Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Crash-prone junctions get few suggested fixes
Metro identifies $1.3M in needs; most must wait

Traffic slows on Murfreesboro Road near Thompson Lane during a Monday evening rush hour. That intersection tops a list of the ones in Nashville where the most crashes occur. SANFORD MYERS / FILE / THE TENNESSEAN

Published: Sunday, 07/08/07

Recommended improvements to Nashville's 30 most dangerous intersections would cost $1.3 million, but the city plans to spend only $36,000 to chip away at the problems in the next 12 months.

One of the intersections — where Harding Place meets Nolensville Road — was the site of more than 240 accidents in the two-year period that ended in December 2005.

A January report identified the intersections, and engineers have recommended $1.3 million in projects that include adding signs, moving traffic signals or adding turn lanes.

None of the engineering suggestions were included in Mayor Bill Purcell's proposed capital budget for 2007-08.

Items recommended for budget funding include a
$5 million downtown redevelopment project to upgrade lighting and signals, $12.9 million for a civic square in east Nashville, and $50 million for a parking garage in Hillsboro Village.

City engineer Mark Macy said Metro is seeking grants before paying for fixes with city dollars.

"We would like to solve every one of these. There's no question about that," Metro transportation manager Bob Weithofer said. "We need to know how much money we have, and what's the best way of spending it."

Murfreesboro Road and Thompson Lane was listed as Metro's most dangerous intersection. Since the city report identified the danger, 11 more accidents have happened. The same junction ranked third most dangerous in a 1999 report but wasn't fixed then either.

One reason: the price tag. Metro officials estimate it would cost $149,000 to bring the intersection up to snuff. The bulk of the money, $142,000, would be spent to realign left turn lanes.

Olivia Epps of Nashville can't say whether structural changes to the intersection would have prevented her accident there.

Epps, 18, passed through the intersection each day on her way to Hume-Fogg Magnet School. There's nothing particularly confusing about the road, she said, but it's "not the friendliest place to drive."

In April, she was just past the intersection when a car pulled out of a parking lot to make a left turn, directly into her car's path. Epps was hit head-on, totaling the car she'd bought two days before.

"There was nothing I could do to prevent it," Epps said. "I've been scared to drive a lot in that area since then."

Some work is already set

A few of the intersections should become safer as a result of construction that has long been planned but is unrelated to the intersection study.

For example, city officials sought $4.2 million to add turn lanes at Haywood Lane and Nolensville Road, ranked the 25th most dangerous in the study. Also, $500,000 in intersection improvements was requested where Dickerson Pike, Ewing Lane and Broadmoor Lane meet.

But the vast majority of perilous junctions won't be immediately addressed, in favor of other public works priorities.

The proposed intersection improvements range from the fast and cheap, like adding yield signs, to long-term, pricey construction projects.

Old Hickory Boulevard and Central Pike, which ranked 17th-worst for accidents, would require about $600 to put up signs prohibiting right turns during red lights. But at Murfreesboro Road and Millwood Drive, a driveway must be relocated and crosswalks and automated walk signals are recommended, at a cost of $14,800.

For some intersections, like several on Nolensville Road, the study concluded that anything that could be done easily already has been done. Anything more to make a real difference in the crash rates would require buying land and expanding the roadway.

Macy, the public works engineer, said the city would first concentrate on improvements deemed immediate. Adding yield signs at Antioch Pike and Harding Place, moving the spot where cars stop at Paragon Mills Road and Nolensville Road, and installing two left turn signs at Conference Drive and Vietnam Veterans Boulevard are on the list.

But more costly fixes — adding a left-turn lane and overhead signs at Trousdale Drive and Harding Place, or placing a yield sign and an island to slow down drivers turning right from Dickerson Pike to Trinity Lane — will have to wait.

Most are state roads

"TDOT," the Tennessee Department of Transportation, "and Metro are going to have to get funding appropriated to take care of it," Macy said.

Most of the crash-prone intersections are on state routes and fall under the jurisdiction of the state. State highway officials are looking into ways to pay for improvements at intersections on Metro's troublesome list, where crash rates are high but a low number of deaths keeps them off the statewide priority list.

No Nashville-area intersection is on the Tennessee Department of Transportation's priority list for funding, based on the severity and frequency of accidents.

"The fact that there are no Davidson (County) intersections in the top tier of the statewide list of roadway sections and intersections with a critical safety rating is a good thing," said TDOT spokeswoman Julie Oaks.

City agencies typically work with the state on improvement projects, Metro officials said.

More than half of the accidents studied at Metro's worst intersections happened because of driver errors, such as running red lights or driving recklessly, according to police reports. But transportation officials said they could anticipate driver mistakes and try to reduce them.

If lots of rear-end collisions happen because a driver makes a right turn on a red light into traffic, the study said, adding a turn lane and restricting the turns during red lights could make a dent in the problem.

"We'd love to blink and fix the world, but it's a big world, so we've got to take nibbles," Macy said.

Published: Sunday, 07/08/07


Metro Public Works is proposing more than $1.3 million in improvements to the city's 30 most dangerous intersections. Here's a sampling of the work it hopes to do.

1- Thompson Lane and Murfreesboro Road
$49,300 for moving the stop lines at the traffic signals, adding "no right turn on red" signs, overlapped right-turn lanes, and a realignment of the left turn lanes.

3- Broadmoor Lane, Ewing Lane and Dickerson Pike
$35,600 to remove a problematic driveway, delineate a driveway's location, move a traffic signal within the intersection, and add back plates to the signals to make them more visible.

9- Bell Road and Hickory Hollow Parkway
$165,000 to add islands separating cars turning right from oncoming traffic, overlap right-turn lanes and realign left-turn lanes.

24- Charlotte Pike and White Bridge Road
$6,100 to add yield signs, move the stop bars and phase the traffic signals to add time between green lights. An additional analysis on how to add capacity is also recommended.

29- Andrew Jackson Parkway and Lebanon Pike
$8,000 to add overlapping right-turn lanes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fans of rail want Amtrak here
Nashville not ready to support train service, state says

Published: Tuesday, 07/03/07

It's been nearly 30 years since the last passenger train left Union Station, but advocates of city-to-city rail hope it won't take another 30 years to get it back.

A spider web of routes takes a broad circle around the city, passing through Louisville, Ky., Memphis, Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., but national rail advocates consider Tennessee to be the most underserved rail state. In a report released last week, they targeted Nashville for the expansion of passenger rail.

Trains equal less pollution and highway congestion, proponents say, but state officials say Nashville isn't populous enough to support a city-to-city route.

"It would be wonderful to say I can be in Memphis and jump on a train to Nashville, but the volume of people who would do that isn't anywhere close to what the cost would be to provide the service," said Ed Cole, chief of environment and planning with the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

As gas prices and congestion rise in cities like Nashville, Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said rail trips would catch on if routes were expanded.

"When you make a commodity as scarce as the federal government has made Amtrak in the Southeast, it's hard for the public to get excited about it because they can't see it," Capon said.

The federal government isn't funding any new Amtrak service right now, he said.

Mark Fraley said he would love to take the train to visit family in Cincinnati, a five-hour drive he makes from Nashville four times a year.

"Every time I have to drive to Cincinnati or Atlanta, I get angry at the time and energy wasted," Fraley said.

Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio, are the only American cities with higher populations than metro Nashville that have no inter-city train connections, according to the railroad passenger association.

Amtrak legally can use any train track in the country, even those operated by private railroad companies, although im provements in freight lines would be needed before they could be deemed fit for passenger travel.

Capon said it would be nearly impossible to do so without a substantial investment from the state because federal money has dried up.

TDOT has projected up to a $2 billion shortfall in funding for Tennessee projects through the next 10 years.

Scott Denbo of Nashville, who has used trains in the Northeast and in California, said he thinks rail works best when there are many places to stop during a long trip, which is not the case in the Southeast.

"Who would really want to take an eight-hour train ride to Chicago that cost $150 when they can fly for the same buck and get there in an hour?" he said.

Clement favors service

Former congressman Bob Clement tried to restore train service to Nashville in the 1990s while he was serving on the House Transportation Committee.

Considering the city's growth and destination as a tourist attraction, Clement thinks a route through Nashville would make more money than other routes Amtrak is running. "I think we need more emphasis on rail passenger service," said Clement, a candidate for mayor in Nashville.

John Freeman would like to see rail service out of Nashville for a simple reason: His wife hates to fly.

"The entire family would benefit from being able to see the countryside from the window of a train car, rather than 30,000 feet up," he said.

TDOT officials say rail is a big part of their future transportation plan, but the focus is on improving freight and expanding commuter lines.


August 1952: With ridership dropping, the Louisville & Nashville railroad seeks to discontinue service between Nashville and the Tennessee-Kentucky and Tennessee-Alabama state lines.
October 1979: The Floridian, Nashville’s last inter-city passenger train, pulls out of Union Station after the federal government dropped funding for the route through Nashville.
October 2000: Federal funding is approved for a Nashville-to-Lebanon commuter rail, envisioned as part of a system of trains between Nashville and surrounding counties.
September 2006: The city’s commuter rail line, the Music City Star, is launched between Lebanon and Nashville.
SOURCE: Tennessean archives

Growth stumps tracking systems
Car technology can't keep pace with new streets

Bill Jordan, of New John Hagar Road in Hermitage, says visitors have trouble finding his street, which is not yet on any maps. STEVEN S. HARMAN / THE TENNESSEAN

Published: Saturday, 06/30/07

When Paul Newman drives a new section of State Route 840, his car's GPS gets anxious.

The road connecting U.S. 31 to Interstate 65 was completed several months ago, but according to his GPS, he's driving into a blue abyss of uncharted territory.

"It keeps telling me over and over to make a U-turn," said Newman, a Franklin veterinarian who drives often for work and uses his car's global positioning system to guide him. "But the minute I get to Interstate 65, the road shows back up again."

The problem is not an isolated one in fast-growing Middle Tennessee. Residents across the region say technology isn't keeping up with the changes in their communities, and mapping companies agree that tracking high-growth areas like the Midstate is a nonstop job.

"Our field analysts don't drive around randomly looking for change, but in the process of their job they find change," said Kelly Smith, vice president of
corporate communications with NavTeq, the company that provides mapping information to MapQuest, nearly every in-car GPS and an assortment of portable GPS devices. NavTeq technology is used 90 million times a day, she said.

"It's a big country, and it takes a while to get to all."

'My street isn't on there'

Ed Miller has lived in his Lebanon home for more than eight years. FedEx delivery people and florists have finally figured out where Paradise Hills Lane is after many confusing trips with no help from Internet mapping sites.

"My street isn't on there at all," Miller said.

Bill Jordan's home in Hermitage is much newer, about 6 months old, so he expects some confusion from visitors. Plus his home is on New John Hagar Road, which is connected to John Hagar Road, but taking the wrong side of the split puts you on Old John Hagar Road.

Just the main road, John Hagar, is visible on GPS, Google maps or MapQuest.

"The pizza man always gets lost," Jordan said. "The Sears repairman always has to call."

The problem isn't only with missing locations but also with misleading ones. While Clayton Fryer's Hendersonville subdivision has made it on the map, MapQuest directions send drivers the wrong way down the street to his house.

"This subdivision is about 10 years old," Fryer said. "My GPS uses NavTeq data. They don't seem to have it right and they don't seem to care."

Fryer was concerned that being off the map meant emergency responders might not find his house, but he was assured by city officials that they know where his house is.

In Metro Nashville, ambulance and fire departments use mapping information from the city's planning department that's updated several times a month, 911 center spokeswoman Jeanne Mallory said. NavTeq offers four updates a year, but it's rare for a customer to get them that fast.

Changes show up slowly

New maps go through many hands before they reach an in-car global positioning system, but they start with David Merrick and Jacob Face. They are field analysts for NavTeq, and they physically drive new or previously unnoticed Tennessee roads with GPS tracking equipment to lay the groundwork for the maps.

Generally, Merrick said, the maps in urban areas like Nashville are more detailed than those in rural towns or sprawling suburbs. Merrick said he and Face take their cues from city mapping information, growth patterns and customer complaints in deciding where they need to map next.

"We're always working to expand that level of detail," Merrick said. "We encourage customers to let us know directly if they're not mapped."

Once NavTeq receives a complaint, Smith of NavTeq said, the company adds it to the list of places analysts like Merrick need to check out. Once it's been confirmed, the information is added to the database and released with the next quarterly update.

Upgrades cost money

But not all GPS companies buy updates that frequently. Even then, customers would need to purchase the newest version to ensure that they have the most current information.

"It's a pretty complex chain," Smith said. "Maybe it's June when I report something … and my device might be using the second quarterly update. The change reported in June might not show up till the third quarter, so then it could be another year till you can get it."

The Garmin GPS company charges about $75 for a yearly upgrade, spokeswoman Jessica Myers said. The annual update is "standard" across the industry, she said.

"There's too much construction throughout the country to keep up that fast," Myers said.

Reporting a mapping error

• Most major GPS and mapping companies, like MapQuest, Google and Garmin, use data gathered by field analysts from NavTeq. You can make a complaint to either the vendor or NavTeq directly.
• Go to the Map Reporter tab at or call 1-866-4NAVTEQ (1-866-462-8837) between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday to report an error.

Midstate drivers offer road commandments

Published: Friday, 06/29/07

Earlier this month, the Catholic Church issued a list of driving commandments to make the motoring world more courteous. Included: Don't use your car to sin or show off, don't drink and drive, and consider praying before you get behind the wheel.

Today, your fellow Nashville drivers have some rules to add when sharing Midstate roads.

Mark Tidman of Hendersonville says that when using Briley Parkway, thou must give a gap and take a gap.

"If you are on Briley, get over in the left lane to allow those on the on-ramp to literally jump into traffic … If you are on the ramp waiting your turn to jump into traffic, by all means, get out there if no one is coming," Tidman said.

From Christine Schaub: inconvenience thyself before inconveniencing others.

"When thou art driving north on Hillsboro, approaching the Hillsboro/Woodmont intersection in Green Hills, and thou suddenly decideth thou must turn left onto Woodmont, thou shalt not cut across two lanes of traffic, blocking them, to wait for an opening. No, no," Schaub said.

And when winter rolls around again, thou shalt not view snow as the end of the earth, says Viv Pocek of Hermitage.

"Just slow down, apply steady braking when necessary and be patient," Pocek said.

Richard Barlow of Nashville wants to see Nashvillians avoid tailgating. Barlow was trying to evade a tailgater on Smith Springs Road last week when the red Tahoe passed him in a no-passing zone and gave him a wave with his middle finger.

All that was bad enough, Barlow said, until he saw why the driver was in a hurry.

"When I got to Smith Springs Road and Old Murfreesboro Road, I saw the driver of the red Tahoe walking into the church there," Barlow said.

To see more responses and add your own, go to Ms. Beep's blog at

A holiday note: There is no Music City Star train running downtown for the fireworks Wednesday, but the Metro Transit Authority will be running a Night Owl bus. The buses can be accessed at any MTA stop within the Briley Parkway loop, which hits the following places: Briley, Opry Mills Mall, Elm Hill Pike, Thompson Lane, Woodmont Boulevard, White Bridge Road and Bordeaux.

So if you want to see the fireworks and avoid downtown parking, you can park along that route and hop the bus for $4 (cash or credit card). The last bus will leave Deaderick Street at 10:15 p.m. or 15 minutes after the fireworks are over, whichever comes latest, MTA officials said.

Could you please tell me why the highway signs on I-65 South show Huntsville instead of Birmingham? The last time I looked, Huntsville was not actually on I-65, although there are several exits, and is 20-25 miles in distance from I-65! Thanks.

— Mary Grey Jenkins, Ashland City

Huntsville petitioned for the honor, and the feds decided the city met the threshold as a popular destination and a decent navigational landmark. So even though I-65 doesn't go through Huntsville, per se, that's still the way you'd go to get there.

Once you pass Huntsville, Birmingham is the next city on the sign.

I read with interest your article about (a new X-ray machine at Nashville International Airport that makes screening easier for people with prosthetics). I was wondering if this will also include people who have knee replacements?

I had both knees replaced and get the full screening and pat down every time we fly … if this is also going to apply to those of us with replacements, it will be a much welcomed thing!

— Marsha LaFollette, Mt. Juliet

Only those with prosthetics, casts and braces will be screened using the backscatter X-ray technology in a pilot program at BNA, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said the current procedure for people who set off the metal detectors — the full screening and a pat-down — still applies.