Reflections on Where We’ve Been and Where We Need to Go
Twenty-five years ago, then Council Member David Kleinfelter invited 100 bike and pedestrian advocates to a meeting at Big River Grill. Kibby Clayton, Cliff Guthrie, Helen Walker, David Ward, Steve Henry, Glen Wanner, Tim Netsch, John Norris, Eric Hutton, Eugenie Basu, Allison Batey, Bob Murphy, and Tom Grooms accepted David’s invitation and gathered for Walk Bike Nashville’s first board meeting on November 10, 1998.
But the group wasn't yet called Walk Bike Nashville—that was what much of the initial meeting was about. What would they call themselves? Should they seek affiliation with a national group such as America Walks? How much should annual dues cost and what other sources of funding would they seek? They elected officers (Kibby Clayton was named the first president) and discussed a press release that raised concerns about a new bridge being built on Highway 70 between Bellevue and Belle Meade.
Earlier that year, Metro Council created a Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Task Force which went on to establish the traffic calming program and the first Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (the BPAC legislation that passed in 2023 was for the third iteration of this group). The Task Force also enacted our current bicycle codes which include the 3-foot rule and the acknowledgement that bicyclists are users of the roadway. Our founding members recognized the need for an advocacy group to generate momentum around the small but impactful steps that the city was taking with regards to walkability and bikeability.
Walk Bike’s first major initiative was Walk Our Children to School Day (now known as Walk to School Day) in October of 1999. Nashville was one of three U.S. cities hosting this event at the time, and would later be known to have one of the largest participation rates in the country.
Another Walk Bike Nashville milestone was the first Tour de Nash in 2004 which was the brainchild of founding member Glen Wanner. “Cyclists went out to the rural country roads to bicycle,” Glen said. “Riding in the city was not something most cyclists wanted to do. Those who did ride in urban areas often rode because of necessity, not choice. The leadership of WBN wanted to change this perception.”
Bike lanes and greenways were being built for the first time and Walk Bike wanted to celebrate this growing network. Registration for Tour de Nash was not required and the group was hoping for 50 participants. More than 200 riders showed up and this popular event remains to be one of our marquee events each year.
A book could be written about all of the events and advocacy campaigns, the laughable memories and frustrating roadblocks (literally and figuratively), and the fascinating stories and accomplishments of the countless individuals who have been a part of this organization. How lucky Nashville is to have had those dedicated advocates who volunteered their time and energy for more than a decade to get this nonprofit off the ground. Yes, many of us still want more bike lanes, more sidewalks, and better transit service, but can you imagine where we'd be without the work of these early advocates?
The staff and volunteers that served under Nora Kern’s leadership for 8 years carried the torch of our founding members. Nora scaled up the organization and its accomplishments with numerous milestones including Mayor Cooper’s commitment to Vision Zero and funding for the Dickerson Pike Pedestrian Plan, which has led to a planned transformative Complete Streets project by the Tennessee Department of Transportation on the dangerous corridor.
When I reflect on the work that came before me, It feels a bit like I cheated by showing up in Nashville and inheriting this organization when I did. Twenty five years ago, would our founding members have imagined that we’d have a Department of Transportation and Multimodal Infrastructure with a director that is a true champion of a multimodal system? How impressed would they be by the design of the 12th Avenue bike lanes and other plans in the pipeline like the East Nashville Spokes project? Would they have ever dreamed that one of their peers–former Walk Bike Nashville President Freddie O'Connell–would be our mayor?
We have come a long way. But I don’t think our job gets any easier in the current environment—it just means it’s time to dream bigger.
We have come a long way. But I don’t think our job gets any easier in the current environment—it just means it’s time to dream bigger. We'll never get the sidewalks we need at the pace we're moving. We'll never reach Vision Zero if we keep prioritizing the speed of car travel over the safety of all users. We have to be innovative risk takers that learn by doing. Nashville is tired of surveys and studies; we are ready for action. We have to do better and we will.
Walk Bike Nashville is trying to lead by example by leveraging our well-known initiatives to have a greater long-term impact. Bike to School Day
at Napier Elementary was much larger than a day-long event. We hosted a bike clinic to fix bikes, we worked with the Civic Design Center to install tactical urbanism traffic calming measures, and we partnered with NDOT to install bike racks and to give away locks. The conversation has been ongoing as we navigate the path to permanent infrastructure improvements with the Napier community. For this year’s Walk to School Day with Shwab Elementary we partnered with NDOT to enhance crossings along the route including a pedestrian refuge island on Dickerson Pike. And we are continuing to work with the school towards a daily Walking School Bus while advocating for missing sidewalks in the neighborhood.
On September 30th we hosted our 25th Anniversary Celebration, bringing together supporters ranging from founding members to new staff, and everyone in between. Mayor O’Connell, who held his inauguration that morning, was a part of the program, plus Vice Mayor Angie Henderson and Council Members Rollin Horton, Jacob Kupin, Sean Parker, and Quin Evans-Segall were also in attendance. The sense of hope in the room was palpable. We had 25 years worth of accomplishments to celebrate that evening, while also toasting all that is to come.
Our membership drive welcomed more than 80 new members in the two weeks leading up to the party, and we’ve since added 50 more. We are growing. This movement is growing. Collectively we are working towards a more walkable, bikeable, and livable Nashville and I am so excited to see the milestones we achieve in the next 25 years. Let’s dream big, Nashville.
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