Nashville Calculates Its Sidewalk Shortcomings And Debuts A Plan To Address Them

Jan 9, 2017

Nashville now knows exactly how lacking its sidewalk network is, and has calculated the price to add hundreds of miles for pedestrians. Metro debuted its new master plan for sidewalks and bikeways — known as WalknBike — on Monday.

Even by a conservative count, Davidson County is missing nearly 1,900 miles of sidewalks — most of which are unlikely to ever be built.

But Metro calculates that its most critical needs amount to 91 miles. To build those stretches would cost $550 million.

“It’s a little overwhelming. It’s a big number,” Mayor Megan Barry said.

Divide the cost by what the city currently spends on sidewalks in a year — $30 million — and that’s two decades of work to complete those 91 miles.

And that doesn’t address the estimated cost of $233 million to keep up with repairs, and another $41 million in high-priority bicycling projects.

“There is a lot of work to do,” Barry said. “I don’t want anybody to feel overwhelmed or daunted by this report, because there are so many great things in this that we can incorporate and do right away.”

Still, the word “daunting” was bandied about, even among supporters like Councilwoman Angie Henderson.

“I am more optimistic than I have ever been in my 15 years of advocacy,” she said. “The task before us is daunting, but all journeys begin with one step. So to my colleagues, I say let’s lace up our walking shoes and step out together to make a difference … this year.”

This map shows the highest priority sidewalks that Nashville would like to build, as well as the $550 million cost estimate.
Credit WalknBike

To make the needs more manageable, Metro has a new point system for prioritizing sidewalks. Parks, schools, bus stops and shopping centers get preference as Metro decides what to work on.

This chart shows the increase in sidewalk and bikeway miles in Nashville since 2003.
Credit WalknBike

And the benefits to safety, health and equity will now be considered. That drew praise from WalknBike meeting attendee Jewelle Vernon, who said she wants all citizens to have a chance to walk and bike.

“I’m all about making sure things are as accessible to all Nashvillians and all citizens, irrespective of social-economic status … especially people who are more likely to not drive and more likely to need to take public transportation,” she said.

After nearly a year of work on WalknBike, the city is taking a final round of feedback through the end of the month. Once the strategy is finalized, the decision of whether to spend more still rests with the mayor and the city council.