Walking in Nashville
Only about half of the city’s roads currently have sidewalks, and no one knows where to find the money to cover the rest of them.
Only about half of Nashville’s roads currently have sidewalks, and no one knows where to find the money to cover the rest of them. The sidewalk situation even became a point of contention in last year’s mayoral campaign. “We’re just chipping away at a huge deficit and huge need,” says Mary Beth Ikard, Nashville’s Transportation & Sustainability Manager.
Sidewalks make pedestrians safer, which is especially important for commuters who rely on mass transit. In 2015, 18* pedestrians died in Nashville. According to a 2009 study, people living in neighborhoods with sidewalks walk anywhere from 35 to 49 more minutes every week than people without sidewalks do.
Build Your Own Sidewalk
Nashville’s fight for more sidewalks started in the mid-19th century. At the time, most residents worked, shopped, and worshipped in the neighborhoods where they lived. While they always expected to get where they needed to be by foot, the city still refused to pay for sidewalks. Instead, the city council made property owners responsible for constructing and maintaining their own walkways. Each month, the Committee of Sidewalk Law Enforcement would send out inspectors who would then make their way around town, listing owners in violation. If the property owner failed to build or repair the sidewalks within 30 days of notification, the committee would contract out the work and put a lien against the property.
Before the Second World War, this system of infrastructure construction was common across the United States, despite wide resentment. In 1917, the town of Minden, Louisiana, sued residents who failed to build their required sidewalks. The residents filed a countersuit, but they lost their case. Meanwhile, Nashville’s committee continued their work. Then, in 1931, they handed the task off to the newly formed Nashville City Planning Commission.
Of course, not all neighborhoods received equal attention. African-American communities in particular lacked both the paved roads and the enforcement needed to make this system work well for them. Some parts of Trimble Bottom, Nashville’s oldest black neighborhood, did not have sidewalks until the 1970s. And then there were the conflicts over who had the right to use the walkways. During the Civil War, former slaves who moved to Nashville often found themselves jostled off the sidewalk by white residents, historian Bobby Lovett reported in The African-American History of Nashville, TN. He added: “courageous blacks returned the insult.”
In 1943, Nashville officials rewrote the city’s charter, omitting any mention of sidewalks or gutters. Panicked, the director of public works wrote to the city attorney, asking whether he could still charge negligent property owners for contracting out sidewalk construction. The answer was an unequivocal ‘no.’ The city amended the charter a few years later, adding in the section they forgot. Inspectors then sent out a flurry of notices, forcing residents to bring their sidewalks back up to snuff.
But these regulations only affected the areas inside city limits. The surrounding communities were exempt from the sidewalk laws. One of the first suburbs built on Nashville’s borders was Cherokee Park. Designed for the automobile, its developers set neo-traditional single family homes on large lots fronted by curving, sweeping streets and no sidewalks.
Pat Skow – Realtor
Tennessee Real Estate License # 252441
Zeitlin & Co., Realtors
Office – 615-383-0183 – Cell – 615-969-6188