A kinder, gentler Lower Broad

At least in terms of pedestrian traffic

The Lower Broadway stretch of bars and honkytonks is one of Music City’s biggest calling cards. But with pedestrians often spilling into the streets and cars backed up looking for a place to park, it regularly is a place where downtown’s success appears to have outgrown its infrastructure.

Gresham Smith + Partners Senior Vice President Doug Sharp says city officials looking to give Lower Broad a facelift would have to tread carefully. Yes, the thoroughfare isn’t a vital traffic artery for locals — when was the last time you drove any distance on it? — but Sharp says we’d have to guard the strip’s grittiness. A traditional complete streets approach just wouldn’t feel right.

So here, with the input of Sharp and Gresham Smith’s planning group leader Kevin Tilbury as well as pros from Earl Swensson Associates — the latter’s Ken Henley drew what you see below — is a modest proposal to improve the walkability of an area that very regularly is the busiest public space in town.

Key to the vision pictured here is a closing of the pedestrian gap between the north and south sides of Broadway. To that end, the sidewalks are widened a bit and their corners are pushed out in both directions, creating mini-islands that can accommodate larger groups while leaving room for those headed in different directions.

Another benefit of the wider corners is that, in pinching in Lower Broad’s width at key points, they provide visual cues for motorists to slow down. Slightly narrowing the lanes’ width could also accomplish or add to that goal, as would setting apart the crosswalks in different styles.

Adjacent to the street corners are the most striking features envisioned by both Henley and Kevin Tilbury, leader of Gresham Smith’s planning group — and they’re also the ones that do the most to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment along the row of clubs. Fenced-in plazas measuring about 10 feet by 10 feet feature seating areas for about a dozen people. For some, these terraces could be a convenient waiting area, for others a spot to enjoy a snack or portable lunch. In short, they add elements of a town square to our town’s most prominent thoroughfare at the cost of a handful of parking spots.

With a policy tweak, the removal of some parking spaces could also produce another positive side effect. Today, a small portion of Lower Broad’s parking is reserved for musicians loading or unloading their gear. But the artist community regularly bemoans the lack of enforcement of that allotment. If there are fewer spots available on Lower Broad, maybe we could just simplify our policies and designate them all for musicians?