Mayor: Serious discussions on mass transit could begin in fall

Monday, June 21, 2010 at 12:50pm

New talks about the future of large-scale public transit in Nashville will pick up steam in the fall, Mayor Karl Dean told members of The City Paper’s editorial board during a discussion on Friday.

While such talks would include members of a caucus of regional mayors Dean has established to tackle transportation issues, he said the city would pursue options alone if need be, adding that mass transit is an essential component of future economic development. He said the time for innovation on that front has arrived.

“I am fully committed to this,” Dean said. “If we have to go it alone, we will, but I hope we can make it a more regional effort.”

The mayor would not be specific on what types of transit he would pursue, although he said light rail, streetcars and bus-rapid transit are all on the table.

Mass transit is gaining popularity among the economic-development set.

“There is more noise among our leadership about this now than there has ever been,” Ron Samuels, chairman, president and CEO of Nashville-based Avenue Bank, said during the meeting.

But transit is not necessarily at the top of most people’s minds, Dean said. He added that getting people interested is “our big challenge.” And it’s still lower on the list among businesses looking to relocate to Nashville.

“It’s not so important in our conversations with companies looking to move here, but it is important when we think about the overall accessibility of downtown and the parking situation there,” said Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. He also said the chamber is engaged with a number of groups and issues, and will probably do most of its influencing on the issue via the Transit Alliance.

Several of the competitor cities identified by the chamber already have advanced public transit systems, such as Charlotte, Austin and Denver. 

The interview centered on a new report to be issued this afternoon by Partnership 2020, a chamber-based economic development initiative co-chaired by Dean and Jim Wright, chairman and CEO of Tractor Supply Company.

The report comes as the previous initiative, called Partnership 2010, nears its close. In the last 20 years, during which time the initiative has been in effect, 233,995 new jobs have been created in Davidson County, with the population having grown some 60 percent, according to Samuels, who is also a member of the partnership. Alongside those trends, per capita income has increased 29 percent, he said. 

Dean said that his administration would continue to try to lure new businesses to Nashville by offering economic incentives, and that money spent there would increase. As well, he said to expect an increase in city dollars spent on economic development in general. 

13 Comments on this post:

By: house_of_pain on 6/21/10 at 11:50

Will shiny new mass transit be paid for solely by those who use it?
If not, we can stop the discussion right there.

By: JohnGalt on 6/21/10 at 12:10

Dean's delusions of grendeur are going to bankrupt the city.

On top of the billion dollar convention center he wants to build a few railroads.

Last I heard the Music City Star war losing enough to buy each regular rider a new car and save money.

By: Kosh III on 6/21/10 at 1:32

Transit will pay for itself when all the other modes do the same which is never.

Trains are not the best option: too expensive to build tracks, too long to build. Buses are much more feasible: more buses more routes more often.

By: idgaf on 6/21/10 at 8:57

"“It’s not so important in our conversations with companies looking to move here, but it is important when we think about the overall accessibility of downtown and the parking situation there,” said Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce."

That is the whole key about this fantasy. They don't care how much they spend of taxpayer money to get a few more customers for their businesses.

By: CityProgress on 6/21/10 at 11:40

Mass transit is the mobility solution we should have started years ago.
Better late than never.
Our population is projected to grow by nearly 1 million people over the next 20 years.
There simply isn't enough space to move that many people in automobiles alone.

Electric streetcars are actually more financially feasible than buses once you consider the economic stimulation streetcars generate. On average, every $1 spent on mass transit generates $4 of economic development ( Cincinnati's streetcar cost $128 million but is generating $1.4 Billion in development. That's over 10 times the return on investment.

Here's a great YouTube video that lays it out in just three minutes.

Electric streetcars are also not the same as light rail; they can be much less expensive, even pretty close to the price of new buses. Streetcars, or trams as they're often called, also attract more people to ride them than buses.

If that's not enough, here's some scary statistics that should put things in perspective:

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 (Nashville Business Journal). 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. We are the 4th most accident prone city in the nation, in large part due to car accidents (

By: Kosh III on 6/22/10 at 5:58

This is a low cost healthy alternative that is wildly popular in the cities that have done it.'

By: JeffF on 6/22/10 at 7:47

“It’s not so important in our conversations with companies looking to move here, but it is important when we think about the overall accessibility of downtown and the parking situation there,”

There is your summation of why this will fail. It doesn't matter how important public transportation is to all of Nashville, this Mayor and this Chamber will be going into this with a downtown-centric approach, just like every other city with a failing, expensive system.

Kosh you are 100% correct, no current mode really pays for itself. Automobiles do come the closest with their gas taxes, but even then there is a taxpayer subsidy for infrastructure, planning, and enforcement oversight. Buses are the one sure way to serve all of Nashville, but it appears that that is not the direction this group will be going based on the comment about downtown accessibility.

Be prepared for expensive, inflexible rails (in one form or another) to downtown and no where else. Mayors apparently don't whip out pictures of their efficient, and successful bus systems at League of City events. But they will always have "my train is bigger than yours" conversations with other mayors with train envy.

By: Kosh III on 6/22/10 at 8:18

Yes, I lived in San Diego at one time. It has a very nice fast clean efficient trolley system. It opened the first line in 1981. It now has built ONLY 6 lines, all ending downtown. Despite full loads, the impact on traffic has been marginal at best.

Atlanta began it's rail system in 1971. How's traffic in Atlanta?


By: idgaf on 6/22/10 at 9:45

We do not have enough people working downtown to justify mass transit.

Exhibit A is the star which carrys 250 rt every day. That would cost hundreds of millions if we had to buy the right away and build the track.

By: MusicCity615 on 6/22/10 at 11:06

Great points CityProgress. I am with you 100%.

The argument that mass transit doesn't pay for itself is lame because when has a road ever paid for itself? An interstate?

Cincinnati is proof we need to develop a streetcar system within our core.
Kosh, more buses are needed, but buses sit in traffic too. We need more buses, serving all areas of Nashville (jeffF), and dedicated lanes for the streetcars.

Build lightrail/streetcars!

By: JeffF on 6/22/10 at 2:50

We are unfortunately barreling not toward a good system, but instead toward a system just for downtown's use. The typical way of doing things in Nashville and other growth-envy cities is to spend as much as possible downtown then if there is anything else spend it on the places the peons live and work. I recommend the opposite, we spend as much as needed on the peon neighborhoods then anything leftover goes to the single downtown fair-haired child.

For some reason every "need" is only a "need" after the lowest populated part of Nashville wants it or saw another downtown somewhere get it. Transit is a need of Nashville, not downtown Nashville.

How about we devise a system that makes all of Nashville important for something other that feeding the royal family inside the castle walls of downtown? They already have every major capital project of the last 30 years down there, lets take this for ourselves. No rail system (train or trolley) will ever serve all the neighborhoods of Metro but we are apparently going to let rail and trolleys take up a majority of the money and effort just so downtown tourism people can get another postcard picture image.

By: bringingbackcom... on 6/26/10 at 3:52

"Mayor, its your time and turn to tackle mass transportation, and I am confident that you will come up with a solution that will accomodate all perspectives on these important issues to a meaningful extent.!"

"I will however, advise you to allow at least 25% of your task force that facilitates these concerns, come from the rank of the little guy that typically utilizes the bus system, they will not only be grateful for that; you will be doing the right thing and leaving a legacy in your administration that;

"YES, you are mindful of the concerns of the unsung hero's of our great city that work hard, pay taxes, and yes, utilize this very same mass transit system on a daily basis.!"

"Great community leaders have sprung from the ranks of the transit system, in fact when I utilized the transit system I remember seeing Judge Birch all the time as well as other notable people in our community.!"

"It is common sense that poor people have brains, its just that they are not as fortunate in their wealth as some people for whatever reason it may be.!"

I am Stephen Downs and I have approved this message.

By: Myth_of_the_Nob... on 7/13/10 at 4:04

Building a street car or light rail project starting anywhere other than downtown would be a huge mistake. Downtown has the density to support ridership, if you ever want the streetcar or lightrail to make it to your lower density area of town you had better hope the downtown one is successful. If it won't work downtown, it wont work anywhere in Nashville and no one will support the construction of rapid transit lines into low density areas, there just wont be enough people around to ride it and justify the costs. Good for Nashville that we are finally taking this issue on, and thanks to our political leaders for having a forward thinking vision.