I was dismayed but not shocked to hear of the recent pedestrian fatality on Wilma Rudolph Boulevard. Coming from a northern city where pedestrian walkways, bike ways, crosswalks and sidewalks are factored into every aspect of urban planning, where violators of pedestrians’ right of way face high penalties, the City of Clarksville is the least user-friendly city I’ve known to anyone who doesn’t drive on its high speed main thoroughfares.
The streets of Clarksville may not be intended as high-speed highways, but quite often there’s little difference between 41-A (Fort Campbell Blvd.), Wilma Rudolph Blvd., and even Madison Street, and I-24 between here and Nashville. Cars speed, weave, and have even run the suicide lane as if it were a bonus lane for high speed traffic. Crosswalks are almost non-existent, or, if they exist, are seemingly irrelevant in the motorist-pedestrian equation.
Having lived in North Clarksville, I know from experience the peril of living in the highly residential eastern side of Fort Campbell Boulevard and trying to cross its seven lanes to catch a southbound bus. Sometimes it’s easier (but far longer) to just go north and eventually ride back the other way. For anyone with any mobility impairments, for an elderly person or someone with children in tow, who simply can’t make the needed speed to safely cross, these roads are pedestrian fatalities waiting to happen.
Trying navigating Crossland and Riverside without a pedestrian crosswalk. For many, many blocks, the bus stops on the river side, dropping riders curbside with no safe crosswalks or “walk” buttons to get to the businesses across the street. Navigating back and forth to businesses on Wilma Rudolph is like pouring quarters into a rigged slot machine; sooner or later someone will be injured or killed. It’s happened before, and will inevitably happen again.
Traffic here reminds me of Lima, Peru, and the Andes city of Cuzco, where tens of thousands of scratched, dented, battered and bruised cars, never repaired, were driven with wild abandon; crosswalks, stoplights, turn signals and people were irrelevant in the overall equation. Driving in those cities was the equivalent of an act of terrorism. Clarksville has nicer, sportier, faster cars, trucks and SUVs, but on its main multi-lane roads, the terrorism factor for pedestrians is little different than I experienced in the cities of Peru.
Traffic here reminds me of New York City, where taxicabs now have crash bumpers to mitigate accident damage in the demolition derby of everyday Manhattan driving. But New York does have crosswalks, and pedestrian “walk/don’t walk” signs that tend to keep people alive.
One walkway is planned for one major intersection in a city where several dozen are needed all across town. As the city moves toward a major revitalization of its downtown and riverfront areas, to say nothing of the business and industrial expansion happening all over town, I urge them to consider the value of sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian safety as they begin the long term planning for this district and the city as a whole.
Clarksville bills itself as “The Gateway to the South,” and is a unquestionably a rapidly growing city with an infrastructure increasingly inadequate to meet the needs of a mobile population, that mobile population including people who walk, ride bikes and travel by bus.
To attract new business, and further develop tourism, planners need to consider the multiple layers of infrastructure that will meet such needs. Water, sewers, electricity, schools, emergency services, roads and bridges, traffic flow, public transportation and public safety. Though crossing a street should not be a daily life and death issue, in many areas of Clarksville that’s exactly what it is: a life and death issue. It’s time to change that.