Nashville Selects Bus Rapid Transit, Rejects Streetcars/Light Rail

COST Commentary: The articles following this commentary are a Nashville transit smmary by Wendell Cox and two local Nashville articles about their recent rejection of streetcars in favor of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Nashville is the latest in a growing list of cities struggling to realize and accept the reality that transit systems must be cost-effective if they are to sustain taxpayers’ support. This “struggle” is very apparent in the Nashville Ledger editorial which Cox is addressing. Replace the word Nashville with Austin and the editorial describes a similar situation here in Austin.

Austin’s major “take-away” from Cox’ article might be:

“The Need for Stewardship: Before Nashville commits hundreds of millions or billions of tax dollars to expensive transit projects transit in hopes of reducing traffic congestion or travel times, local officials should consider reality. Reducing traffic congestion and travel times are objectives generally beyond transit’s capability. Further, new lines can attract only a small share of commuters, because such a small share of jobs are downtown.”

Cox appropriately used “Tilting at (Transit) Windmills” in his title. This means “attacking imaginary enemies” as used in the story of Don Quixote. The Nashville Ledger editorial which Cox is addressing gives one a sense that people in Nashville are wringing their hands and running in circles to find a solution to their perceived mobility problems. However, they express little fundamental knowledge of the real problems and the solutions which will improve their mobility. So, they suggest needing a number of “alternatives” and traverse a gamut of ideas: logical and illogical, realistic and unrealistic, cost-effective and unaffordable. Some suggest an incremental, steady approach starting with more bus lines and BRT. Some would move more aggressively into rail.

Segments of Nashville’s population have seemingly bought into the dream or “sales pitch” that expensive rail transit will significantly relieve congestion. As Cox points out, transit generally does not reduce traffic congestion. There are no bases for this perception. Congestion and Transit are two almost seperate issues. As we have found with the commuter in Austin and can project for the City’s
proposed urban rail, congestion is actually increased as roadway capacity is reduced.

The population of Austin’s region (Metropolitan Statistical Area or MSA) is slightly larger than Nashville’s Central Tennessee region, the two regions have similar growth projections through 2035 and they are both major music centers.

The city of Nashville recently completed a one-year commissioned study by Parsons Brinckerhoff to evaluate alternative solutions to their growing mobility needs. They selected ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ as the preferred solution and rejected fixed rail streetcars. Nashville Mayor Dean stated: “Bus rapid transit is by far the most compelling case we’ve heard,” even though he had pledged streetcars during his first term campaign. Dean earlier told the Nashville Business Journal on November 10, “but when you look at it in a rational way and look at the costs and you get the same ridership, it’s hard for me to justify. But, I’m going to approach it with an open mind.”

As reported below, Cliff Lippard, board president of the transportation advocacy nonprofit ‘Transit Now Nashville’ says he and other members are disappointed in the rejection of streetcars but are generally pleased the long-gestating corridor plan is finally getting some traction. He says, “A lot of people have a kind of emotional or sentimental attachment to streetcars because of their history.” Still, Lippard calls the BRT plan: ”a first step in the right direction.”

Nashville’s reasons for rejecting rail transit are consistent with the growing list of cities’ which have made BRT the preference over fixed rail. These reasons include:

1. Rail transit is not cost-effective.

Construction and implementation costs for fixed rail transit are significantly greater than BRT, for essentially the same transit capability. BRT implementation costs range from less than 10% to about 50% of fixed rail depending on the type of rail and BRT. The highest BRT costs are for dedicated bus lane systems such as Nashville has chosen. The Parsons’ study indicated the streetcar may have about 150 more round-trip riders per day than the BRT. Taxpayers would subsidize each of these ‘possible’ few added streetcar riders more than $40,000 per year based on additional capital costs of $139 million amortized over 30 years: this is not cost-effective and not sustainable. In addition, rail systems have an average cost overrun of about 45%.

Cities are beginning to embrace the simple, fundamental concept that transit, which is all highly tax subsidized, must be cost-effective to be sustainable and serve the maximum number of citizens who need it the most and have few, if any, alternatives. Austin has not yet accepted this reality that transit must be cost effective to earn taxpayer support; even though Cap Metro’s Red Line commuter has demonstrated a lack of cost-effectiveness, requiring annual taxpayer subsidies of more than $20,000 (capital and operating costs) for each daily, round-trip rider. Each of these riders could be provided a new car with gas every year for less cost.

Austin’s proposed downtown urban rail is doomed to have similar, unaffordable cost effectiveness. Its costs will be huge: approaching $2 billion to install and more than $25 million for yearly operations. Yet, its route will provide meager home to work access, resulting in low ridership. Work commute trips are the “bread and butter” of all transit ridership.

2. Train transit reduces higher priority projects and degrades social equity.

Higher train transit costs result in overall transit serving fewer people who need it as taxpayers are required to provide huge subsidies for each train rider. This tends to degrade social equity as those needing transit in their daily lives, mostly without choices, suffer higher fares and reduced service to support those using high cost trains who mostly have transportation choices. Wasteful spending on ineffective trains also reduces funds for higher priority community needs which serve the vast majority of citizens, including both transit and non-transit travelers using roadways. Cap Metro’s Red Line commuter has demonstrated that the high cost of train transit to serve those with a choice is shifted to primarily lower income citizens who do not have choices.

As the articles below report, a remaining concern with Nashville’s BRT plan is that it heavily favors the city’s more affluent and car-owning west side at the expense of so-called “zero-car” households in East and north Nashville. These lower income families depend heavily on public transport for mobility. District 6 Councilman Peter Westerholm stated, “Ultimately, it does need to facilitate zero-car households.”

3. Fixed rail transit is inflexible

Fixed rail transit is very inflexible and not well suited to cost-effective, incremental improvements or adjustments to meet changing mobility needs which occur in growing regions.

Austin can learn from Nashville leadership which appears to be responsible in selecting a more cost effective transit solution which can be incrementally upgraded, over time, to meet growing and changing demands when needed. However, both cities may be outlining transit solutions which jeopardize social equity with disproportionate negative impacts on lower income citizens.

4. There are no viable funding sources indentified.

A Nashville reporter summed up the mayor and other comments with: “How Nashville will raise even the lesser sum ($136 million for BRT) remains a mystery.”
There are also no, viable funding sources identified for Austin’s downtown rail which will cost closer to $2 billion with operating costs exceeding $25 million per year. Significant local tax increases and/or cut-backs in other vital city services would appear to be necessary. It is not at all clear why the city of Austin is spending many millions over several years to study and plan for a downtown rail system which has no apparent funding source.

Recognizing its exorbitant cost and rail’s inability to effectively address high priority mobility issues, it is even more irresponsible to increase taxes to pay for it at a time when the country in an extremely difficult economic period and, here in Austin, citizens are faced with significant increases in taxes, water rates and energy rates.

5. There is little likelihood of US Government funding for rail.

The US government has played a major role in funding earlier rail systems but their role has declined as severe national budget strains have developed. The US Department of Transportation and its Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have already experienced sharply reduced rail funding availability and projections are for even greater reductions. One requirement for FTA rail funding participation is for a transit entity (city or agency) to have dedicated funding sources such as tax increases or tax increment financing identified which the FTA can match.

Austin has not identified viable funding sources for its proposed urban rail without significantly increasing local taxes. The huge gamble of fronting the initial investment for a very small, ineffective starter train segment, while hoping for future federal funds, is more irresponsible with taxpayer funds than Las Vegas gambling.


There is nothing urban rail transit can achieve that bus transit cannot achieve equally or better. Buses can carry just as many people, just as fast and safer, more cost-effectively and with greater flexibility to address changing needs.

The city of Austin based its proposed downtown rail trolley on the unfounded premise that train transit is required because current roads into downtown Austin are at capacity and cannot support more people into the city center. The City has not revealed a valid evaluation which verifies this priority among all citywide transportation needs and has not conducted a rigorous ‘alternatives analysis’ which evaluates all viable alternatives and selects the most effective solutions.

The basic assumption that downtown congestion will motivate people to drive their private vehicles to a parking facility outside of downtown and catch a train for the short ride into the city center is not supported by any actual experience. There are no precedents or model cities to confirm this premise. The 2010 census data for cities across the U.S tells a very different story. It indicates cities are reducing central density and suburbs are increasing in density. This and the fact that ‘working at home’ is the fastest growing “work commuting mode” (exceeding public transit) are major reasons that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per resident has been on a declining trend in the Austin region for many years. Total VMT is now increasing at approximately the same rate as population growth but roadway capacity has severely lagged.

Work commuting is the highest use of public transit and about 4% of the nation’s workers commute with public transit. Austin’s proposed $1-2 billion urban rail will provide little access for home-work commuters due to its route. Therefore, it can be expected to have little ridership resulting in exorbitant taxpayer subsidies for each rider similar to that being experienced with Cap Metro’s Red Line commuter.

The idea that government can social engineer massive changes in human behavior regarding living style choices has resulted in failure throughout history. Large, high density living environments were forced upon people in Russia, the U.S., China and other countries during difficult periods. These buildings are now rubble, sand and ashes as people deserted them as soon as they were able to do so.

Austin’s current Comprehensive Plan will increase downtown congestion by reducing street capacity with trains running on major streets and by converting higher capacity one-way streets to two way streets, which are also significantly more hazardous than one-way streets.

The Comprehensive Plan will achieve the opposite of that promoted. It is quite plausible people and employers will be motivated to avoid the central city due to rails on the streets increasing congestion and safety hazards. In addition, the train’s unsightly overhead electric power wires, poles and train connection structures will degrade city views and our beautiful city will be less desirable and less able to support traditional civic events on its streets.

COST urges the city of Austin to reconsider the Comprehensive Plan, with its urban rail, and develop a plan which does not have the terrible negative consequences for the entire community and especially low income citizens, transit riders and taxpayers.

Austin is one of the most broadly “top listed” and rapidly growing cities in the nation today. None of this success was influenced by downtown rail transit. Rail transit would most likely be detrimental to Austin’s future.

As we enter 2012, Austin needs mobility solutions which are bold and creative, which use new technology and reject ineffective 150 year old train technology and which are cost-effective so the maximum number of citizens can benefit from the subsidies of all taxpayers to assist a very small segment of the population. Less than 1% of the region’s passenger miles traveled are on public transit and 99% of the passenger miles traveled are on roadways. Mobility solutions must improve quality of life and not limit people’s opportunities to achieve the “American Dream.” The solutions are many faceted and are discussed throughout this site: They include improved roadways; more efficient use of roadways through road pricing managed for free flow (managed/HOV/HOT lanes) ; improved traffic control through synchronized traffic signals, smart traffic signals, metered on-ramps, rapid response to traffic disruption (incident management); Bus Rapid Transit (BRT); Transit demand approaches such as Cellular Mass Transit (CMT) and jitneys and numerous other solution elements.

Tilting at (Transit) Windmills in Nashville
By Wendell Cox, Posted: 08 Dec 2011 09:38 PM PST

As in other major metropolitan areas in the United States, Nashville public officials are concerned about traffic congestion and the time it takes to get around. There is good reason for this, given the research that demonstrates the strong association between improved economic productivity and shorter travel times to work. As Prudhomme and Lee at the University of Paris and Hartgen and Fields at the University of North Carolina Charlotte have shown, metropolitan areas tend to produce more jobs where employees are able to access a larger share of the jobs in 30 minutes.

Ahead in Identifying the Problem: Moreover, Nashville officials are somewhat “ahead of the curve,” since traffic congestion is far less severe there than in many other metropolitan areas. Among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, Nashville ranks 39th in the intensity of its traffic congestion, according to data compiled by INRIX, a traffic information firm. Nashville’s traffic congestion is even better compared to large Western European metropolitan areas.

This favorable traffic situation is despite the fact that Nashville has among the lowest overall transit market shares in the United States or Western Europe (less than 0.5 percent of travel in the metropolitan area). The key to this success, like that of other American metropolitan areas in relation to their international peers is low density and decentralization of employment and other commercial locations.

Missing the Point on Solutions: Yet, it is clear from an editorial in the Nashville Ledger that officials are inclined to embark on an expensive program of transit expansion. Judging from past experience, this offers virtually no hope for reducing traffic congestion or for improving economic productivity in the Nashville metropolitan area.

There are significant misperceptions among local officials about the potential outcomes of proposed commuter rail and bus rapid transit lanes. Perhaps the most important is the assumption that commuter rail and bus rapid transit will reduce travel times. In fact, at the national level, commuting by transit takes approximately twice as long as commuting by single occupant automobile, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2008 to 2010. Rail systems, such as subways (metros) and light rail do little better than transit in general, taking 95% longer than driving alone and two thirds longer than travel by car pools. There is thus virtually no hope that building new transit lines will reduce travel times.

As often happens when costly new transportation programs are proposed, boosters often resort to erroneous information. The Nashville Ledger cites sources that indicate, for example, that suburban Franklin (in Williamson County, to the south of the Nashville-Davidson County core) has one of the longest work trip travel times in the nation. The reality is quite different. Franklin has an average work trip travel time (23.2 minutes), which is less than national average (25.3 minutes) and little more than Nashville-Davidson County (23.0 minutes).

Nashville officials need look no further than their own eastern suburbs for evidence of the inability of new rail systems to reduce work trip travel times. In 2006, Nashville began commuter rail service from Lebanon, in Wilson County to downtown Nashville (the Music City Star). Currently, the Music City Star is locked in an intensive (and successful, according to the latest data) competition for last place in the number of riders among the nation’s commuter rail systems, just edging out Austin’s new lightly used system. Despite being the only first ring county with commuter rail service, Wilson County work trip travel times are longer than in the other first ring counties. Door-to-door travel times, which are the only travel times that count, have not been reduced by the rail line.

Transit is About Downtown: Transit cannot be a comprehensive metropolitan transportation solution remotely competitive with automobile travel times, except to downtown. This is because the quicker, direct transit services from throughout the metropolitan area that are necessary to attract automobile drivers must focus on the most dense and largest employment center, which is downtown. The radial routes that may be capable of serving downtown effectively simply cannot be afforded for other areas of employment. Our research has indicated, the annual cost to provide automobile competitive transit service throughout an urban area in the United States would consume a huge share of the gross domestic product of any such area.

In Nashville, downtown represents little more than 10% of the metropolitan area employment. Moreover, downtown Nashville represents a declining share of private sector employment in the metropolitan area. According to the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns, the core Nashville ZIP codes that are served by shuttle buses from the commuter rail station lost 11% of their private sector jobs between 2000 and 2009 (latest data available). At the same time, private sector employment grew 4% in the balance of the Nashville metropolitan area (Note 1).

Transit to Suburban Destinations: A Non-Starter: There have been proposals to require new suburban office development to be near transit stops. This would accomplish little, because transit access in areas other than downtown is so sparse. Among major metropolitan areas, nearly 65% of major metropolitan area workers are within walking distance of a transit stop, according to research by the Brookings Institution. But being near a transit stop does not mean that transit provides practical mobility to anything like 65% of jobs. The reality, according to the Brookings Institution data, is that only 6% of jobs in the average metropolitan area of more than 1 million population can be reached by transit by the average resident in 45 minutes, a travel time nearly double that of the average commuter in the Nashville metropolitan area (Note 2). It seems likely that 30 minute transit access for commuters would be as low as 3% at the national level. This demonstrates the so frequently repeated fallacy equating access to a transit stop with usable access to the metropolitan area.

Transit’s Large Downtown Niche Market: There is no question about the effectiveness (though not the cost efficiency) of transit in providing mobility along the most congested corridors to the nation’s largest downtown areas. This transit niche market accounts for nearly 75% of commuting to the Manhattan business core south of 59th Street, and more than 40% to the downtown areas of Brooklyn, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia. Yet even in these metropolitan areas, where transit mobility is so important to downtown, transit work trip market shares to areas outside downtown are more akin to the national average of 5% (Figure), except in New York.

Of course, Nashville’s downtown is not among these large transit-oriented cores. In 2000, census data indicated that 4% of employees commuted to downtown by transit. Even if all of the ridership on the Music City Star is made up of new downtown transit commuters, that figure would be little changed.
The Need for Stewardship: Before Nashville commits hundreds of millions or billions of tax dollars to expensive transit projects transit in hopes of reducing traffic congestion or travel times, local officials should consider reality. Reducing traffic congestion and travel times are objectives generally beyond transit’s capability. Further, new lines can attract only a small share of commuters, because such a small share of jobs are downtown.

The Need for Stewardship: Before Nashville commits hundreds of millions or billions of tax dollars to expensive transit projects transit in hopes of reducing traffic congestion or travel times, local officials should consider reality. Reducing traffic congestion and travel times are objectives generally beyond transit’s capability. Further, new lines can attract only a small share of commuters, because such a small share of jobs are downtown.
Note 1: County Business Patterns provides employment information that largely excludes government employment. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 53 percent of metropolitan Nashville’s increase in employment was government jobs between 2000 and 2009.

Note 2: Calculated from Brookings Institution data.

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life”


Metro Magazine, Industry News, December 15, 2011

Nashville study finds BRT half as costly as streetcars

A study of the East-West corridor from Five Points in East Nashville to White Bridge Road in West Nashville found that a bus rapid transit (BRT) system will cost half as much to build as streetcars but still attract the same number of riders.

The report of mass transit options for an East-West Connector by consultants from Parsons Brinckerhoff found that both streetcars and BRT have positive benefits. BRT, however, merits special consideration because it serves the same purpose as streetcars, but it costs significantly less, is faster to construct and likely will be eligible for more federal funding, the report says.

At a Steering Committee meeting of the Broadway-West End Corridor Study, Dean and committee members decided to move forward with BRT as a pragmatic solution for traffic congestion and rising gas prices.

Without any transit improvements, traffic along the East-West Connector is anticipated to increase by nearly 50 percent by 2035, and travelers will be stuck in traffic approximately eight minutes longer than today. Already, the average person in the Nashville area loses about 35 hours and wastes 10 gallons of fuel per year sitting in traffic.

The study estimates a BRT system would cost $136 million to construct, less than half the $275 million required for streetcars. The number of trips riders would make on either system would be about the same, 4,500 average weekday trips on BRT versus 4,800 on streetcars in the first year.

In both cases, the vehicles would likely run in dedicated lanes not open to cars and likely stop every ten minutes during peak weekday hours at permanent transit stations. Stations would include real-time arrival and departure information.

Economic development benefits of a rapid transit system are substantial as the areas surrounding the transit stations become desirable locations for companies seeking an easy commute for their workers and ideal locations for coffee shops, condominiums and other types of development that thrive on a regular influx of riders, the report says. Through the use of hybrid or other alternative-fuel vehicles, BRT can reduce emissions and help improve air quality, the report says.

Earlier this year, Dean directed the Metropolitan Transit Authority to initiate a study to identify next steps for mass transit along Broadway-West End. The scope extended to encompass a true East-West Connector from Five Points in East Nashville that connects to downtown via Woodland Street and/or Main Street and continues up Broadway to West End and Harding Road before terminating in West Nashville at White Bridge Road. This vital corridor connects universities, hospitals, businesses, tourist and cultural attractions, key residential areas and centers of federal, state and local government.

The full study will be available in January, and the MTA board will meet and vote on it early next year. A series of community meetings, facilitated by the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, will be held in early 2012.


Nashville Scene

Goodbye streetcars, hello bus rapid transit as Metro scales back its public transportation plans

Watching the Wheels Go ‘Round

by Jonathan Meador, December 15, 2011 News » City Limits

Gathered before a crowd of transportation officials and business types at the packed Watermark restaurant on Monday, Mayor Karl Dean offered a maxim illustrating the urgency of bringing Nashville’s mass-transit infrastructure up to speed.

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” he said. “The second best time is today.”

But if the mayor’s arboreal metaphor holds, Dean’s proposed east-west rapid transit corridor — a campaign pledge item dating back to his first term — is a sapling in desperate need of some Miracle-Gro. So far, the only fruit it has borne is a yearlong $1.18 million study commissioned by the city, which evaluates alternatives to existing public transportation systems. The crowd at Watermark got a sneak peek at the study Monday — and with it their first glimpse of Nashville’s likely future in public transportation.

That future, according to the study, is a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. In the model suggested by the study, the system (whose funding source has yet to be appropriated) would run along Broadway/West End Avenue, extending from West Nashville’s White Bridge Road across the river to East Nashville’s Five Points. According to Parsons Brinckerhoff, the New York-based international engineering firm that conducted the study, it would be outfitted with “smart card” fare kiosks, real-time GPS and other high-tech bells and whistles in an effort to make it sexier than its more efficient kissing cousin, electric streetcars.

But BRT’s biggest come-on is its price tag. The firm compared costs between bus rapid transit and electric streetcars — the study’s other chief viable alternative, and one with some historic and sentimental appeal to Nashvillians. Parsons Brinckerhoff found that streetcars, with their dedicated tracks, would provide a greater sense of permanence — and thus more investment incentive. What’s more, they would carry 90,000 more passengers during their first year of operation. At an estimated $136 million, however, BRT would be significantly cheaper than streetcars, whose cost runs $275 million. In terms of political expediency, that’s a significant advantage for the mayor.

“Bus rapid transit is by far the most compelling case we’ve heard,” Dean said, noting the stark $139 million cost difference between the two transportation modes.

How Nashville will raise even the lesser sum remains a mystery. After the presentation — which included members of the Chamber of Commerce-approved Middle Tennessee Transit Alliance, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Planning Organization — Dean couldn’t be pinned down about whether and how the city would fund the effort.

“We’re certainly going to need some local revenue source,” Dean said, then reversed by adding, “It’s not necessarily clear to me that [local revenue] necessarily will be required for this project.”

For the record, in order to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and its subsidiary, the Federal Transit Administration, municipalities must secure a dedicated source of revenue, whether a tax increase or tax-increment financing structure. Against this, the feds can provide matching money.

In recent years, the most popular federal program for funding transportation infrastructure improvements has been the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) initiative. It was created in the wake of the Obama administration’s signature American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the Stimulus. In its first year, TIGER awarded $1.5 billion for projects across the country. The next year, though, the program shelled out only a third of that figure, to the tune of $557 million.

Now, with stimulus money dried up and TIGER funds at the mercy of congressional oversight, the competition for even fewer resources has never been greater. Compounding the funding issue on the local front is the looming prospect of a property tax hike — a maelstrom that may come to dominate Dean’s second term. Additionally, the sales tax for Davidson County is virtually maxed out.

These realities would make it more politically difficult for Dean to ask the council to approve a special tax to fund a pet project, even when it’s needed now more than ever. The study warns that the city’s transit system poses a grave future problem, citing a 850,000-person population increase for the region by 2035. If the city takes no action by then, it will also have to deal with a projected 50 percent increase in traffic along the corridor, which cuts through some of Nashville’s most popular tourist attractions and largest businesses. Its swath includes Vanderbilt University, LP Field and the downtown business district.

Dean is careful to distinguish this BRT initiative from an overarching multibillion-dollar regional transportation plan for Middle Tennessee. But the mayor has certainly walked back the bold vision for Nashville’s transit future that he outlined during his first term. At a meeting with Nashville business leaders at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel in November, Dean essentially pre-empted the Parsons Brinckerhoff study by going all out in favor of BRT a month before details were released.

“There is a sense — you get it from talking to experts — that people just want streetcars,” Dean told the Nashville Business Journal Nov. 10. “But when you look at it in a rational way and look at the costs and you get the same ridership, it’s hard for me to justify. But I’m going to approach it with an open mind.”

In his first term, Dean conducted fact-finding trips to Denver and Pittsburgh, heralded by the mayor as cities whose rail-based transit systems make them more competitive for jobs and population growth. But as the Parsons Brinckerhoff study shows, Nashville has adjusted its sights lower, adopting models such as Cleveland, Ohio; Eugene, Ore.; Las Vegas; and Orlando, Fla. — not exactly hotbeds of the creative class, and whose BRT systems report varying levels of success.

That BRT is the cheapest form of alternative transportation should come as no surprise. But some transportation advocates find its no-frills measures potentially problematic. To warn Davidson County drivers to steer clear, for example, the Parsons Brinckerhoff study envisions dedicated bus lanes designated only by an application of crimson paint. Cliff Lippard, board president of the transportation advocacy nonprofit Transit Now Nashville, doesn’t think that’s enough to preserve the BRT system’s efficiency.

“The whole idea of just painting the street is just not going to be enough,” Lippard tells the Scene. “Some places, like Eugene, Ore., they have a complete lane separated from the rest of traffic. Maybe something as feasible as a curb, some kind of physical separation, might work, but what they’ve presented doesn’t seem feasible if motorists start driving in the lane.”

Lippard says that even though he and members of his group are generally pleased that the long-gestating corridor plan is finally getting some traction, there is disappointment that the city isn’t going big enough. By adding buses instead of streetcars, he says, the city is merely adding more rubber to the road.

“A lot of people have a kind of emotional or sentimental attachment to streetcars because of their history,” he says. “And there is a lot of literature that shows streetcars generate a larger return on investment than BRT.” Still, Lippard calls the BRT plan “a first step in the right direction.”

Another concern is the chosen route, which heavily favors the city’s more affluent and car-owning West Side at the expense of so-called “zero-car” households in East and North Nashville. As identified by MTA, these are lower-income families that depend heavily on public transport to get to work around the city. For them, transportation costs eat up a larger portion of their income.

District 5 Councilman Scott Davis thinks that the proposed route will leave out members of his district — which comprises a large segment of Gallatin Road that is already serviced by a low-grade form of BRT — as well as people living in Antioch and beyond.

“I would love to have it go up Gallatin Road,” Davis says.

Meanwhile, Davis’ colleague, District 6 Councilman Peter Westerholm, is happy to see the route’s eastern terminus at Five Points. In the future, he believes, the BRT line could be extended.

“I really think that the combination of where people, jobs and destinations are at this point, I think it’s great to extend it to Five Points and across the river and connect people who live over here and maybe work on the West Side,” Westerholm says. “I think that once we get into it and see if this is accessible, the more logical expansion would be to go further down Gallatin Road.”

The hope, he explains, is that the existing light BRT “that operates more like an express bus” could shuttle people from farther down Gallatin Road to Five Points, where they could “utilize the true BRT” for the rest of the way.

“It’s not a perfect version,” the councilman says, “but I think that’s something we’ll be willing to work with for now.”

Whatever next iteration the new transit corridor makes in the future, however, Westerholm says it must address the needs of the lower-income riders for whom public transportation isn’t a novelty but a necessity.

“Ultimately, it does need to facilitate zero-car households,” Westerholm adds. “I think we have more of those [households] in East Nashville both by choice and by necessity. I think that to the extent that it can serve those and make that more conducive to more people, I think that it’s going to be a great benefit.”


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