By Peter White
The race for Mayor is on and four candidates faced off against each other Wednesday morning to talk about sidewalks, bikeways, and traffic. The event at the Watson Grove Missionary Baptist Church was sponsored by Walk Bike Nashville and the forum was moderated by WPLN’s Tony Gonzales.
Mayor David Briley, State Representative John Ray Clemmons, At Large Councilman John Cooper, and Republican Carol Swain pretty much agreed that sidewalks are good, bikeways are not being used much, traffic is bad, and scooters are becoming a deadly menace.
While the candidates agreed that people just don’t feel safe walking or biking around the city, they had different ideas when it comes to reducing traffic congestion and a better overall transportation system.
John Ray Clemmons said the city should make developers pay more for the traffic disruptions they cause. He also said increased traffic is a regional problem and it requires collaboration between local and state officials to address the issue.
Carol Swain criticized her opponents for being career politicians who cater to downtown interests. “It’s unacceptable where there’s some neighborhoods that get sidewalks and other neighborhoods are totally neglected,” she said.
Mayor Briley said transportation requires long term investment. “When we built out the suburbs in the fifties and sixties and seventies, it was designed around the use of the car and so we didn’t require developers to put in sidewalks. That’s just the fact of the matter,” Briley said. He said the City Council recently passed a law requiring developers to build sidewalks in new subdivisions and Metro will invest $30 million next year to build sidewalks in the neighborhoods.
“Thirty million sounds like a lot of money but it’s not enough. At this rate it will take 23 years to add 71 miles of sidewalks and fix the current system,” said Clemmons. “At this rate my children, who are in elementary school now, will be in their 30s before we build a proper network of sidewalks in the city,” he said.
“So we’re seventy years behind,” said At-Large Councilman John Cooper. He faulted Metro for contracting out sidewalk construction. He said it wastes time and money. “We’re never going to stop building sidewalks and yet the way we handle it is by subcontracting it out. So much of what we do by eliminating competency of government actually ends up with having a very high linear cost and the time delays are much greater than any other city we have any data on,” Cooper said. Swain agreed. She said Public Works should build sidewalks out in the neighborhoods where they are most needed.
Swain does not support a dedicated transportation fund within the Metro budget. Mayor Briley said the city is working on a number of transportation issues already. He mentioned bus service, the Dickerson Road expansion, bike routes connecting East Nashville with downtown, and downtown with the airport. “We don’t need to wait. We can do it within our existing infrastructure,” Briley said.
All of the candidates felt the Mayor’s office should develop and promote a transportation plan and coordinate things like sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, greenways, and parks to make Nashville a safer and healthier place to live. All the candidates agreed scooters need to be regulated more than they are now.
“Our streets need to be where people want to spend time. That’s going to be the key to a great city,” said Cooper. But he said 4,000 scooters demonstrate how fundamentally unsafe the right of way in the streets has become. He suggested mandatory helmets and an after dark ban on scooters for safety sake.
Cooper singled out land use and the key role it plays in walking, bicycling, and traffic safety in a fast-growing city. “We do zoning before infrastructure and it’s not really creating the greatest possible city. We have a treasure map of zoning. We look at a site as landlords and improvements for the general public as incentives have not been linked to the kinds of policy goals we want,” Cooper said.
The election for Nashville’s next Mayor, Vice-Mayor, and members of the City Council is August 1.