Although Nashville has never been known for its sidewalks and bike lanes, new initiatives to streamline transit patterns are quickly improving the city’s landscape. From a growing network of bike lanes to traffic-calming neighborhoods, Walk Bike Nashville is at the forefront of the city’s greatest transportation developments.
Neighborhoods.com sat down with Walk Bike Nashville’s Education and Advocacy Coordinator Jessica Burton to discuss the progress Nashville has made in the organization’s 20 years, the way forward after a major legislative defeat, and some of her favorite neighborhoods for biking.
Walk Bike Nashville
Originally founded in 1998 as a neighborhood walking group, over the last two decades, Walk Bike Nashville has become a leading voice in the city’s development. Their stated mission is to “build a more walkable, bikeable, and livable Nashville” through education, engagement, and advocacy with an emphasis on the quality of life improvements that sidewalks and bike lanes can bring. They focus on Nashville neighborhoods across the map and recognize the unique needs and wants of every corridor. They host events, educational workshops, and community meetings throughout the year, and it’s abundantly clear that not only do they work for structural change, but they also forge lasting relationships in the communities they serve.
Burton admitted that not every community is excited to see changes like the installation of bike lanes or traffic-calming efforts. When considering the perceived correlation between improvements in sidewalks and bike paths and the threat of rising housing prices and costs of living, Burton said, “There can be fear there.” But Walk Bike Nashville goes to great lengths to contribute in holistic ways.
“Maybe we can’t do anything specifically about getting a light installed in that underpass,” Burton explained, “but can we make a connection with local artists and maybe do an installation that can address a need?” For Walk Bike Nashville, transit efforts are about more than just getting from point A to point B, they’re about how local communities can grow and thrive in a manner that’s sustainable and consistent with residents’ priorities. For this reason the organization has become a beloved staple of the city as they celebrate their 20th year.
Successful Bike Initiatives
When asked about successful initiatives, Burton pointed to neighborhoods in East Nashville (like Five Points, 12 South and Belmont) where runners and bicyclists can routinely be seen zipping along stretches of road and side streets with ease.
“What has happened on 10th avenue is really exciting,” Burton told Neighborhoods.com. “I was in the area recently and saw families with kids biking to and from school. I counted over 30 kids’ bikes outside of Waverly Belmont.” The health of the transportation ecosystem in such areas is what Burton refers to as “complete neighborhoods” where residents have access to work, school, and food via a network of sidewalks, bike paths, or public transit.
This sort of structural change to a neighborhood is surely gratifying for Burton after Walk Bike Nashville, along with the Mayor’s office and many other community advocacy groups, lost a hardfought legislative battle over a transit referendum earlier this year. The initiative would have brought light rail to Nashville and bolstered existing infrastructure to meet the city’s booming population needs. Walk Bike Nashville often finds itself pitted between newer residents from cities like San Francisco and old guard Nashvillians who are reluctant to see their city change.
“The explosion of growth in Nashville, combined with people moving from other cities has shifted the culture,” Burton explained, “but we devote significant time to working within communities and advocating with the city for bike lanes and sidewalks in underserved areas.”
Best Bike Routes in the City
When asked about her favorite bike routes, Burton admits that her favorite path is the one that takes her to work each morning. “I love the 16th and 17th avenue Music Row bike lanes. You come down the Demonbreun hill, and then you’re Downtown!”
For bicycle enthusiasts or beginners looking to get involved, Walk Bike Nashville hosts many events each month to engage residents in every neighborhood. From community rides in North Nashville and the weekly Monday night “Ladies Ride” alternating between the east and west sides of town, to walking tours of the Hillsboro neighborhood in October, there’s something for residents of all ages and abilities.