In Downtown Nashville, A Traffic Experiment Changes The Rules For Cars and Pedestrians | Nashville Public Radio

In Downtown Nashville, A Traffic Experiment Changes The Rules For Cars and Pedestrians

Jul 23, 2015

Nashville has pinpointed the city’s most dangerous places for pedestrians and bicyclists, thanks to a study of more than 1,000 crashes over a three-year period. One of them — no surprise — is Lower Broadway, where throngs of tourists fill the sidewalks and crosswalks every day. 

In response, experimental safety measures are being tried, including one that stops cars in all four directions, giving the entire intersection over to pedestrians.

It's a solution that could shift the balance of power toward the people on foot.

The “Pedestrian Scramble

Street parking on Lower Broadway goes away Aug. 11, so the sidewalks can be widened. The city is considering banning drivers on the five-block strip from making right turns on a red light.

And most subtle of all is an idea that city traffic engineer Chip Knauf says could make the biggest difference.

It’s called the “pedestrian scramble,” and for good reason.

“Scramble — because that’s what it turns into. When the [walk signals] come on on one corner, they’re coming on on all the corners. So you just see people start walking every direction, every which way,” he said. “It’s a free-for-all — a safe free-for-all.”

The scramble happens about every 100 seconds — which is a longer wait than it used to be. But when it happens, cars in all directions must stop and the pedestrians rule. They can even cross the intersection diagonally.

Planners began using the scramble in April. But most people are still clueless. New signage is coming. Until then, it pains Knauf to see antsy people taking risks.

“We’re losing our patience to cross the road even,” he said. “If they would just wait on their signal, it would be much safer.”

Drivers also need to behave. Tourist Francois Gilbert, of Montreal, said he'd been in town just three days and already had several close encounters while pushing his daughter’s stroller.

“They turn right when it’s our turn to pass, when there’s a little walk. We have to be careful, especially for cars coming.”

He laughs a little bit, but says the drivers “don't give a s---.”

Trouble beyond Broadway  

The city is trying other ideas at trouble spots near Vanderbilt University and on Harding Place in South Nashville — dabbling into a so-called “safety toolbox,” created after researchers analyzed crash data in a little-known report that arrived in November.

More: Read the full pedestrian and bicyclist crashes study.

Mark Macy, director of engineering for Metro Public Works, said the analysis included some surprises.

“It was interesting that the accidents that we found for bicyclists and pedestrians were very random events, except in a few areas,” he said.

This map shows the most dangerous areas for pedestrians and bicyclists in Nashville — typically places with at least four crashes within a tenth of a mile between 2010 and 2013.
Credit Metro Public Works

  Once all the crashes were mapped, Broadway stood out. Others included West End Avenue between 25th and Louise, Nolensville Pike between Harding place and Welshwood Drive and 21st Avenue between 19th Ave S. and Edgehill.

To make things safer, the city will try to give pedestrians a bit more "lead time" with crossing signals and may install more red lights in the middle of busy blocks that are prone to pedestrian crossings.

Researchers found more danger in places with street parking, entertainment venues and bus stops. Lower Broadway has all of those.But Knauf, who has been observing, reviewing surveillance video and conducting traffic and pedestrian counts, sees merit in the scramble.

“We just saw a crowd sitting here that waited on the signal, they’re gonna cross safely,” he said, “if the motorists do their part, too.”

He admits: it’s still an experiment.

Nashville pedestrian and bicycle crash facts

— Between 2010 and 2013, 979 pedestrians and 220 bicyclists were hit

— Fifty high-crash areas had 4 or more incidents within one-tenth of a mile, accounting for 30 percent of all incidents.

— Men were involved in pedestrian crashes more as drivers and much more as pedestrian victims.

— 61% of pedestrian crashes were at night

— 29% were hit-and-runs

Conflicts between cars and pedestrians are common along Lower Broadway according to a study of 1,000 instances of cars hitting walkers and bikers.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN