Traffic Study Identifies Impacts of Slow Moving Vehicles in Downtown Nashville

Pedal Pub
Tennessee’s tourism industry accounts for over $20 billion a year in visitor spending. Nashville represents one-third of that, with tourist spending over $6.5 billion annually in the Music City.

Traditional commuting traffic causes congestion in most major cities. Factor in additional vehicles from tourism, and conditions become even worse. In recent years, Nashville, Tennessee, has hit record-breaking tourism numbers bringing with it a host of booming businesses and busier streets. Popular among visitors and private party groups, pedal-carriages and other tourist type tours may look like fun to some, but to others, these and other slow moving vehicles (SMVs) are a safety concern and impact daily commutes for residents. KCI worked with Metro Public Works to conduct field observations and collect data to determine the impacts that SMVs have on regular vehicular traffic within downtown Nashville.

To gain a better understanding of the movement of SMVs, our team focused primarily on vehicles that travel at speeds below 15 mph. These include pedal carriages, pedi-cabs, and horse drawn carriages. Since these businesses are required to hold a permit in order to operate, our team first identified the total number of SMVs currently operating downtown and their existing operations.

Alternative Transportation Statistics
Three pedal carriage operators hold a total of 19 vehicle permits, one pedi-cab operator holds 20 permits and five horse-drawn carriage operators hold 17 vehicle permits.

Through interviews and booking data, our team was also able to gain a better understanding of the daily operations of each type of vehicle. Overall, they found that the majority of bookings occur Friday through Sunday or in the evenings on weekdays. Additionally, while all of these vehicles typically operate in Nashville’s lower Broadway, SoBro and Mid-Town areas, most do not operate on a fixed route due to on-going road closures for construction and events.

Pedal Pub
The average operating speed for pedal carriages and pedi-cabs is between 5-10 mph, but the vehicles can go faster (up to 25 mph) depending on factors such as electric motor assist, declines, or driver strength.

Although SMVs adhere to the same road rules as general traffic, safety concerns were centered around pedal powered and horse drawn transport sharing the same limited stretch of roadway with motorized vehicles that can travel at or above posted speed limits. According to the Commander of the Nashville Central Precinct, frustrated drivers have been known to cross the double yellow line into lanes that carry oncoming traffic in an attempt to get around SMVs. These anecdotal insights along with comments and concerns heard from local employees and other police officers helped our team identify the best areas to perform video data collection.

Looking closely at three key intersections, engineers then used the information to review and analyze the number of SMVs during peak hours as well as the duration of time that it takes them to cross the intersection. Not surprisingly, the study documented that although the SMV traffic accounted for less than two percent of overall vehicular traffic, the impacts of SMVs were mostly related to speed. Compared to a typical motorized car or truck, pedal-powered and horse-drawn vehicles not only have lower operating speeds, but they also take considerably longer to make turns and accelerate from a stopped position.

Intersection Graphic
The average travel speeds of SMVs through intersections are 23% to 45% less than a typical motor vehicle.

To complement the data collected, our team also investigated how other cities are addressing SMVs, including regulations and restrictions on the operations. Engineers then presented Metro Nashville with several employable options that could help minimize and/or mitigate the impacts of SMVs on motor vehicle traffic.

Based on the options available, the Metro Transportation Licensing Commission voted to regulate the hours in which SMVs can operate. The policy prohibits these vehicles from working during the peak traffic hours of 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM Monday through Friday.

As the landscape of transportation alternatives continues to change in Nashville, KCI works with the City to balance its ever-growing tourism industry and mobility of the downtown.