Generating Momentum for Change on One of the State’s Most Dangerous Roads

Meredith Montgomery; Executive Director

For decades, transportation planning has prioritized cars and speed, shaping our built environment in a way that threatens our safety and is detrimental to our health. Nowhere is that more prevalent than on arterials like Dickerson Pike–one of the most dangerous corridors for pedestrians in the entire state.

Since January 2020, there have been 11 fatal pedestrian crashes on the 1.7 mile stretch of Dickerson Pike from Trinity Ln. to Broardmoor/Ewing Dr. According to Census data, Dickerson Pike neighbors are more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed, and have lower education levels compared to the rest of Davidson County. They are twice as likely to live without a car. The current character of the street features high levels of air and noise pollution, and lacks continuous sidewalks and shade, making it extremely hostile for people navigating the area without a car. Only one intersection has a signalized crosswalk for pedestrians and bus stops often consist of a sign on a light pole surrounded by uneven terrain. Additionally, the posted speed limit is 40 mph with cars frequently reaching 55 mph, even during rush hour. 

In 2021, Walk Bike Nashville was awarded funding from the Tennessee Department of Health through the Healthy Built Environment Grant program to address pedestrian safety on Dickerson Pike. With a project timeline of July 2021 to March 2023 we sought to hire a planning firm to produce an actionable pedestrian safety plan with proven countermeasures that could be used by the state and local departments of transportation. The plan would be informed by our community engagement work which centered the voices of people currently walking the corridor.

Early Progress

We started by convening a steering committee that would meet monthly to discuss Dickerson Pike and the progress of our project. The committee included representatives from Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), Nashville Department of Transportation (NDOT), the Mayor’s office, council members, Greater Nashville Regional Council, Tennessee Department of Health, Civic Design Center, WeGo, local schools, neighborhood associations, and local businesses. An online survey was released in Fall of 2021 and we partnered with the Civic Design Center’s Youth Design Team on a tactical urbanism project. The installation featured a temporary glow-in-the-dark crosswalk at Hart Ln. which resulted in a permanent crosswalk being installed at that intersection.

Deep Community Engagement

We hired Meshach Adams as our Engagement Assistant for this project and his knowledge of the area fueled an extensive engagement process. His community-centered approach prioritized transit riders and those experiencing homelessness. We wanted to understand where those who live and work along the corridor need to go and what barriers they currently face. Engagement events included bike repair workshops, neighborhood walks, a “Bike the Pike” ride, and a game night. 

One notable initiative was our involvement in community meals held every Tuesday at Trinity Community Commons. By attending these meals, Walk Bike Nashville has been able to establish a presence and interact with the attendees. This regular engagement has allowed us to connect with individuals consistently, fostering relationships and facilitating community dialogue about walking and biking.

We collected more than 100 survey responses with 76.5 percent of respondents expressing concerns about the lack of crosswalks and sidewalks on Dickerson Pike. Approximately 58.8 percent cited the speed of the drivers as a traffic safety concern. While the surveys provided quantitative data, it was the stories that we heard in one-on-one conversations that spoke the loudest. Many of these stories are now a part of The Walk Thru, a new podcast about the pedestrian experience on Dickerson Pike.

“In the evening, traffic is jammed up so bad and the cars don't want to stop. It'll take 20 mins to cross the road in the evening...lots of bad wrecks here in the past couple of weeks...I don't want to drive—I could, but I'd rather catch the bus and let [the bus driver] worry about it,” said one pedestrian we spoke to.

Hiring an Engineering Firm

As outreach and engagement continued, we started the request for proposal process in June of 2022. Toole Design was hired to produce the report for us with a scope of work that included crash analysis, review of previous planning efforts, field visits, traffic analysis, identification of priority interventions and phasing, and the incorporation of our community input and survey results.

By November 2022, draft concepts were released and feedback was collected at community events and meetings with stakeholders such as NDOT, TDOT, and WeGo. The overall recommendation was for lane reconfiguration, or a road diet. Additionally, concepts for specific intersections recommend pedestrian hybrid beacons, refuge islands, leading pedestrian intervals, and the removal of right-only turn lanes. Toole received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the proposed changes.


Notable Wins

When the final Dickerson Pike Pedestrian Safety Plan was published in January of 2023, TDOT announced a transformative complete streets project on the same 1.7 mile segment of Dickerson Pike that our study focused on. The momentum from this work also led to Smart Growth America’s Complete Streets Leadership Academy choosing the Queen Ave. intersection for a first-of-its kind tactical urbanism project on a state route. This project was a collaboration of many entities that had representatives on our Dickerson Pike steering committee, including NDOT, TDOT, the Department of Health, Civic Design Center and more. This project addressed the busy and dangerous area where the post office, Piggly Wiggly, Staff Zone and other businesses are located. We worked together to improve pedestrian crossing with a new crosswalk and refuge island in the median, as well as an artistic pedestrian path to bring attention to people walking in the area. Local artist Charles Key coordinated the artwork which featured a colorful piano key design.

Another notable win for Dickerson Pike in 2023 was NDOT’s surplus budget request to fund five enhanced pedestrian crossing projects and 1,663 feet of sidewalks per recommendations made in our plan. This $4.8 million request was adopted in the budget and improvements will be made in 2024. As improvements are implemented next year, we will be focused on ensuring that TDOT’s transformative project plans align with the recommendations in our plan, especially with regards to lane reconfiguration.

The impact our Pedestrian Safety Plan has had on the prioritization of Dickeson Pike pedestrian infrastructure is promising and we believe this approach can serve as a blueprint that can be refined and utilized on other dangerous corridors. We still have a long road ahead as we work towards Vision Zero, but as a result of these interventions, lives will be saved and injuries will be reduced.