By Marie Thursby
The City of Oak Hill recently won a competitive $300K Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant to study the feasibility of a multi-modal pathway along the Franklin Pike Corridor between Berry Hill and Brentwood.
The grant provides $240K of federal funds with a required $60K non-federal match. With city assets over $5m, including over $1m in cash, the 20% match need not require fund-raising. Further, the study has been endorsed by numerous public officials (e.g. mayors of Brentwood, Forest Hills, and Metro Nashville, members of Congress and the Tennessee legislature, and school boards); and 70% of respondents to a survey of Oak Hill citizens favored the Franklin Pike path.
Alas, the Board of Commissioners voted against providing the 20% match at their last meeting. What happened?
The meeting was attended by 75 people, with 29 speaking out; 16 spoke against a multi-modal path along Franklin Pike and 13 spoke in favor of the plan of study. Twelve of the people speaking against live on Franklin Pike. In preparing this piece, I read all available letters, both pro and con. The con letters put forth what I would call a “not in my backyard” argument, often fearing crime and property value implications. The pro letters emphasized public benefits. The public officials in favor applauded the benefits for interconnectedness in the larger community, linked parks and open spaces.
Prevailing thought has ignored important facts. First, the grant is not restricted to studying a path along Franklin Pike. In fact, the benefit of “study” (and allowed by MPO) is the opportunity to consider alternative pathways. Much of the opposition talks as if moving forward means agreement to build a pathway, which is not correct; this a feasibility study. Second, studies of the impacts of such paths overwhelmingly show crime reduction associated with proximity to the paths (more people out and about deters crime) and improvement in property values (one recent study found a 5% increase). What has received little attention is excess demand for one of our greatest public parks (Radnor Lake State Park). My husband and I walk the park most days; and usually there is a line of cars waiting to get in (most of them idling). Many simply leave without visiting.
A group of Oak Hill citizens is circulating a petition for a new vote (https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-the-multi-modal-study-oak-hill-tn-boc). Signers need not be Oak Hill residents as an important feature of the plan is to consider connections to other areas. I urge you to consider signing.
What would be different in a new vote? The recommendation should be to examine alternatives to the Franklin Pike Corridor. Further, I hope greater public benefits and attention to evidence from existing greenways will be front and center. I also think any pathway should include access to Radnor Lake — one of the greatest public resources in Middle Tennessee. Oak Hill envelops the Lake and access is currently primarily vehicular.
Winning this grant and moving forward gives Oak Hill a credible voice in ongoing discussions of plans to improve transportation in Middle Tennessee. The letters from public officials emphasized this point. Turning the grant back will do the reverse to the detriment of Oak Hill as the plans in Middle Tennessee move forward.
Marie Thursby is a Regents’ Professor Emeritus, Georgia Institute of Technology and Adjunct Professor, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University. All opinions expressed are the authors.
(TO READ A POSITION PAPER ON THE MULTI-MODAL TRAIL, CLICK HERE)