Sep 2, 2022 - News

Biking advocates push back on East Bank plan

A rendering of a bike lane planned for the East Bank.
A rendering of a bike lane planned for the East Bank. Image provided by Metro Planning Department

When the vision for the East Bank of the Cumberland River was unveiled last week, it included 16 miles of bike lanes and the goal of making it the most bike-friendly area in the city.

  • But despite the ambitious mission of the plan, initial pushback has come from a surprising place: biking advocates.

The intrigue: Critics are upset that the proposed boulevard, which would be the centerpiece of the East Bank's metamorphosis, does not include bike lanes.

  • The boulevard will provide the first north-south connection along the East Bank, linking up the River North development home to Oracle's corporate campus with Shelby Avenue. The initial design calls for wide sidewalks, car lanes and dedicated bus lanes, but nothing for bikes.

Why it matters: Debate about making biking safer and more abundant in Nashville has reached a fever pitch. Stakeholders view the East Bank vision as a case study of the city's commitment to accomplishing those goals.

Details: New bike lanes with barriers to protect cyclists from car traffic will be added to parallel and connecting roads, Metro Planning development director Bob Murphy tells Axios.

  • Murphy says the issues in designing the boulevard to accommodate bikes are safety and space, and that he's not aware of a city with dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes side-by-side.
  • "Our goal, and I think the plan accomplishes this, is to make it the most bike-friendly, bike-accessible area in the city," Murphy says. "The way we do that is by providing a combination of east-west and north-west routes to create a robust network. And our other goal is to provide low-stress bike facilities that are protected, separated from traffic."

Of note: The waterside drive connecting the River North development to Davidson Street and linking up with the Shelby greenway will be one of the premier biking routes in Nashville, Murphy says.

The other side: David Kleinfelter, a former city planning staffer and one of Nashville's most ardent biking advocates, says his primary issue is "that the main thoroughfare — which, if the project is designed properly, will be the main focus for commerce and be a primary gathering place for the public — is excluding bicycles."

  • It's a criticism echoed by Metro Councilmember and mayoral candidate Freddie O'Connell, who's been vocal in his push for better pedestrian and biking infrastructure. "Even when we have a greenfield space that we are designing from scratch effectively, we still can't actually conceive of a complete street that elevates all of transit-users, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists."

What we're watching: The East Bank plan unveiled last week is not final, Murphy emphasizes. He says the department is taking in the feedback from the community and is receptive to making changes.

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