Long a favored thoroughfare for cyclists, runners, and pedestrians, Belle Meade Boulevard is at a crossroads. The enclave’s patrician residents are complaining that the medley of users, who tenuously share the road with rumbling SUVs and late-model sedans, create a difficult and dangerous driving environment. Now a six-member Belle Meade Boulevard Safety Committee, appointed by Mayor Peggy Warner, is examining how to make the street a safer place for everyone.
That’s a tough task. The safety committee tracked more than 50 cars traveling across the Harding Place intersection in one minute. At other times, 50 cyclists and 30 pedestrians passed in an hour. To date, the heavy use of the rolling street, which has no shoulder and a grassy if uneven median, hasn’t led to a serious accident. But, to some, it’s only a matter of time.
“No question about it. It’s an accident waiting to happen,” says city commissioner Mary Henderson. “It probably is dangerous,” adds Jeff Langdon, the president of the Nashville Striders and coach of the Belmont Men’s Cross Country Team. “Even at 6:45 in the morning, I’ll see 20 to 30 runners on the boulevard.”
If it’s hazardous for those who use the street, it is also worrisome to those who live around it. During last fall’s contentious city elections, candidates for Belle Meade’s two open commission seats went door-to-door and learned that perhaps the number one concern of the electorate was the crowding of the boulevard. “Some people felt that it was difficult and dangerous to drive on, especially at night,” says David Berndt, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the city commission and now is running for the open District 34 Council seat. “They’re just afraid that someone is going to get hurt or killed.”
“We get calls quite often,” says city manager Beth Reardon. “A lot of the complaints are about moms with baby carriages. That frightens everybody.”
Any solution is likely to be unpopular. Reardon concedes that the safety committee is looking at restricting non-motorized use of the street to daytime hours, although she says “that’s not the first option.” Other possible measures include lowering the speed limit from 40 mph to 30 mph, erecting more stop signs, or building a few speed bumps.
Yet another idea would widen the street and create a special lanemaybe even an entire traffic lanefor walkers and runners. The safety committee will also look at turning part of the existing median into a jogging/walking trail. While that might seem the best solution, Reardon says it could prove difficult if the city builds a planned irrigation system under the median.
At the end of this month, the safety committee, chaired by retired business executive Robert Hilton, will meet to discuss what, if anything, to do. In the meantime, the committee sent a questionnaire to residents to learn their wishes.
Joggers and walkers are afraid the city will ban them from the street altogether. Reardon, however, says the “safety committee is not looking at prohibiting anything at this point.”
To some, the best solution is for everyone just to be a little more accommodating. “Basically people get ticked off if they get slowed down behind a cyclist for a few seconds,” says Kerry Classen, a professional triathlete. “Big deal. I think everybody should slow down and chill out.” That’s worth a shot.
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