If you are lucky enough to live downtown, you probably aren’t aware of the walkability crisis in Nashville’s outlying neighborhoods.  Most suburbs in metro Nashville are deficient in sidewalks and safe crossings and devoid of any true commuter bike lanes.

Overall, Nashville’s walkability score is only 36 out of 100.  This means that, even downtown, there are limited options for people who either want to walk, or more importantly, need to walk.

sidewalk ending at major intersection

Intersection near Bell Road and I-24 in Antioch.

Take Antioch for example.  The infamous intersection at Bell Road and I-24 screams “danger” for anyone wanting to cross from west to east.  A precarious bridge cuts off the sidewalks on both sides, forcing what few pedestrians attempting to cross there to literally walk in the street.

Sharing a lane with an endless stream of aggravated drivers is not my idea of safe, and, although I live within 1 mile of countless restaurants, big box and small box stores, shops and a Starbucks, I never take to the street on foot because I am too afraid of being mowed down by a car.

In addition to the insane traffic problem in the area that seems to never die down regardless of the time of day, the sidewalk situation (or lack thereof) is really putting a damper on the economic growth of the “downtown” Antioch area.  With Vanderbilt moving into the old Hickory Hollow Mall building, Antioch is crying out for revitalization.  But does the community care enough for the “walking class” enough to oblige with a sidewalk that unites both sides of the interstate?

Contrary to the general opinion of residents in more progressive cities, the average Nashville resident is less likely to view walkers as equal in social status as drivers.   Although the culture here is not intentionally exclusive, this way of thinking feeds into economic and racial stereotypes and hurts the people who tend to need sidewalks the most: the poor.

I can imagine how long it must take for some people who do not own cars to commute even short distances in Nashville by either walking or taking the bus.  I worked in Brentwood, Tennessee for many years and explored the option of taking a city bus to work to save on gas and give myself more time to check emails before and after work.  Even though I owned a perfectly good car at the time, I thought it would be nice to let someone else drive for a change.  But, as I soon found out, commuting to Brentwood by bus or any other mass transit is impossible.  Brentwood, the home of literally hundreds of office buildings and one of the highest concentrations of employers with 100 or more employees in all of Nashville, does not have one single bus stop, save for the Express Bus that only travels along I-65 from a park-and-ride location off Concord Road to downtown Nashville and back.

Is it any wonder that the Maryland Farms / Franklin Road area is another one of the most congested traffic areas?

Other neighborhoods have similar issues.  Greenhills has started rebuilding sidewalks near main roads, but community influencers actively resist putting sidewalks back into older, well-established neighborhoods where sidewalks used to be.  Sidewalks are dubbed unsightly and disrupt the aesthetics of Nashville’s historic homes.  Neighborhoods with homeowners’ associations are also primary offenders of the “no sidewalks” culture.

What’s funny is that many older Nashville neighborhoods used to have sidewalks, but they were torn out in the 1960’s when roads were widened to accommodate more traffic.  In other cases, sidewalks have been so neglected that they are now unusable.  If you look closely in some areas, you will see the ruins of the sidewalks of yesteryear.

Why can’t we bring sidewalks back?  When did walking and taking the bus to work become something only poor people do?

I do not classify myself as “poor.”  I am more interested in the health and environmental benefits of walking and mass transit.  It’s frustrating that I can almost see Starbucks from my apartment but cannot get there.  My fiancée, who is from Toronto, is frustrated that we live only a few miles away from his work, yet driving there is the only option.  Because I work from home and my fiancée and I share a car, walking down and enjoying an early morning cuppa in a social setting is out of the question for me.  Unless I want to risk life and limb, and no Joe is worth that price.

By India Stone