By Stephen Miller, Streetsblog, 25 May 2017
Nashville is known as the home of the country music industry — and a fast-growing region of car-centric sprawl. But local leaders realize they can’t accommodate more growth with an outdated, cars-first approach, so Mayor Megan Barry released an action plan yesterday that lays out an ambitious agenda to improve conditions for walking, bicycling, and transit.
The plan calls for an expansion of frequent bus service, pedestrian safety improvements, and bikeways. “It’s impossible to pave our way out of congestion,” Barry writes in her introduction to the report [PDF]. “The thread running through all of these programs is getting the work done fast, with streamlined processes designed to get projects out the door and on the ground.”
The action plan, called “Moving the Music City,” emerged from planning that Barry initiated when she was elected nearly two years ago. Since 2015, Nashville has started work on a citywide transportation plan and released separate reports on transit and active transportation. Barry is also pushing a ballot initiative to raise funds for a new light rail system, but that project will likely take years, and could take even longer if matching federal funds for transit are not available.
So Barry is acting quickly by focusing on her city’s streets. Some of the more eye-catching initiatives include:
- Redesigning the city’s bus network, adding service to the 14 busiest routes so buses arrive at least every 15 minutes, extending the hours of bus operation, eliminating transfer fees on buses, upgrading to an electronic fare-payment system, and adding transit-priority signals and bus lanes to key streets.
- Adopting a Vision Zero agenda to eliminate traffic fatalities, focusing on improving pedestrian safety at crash-prone locations by implementing quick, low-cost solutions.
- Piloting “new public space projects” downtown, with a focus on the Lower Broadway area, which is a popular destination for bars and live music.
- Installing a new protected bike lane on Magnolia Boulevard and Music Row, home to the headquarters of many record labels.
- Developing transit-oriented development guidelines, focusing on future light rail corridors.
One street that’s set for major upgrades under Barry’s plan is Nolensville Pike, a wide, auto-oriented road that’s an important link for bus riders in low-income neighborhoods southeast of downtown.
“Nolensville Pike serves as a major artery in Nashville’s current transit system, and will be a corridor of focus for increased density and future light rail,” the city’s report says. “We’ll be using ‘quick build’ techniques to bring near-term pedestrian-safety improvements to the corridor,” including upgraded bus stops, more frequent buses, and kiosks with real-time bus arrival information.
These types of improvements are needed, but they also run the risk of raising rents and pushing out current residents. A new report [PDF] from Transportation for America and Conexión Américas, a local Latino immigrant services non-profit, released on the same day as the city’s action plan, lays out a roadmap for how to improve Nolensville Pike without displacing vulnerable residents.
Transportation for America explains that the goal isn’t to prevent transportation upgrades and development, but to steer them in the right direction and ensure people there now will benefit from them:
There’s growing, unmet market demand in Nashville for well-connected neighborhoods in close proximity to jobs, services, and good schools that have safe streets for walking or cycling, and/or public transportation. But there are only a small number of neighborhoods that fit this bill regionally, and they are mostly within Nashville’s urban core…
Rather than attempting to prevent new development along Nolensville Pike, which could bring jobs, increase the tax base, and improve quality of life for existing and new residents alike, the goal should be to ensure that improvements to the corridor include housing and commercial opportunities for immigrants, minorities, low-income households, and long-term residents who have called the neighborhood home or operated businesses there for many years.
The report’s recommendations include creating an alliance of business owners already along Nolensville Pike, developing opportunities for business owners to purchase property, providing a property tax abatement for low-income homeowners, and building new subsidized housing as the area redevelops.
The project will run six blocks, from Bayaud Avenue to Virginia Avenue, and will include the busy intersection at Broadway and Alameda Avenue.
Starting Monday, city workers will put out orange cones, traffic signs and bicycle signals.
The signs will direct cyclists from the bikeway to nearby destinations such as the Alameda Light Rail station, the Cherry Creek Trail and Washington Park.
The bikeway will open Aug. 15 with the goal of remaining in place through November 2017 to collect extensive data on everything from safety to traffic volume and the number of bicyclists using the bikeway. There will be an evaluation of the bikeway in three months.
The temporary redesign of Broadway is a key part of a larger project looking at new ways to move people safely along the high-traffic Broadway/Lincoln corridor at a time when so many new people are moving to Denver and most of them drive cars. Between 2006 and 2014, an average of 40 people moved to Denver each day, according to Denver Public Works.
“We expect to gain valuable information on how to organize Denver streets amid ever-increasing population growth,” said Nancy Kuhn , spokeswoman for Denver Public Works.
“Right now we have pedestrians, people on bikes, drivers and transit riders all using Broadway, and our goal is to provide them all with safe places to travel and reach their destinations.”
The popular Baker neighborhood is home to trendy restaurants, shops, and a music scene that’s hosting the Underground Music Showcase this weekend on South Broadway.
People often ride their bikes on sidewalks because they don’t feel safe riding in the heavy traffic on South Broadway. This is illegal in Denver unless the cyclist is within one block of parking the bike and traveling 6 mph or slower.
“I think this redesign is past due,” said David Sachs , editor of Streetsblog Denver, part of a national network that supports smart growth and livable cities.
Sachs, who attended all the public meetings about the bikeway, believes the goal is to improve the street for everyone, not just bicyclists.
“It’s important to remember this is part of Mayor Hancock’s goals for the city,” said Sachs, recalling how the mayor last year held an official ribbon-cutting on the city’s first parking protected bike lanes.
Planning for the project started last September with a pop-up bike lane on South Broadway that converted a parking lane to a bike route. But business owners didn’t like losing convenient customer parking, so the city turned to a new design.
The two-way protected bikeway will be located in the far left lane of South Broadway, protected by a lane of parking flanked by three vehicle travel lanes. A fourth vehicle travel lane will continue to be dedicated to buses during peak hours.
The bike lane will have pavement markings, short vertical poles called bollards and dedicated bike signals at intersections.
Research conducted for the Broadway/Lincoln study analyzed how many cars each lane could handle per hour during rush hours — morning for Lincoln, afternoon for Broadway. Planners found that Lincoln’s four lanes moved about 1,000 more cars than Broadway’s five, so they believe that Broadway can operate at its current capacity despite giving up a car lane for bike travel.
“We’re pretty pumped to see the city is taking a big public stand for bikes,” said Carina Gaz , spokeswoman for Bike Denver, which collaborated with the city on the study.
People in the neighborhood are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Virgil Dickerson, marketing manager for Illegal Pete’s, lives and works in the area.
“As an avid bike rider, I want to see as many bike lanes as possible, but the challenge on Broadway is there’s already so much traffic that taking out a lane seems problematic to me, but apparently they did some studies,” he said.
When the city occasionally closes a lane for construction in that area, he said, it can cause “a lot of extra traffic.”
But he’s optimistic the bike lane can be a success.
“Working for a (local) business, I’m excited to see how it works,” he said. “We’re pro-bikers, and our Broadway store has a huge bike rack to park bikes. Any city that’s bike-friendly is a good city in my book.”