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While Nashville still has a 40-person council, most of those legislators — the body’s 35 hyper-local district councilmembers — will tell you that city politics boils down to zoning and speed bumps. The first issue is a tangle of interests that can pit developers against residents, neighbors against neighbors, locals against transplants, homeowners against renters, housed against unhoused. The second is much simpler: Everyone wants to slow down cars, and the city knows how to do it.

A 15-member task force will convene for the first time on Jan. 30 to “coordinate with Metro staff” on the city’s implementation of Vision Zero, a national campaign to eliminate roadway deaths. Nashville adopted the 2022-2026 Vision Zero plan in August. Its central goal — no cyclist or pedestrian deaths by 2050 — drew criticism from councilmembers for lacking urgency and seriousness. That timeline looks even worse after 2022 ended with 49 pedestrian deaths in Nashville — the city’s deadliest year on record. Vision Zero’s main work consists of planning, funding and implementing roadway changes that calm traffic and expand right-of-way for pedestrians and cyclists. The group, accepted earlier this month after an application process, is a slice of Nashville that hopes to see how fast the city can slow down cars.

“I applied because I’m tired of seeing people dying on our streets,” Katherine McDonell tells the Scene. McDonell — who commutes by e-bike daily from East Nashville to Vanderbilt, dropping her kids off for day care along the way — will serve on the task force. “Forty-nine people died last year just for existing on our streets. Trying to get somewhere without a car shouldn’t be a death sentence. I’m tired of seeing Nashville make plan after plan and doing nothing to implement them. We have designs in place, we have funding in place. We need to step up and start making changes on our streets.” McDonell’s husband Daniel McDonell is running for Metro Council on a platform of pedestrian and transit improvements in East Nashville’s District 6.

The cycling community has long anchored multimodal access advocacy in Nashville and a key constituency of the city’s most recognizable mobility nonprofit, Walk Bike Nashville. The Music City Dope Pedalers, described by WPLN as “good vibes on two wheels,” charter popular weekly group rides in Germantown. Solidarity has developed among Nashville cyclists, eager to proclaim the health benefits (both mental and physical), community, convenience, accessibility and financial benefits of transportation by bicycle.

When a car hit Jabari Patterson near 10th and Shelby in East Nashville, a group of his friends formed We Walk Nashville with the explicit goal of pushing the city toward more comprehensive pedestrian safety measures more quickly. Patterson was hit while walking a route on Vision Zero’s “high-injury network,” where cars are responsible for more frequent and more severe collisions with pedestrians and cyclists due to high speeds and increased traffic. Patterson was hospitalized with near-fatal injuries.

“We wanted to form something that speaks to the people who walk around Nashville,” Cathy Carrillo, a co-founder of We Walk, tells the Scene. “Money needs to go to places where infrastructure is lacking. We’re talking about a whole transformation of Madison and Antioch, particularly along high-injury networks that are already in predominantly marginalized communities.”

Shandira Edgecombe, another task force member, drove a WeGo bus for seven years in Nashville before moving to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, where she works now. Edgecombe hopes to bring firsthand experience earned from hours on the road observing drivers and transit networks.

“There are a lot of distracted drivers,” says Edgecombe. “People whose primary focus is inside the vehicle rather than out.” She identifies as an “all the above” mobility user: a walker, driver, roller-skater, transit user. “Information gathered at the lower levels might not be filtering up to the decision makers,” she says. “I’m hoping to bridge those contact gaps to understand the perspectives of all people on the road.”

The city’s work on Vision Zero includes lots of overlap with TDOT, which oversees many of the major routes on the city’s high-injury network, like Murfreesboro Road and Nolensville Pike. Plans for the Broadway Viaduct redesign, released by TDOT on Jan. 19, have drawn ire from transit advocates for its lack of consideration for pedestrians and cyclists. Koby Langner, a bicycle commuter who will serve on the Vision Zero task force, slammed TDOT on Twitter for moving in the wrong direction. Councilmembers Russ Bradford and Sean Parker piled on.

Task force members will join the growing base of citizen planners trying to wrest greater control of Nashville’s urban infrastructure. With a long list of projects that have been identified, designed and funded, task force members will look to the executive branch to implement them. It’s an opportunity for Mayor John Cooper, who’s eyeing reelection, and who ran on improving Nashville’s neighborhoods but has gained more of a reputation for brokering big real estate deals like a new Titans stadium and a revamped NASCAR track. Cooper has a habit of forming task forces that meet for a few months before issuing recommendations that live on in three-ring binders.

Enough Vision Zero members recognize their platform, lack political considerations and feel the urgency of car danger that this time, clear and abundant directives from the committee could be difficult to ignore.

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