpeth Hall,

    I was not sure who to email & am hoping you can help guide me as you are listed as the Director of Community Support and Inclusion.  There is a brand new guard rail on Estes at Esteswood that makes walking literally impossible in a safe and comfortable fashion.   I've sent an email to Public Works, too, as this is not ADA compliant and does not allow for a 3' passing of a pedestrian (which is the law) in a vehicle.  There really needs to be a sidewalk here and I am hoping that your school can help.


     I have been very disappointed to learn that Harpeth Hall is also not putting in a sidewalk on Hobbs despite the very large project underway.   This would have been a huge gift to your students, the city and the neighborhood.  I hope you will reconsider.



    Saturday, December 22, 2018

    Why this house is so upsetting when you care about walking in Nashville...

    This house sites on Woodmont at the terminus of Valley Brook Rd.   I pass it all the time and so have had time to consider its significance  The owners chose the in-lieu fee instead of building the sidewalk.  As a grassroots sidewalk advocate, it's the kind of place that makes me itch and it highlights a few things about Nashville that can drive one nuts.

    1) No one needs that much front lawn.

    2) The best time to put in a sidewalk is while doing major construction.  You have all the equipment on site and your yard is already tore up.  Plus a private contractor can do it much cheaper than the city.

    3) Putting in your piece of sidewalk is a generous gift to your neighborhood and your city.  It's a way of say 'Thank you' to your neighbors for tolerating the noise and construction.

    Happy Holidays!

    #NashvilleNeedsSidewalks - we only have them on 19% of our streets

    #TheSidewalkFoundation - you can donate or help at: 

    #FoundOnFoot - get out there and tell me what you find!



    Monday, December 17, 2018

    Why I care about sidewalks (& you should too) + a great NYT article to consider

    For anyone who has ever wondered why I post and write about sidewalks as much as I do, this article in the New York Times entitled The Pedestrian Strikes Back by Richard Conniff is a concise synopsis of my concerns and desires, particularly for Nashville.  If you are here in Nashville, you may have noted are severe lack of sidewalks:  we have them on 20% of our roadways, often on only one side of the street and progress is SLOW.  We are not, in any sense, a well connected grid.  We are a sprawling city based on a wagon wheel design and it is not good for pedestrians.   

    Summary from article:

    Urban walking has deteriorated from a civilized pleasure to an overheated unshaded, traffic harried race to a destination.   

    Car owners have mistaken their century long domination over pedestrians for a right rather than a privilege.  Planners, in the past, have focused on unlimited vehicular flow and have seen other modes of transit (walking, etc) as impediments to this flow.  But focusing on vehicular flow is a kind of perversion of basic social equality.  There is a significant cost to all these cars and the space they require:  and the cost comes in the form of loss of place and loss of space for things that make a city scape rich (tree coverage, parks, wide sidewalks, not to mention a car's pollution).  

    The author notes that on large arterial roads, walkers feel comfortable with the sidewalk is 15 feet wide.  Cities and their streets are for people not their cars.  All urban designers should think about the only transit equipment that comes factory standard for the average person - their feet.

    Cities are not doing enough to restore streets for pedestrian use, and it's the pedestrians who should be furious.  

    - highly efficient means of transit
    - great underrated pleasure

    What other cites are doing:
    - Denver investing $1.2 billion in sidewalks:  proposal to bring public transit (AKA sidewalks) within 1/4 mile of ALL residents
    - Oslo:  banning all cars from the city center
    - Madrid:  Banning cars owned by non-residents

    What can you do: 
    - read this article and think about it.  How is Nashville doing?  What can we do better?
    - advocate for sidewalks and walkability
    ---when you see a business, home or school making major changes, ask them to put in a sidewalk, too.
    ---build the sidewalk when it is required of you.  Do not ask for a variance or pay the in-lieu fee.
    - yield to pedestrians
    - 20mph is Plenty:  when there is a pedestrian in the roadway (without a sidewalk), slow down!  This allows a pedestrian to feel comfortable
    - donate to:  The Sidewalk Foundation - a non-profit dedicated to building new high quality sidewalks here in Nashville


    Thursday, December 13, 2018

    Walking is the most basic form of public transportation. If it felt easy and safe to walk, naturally, public transportation would grow and traffic could ease.

    Recently, I had the pleasure to meet The Music City Riders United group whose advocacy work is focused on better public transit in our city.

      Soon after, I had a fund raising dinner party for The Sidewalk Foundation and a deep thinking native Nashvillian friend said, 'walking is the most basic form of public transportation'.  We were discussing, to our eyes, one of the reasons the Transit Referendum did not pass: citizens cannot figure how to get to the bus on foot or where it would be safe and comfortable to wait for it.

    People walking to the Bus on Sharondale and Hillsboro

    My Bus Stop

      Then, I was listening to the former NYC Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz on Fresh Air (NPR, Terry Gross, LINK for full interview) and thought, he nailed Nashville with this description:

     'There are bad public transportation systems out there.  90% of the country has lousy public transportation.  It's called a bus that comes around every 1/2 hour or hour.  It largely serves poor people.  When a system only serves poor people, it's a poor system'.  

    Good news, we are not alone, I guess.

    Add to this, missing sidewalks on 80% of Nashville's roads (AKA no safe way to walk to the bus) and you get a severely under-utilized public transportation system in the setting of mounting traffic as our city grows. 

    Nashville, this needs to change. 

    Other cities have made a commitment putting pedestrians first and Nashville could too.  Sidewalks need to go in as a first step.  Naturally, then, public transportation use would grow and traffic could be reduced.

    'Many scientist have one big idea, which they stick with throughout their career,' writes Daniel M. Davis in The Beautiful Cure.  I feel this way about sidewalks for Nashville. 

    'Above all [scientists] aren't afraid of being wrong'.  These thoughts, in this blog, are my own.  I am passionate about helping Nashville transform into a great walking city for the health and safety of its citizens.  This work is voluntary and therefore I may not have all the facts correct from every angle.  What is presented, I believe to be accurate and fair.



    Wednesday, December 12, 2018

    NYC Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz Speaks Truth to Common Observations and Frustrations

    It is always difficult to know when to speak up when it comes to sidewalks and walkability here in Nashville.  Despite a common sense of desire for and commitment to the ideal of a great walking city, the actual progress feels glacial. 

    Former NYC traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz has written a book entitled No One at the Wheel and he raised a number of interesting points for your consideration during a recent interview on Fresh Air (NPR, Terry Gross, see link below for full interview).  These points speak directly to many of my deepest concerns about the way Nashville is:  a car dominate city which is taking small measured steps toward walkability & public transportation.   We are definitely not being bold. 

    Despite discussion in the past of 'Zero Tolerance' for pedestrian deaths, we continue, year by year to beat our prior record (Nashville Pedestrian Death Registry)

    Progress is made on NEW sidewalk production but very slowly.  After 5 years of volunteering on this topic alone (The Sidewalk Foundation, #FoundOnFoot, Shade Parade), one still cannot walk from point A to B appreciably safer, quicker or more comfortably. 

    The interview with Sam Schwartz, former NYC traffic commission highlighted a few key points which I quote and illustrate here.

    1) 'I’d like to change the mindset a bit and remember that for hundreds of thousands of years – since the first cities started – it was the pedestrians that were walking and the carriages had to go around them or move at that the same speed.  Somehow we have accepted the idea that we need lots of cars, lots of vehicles, and the intruders are the bike riders and the pedestrians and they should be 2nd class citizens. 

    Nothing makes you feel more 2nd class than literally having no place to walk

    2) 'The car is not the villain', JFK.  'BUT, what JFK was calling for was balanced transportation'And, that’s what I am calling for.  What we need is a better balance...The pendulum swung in the direction of too many people driving…There is a better way'.

    3) 'What happened in cities like NYC, Seattle and others that really went, I wouldn’t say all out, but at least in the central business districts provide far more pedestrian zones, far more bike lanes, the total number of cars coming in has gone down.  We can get by with fewer cars.  If we get by with fewer cars, then maybe Chestnut and Walnut in Philadelphia could have different uses.  Maybe the cars go very slowly which they do anyhow.  If you go to many European cities, you’ll see the mix of pedestrians and cars moving very slowly.   We may be able to use examples like that but we have to change our mindset'. 

    There is zero need to go faster than 20mph on local/residential streets or when pedestrians are present!  This is also an argument for parking once - then running the remainder of your errands on foot.  This could be the desirable choice IF there is a safe walkable option. 

    4) ‘Disappointed with the auto-industry reflecting people’s desires to be in bigger cars and to have these front ends that are so high.  That has an impact.  That’s why pedestrian deaths – one of the main reasons pedestrian deaths have soared is that people are getting hit by SUVS.   People are no longer getting hit and developing knee injuries but, and this comes from ER physicians, who note a connection.   In the past, someone hit by a car had a knee injury or a leg injury.  Now, it’s a chest injury and more likely to be fatal'.

    5)  'There are bad public transportation systems out there.  90% of the country has lousy public transportation.  It's called a bus that comes around every 1/2 hour or hour.  It largely serves poor people.  When a system only serves poor people, it's a poor system.   Often it's largely people of color.  We have an opportunity to transform public transportation in those areas - not to offer 1/2 hours service - but we could triple the service by using micro-transit autonomous vehicle.  Small buses that are on demand that know where the people are'. 

    These are all major issues in Nashville that add to traffic and decreased QOL as they reduce pedestrian comfort and safety.  These factors all have an impact. 

    The Revolution Will Be Driverless - Fresh Air


    Saturday, November 24, 2018

    The federal government released its most dramatic report yet on the effects of climate change - one easy way to help!

    One thing that seems clear:  we cannot keep this pace up.  We cannot keep driving everywhere, purchasing whatever.  This level of worldwide consumption needs to be slowed. 

    Want to do something?  Try 'Park Once'.  Park once and run all your errands in that area on foot.  Try just walking.  Heading out?  Can you walk there and back safely?

    If the answer is no because you do not feel safe, support organization such as The Sidewalk Foundation who are raising money to build high quality sidewalks in Nashville.  So that more can walk safely and comfortably. 

    FROM PBS: 

    On Friday, November, 23, 2018, the federal government released its most dramatic report yet on the effects of climate change. According to scientists, the country is already experiencing serious consequences from rising global temperatures, including more frequent and severe storms, fires and flooding. John Yang talks to Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University.

    The government issued its most dramatic report yet about climate change today, and it came with a dire warning.
    Scientists said the country is already reeling — feeling major effects of climate change and it has already cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars.
    The report, which was issued by 13 federal agencies, also highlights how climate change is expected to have a significant impact on the future of the economy.
    The report links extreme events like Hurricanes Maria and Harvey and longer, more intense, more frequent wildfire seasons. And scientists say there's more to come. The continental United States is already 1.8 degrees warmer than it was a century ago, and the temperature may rise by another 2.3 degrees by 2050.
    Unless more is done, the risks and impact of climate change are expected to shrink the U.S. economy 10 percent by century's end.
    David Easterling of NOAA, which released the report, suggested in a media call that climate change would damage the country's infrastructure, economy, and human health.

    To see and read the remainder of the report:  PBS news report on government report on global warning

    Friday, November 23, 2018

    PLOGGING - This is YOUR New Year's Resolution and a Fantastic Way to Get Out on Foot!

    PLOGGING - This is YOUR New Year's Resolution and a Fantastic Way to Get Out on Foot!


    This is YOUR New Year's Resolution and is such an amazing way to stay active and help. 


    Another great reason to get out on foot!

    To read the remainder of the article on plogging in the Washington Post by Allison Klein, click on link:  Plogging




    Monday, November 12, 2018

    Despite Budget Shortfall in Nashville, In-Lieu Fees for Sidewalks is Reduced

    In addition to information coming out about Nashville's Public Works mismanagement of sidewalk directive, now the in-lieu fee for sidewalks has been discounted.  Watch our dream of a walkable city move further away...

    When Sidewalk Bill 493 is activated, many times, the property owner can building the sidewalk OR pay an in-lieu fee to the city.  Nashville ends up with a piece of completed sidewalk OR money that goes into a pot used to augment sidewalk projects in that particular area.  But, the collected money is not nearly enough to cover the cost, according to Public Works, of an actual sidewalk. 

    Despite a booming city, Nashville is experiencing a budget shortfall (see article in the Tennessean).  From the general talk about town, it sounds like we are handing financial incentives to developers and businesses which reduces our ability to cover our essential needs.  Why are we doing this?

    Nashville's Public Works estimates that their cost to build sidewalks is significantly higher than the in-lieu fee and dependent on the quality of the road.  Local roads are estimated to cost $901/linear foot, collector roads are $1183/linear foot and arterial roads come in at the most expensive, and some of the highest in the nation, at $1336/linear foot.

    All of us can agree that safety and accessibility of pedestrians is a basic civil right a city should provide its inhabitants.  We all have the right to walk. 

    Know the facts:  We currently have 81% of our roadways in need of a sidewalk & a pedestrian death ever 2 weeks.  So WHY are we charging property owners such low fees instead of having them build the sidewalk? Many private contractors say they can do this job much cheaper than the city.  And, why have we actually DISCOUNTED the in-lieu fee recently?  It now stands at 11% of the cost the city says it needs to build sidewalks.  Let's not get even further behind...ask your council person to eliminate the in-lieu fee.  Let's build some sidewalks!

    This in-lieu fee price was reduced in August 2018 from:
    • $178 per linear foot
    • to $153/linear foot

    Sunday, November 11, 2018

    For Great Public Transportation -> Step 1 = Sidewalks

     Walking is the most elemental form of mobility and sidewalks are a basic ingredient in a thriving public transportation system.    Without sidewalks, many cannot access the transportation system, such as the bus, safely or simply.

    Without sidewalks, there is a barrier to use the bus.

    This is why I was so happy to be invited to talk with the Music City Riders United (  This group is working hard to make riding the bus a better and more practical experience.  

    I shared with them a few critical sidewalk facts that make riding the bus difficult for many.

    - 81% of Nashville's roadways do not have a sidewalk
    - There is a pedestrian death every 2 weeks in Nashville.  Many stories (see involve those trying to catch or exit their bus.
    - We are not building sidewalks at an appreciable rate 
    - The sidewalk grid in Nashville has an estimated date of completion ~ 1000 years from now
    - The Sidewalk Foundation ( is raising funds to try to make a change in these statistics
    - our city government could change this by allocating appropriate funding with a realistic completion date


    Thursday, October 18, 2018

    Can a Foundation Fund Sidewalks in City Where they are Lacking? AKA Nashville?

    For full article:  The New Yorker - Shaking the Foundations

    In dealing with HOW to BUILD MORE SIDEWALKS in Nashville for the last 5 years, it has become clear that a foundation is a solution.  A solution with some precedent

    With this knowledge, The Sidewalk Foundation, a 501 c 3, has been created and is taking donations, directly turning them into micro-grants to those who build their sidewalk triggered by Sidewalk Bill 493.  We currently have (4) $500 grants available - 2 citywide and 2 for Bowling Av.  This project is to express the enduring citizen THANK YOU to those who build their sidewalk instead of paying the in-lieu fee. 

    That being said, the major criticism expressed in regards to this non-profit is that sidewalks are the responsibility of cities.  A city is to provide safe access for all.  Private citizens should not be funding them. 

    At our current pace, it will be 1000 years to completion of our sidewalk network in Nashville.  81% of our roads do not have a sidewalk. 

    Our government funding level and commitment to walkability is wanting. 

    For better or for worse, it seems "the more government spending gets squeezed, the more important nongovernment spending will become'.

    Wednesday, October 17, 2018

    #DontLetYourBuilderTalkYouOutOfBuildingTheSidewalk Nashville

    Sidewalks are expensive but truly needed.  Unfortunately, the great majority (81%) of Nashville's roadways are like this one with literally no place for a person (not in a car) to be. 

    One of the best features of the Sidewalk Bill 493 is that once a piece of sidewalk goes in on a block face, the in-lieu fee, which allows for payment into a fund instead of building the sidewalk, is no longer an option.  Unfortunately, this in-lieu fee has recently been weakened as an agent of change - the cost has been reduced from $178/linear foot (lf) down to $153/lf - despite the current city estimates quoted below being significantly higher. 

    One thing we can all do then is to build the sidewalk required of us by law.  A contractor can build the sidewalk for significantly less then the cost quoted below.  This act alone would be a huge gift to the city and a gift to every single citizen as we are all pedestrians. 

    The Sidewalk Foundation has (2) $500 micro-grants available to any homeowner who builds their sidewalk when the Sidewalk Bill is triggered Nashville-wide and (2) specifically reserved for Bowling Av (Sidewalk project #1).  Please contact us for more information.



    Monday, October 15, 2018

    Nashville's Sidewalk Tracker - a visualization of why you are not currently walking from A to B on a new sidewalk

    I'm often asked, 'where are the new sidewalks.'  Despite increases in sidewalk funding, our large city-county of 532 sq miles still feels void of decent walkability. 

     It is arguably hard to tell that we are making strides in timely fashion.

      This map is clear example why Nashvillians are not feeling progress.

    These tiny blips and dots represent complete (green), under construction (red), scheduled construction (orange), in design (purple) and planned (blue) . 

    Monday, October 8, 2018


    Shade Parade began 5 years ago with the idea that better infrastructure (ie more sidewalks in Nashville) would increase walking (the 'parade' part) but that shade could too (ie more tree cover because Nashville is HOT!) is a critical piece of solving our walking woes.

    Nashville is experiencing rapid growth and with it quick depletion of our tree canopy.  This is felt most acutely in neighborhoods such as the Nations where whole blocks seem to have been torn down and rebuilt in the blink of an eye.  'Just since 2008, the tree canopy in the urban core has dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent, a loss of roughly 9,000 trees a year'.  For a pedestrian, this tree canopy loss means exposure to the elements including the searing summer sun.  As anyone can imagine, arriving at your destination drenched with sweat is never optimal.  

    'Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, announced a campaign to restore and enlarge the city’s tree canopy called Root Nashville.  Root Nashville will be overseen by the city and the Cumberland River Compact, an environmental nonprofit, and funded through a combination of public, corporate, foundation and private dollars. Together with several municipal departments and other nonprofit organizations, the initiative aims to plant 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050'.


    (AKA future site of sidewalks!)


    More Trees, Happier People

    When cities grow, green space dies. Replanting it has been shown to lift the human spirit.

    Click to read full article --- NY TIMES ARTICLE