Mayor calls for overhaul of city's transportation plans

Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 11:45pm

Recognizing that other cities are lapping Nashville’s mass transit efforts, Mayor Karl Dean Thursday kicked off the drafting phase of a new plan to outline future transportation investments in Middle Tennessee for the next 25 years.

A product of the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the so-called “Call for Projects” will solicit contributions from stakeholders and citizens from Nashville and its surrounding suburbs, updating the area’s plan for transportation solutions. With a final document to be unveiled at a May 26 summit, organizers hope to take the next step toward a much-needed mass transit funding source.

“Places like Denver, Austin and Charlotte are our friends, but they’re also our competition for jobs and economic prosperity,” said Dean, who was recently elected chair of the Nashville Area MPO. “And they are moving ahead of us in terms of their innovations in transportation.”

Though the “Call for Projects” initiative is broad in scope — addressing the full range of transportation, from sidewalks and cycling to bus rapid transit and rail — Dean seems to support transitioning toward light rail, typically defined as a low-capacity system and found in cities such as Denver, Colo. Light rail relies on electric train cars.

“We don’t know what will be in the plan,” Dean said. “I would say, though, that it’s hard to envision a long-term mass transit plan in this area that would not include light rail. I’m just speaking for myself at this point. I think we’ll probably see some elements of that as we go down the road.”

In the interim, more Metro Transit Authority bus rapid transit lines — like the one found along Gallatin Avenue in East Nashville — could remain the most likely advancement, as Dean said he plans to continue to expand BRT to other corridors as funding allows.

“Bus rapid transit is a nice entry-level way toward light rail,” Dean said. “But light rail is on the table. It is something we’ve all discussed amongst ourselves, and I would anticipate we’ll be hearing more about it.”

By all accounts, funding presents the greatest hurdle for transit progress.

The Tennessee General Assembly last year approved legislation that allows the state’s regional transportation authorities to create a dedicated regional revenue source to expand transit services. Still, that dedicated funding source hasn’t been defined.

“The number one thing we’ve got to be working on is dedicated funding” Dean said. “We need to probably go back to the legislature with a proposal that would allow local government to enact a specific source.”

In other cities, transit revenue streams often come from fuel taxes or portions of sales taxes. According to Michael Skipper, executive director of the Nashville Area MPO, Denver levies a one-cent sales tax that generates $250 million per year for transit, while Charlotte has a half-penny sales tax that collects $70 million annually.

While funds aren’t yet there, addressing Nashville's mass-transit deficiencies has gained some momentum of late.

In the past year, Dean led the formation of the Middle Tennessee Mayor Caucus, a coalition organized around the idea of discussing regional transit options. More recently, a group of Middle Tennessee business leaders created the Transit Alliance and area chamber of commerce presidents launched a similar transit-minded advocacy group.

“We’re seeing strong support from the business community because we’re starting to see the writing on the wall in terms of where this region’s going,” Skipper said. “We’ve got to provide people more choices to get around other than just getting in a car and sitting in congestion."

12 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 2/5/10 at 2:38

We already have to much "dedicated funding " which promotes waste in one area while you need it in a higher priority area.

The situation is compounded by the fact that in the second largest county in the country we have few , relatively speaking , jobs in our small downtown area and taking real estate off the market for things like the MCC only makes it worse (less jobs) and parking lots to serve that, the arena and Titan stadium which is not used full time, not to mention the taxes lost from that prime real estate.

No city transportation system pays for itself but because of our sprawl and limited jobs downtown it magnifies the cost per rider. If they get their way we will have the most expensive transportation system in the country per rider which will benifit a realitively few.

Look at the Nashville Star which we didn't have to buy or build how much money we lose on that. We could pay the steady ridership full salery for them to stay home and it would cost less then it does to operate.

Want transportation that is better suited for this town go look at the Jitney system in Atlantic City NJ run and paid for by individual Jitney owners . It works like having a Hack License but on a dedicated scheduled route at their cost not the taxpayers.

This is a unique town which requires thinking outside of the box not copying others that don't have the same situation we have.

By: Kosh III on 2/5/10 at 8:03

light rail, typically defined as a low-capacity system-----------
The LAST thing we need is rail. This one phrase quoted above says it all "Low-capacity."

Rail is expensive
Rail takes years and years to build
Rail is "low-capacity"

We need more BRT, more buses, more routes, more often. MTA has very successful express buses from the exurbs such as Mboro and Hville.


By: JeffF on 2/5/10 at 8:32

Kosh you are exactly correct. Trains are not a wise investment, they are an investment in toys and tourism brochure material. They do a very poor job of doing what the are tasked to do, transporting as many people as possible.

And I know you have read my previous railing on the hub-and-spoke setup, but it bears repeating now that Dean is going to head a regional body instead of just Metro. Successfule transportation systems should be point-to-point in nature, creating a web covering the city (now region). A system that funnels everything to a far-away central point where you then catch a connection is not going to work and does not work. In regional terms a person living in Smyrna should not have to catch a train or bus to downtown Nashville in order to get to their job in Maryland Farms or Cool Springs (the places businesses want to locate). The same goes for here in Nashville but we are already too fiscally committed to this whole downtown bus center.

By: idgaf on 2/5/10 at 8:49

By: JeffF on 2/5/10 at 8:32
The same goes for here in Nashville but we are already too fiscally committed to this whole downtown bus center.

That is "THEIR " way of selling it to you. Sometimes its wiser to fold when you have a losing hand.

They will spend all that you give them an more without thought. If it sounds good they do it not looking long range.

They haven't sold us a product yet that was "as advertised" so why do we continue to trust them and give them even more money to pay off their new toys?

Dean is our barry.

By: TITAN1 on 2/5/10 at 9:00

Well, at least this gives the whiners something else to whine about.

By: concernedtaxpayer on 2/5/10 at 9:48

Of course. Just something else Dean thinks he must stick his nose in. Light rail will be a failure because it will be just like the music city star. And MTA's systems are failures too just because of the fact Metro taxpayers have to subsidize MTA over $2 million each year. Why not work on widening roads and taking care of the current roads we already have that most people drive on. That will be worth more to taxpayers since most taxpayers travel mainly by their own cars instead of MTA and the Music City Star. This will be another project that Dean will mess Davidson County taxpayers on when the project has to be subsidized.

By: CityProgress on 2/5/10 at 11:19

Anyone ever ask that roads pay for themselves? Didn't think so. Expanding roads will not solve our problems, as all the studies show: more roads = more traffic. Mass transit is integral for effective urban transportation systems, even from a security perspective, as traffic inhibits evacuation capabilties.

Music City Star was built because it was SO CHEAP (cheapest commuter rail in U.S. history) not because it's a high traffic corridor. If we want effective transit systems, we have to build them along routes that already have high bus ridership, such as on Gallatin, Donelson, Charlotte, etc. and connect Nashville to other areas already heavily driven to such as Clarksville, Franklin, Mboro, etc.

" Tennessee ranks as nation's worst polluter "

Nashville is number 1 in the country for air pollution from vehicles, third for the most miles driven, per capita, among large cities, and received an "F" grade from the American Lung Association for its air quality, according to a 2004 report by Public Interest Research group. Nashville has the 6th worst carbon footprint in the country. We're the 10th most dangerous for pedesrians, according to Walk/Bike Nashville. Nashville has the highest incidents of respiratory infections, and is the third most expensive city in the country for driving, according to a 2005 study by Sperling's Best Places.

Every $1 spent on transit generates $4 to $9 in economic development. $1 billion invested in mass transit supports 36,000 jobs, $3.6 billion in business sales, and nearly $500 million in federal, state, and local tax revenues.

Cincinnati is spending $125 million on a streetcar which is projected to generate 10 times that amount of money in econmoic development, prompting their Mayor Mallory to state that he "doesn't know of a better investment any city could make."

By: sidneyames on 2/5/10 at 3:37

"YOu load 16 tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt" Old Karl king and walking the walk, taking us down as he talks the talk. He spends our hard earned money on his pet projects, taking us down to a deeper debt.

People don't ride the bus or the train from Lebanon a lot. What makes us think they are gonna ride another light rail?

Cars give us freedom. I personally don't take the bus cause it's a major undertaking.

By: Magnum on 2/5/10 at 4:57

I admit that I wouldn't know where to start in fixing the transportation issues in Nashville, but then again, that's not my job. Having said that, I am pretty well versed at noticing what they've screwed up so far. Here are two quick observations before I head into another night of forbidding traffic:

1. I passed a new hybrid bus (well one of the ones they bought about a year ago) last night on my way home. On the side that I passed, there was only one passenger. But hey, we're saving money on fuel...right. Wrong again.
2. The train is a disaster. Even those along the train corridor don't ride it due to the fact that they can't get to work in the other areas of the city without major hassels. Add to that, the last train out is too early. Unless you work downtown, you can forget working until 5 and then catching the train. But I guess it made sense considering the people that put together the plan likely rarely work until 5.

By: Myth_of_the_Nob... on 2/5/10 at 5:09

Transportation choices and options give us true freedom. I want freedom from my car. I have to use it to get everywhere in Nashville.

The biggest transportation subsidies are road construction (58 Billion taxpayer dollars a year in the US) and local minimum parking requirements.

Local governments require a minimum number of parking spaces be constructed based on land-use for all new projects, private developers are required to pay for those spaces and then pass those costs on to the end users. Ample parking that's free to motorists and huge government spending on roads and highways combines to incentivize driving. Any transportation engineer or planner will tell you that street car and light rail transit systems move people more efficiently than highways and parking lots, the infrastructure costs less to build (if you count all the costs including parking) and maintain per-capita, and if you build compact, walkable communities adjacent to transit, it can also result in shorter commute times and a higher quality of life.

You can't say transit is subsidized without saying that automobile infrastructure is also subsidized, and when you compare the costs and the benifits, you get way more bang for your buck out of transit.

By: Myth_of_the_Nob... on 2/5/10 at 5:26

There are also safety advantages to rail transit. The most dangerous thing we do every day is get in a car.

39,800 - domestic traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2008 alone.

6,317 - total coalition forces killed in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to present date.

Maybe we should declare war on automobiles instead of terror; automobiles are claiming the population of a small city every year.

By: MusicCity615 on 2/6/10 at 2:19

I want lightrail built in Nashville as soon as possible.


MusicCityStar was built because the rail lines were already in place and it was the cheapest heavy rail project built in American history. It was not built bc of necessity, and it is extremely poorly planned. It is an intracounty commuter rail, Dean wants to build a lightrail (frequent stops every 10 minutes within Davidson County).

We have so many universities, hospitals, pro sports stadiums and arenas, plus 40,000 workforce in downtown/midtown, and Nashville International Airport within short distance.

We need rail now for current AND future needs!