The lack of sidewalks is a perpetual complaint across Nashville, and a new analysis suggests frustrations will continue unless the city makes a major funding change.
A 10-person committee of councilmembers and residents finds that Metro is paying to add about 4 miles of new sidewalks per year.
Councilmember Emily Benedict, who authored the report, says the current pace — or even moving twice as fast — would still take too long to build the sidewalks identified as high priorities.
“The plan is 20 years to get 71 miles of sidewalk, which will not meet the needs or the desire of our constituents,” she told the council this week.
In addition to the 71 priority miles, Metro has identified another 1,900 miles of “greatest need” sidewalks — and a total of 4,700 miles of missing sidewalk segments across Davidson County.
Metro has been putting $20 to $30 million toward sidewalks each year lately, with a large share dedicated to repairs and retrofitting of existing sidewalks.
“Our infrastructure has not kept up,” Benedict said.
She’s also drawing a connection between slow progress on sidewalks and Nashville’s record-setting year for pedestrian fatalities in 2019, when 32 people died alongside or while crossing roadways.
One of the first such deaths of 2020 occurred at a crossing that was known to be problematic, and where WKRN reported that anticipated improvements were delayed.
“We must do better as a city, and also as residents. If you’re in a car, slow down,” Benedict said.
Beyond more funding — a specific dollar amount isn’t identified — the report suggests other ways to expand and improve the sidewalk network.
An idea that gets substantial attention is whether developers should no longer have an option to opt out of building sidewalks. As it stands, they’re allowed to pay an “in-lieu” fee of $152 per linear foot. But the report details how Metro Public Works budgets $1,000 per linear foot.
“A fee increase would encourage more developers to build the sidewalk and discourage payment of the in-lieu contribution,” the report says. “Developers push back on this cost … These developers should be required to contribute to the betterment of their neighbors.”
Other suggestions include:
- work to decrease sidewalk construction costs, potentially by asking companies to bid competitively for sidewalk contracts;
- consider allowing simpler and cheaper sidewalks in some areas so they can be added sooner;
- reevaluate how Metro Public Works ranks the urgency of sidewalks;
- hire more sidewalk project managers, from the current one employee to at least three; and,
- add lighting for pedestrian areas, not just car roadways.
“There are some quick wins, as well as longer term solutions, and most importantly, obstacles that need to be removed that will all result in a more walkable Nashville,” the report reads.
On the extreme end of the spectrum, “due to our enormous need,” the committee also ponders whether residents could be taught to build their own sidewalks through a series of workshops.