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Nashville becoming bike friendly?

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Not sure how many cyclist this forum has, but I am one so I have been very happy over the past few years with the additional biking infrastructure they have added. It also came out this year that Nashville joined the ranks as one of the top Biker Friendly Cities according to the League of American Bicyclist.


Insert about Nashville:

In Nashville (Bronze award), Mayor Karl Dean has been a tireless advocate for active transportation with an emphasis on bicycling as part of his efforts to make the city healthier and more sustainable. In 2008, Mayor Dean formed the first Nashville Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Since taking office, he has invested $7 million in bike ways, along with additional investments in greenways, complete streets and other infrastructure that supports bicycling.

"Improving bicycling in Nashville is important to me, and it's my hope that we continue to become one of the most bike-able cities in the country," Mayor Dean said. "We look forward to continuing our progress to make cycling easier and safer through initiatives like bike share programs, educational campaigns, bike-specific city maps and the expansions of bikeways throughout our community."

Any thoughts on Nashville becoming a biker friendly city? I know some dislike it since it can become more of a hazard for drivers.

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I was very surprised on my recent visit to town to see all of the new bicycle infrastructure. It's very good to hear that these things are beginning to be recognized. We really should thank mayor Dean for all of his hard work.

I am a 5 day a week, 14 mile/day, bike commuter. While I currently live in California, I've done my time on the streets of Nashville. Here is my perspective.

It's very encouraging to see that the city has taken a serious approach to bicycle infrastructure. It's always a mixed bag with this, because there are so many different opinions out there. Very often, the very people designing (TDOT) and approving (politicians) these projects are not seasoned cyclists and don't really understand what they are doing. Not to discredit their efforts, but much of this infrastructure is often based upon "standard practice" or "approved designs".

It's also tricky because it is not a "one size fits all" situation. Just like any other transportation infrastructure, you have many people using it for many different needs. Commuters, recreational/competitive cyclist (roadies), leisure riders, and occasional users. Each of these groups has different needs, expectations, and experience with the roads.

Most leisure and occasional riders tend to stick with what is "safe". That is greenways and MUP's. Greenways are wonderful and a pleasure to have in any city, but are often limited to certain areas such a rivers and utility r.o.w.'s. They are a great part of the infrastructure, but rarely useful for the masses. Wonderful for a scenic ride, but often very limited use for actual travel.

So, other than greenways, we must look at cyclist sharing the road with auto's. Many people think that a bike path is the only solution. I highly disagree with that perspective.

A seasoned cyclist knows what it means to "take the lane", also known as vehicular cycling. This is the practice of riding in traffic with other vehicles, asserting position in a lane so as to not "share" with other vehicles. It forces faster moving vehicles to switch lanes to make a pass, instead of pushing the cyclist into the "gutter". This is a very safe way (in many situations) to remain visible to other traffic. It is my prefered method, but heavily dependent on the particular roads design.

Other cyclist may not be so bold (and that's fine), and may feel more comfortable on a dedicated lane. These allow a cyclist to travel at their own speed, and not worry as much about the car on their bumper. However, poorly designed bike lanes offer just as many (often more) dangers than riding in traffic. Opening doors from parallel parked cars, cars entering and exiting at curb cuts, less visibility/awareness to drivers, lanes that end out of the blue. All of these things are dangers to bike lane riders.

I'm going off track, I wanted to talk about different types of streets and what I have/would like to see, so here goes;

Urban core:

I think bike lanes should be very limited in the urban core. I would like the idea of having a few bike lanes on some signature roads such as West End/ 2nd Ave. These would provide several benefits. It would make bike infrastructure "visible". People would be more likely to realize they need to be aware of cyclists when they see them on high traffic roads. It also provides a fast route across town for cyclist to use. The "visibility" may also encourage some would-be cyclist to try it out.

Urban, non-high speed roads;

Contrary to the major roads, I think many seasoned cyclist would chose to use less trafficked, parallel streets. Streets like Church, 4th, 21st, Broadway have low enough speed limits that a cyclist can reasonably keep up with traffic without causing too much panic and aggravation from drivers. Also, these roads typically have at least two lanes in each direction, which allows for safe passes. I would not encourage any bike lanes to be built on roads like these.

Urban, high speed roads;

Roads like M'boro, Nolensville, Gallatin are fairly densely populated, but allow for high speeds of vehicles (>35mph). Street design begins to be more suburban, so neighborhoods don't all connect with one another, so it's often necessary to use the major thoroughfares. A cyclist is highly exposed on roads like these. In many cases there is zero shoulder room and no sidewalks. Riding "in the gutter" is an easy way to get killed, as cars will blow past you at a 40 mph difference in speed, but there are often few options. These roads are very good examples of where bike lanes absolutely should be.

Older connected neighborhoods;

Places like Inner-East Nashville, the Belmont/12th S./Murphy Rd. areas are older interconnected neighborhoods. It's easy to travel from point A-to-B on residential, low speed, roads. I don't see the need for any bike lanes other than the major thoroughfares.

Suburban major thoroughfares;

Just like urban high speed roads, these streets are typically a travel necessity, but allow for high speeds. Bike lanes are very important in these areas as well as navigable intersections and reduced curb cuts. If an intersection is intimidating for pedestrians, it is likely intimidating for a cyclists. Bicycle "through lanes" are very helpful at major intersections.

Pre-1970's suburban streets;

Many of the inner-suburbs, built before the 1970's are somewhat connected, but often have semi-major roads with zero shoulder. Granny White Pike comes to mind. I've seen several weekend road warriors traveling these routes. While i personally wouldn't enjoy it, it's their right to do so. But on the 35+ mph roads with no shoulder, a cyclist is exposed and can be a burden to traffic. Other routes would be recommended, but expansion of roads with a combined MUP/emergency shoulder would certainly help.

Post 1970's suburbs;

This is where we find neighborhood road patterns which are completely self contained. It's impossible to travel neighborhood to neighborhood without using major roads. Often, the simplest solution is to connect these neighborhoods with a small bike/pedestrian path. It can provide a safer and shorter route for cyclist. As far as bike lanes within the neighborhoods, I've rarely seen the need.

Separated bike lanes;

Another option is to build bike lanes separated from the road by a buffer zone. Our shining new example of this is the 31st ave. connector. I personally don't like them, but that's not to say that I'm right. They are nice while they last, but they keep cyclist "out of sight and mind" to drivers. When a cyclist needs to cross a street, they have to shoot out into traffic (which drivers can't predict) and it makes intersection navigation very dangerous with possible "right hooks" from right turning drivers that weren't aware of their presence.

So that's my take on how I personally would like to see infrastructure tackled. It's tricky to make it work in a city with so many different types of roads in such a small area, but is doable with a little bit of thought. I think the biggest challenge, yet possible success is to make a connected/comprehensive web of such infrastructure. If you can take much of the guess work out of it for cyclist and drivers (what's next, what does this path mean) it's much safer for all users and would encourage cyclist to use the system and drivers to respect it.

2 elephants in the room:

First off, the biggest obstacle to overcome is driver education. Here in California, drivers expect to see cyclists. Therefore, drivers tend to be more aware of their presence. They also understand the "right to the road" theory and mostly respect that. It provides for safer conditions and less confrontation. Tennessee drivers haven't yet adopted that theory. A cyclist is seen as obstacle in the road that should be removed. It can lead to drivers acting dangerously and often lead to conflict/injury.

The other elephant, a big one, is our climate. Mid-TN winters are relatively mild and most cyclist could handle it, but summertime is a different story. When temps reach 100, how many people will really want to cycle? I struggle with that myself. I would love to see Nashville become a cycling utopia like Portland, but we have a very different climate than the Northwest. When I move back some day, I plan to stick with my current routine of all-season, 5 day a week commuting. Honestly, I wonder if I will be able to. When it's that hot, cycling is no longer enjoyable. Having mass transit options and bus bicycle racks can certainly help, but if future summers are anything like the last, I would expect to see a severe drop off in summertime riders. So that begs the question, how much infrastructure do we need? I personally want as much as possible, but there also needs to be some financial balance. Having said that, I think we can all agree that Nashville certainly need to be more pedestrian and transit friendly. In my experience, what is good for cyclists is good for pedestrians and vica-versa.

Thanks for reading this VERY long post and for considering my opinion. I don't claim that my ideas are the absolute right ones, but I've certainly put my miles in. I also have the benefit of having ridden in Nashville, as well as getting the outside perspective of living in a bike friendly area like the Bay Area.

I'm glad to see the progress Nashville has made. I hope there is much more to come. I just hope it is done in a thoughtful way with some sort of plan, instead of a mish-mash of different methods.


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Great write up! thanks for the post. I agree on your point about how the people designing the bike lanes are not cyclist. There have actually been a few sections of the bike lane on lebanon road that were refinished because they were not done properly at some intersections with turning lanes.

I will say I personally think Nashville's greenway is pretty useful for commuting to work for the surrounding area. I work near the airport on Elm Hill and know a few people at the office that use the greenway to come into work. Granted it is very limited on the type of person it benefits since you almost have to live/work a mile or so from the trailheads for it to be convenient. I would love to live in East Nashville near Shelby park simply because of how easy it would be to get downtown and to the Hermitage. It is faster to take the Greenway from Shelby to Donelson/Hermitage than driving.

You bring up some great points about how a seasoned cyclist rides, which is probably where the issue arises in Nashville since so many people tend to not understand this concept. I was driving into work last Saturday morning at 6 in the morning (aka still dark) and there was a cyclist riding against traffic with no lights. This area is known to have some riders, so I always look out for it, but for most people this is a big hazard. Both sides are to blame with the frustrations of cyclist on the road, but I tend to put more of it on the cyclist in Nashville. Yes a lot of them when you get towards the urban core know how to ride, but in many of the suburbs, specifically Hermitage where I am a lot, do not know how to ride. I see a cyclist riding on the sidewalk or against traffic almost every day. I also see drivers panic when they are trying to pass riders. Which is one reason I am nervous riding the streets in certain areas.

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I meant to compliment Nashvillwill on a great, thoughtful and insightful post a week ago but I read it from my phone or ipad and didn't want to hack out a reply on the virtual keyboard. This is a great discussion even though I'm not a cyclist myself I'm glad that a few people on the board are thinking about and being proactive about this issue. There's been some interesting discussion about how and why/why not people have taken to biking as an alternative transport mode in the storm-battered boroughs of NYC. There is definitely a steap learning curve and an intimidation factor. Car drivers are not used to sharing the road and can be quite hostile. I think we need a lot of public education on this matter so people will allow for the possibility that more than just high speed auto traffic can be on the public roads.

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