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Why Sidewalks Are a Top Issue in Nashville’s August 3 Election

3 min read
Crumbly Sidewalk
Emily Dexter · Aug 2, 2023

On August 3, Nashville residents will vote for their city’s next mayor and Metro Council. A variety of issues are at stake, including affordable housing, economic growth, and school funding. Sidewalks are another key issue, as Nashvillians call for improved pedestrian infrastructure and greater safety throughout the Music City.

The Problem: Low Coverage, High Risk

Nashville lags behind much of the rest of the nation, both in terms of sidewalk coverage and pedestrian safety. Only about 19 percent of the streets in Nashville have sidewalks. Compare that to the roughly 35 percent of streets that have sidewalks in cities like Austin and Raleigh — or the 60+ percent sidewalk coverage in Denver and Portland. Fewer sidewalks mean more people having to walk on or beside busy roads. And more people on the roads inevitably means more accidents.

Nashville’s percent of pedestrian fatalities is almost double the national average, according to Smart Growth America’s 2021 Dangerous by Design report. The situation isn’t improving, either, with Nashville earning a worse Pedestrian Danger Index score in 2021 than in 2019. Nashville’s streets are becoming even more dangerous for pedestrians.

The city has made some progress toward greater sidewalk coverage and safety. But with so much room for improvement, Nashville’s next mayor and Metro Council will need to take a serious approach to resolving the city’s sidewalk problems.

Background: Analyzing Sidewalk Coverage in Nashville

To make progress toward safer streets, Nashville’s city government has been following the recommendations of the Nashville Department of Transportation & Multimodal Infrastructure (NDOT), as laid out in the 2022 WalknBike report. The report revealed how community members feel about pedestrian safety, how much progress has been made since NDOT’s last report in 2017, and how far the city still has to go toward improving its infrastructure.

In a survey of 3,055 Nashville residents, 41 percent of participants said their community was somewhat or very difficult to walk in. An even higher percentage, 52 percent, said their community was somewhat or very difficult to cycle in. Many residents said they try to stay off the streets because of safety concerns.

The survey also asked what needs Nashville residents wanted to see addressed. A number of common themes appeared. The residents wanted more sidewalks. They wanted increased connectivity for sidewalks, bikeways, greenways, and transit routes, making it easier to get from place to place around the city. They also wanted to connect underserved communities and improve crossings on busy streets. 

Survey participants specifically referenced the need for more sidewalks in and along Lealand/Granny White, McGavock, Hermitage, Polk Avenue, and Gallatin Pike. They also mentioned Nolensville and Bell Road, Cane Ridge, Antioch, and South Nashville as places needing more protected bike paths.

Based on these findings, it seems clear that Nashville residents want more sidewalks and improved pedestrian infrastructure. But just how far away are those goals?

As of September 2021, the WalknBike report found that Nashville is home to 1,205 miles of sidewalk. In comparison, 4,600 miles of sidewalk are missing. From 2017 to 2021, the city has added just 93 miles to its network. Time is a clear barrier to completing the city’s sidewalk network.

Another important barrier is cost. A 2020 report by Councilmember Emily Benedict, chair of the Special Committee on Sidewalks, stated that “Public Works budgets $1,000 per linear foot of sidewalk, which assumes a more complicated project.” The average cost of sidewalk per linear foot was $837. That calculates to over $4 million per mile of sidewalk. Multiply that by the number of miles of missing sidewalk in Nashville, and you get the staggering price tag of over $20 billion. Or, when looking at just the 71 miles included by NDOT in the Priority Sidewalk Network, building the most crucial sidewalks would cost almost $314 million.

It is essential to build these sidewalks efficiently, especially as the number of pedestrian deaths continues to rise. Last year, more Nashville pedestrians died in accidents than in any previous year. A total of 49 people died in 2022, an increase from the 39 fatalities in 2021.

Among Nashville’s deadliest locations are Broadway between 3rd Ave and 6th Ave, West End Ave, Nolensville Pike, Donelson Pike, and George E. David Blvd/11th Ave. Improving pedestrian safety in these areas is critical to making Nashville a more walkable, bikeable, and overall livable city.

To see the progress Nashville is making toward improving its sidewalk network, you can view an interactive map here. A similar map of bikeway projects is also available here.

Steps Forward: Nashville’s August 3 Election and Beyond

With so much sidewalk in need of construction and so much at stake in terms of pedestrian safety, sidewalks are a central issue in Nashville’s August 3 Metropolitan Election. Both candidates for mayor and Metro Council must consider how to solve Nashville’s sidewalk crisis.

The Nashville Banner asked eight mayoral candidates how they would increase funding for sidewalk construction. The Banner also asked the candidates how they would seek to improve pedestrian safety. All of the candidates seemed to recognize the importance of making Nashville’s streets safer and more walkable.

Sidewalks are also a key issue for Metro Council candidates. GoodParty.org is proud to have certified two candidates for Nashville’s Metro Council who have made pedestrian safety a key part of their policy platforms. Travis London is running to represent District 28, which includes Antioch, Luna Heights, and Town Park Estates. Travis has committed to both enhancing pedestrian infrastructure and expanding multimodal transportation options for Nashville. Terry Vo is running for Metro Council in District 17, which covers WeHo and Melrose, and is dedicated to creating safer and more walkable neighborhoods.

To learn about all the GoodParty.org Certified candidates running for election in Nashville, check out our 2023 Nashville Independent Voter Guide. Voting in the upcoming election is an essential way to support Nashville’s development, including the expansion and improvement of its sidewalk network.

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Crumbly Sidewalk
By Emily Dexter
Emily Dexter is the content marketing coordinator at Good Party. Based in the Midwest, she brings a fresh perspective and editorial experience to the team.