Tour de Belmont 

Belmont Boulevard has one of the city’s highest concentrations of walkers, joggers and bicyclists in the city.

That’s partly because the area is populated by a lefty mix of sensible folk who consider walking through the ’hood as much a part of their belief system as solar power, Earth shoes and colonics. Besides, Belmont Boulevard is just a fine place to get ambulatory. The street itself is very wide, the sidewalks are ample and the 1920s residential homes are a pleasure to see.

In recent weeks, the street got its first bike lanes, both ingoing and outgoing. They aren’t the city’s first, as there’s another rarely used one on Davidson Street in East Nashville. (Only in Nashville would an inaugural bike path be constructed through a metals recycling site, but that’s another story.) The Belmont lanes, therefore, rank as the first bike lanes in an area where they actually will be used.

Credit is due all around. Belmont University and the Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood association pushed for a study showing that the center-turn lane on Belmont Boulevard was extraneous. The space could be used instead for bike lanes, the study concluded.

Three Metro Council members helped push the project along at that point. And then, Metro Public Works, having bought into the study and its promoters, painted the new stripes on the street. Presto! Bicyclists now have their own 5-foot lanes in which to cruise.

The lanes have been a long time coming. If there’s an oppressed minority in this city, it’s surely the cyclists. That minority is certainly growing, judging by the numbers of earnest, European-looking people you see cradled over $3,000 machines and dressed in the latest skin-tight bike wear. If their wallets are up to the task, their needs are hardly being met.

In 1999, the federal government agreed to chip in $240,000—and Metro agreed to match that with $60,000—to pursue the “Pilot Bikeway” project. It called for installing bike lanes on parts of West End Avenue, Belmont, Fairfax, Music Row and other streets. To date, only Belmont’s have been built. More needs to be done.

Glenn Wanner, a bass player in the Nashville Symphony and president of the group Walk/Bike, whose credo is “to create a more walkable, bikeable, livable Nashville,” says the problem is that Metro Public Works “wants to wait until they pave the roads and then put in the bike lanes then. Often that makes sense. But we want to get these bikeways in place so we can ride through town. If you wait for every road to be paved, that could be 10 years.”

Exactly. How hard could it be to paint a stripe in the road? In our judgment, if the department finds this to be a challenge, there’s a real problem. So while we credit Public Works for the progress on Belmont, we encourage it to get with the rest of the proposed bikeways.

There is, in fact, more money on the horizon beyond the Pilot Bikeway project. The Purcell administration, in its huge sidewalks proposal, has included significantly more money for bike paths, about $600,000 for next year. There is even the promise of some imminent state-funded bike path work on West End Avenue. Or maybe not.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will begin repaving West End, from the Highway 70/100 split to I-440 closer to town, within the year. (Won’t that be a joy?) According to TDOT’s own policies and procedures, it must “routinely integrate bicycling and walking options into the transportation system.” A lot of bicycling people, therefore, are pushing TDOT to put in bike lanes on West End when it gets repaved. Considering TDOT, we’ll believe the bike lanes when we see them. But we remain hopeful.

Bikes are a great way to travel around a city. They’re cleaner and healthier than cars. Nashville should do everything it can to expedite construction of bike paths. Meanwhile, thanks for Belmont Boulevard.

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