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We Desperately Need Sidewalks

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Why, on earth, this city decided long ago not to build sidewalks is a mystery. This is how it works in Nashville today: You leave your house to go buy a quart of milk; you try to walk to the store; you have to walk along the road because there are no sidewalks; you dodge traffic.

Such is life in Music City. Without any empirical evidence to assist us, we are comfortable in making the argument anyway that, based on our own urbanistic appreciation of numerous other cities around this great nation, Nashville is in deep sidewalk poverty.

Fortuitously, Mayor Bill Purcell presented a capital spending plan a couple of weeks ago that retired any notion that the city doesn’t plan to construct sidewalks. Fact is, he’s already been spending money on them. In the current year, the mayor spent some $15 million on sidewalks. Much of it went to build sidewalks near schools, so that kids could, in fact, walk to their neighborhood school without injury. A significant portion of that $15 million also went to making sidewalks accessible to people with disabilities. (Note to everyone: When you slope a sidewalk down to street level, it’s not only good for people in wheelchairs, but it helps cyclists too.)

But there’s better news. The mayor has proposed that another $20 million be spent on sidewalks for 2002. That money will be the down payment on a master sidewalk plan that a team of consultants is now developing for the city. This team is conducting an inventory of all the city’s sidewalks—assessing their condition and determining where we need new ones. The sidewalk report is expected some time next spring.

As the team puts together its plan, we at the Scene suggest that it not only consider sidewalks in residential neighborhoods, but that it also consider making our city’s public spaces more accessible to pedestrians. First, someone needs to consider why it’s virtually impossible to walk from long-term parking at the Nashville International Airport to the terminal without having to take an absolutely insane hike. This, even though walking to the terminal is almost always quicker than taking the bus. Someone also needs to figure out some better pedestrian approaches to Adelphia Coliseum for Titans fans as they cross the bridge near the courthouse. Steps leading down the grass slope on the northern side of the stadium are desperately needed.

When he ran for mayor, Purcell summed up his campaign platform with this neat and tidy expression: “Sidewalks and schoolrooms.” An incredibly successful television ad, which had him working at a desk in his front yard, drove home the idea. Purcell said his mission would be to build neighborhoods in an intensely microcosmic way—street by street, house by house, school by school and neighborhood by neighborhood. His decision to invest in sidewalks is a way to make communities more cohesive and to bring us all together.

Walking is good. It’s healthy, easy and should be encouraged. Build more sidewalks, and build them soon.


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