NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It's another growing pain of being a major tourist destination: Metro Police say downtown crowds are causing problems.
They say they're seeing more people downtown than ever before, which exacerbates issues Lower Broadway has always experienced: many people are drunk and at times can be violent.
"We were having ambulances and fire trucks literally sometimes take 30 minutes to get to a patient in the downtown core," said Captain David Leavitt with Metro Nashville Police Special Events. He said the number of people transported to the hospital was stretching to more than 20 per night.
He said one weekend recently, three different officers were assaulted downtown. On one occasion, Metro Police had to shut down an entire rooftop after people began throwing drinks on them while they answered another call.
"It's issues that we've always seen, just magnified on a much larger scale," Leavitt said.
So for the past two weekends, officers have quietly shut down the heart of Nashville's entertainment district to cars.
Officers start by closing First Avenue S. at Korean Veterans Boulevard inbound to everyone except emergency vehicles and residential traffic. That gives ambulances easy access.
Then they close individual blocks of Broadway, between First and Fifth Avenue, but they leave the numbered cross streets open.
"People are being able to spread out, have some room," Leavitt said. "We're seeing less assaults and it's really paying dividends in creating a safer environment for all of our folks who are downtown."
He said last weekend they only arrested four people in the downtown core. Far less than the 12 to 15 he says had become the norm. Leavitt said the extra space leads to fewer brush-ups between groups.
And knowing it's been a long-debated topic, Leavitt pointed out that when officers make the call to shut down the road, traffic is already at a stand-still.
"Before we started doing this, traffic on Broadway wasn’t moving anyway," he said.
Nashvillians who frequent Broadway, like musician Aaron Sparling know that first-hand.
"On the weekends it is shoulder-to-shoulder, you can hardly get through the place," Sparling said. "If you're in a hurry, good luck getting out of here within an hour (in a car)."
He likes the idea of the closures, citing traffic as the number one problem on Lower Broadway.
"The city is built on everyone coming in and us giving them a good time," he said. "I feel like it just might be a little safer, to be honest with you."
Tourist Addie Ulbrich, who was in town celebrating her 21st birthday, agreed.
"I think it’s a great idea for people to be able to move around and go to whatever bar they want," she said, after navigating the crosswalks and backtracking in order to reach her destination across the street on Monday night while Broadway was open to traffic.
Others aren't as enthusiastic. Tourist Stacy Hartman said she liked having the ability to cruise Broadway by car when she was visiting on a weeknight.
"I personally, being out of town, I want to drive this street and see it first hand," she said.
Nashville native Scott Barnes drives for a ride-hailing service full time. He says the last two weekends have been a nightmare.
"You're eating up so much time just sitting there not moving (on the cross streets)," Barnes said. "You're literally having to call and text people who have to walk four to five blocks over to get picked up."
Barnes said he's losing business as people cancel rides and he sits in traffic. Plus it's loud and difficult to explain to tourists where to go. He said he wants to be included in the plan, suggesting designated loading zones similar to what the city organizes for large events like the Fourth of July or the NFL Draft.
"If they're gonna shut down streets, they might as well set it up like that every weekend," he said via Zoom call.
Police say the closures are happening on weekend evenings, but there's no set time. It's at the discretion of the officers on duty.
"We're not creating a pedestrian-only Lower Broadway," Leavitt said. "At least for now, that is not in the plans."
Broadway is a state road and under the Tennessee Department of Transportation's control. But for temporary purposes like crowd safety on weekends, TDOT tells NewsChannel 5 it trusts Metro Police to make the call.