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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