Pedestrian deaths have increased in Nashville in recent years, and dangerous areas have been well-documented. Now, a debate is growing between safety advocates and city officials about how, and how quickly, streets and crosswalks can be made safer.
Since 2014, Metro has worked on improving its 20 most crash-prone intersections. And last year, the release of a detailed 3-year “action plan” pleased groups like the nonprofit Walk Bike Nashville.
But this week, the group issued a report card about progress on those ideas in the past year, finding several “behind schedule.” Of particular concern, said Executive Director Nora Kern, are the lack of low-cost “quick build” safety ideas being put to use.
“It’s time to start moving forward with those locations, because that’s where people, we already knew, were getting hit and injured and killed,” she said. “We can’t just keep waiting for the all-at-once, big, grand solution. We need to make sure we keep chugging away at these things today.”
Nolensville Road, for example, has been through more than a year of planning, but few actual changes. Kern would like to see measures like re-striping of crosswalks, or added signage and lighting. (Her group did push for, and praise, one robust new crossing.)
But Metro Public Works has pushed back on quick-fix ideas. Jeff Hammond, an assistant director, cautioned against tinkering with quick fixes on a high-speed, high-traffic state highway.
“We kind of take the attitude, if it’s good enough for quick build, it’s good enough to do it in concrete and asphalt,” he said.
Public Works is working on two larger changes to Nolensville Road — one near Casa Azafran and at its major crossing with Thompson Lane.
“Honestly, we just have not identified a lot of places where we felt that quick-build was the way to go,” Hammond said.
He points to Lower Broadway as another area where some quick-build pedestrian ideas led to full-blown infrastructure changes.
A Year Later, A Mixed Report Card
Urgency is one of Walk Bike Nashville’s biggest requests in the report card, with Kern emphasizing that the defeat of the city’s transit referendum has shifted focus to some of the city’s more attainable — and already-funded — projects.
Sill, on several goals Metro and Walk Bike Nashville appear to have different takes on the amount of progress.
For example, the report card cites ongoing concerns with road, sidewalk and bike lane closures due to construction. That’s an area where Metro Public Works actually reports making some progress on holding developers accountable — while noting that hiring additional inspectors could help.
Walk Bike Nashville also dings the city for a lack of progress on fostering an autonomous vehicle pilot program, and its overhaul to parking management — although the city did put out a call for a parking vendor.
And in other areas, the report card offers strong praise.
It finds a rapid increase in sidewalks and protected bike lanes — and applauds improvements to the city’s bus system, such as more frequent service on some routes, and the purchase of new buses.
Mary Beth Ikard, manager of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Sustainability, said last year’s creation of the action plan has helped several departments to agree on transportation and mobility goals. And leaders have been meeting twice a month ever since, with that document as a guide.
“Many of the items checked are off, which 1 year into a 3-year agenda, we’re pretty proud of,” Ikard said. “And we’re OK with advocates pointing out where we still have work left to do.”