In 2010, my wife and I decided to see if we could have a vacation without flying. Sadly, we ended up having to fly into and out of Chicago as the nearest train stations to Nashville are 200-plus miles away. We took the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland, Ore.
I noticed in [a recent City Paper] article that Portland was mentioned as part of the study for transport options for Nashville. I am originally from London, so I know all about mass transit, and I used the London Transport LT system day in and day out to get to work and for trips to connect with main line trains.
With that in mind, we had reservations about Portland and what it had to offer. I knew it could never compare with London Transport. [But] I was in for a surprise. True, Portland doesn’t have the underground trains that London has (the Tube) But they have a mixture of light rail and buses. We spent several days there, and never had a need for a car, and relied on their transit system every day. It was a amazing and cheap — and sometimes free.
Portland is light years ahead of Nashville in both transit options and thinking. There is no doubt in my mind that Nashville and the surrounding communities are decades behind in transit, but I must admit that the new BRT from Rivergate to Nashville has been a winner. Portland uses the transit system to boost tourism, and as Nashville is a tourist destination, we should do the same.
I often ride bus No. 56 BRT (I am retired) to avoid downtown parking and reduce the cost of driving.
The proposed light rail/bus down through West End, will be a winner if it is modeled on the Portland system. One thing that Nashville never considers, however, is the tourist. They will ride whatever system they put on that line. They would also ride Amtrak if it was here.
I volunteer at the airport and talk to many of the tourists from overseas. Usually the first question they have when arriving in Nashville is, ‘Where are the trains or the mass transit system?’ I have to tell them that trains are 200-plus miles away, and we don't have street cars, and only one BRT line so far.
Building a similar system to [that of] Portland and other cites will encourage tourism and growth for the whole area.