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VOL. 40 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 11, 2016

Connecting communities, one greenway at a time

New goal: A greenway within 1 mile of every neighborhood

By Hollie Deese

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Nora Kern, 25, bikes each day from her home in East Nashville to her job on Music Row.

As the executive director of Walk Bike Nashville, she is perfectly comfortable zipping along bike lanes to get there, but Kern acknowledges there are plenty of other people who would commute by bike, too, if there was a safer way.

“Nashville’s become a lot safer for bikes,” she says. “We have had a lot of great improvements. We’ve had a lot more on-road facilities. There’s a lot more people biking now than there have ever been.

“But we also still have a lot of work to do, particularly making bike lanes and routes or paths that are safe for everybody.”

One fix? Urban greenways like the one planned along I-440, with construction set to begin on Phase 1 this summer.

The first phase features a 1.5-mile, multi-use greenway that will run along Interstate 440, beginning at Elmington Park. It will cross and then run parallel to West End Avenue, West End Place and Park Circle, cross Acklen Park Drive, go under I-440, cross the Metro Parks administrative complex and end at Centennial Park.

Work will begin in Councilwoman Kathleen Murphy’s district, a natural starting point because the land needed was already owned by Metro or the state.

Phase II and any other additions will require land easements and property acquisition. Murphy says it is a creative use of space that will only benefit her neighbors.

“It makes me think of that children’s song ‘You can’t go over it, got to go under it,’ ” she says. “I think with the challenge of urban green space is to think creatively. That’s what they are doing with this and some of the other expansions as well.”

Urban greenways like the one along I-440 are essential to accommodate the growth of Nashville, says Mark Deutschmann, president of the nonprofit Greenways for Nashville, a position he has held for the past four years.

The group supports increased greenway access, and he says this particular greenway has been a long time coming.

“There are a lot of folks who are aware that when I-440 was built it was originally designed to have a greenway,” he explains. “For whatever reason, it didn’t happen.

“Years later, we’re looking at that infrastructure because I-440 was created to get people from point A to point B quickly.

“It happens to run through and connect with a lot of our major corridors, including Nolensville Pike and Franklin Road and Belmont Boulevard, 12th South, Hillsboro Road and West End and Charlotte.”

When Greenways for Nashville was formed 20 years ago, the goal was to have greenway access within two miles of every neighborhood in Nashville.

Deutschmann says the group is now about 93 percent toward that goal and has shifted the goal to be within one mile of every neighborhood in Nashville.

The city is about 63 percent there, and the I-440 project will certainly help the Greenways group get closer to that goal.

“As we try to get to all neighborhoods in Nashville, we just keep making small strides and big strides,” he adds.

“It’s beginning to make sense to try to see if we could try to use the infrastructure that already exists to create a greenway system that connects major corridors. You begin to create more access for everybody to begin to use greenways. We’re getting there.”

Connecting open spaces

Metro Parks Director Tommy Lynch says the parks department is in the process of updating the $260 million Countywide Parks and Greenways Master Plan implemented in 2002 to accommodate more urban greenways.

While they anticipated growth at the time, it was not at the rapid rate Nashville has grown.

In addition, post-flood, the city implemented an open space plan to conserve 22,000 acres of public and private property by 2033, including land along the bends of the river to protect from further development that would cause runoff.

Now it is the aim of Metro Parks and Greenways to connect all those open spaces with more urban greenways like the I-440 project. Instead of looking to acquire big swaths of land such as 600-acres farms, officials will be looking for 1.5-acre connectors.

“Greer Stadium might be connected to the City Cemetery by greenway and also connected to the Reservoir Park by greenway and then connect it to the Fairgrounds by greenway,” Lynch explains.

“Part of the 440 greenway eventually could connect Elmington Park to Sevier Park or a block away from Sevier Park. Then to connect Sevier Park on to the Fairgrounds, and then once we got to the Fairgrounds we’re not too far from Trevecca’s campus.”

Nora Kern at the Shelby Park Greenway near Sevier Lake.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Lynch compares finding ways to connect neighborhoods and parks to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, a role that falls on Shain Dennison, assistant director of Metro Parks, Greenways and Open Spaces division.

Dennison worked with Mayor Karl Dean’s administration and now with Mayor Megan Barry to identify selective pieces of property that fit in both the parks master plan and the greenways master plan.

“We’ve been doing it by either purchasing property or getting people to give us easements through their property,” Lynch notes.

“There’ve been no eminent domain aspect of it.”

Kern says it is exciting to see the urban greenways come together, piece by piece, knitting into a network that connects the parks with other parts of town.

“The greenways can be such a vital connection and that web that holds the city together,” she explains.

Greenways cost about $1 million a mile including construction and land acquisition, and Lynch says money comes from a combination of sources, including grants from the state Department of Transportation, capital money from the city budget, money from the land trust, nature conservations, private donations and various 501c3 organizations.

“We have to pick and choose where we’re going to make our purchases,” Deutschmann says. “Through Metro Parks we get probably $3-5 million dollars a year to lay down greenways. We have to pick and choose where we’re allocating those funds.”

The I-440 Greenway could cost closer to $1.5 million a mile by the time it ultimately connects West End past Hillsboro Road, Belmont, Franklin Road and the Fairgrounds to get to Browns Creek Greenway.

“As we go along 440 there’ll be some places where it will be so close to residences that we may have to get permission from TDOT to cut through the sound barrier and then to build a boardwalk on the side,” Lynch points out. “It’d probably be a little more expensive.”

It’s these urban greenways that Kern says are necessary for bikes to become an alternative mode of transportation in a way that helps ease traffic safely, especially as someone who was raised in congested Green Hills.

“For a long time even just talking about more funding for sidewalks or bike lanes was an uphill battle,” Kern adds.

Richland Creek Run

Metro Councilwoman Kathleen Murphy admits she hasn’t been able to run as much since getting elected, but she makes sure to participate in the annual Richland Creek Run, now in its 10th year.

"It’s a just a fabulous five mile walk/run, strollers are welcome and it benefits all the greenways,” she says.

The Richland Creek Run was founded by Councilman Jason Holleman and the Sylvan Park Neighborhood Association in 2007 as a way to bring West Nashville neighborhoods together to support a community resource.

“We had about a 45 percent jump in participation from year two to year three and have fluctuated around the margins since, but 2015 participation represents about 134 percent growth from year two when the event began its history of being under the aegis of Greenways for Nashville,” said F. Clark Williams, race director in an email.
In the past nine years the race has raised around $100,000 for Nashville greenways.

This year’s Richland Creek run is on April 2 along the Richland Creek Greenway and is one of the few such events that accommodates dogs (on leashes) and strollers.

The event is supported by sponsor Wilson Real Estate Services, Montgomery Bell Academy and the Richland Creek Watershed Alliance.

“Now I think it’s a really mainstream issue. Pretty much everybody supports multi-modal transportation and having more transit, having more sidewalks. I think because of that we have been able to find a lot more partners and a lot more people who want to join the movement.”

Growth of greenways

Lynch says greenways have been an initiative of the local government for the past 20 years or so.

“The greenway initiative has been the greatest addition to the parks department that I can think of,” Lynch says.

“We’ve had some pretty cool parks built, from the Riverfront Park with the Ascend Amphitheater, but the greenways … a lot of people don’t quite realize they are creating a conservation zone around all of the rivers, creeks, tributaries that are inside Davidson County.”

They are also used as connectivity from one park to another. “That’s where the 440 Greenway comes in,” Lynch explains.

Greenways in Nashville have come a long way from when skeptics worried they would lower property values or negatively affect safety. Lynch says that was very apparent after the flood in 2010.

“After three weeks or so when people had cleaned up their homes and their businesses it was helpful for people to get back to their normal routine. It was at that point in time we started getting all sorts of calls from people who were ready to get back walking and wanted to get back cleaning up the greenways,” Lynch says.

At the time Lynch says Richland Creek flowed through McCabe Golf course “like the Colorado River,” which destroyed the greenway and parts of the course. Shelby Bottoms was under 8-10 feet of water from the Cumberland, depositing silt and uprooting trees.

“We had more volunteers from across the county come forward to clean up the greenways so that people could get back to their normal daily routines of walking and enjoying the environment,” Lynch says.

A Bellevue resident, Lynch had hip replacement surgery last fall. The first activity he was able to enjoy was walking the greenway along the Harpeth River.

“You get five minutes from either Old Harding or one of the entryways and you’re almost in the wilderness, you get that feeling,” Lynch adds.

Real estate values are enhanced by greenways too Deutschmann says, creating real estate appreciation anywhere they touch.

“It used to be that nobody wanted greenways because they were sort of afraid of them,” Deutschmann adds.

“When we tried to get the Stones River Greenway through about 20 years ago nobody wanted it. They were afraid of having it in their backyard. Now, everybody wants a greenway. It helps increase our property values. Kids love them. Adults love them.”

Murphy agrees access to greenways and public parks are good for people moving to Nashville or even switching neighborhoods.

“It’s exciting to see that these are opportunities for Nashvillians of all ages to interact and to be outside and to be active and making Nashville a healthier, greener place,” she says.

“As we grow, some of these locations will be more difficult to acquire, that’s why it’s so important that we have a council and a mayor’s office that are so supportive of the greenways that it can make projects like this and others that are coming possible.”

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