Feb 26, 2024 - News

Nashville's pedestrian and cyclist deaths spur calls for change

Mother and daughter Kim and Alyssa Milligan in three photos spanning several years.

Kim Milligan with her daughter Alyssa over the years. Photos: Courtesy of Kim Milligan

A few days ago, Kim Milligan traveled from Illinois to Nashville for a memorial service honoring the people killed while walking and biking in our city.

  • For her, the trip was part of a brutal journey that her family began last September, when her 23-year-old daughter Alyssa was hit by a truck and killed while biking on Highway 100 near the Warner Parks.

The big picture: Alyssa was one of 40 pedestrians and cyclists who died in Nashville in 2023, according to police data. Annual death totals have more than doubled over the last decade, as multiple reports have highlighted factors that make walking and biking dangerous in Nashville.

  • Activists at Walk Bike Nashville, which is hosting the memorial, and other groups have responded with impassioned calls for simple changes that could have life-or-death consequences.
  • Kim Milligan tells Axios she had no choice but to join their effort.

"It doesn't seem like there's another option, because it has to stop," she says.

  • "Alyssa's death was preventable."
  • "I think we can fix the problem. It just needs to be done."
Nashville traffic fatalities by type, 2013-2023
Data: Metro Nashville Police Department; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom in: Advocates say it is clear what kinds of changes could save lives — many have already been identified through Metro's ongoing Vision Zero initiative.

  • They say lowering speed limits, improving crosswalks, creating dedicated bike lanes and adding traffic-calming measures could improve safety, especially on the city's busiest roads.
  • New plans to transform Nolensville Pike are emblematic of improvements the city could pursue elsewhere, especially along busy corridors.
  • Mayor Freddie O'Connell's transition team has urged the city to accelerate its ongoing efforts.

What he's saying: O'Connell says his latest capital spending plan and surplus budget funds, which put millions toward new Vision Zero projects, are "directly connected to our efforts to try to drive down those pedestrian and cyclist fatalities year over year."

  • "I want to go beyond condolences," O'Connell told reporters last week. "I want to offer grieving families the promise that we can do better."

The bottom line: Kim Milligan says her daughter's death underscores the devastating consequences of failing to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Her daughter studied to be a physical therapist and was determined to serve others before her life was "snuffed out."

  • "Alyssa is gone and I can't get her back. But what I can do is try to save anyone else from having to suffer, because the suffering that we go through as families and parents — for me specifically as a mom — is otherworldly."

How the city is funding pedestrian safety

Millions of dollars will go toward traffic safety through the newly approved capital spending plan.

By the numbers: A total of $12.5 million was set aside in this round of funding. About $4 million of that total will go toward traffic-calming measures like new roundabouts and speed humps.

  • $1 million will go toward improvements on Rosa Parks Boulevard.
  • $490,000 will fund pedestrian safety projects on Lebanon Pike.
  • $750,000 will go to pedestrian safety projects on Harding Place.
  • $500,000 will support outreach and education.

Millions more in additional funding from this year's budget surplus are going toward similar projects.

State of play: The city is also on the verge of reconstituting the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, which can advise the mayor's office on pressing safety concerns. O'Connell, who sponsored the legislation to revive the group while he was a council member, tells Axios his office is finalizing its nominations.

  • He added that his forthcoming transit referendum plan would provide funding for sidewalks and other safety measures for pedestrians and cyclists.
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