Nashville Public Works and BPAC Adopt NACTO Urban Design Guide

Very important news came to Nashville in August. Nashville residents hoping for more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly urban development should be happy to hear that the Director of Engineering for Public Works, Mark Macy and the Mayor’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Activity Committee adopted the NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) Urban Street Design Guide for future development for the City of Nashville.

bellevue near Nashville, TN

Intersection in Bellevue where improvements for bicycle commuters are proposed.

bicycle commuter station in Bellevue

Proposed redesign of Bellevue intersection.

The Urban Street Design Guide is being adopted by leading U.S. cities to alter the direction of automobile focused travel which has strangled urban development in the sprawl design scenario so typically associated with cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The purpose of the design guide is to help Nashville create a long term expansion plan that competes with other major cities around the region in terms of pedestrian and bicycle friendly methods of travel and integrated public transit.

“Growing urban populations will demand that their streets serve not only as corridors for the conveyance of people, goods, and services, but as front yards, parks, playgrounds, and public spaces,” says the guide.  “Streets must accommodate an ever-expanding set of needs.”

Vehicle-Centric Housing Development, No More

Nashville residents are excited about the potential – but cautious about not following the ‘Sprawlville’ development path.

Housing developers have lept into the market to build apartments and homes to meet the coming demand, yet the city has a design legacy that is centered on vehicle travel. If the population of Nashville grows by 20% as is anticipated in 10 years, infrastructure will be challenged and the opportunities for residents will be limited by the automobile-centered design that has been typical of urban development is the 20th century.

Nashville’s challenge is that the city has an enormous amount of developable land compared to other cities. It is centrally located via major interstates with an international airport hub, so the attraction to employers who provide services nationally is significant.

Residents of Nashville will most likely see the results of this philosophical change immediately in the more dense urban section of Nashville:  Inside the 440 and south of Eastland and Cleveland Streets in East Nashville. This has been the concentration of improvements by the Department of Public Works to date, and logically it makes sense to serve the largest portion of the population when possible.

‘Ring’ communities, or neighborhoods outside the 440 / Briley Pkwy. area, may be out of luck for the next little while.  While these communities make up a geographically larger part of metro Nashville, they may not make it to the top of the priority list unless local representatives lobby for more investment in infrastructure in those areas.  Otherwise, developers will continue to build vehicle-centered housing, and the ‘sprawl’ will continue.  Our driving habits and the current static neighborhood design serve to keep us in our automobiles.

Unless Public Works and the Mayors office also embrace the automobile desert currently found in ‘ring’ communities, bicycle commuters and walkers will struggle.  This means that too many of us will continue to pay for parking, walk along highways with no sidewalks and idle for hours in traffic jams because we do not have more equitable transport.  Although the downtown area will enjoy more of the sustainable renaissance depicted in the idyllic Urban Street Design Guide, Nashville still has quite a way to go.

How to Help Your Community Evolve

If you want to voice your concern for your local community’s bicycle / walking commuter infrastructure, contact your local representative or attend your district council meeting.