Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Roadless in Nashville

Sylvan Park offers some wonderfully attractive homes with huge shade trees.

Sadly, these otherwise tasteful S-Park properties are often marred by horrific streetscapes. Most roads in the historic residential neighborhood have no curbs, much less sidewalks and stormwater management systems. Battered mailboxes litter these Sylvan Park streets, their asphalt-crumbling shoulders bleeding into eroding land (you can often see tire tracks from postal carrier vehicles).

Sylvan Park is not the only old-school residential district with such hideous streetscapes.

Given the condition of the shoulders and the adjacent grounds of many curbless roads in Nashville neighborhoods, I continue to be baffled why the Metro Public Works Department doesn't simply paint white stripes on either side of all these streets.

In addition to giving the roads a more defined and attractive appearance, such white lines (I've talked to various "built environment pros" about this) can subtly psychologically spur motorists to reduce their speed a bit. In addition, the white lines are very helpful (in terms of safety and visibility) for night drivers.

In fairness, Public Works has painted white lines on either shoulder of various residential streets. For example, Public Works recently repaved the segment of Graybar Lane from Leland Lane to Granny White Pike. Though it required more time than would have been expected, the department recently gave the street the "white-line painting treatment." The result is quite attractive.

Painting streets with white outer lines seems a very inexpensive way (compared to overhauling these streets with proper sidewalk, curb and stormwater streetscape infrastructure) to improve the city's secondary and tertiary residential streets. But does Public Works agree? I talked to a Public Works official about this topic a few years ago and found his unenthusiastic response very disappointing.

Similarly, a number of well-traveled segments of key streets (including the stretch of Granny White from Harding to Otter Creek, Hillsboro Road between I-440 and Woodmont, and a stretch of Estes Road just south of the Woodmont/Estes intersection) essentially have no shoulders and are perilously elevated. These streets are striped (fortunately) but there is minimal room for a slight miscalculation. Steer a few inches to the right and your car is flying off the elevated road and into a deep ditch. At night, the hazardous conditions are likely magnified three-fold.

The Estes section I reference involves the road being elevated at some points (as if on a platform) at least three feet above ground level. And there is no more than two inches from the painted outer stripe to the edge of the asphalt shoulder. From that point, the drop is steep. Erosion (I would assume) has contributed to the problem.

I’ve visited countless American cities and driven extensively throughout these places. Nashville ranks among the worst for street conditions and streetscape attractiveness. Immediate attention is needed.

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