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Nashville, Tennessee:

Promoting Physical Activity While “Building” the Community

History and Background: Civic Engagement and Political Will

In response to concerns over pedestrian and traffic safety in 1996, Nashville’s Metropolitan Council established the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Task Force (TAPS) to review zoning regulations, traffic enforcement, and sidewalks. The Task Force also reviewed potential responses, including traffic laws and zoning standards, crosswalks, mass transit, and walking programs.12

Map of Tennessee-click for long description

Although the TAPS Task Force concluded its work in 1998, Nashville’s Mayor Bill Purcell has ensured the city continues to address pedestrian and traffic safety. Metropolitan government is expanding mass transit, improving traffic safety, and updating zoning regulations to enhance visual appeal and preserve trees.

With the mayor’s support, Nashville has tripled its sidewalk budget and is using strategic planning to prioritize and identify locations for new sidewalks and bikeways.13 Citizens provided input at several public hearings, and the city’s contract with an engineering group combines expertise in safety and design issues.

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Program Description: Walk Nashville Week and Year-Long Efforts
In 1995, the Metropolitan Health Department initiated “Healthy Nashville 2000” to improve the health of the population. The health department also convened a community health and wellness team. This coalition – comprised of agency representatives and concerned citizens – strives to make physical activity a routine part of everyday life and focuses on altering social norms to support active lifestyles. The coalition sponsors the annual initiative, Walk Nashville Week, which features a variety of events from active aging walks to organized walks to school and a Tennessee Titans football game.

Number of Participants in Walk Nashville Week

In 2001, 6,000 students walked to schools on a designated day and 12,000 fans walked to a Tennessee Titans football game.

In 2000, approximately 170 older adults participated in the active aging walks. Participation in 2001 fell to 90, largely because the walk had to be rescheduled (because of September 11) to a day when senior centers were closed.

During the first year, active aging walks originated from senior centers or community health centers. Walks now start at both senior centers and a high-rise building where many older adults reside. Participation rates should increase as a result of this change.

Ongoing Follow-up Efforts

Throughout the year, health department staff work with older adults in various settings to promote walking as a routine part of daily life. Staff advises older adult groups about exercise levels, appropriate attire, and methods for maintaining fitness levels. The groups also discuss pedestrian safety.

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Community Partners: Non-Profit, Business, and Government

Beyond city government, other community partners have played a critical role.

  • Walk/Bike Nashville: A local non-profit advocacy organization, Walk/Bike Nashville helps plan and implement city improvements to expand walking and biking opportunities. They also educate the public through forums, such as a free workshop to teach participants the characteristics of a “walkable” community and how to conduct walking and biking audits of neighborhoods.14

    Walk/Bike Nashville also promotes monthly “Car-Free Fridays” that challenge residents to walk, bike, or ride public transportation to work on the last Friday of every month. Their web site features group meeting times and locations and safe cycling tips.15

  • Local businesses: Businesses support and sponsor events during Walk Nashville Week. These include large corporations (e.g., Coca Cola, Bridgestone-Firestone); regional businesses (e.g., Kroger supermarkets); smaller, local enterprises; and local non-profits (e.g., Nashville’s Arthritis Foundation chapter). Businesses contribute funds and in-kind donations, such as food, water, or give-away incentives.

The Bottom Line: Funding

Nashville plans to secure additional funding from foundations and other sources to support its active living initiatives.

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Future Plans

  • Nashville-Davidson County released its Strategic Plan for Sidewalks and Bikeways in 2002 to guide the addition of sidewalks and other structural changes to Nashville. The mayor announced plans to fully fund the first year of the plan, which calls for 60 miles of new bikeways, improvements to existing sidewalks, and construction of 116 miles of new ones.

  • Walking programs will span more neighborhoods and target all age groups.

  • The city will continue to focus on walking for older adults because surveys indicate a lack of interest in biking.

  • Plans for next year’s Walk Nashville Week include “Walks to Worship,” which will organize groups to walk together to places of worship.

Evaluation: Data Needs

Nashville has not conducted an outcome evaluation (see Outcome vs. Process Evaluation), but has gathered some data that will influence future initiatives. During Walk Nashville Week, participants completed a “walkability checklist.”16 Data from older adult mall-walking groups (individuals in groups who walked three or more days per week) showed that 65 percent would walk more if there were better sidewalks and places to walk.

Outcome vs. Process Evaluation

Evaluation of a program’s progress can determine utility or direction. In this report, outcome evaluation refers to the assessment of program goals to determine if discernable changes to behavior, attitudes, or knowledge have been attained as a result of the intervention.

Process evaluation assesses actions taken in pursuit of program outcomes. Examples of process measures include the number of advertisements shown in a media campaign or the number of active community partners.

Please see the companion report, Program Evaluation: Measuring the Value of Active Aging, for additional information.

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Biggest Successes: Policymakers and Flexibility

  • Community policymakers and other leaders such as businesses are engaged in changing the physical and social environments to make the city more activity-friendly.

  • The city’s willingness to test different approaches with Walk Nashville Week will improve the program.

Biggest Obstacle: Lack of Data

Nashville’s lack of outcome data makes assessment difficult. Since the inception of Walk Nashville Week, the necessary time and funding to conduct an outcome evaluation have been beyond coalition resources. Although staff recognizes that baseline data on walking rates should be collected before and after installation of new sidewalks, no immediate plans are in place to collect this data. (Potential funding or support for evaluation could be sought from the state health department, Vanderbilt University, or through public or private grant funding.)

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