J. Dudley Schiel

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mass Transit in Nashville?

I recently had the privilege of attending a meeting about the future of mass transit in the greater Nashville area. The Greater Nashville Association of Realtors brought together Ed Cole, Executive Director of The Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee and Hiroshi Sato, the Consul-General of Japan in Nashville, to speak about viable methods of mass transit in Nashville and its surrounding nine counties and ways in which we can make these methods a reality. Why would a bunch of Realtors get together to listen to a discussion about mass transit? Mass transit would make Nashville better for its residents and having mass transit would attract new businesses to the city. Anything that’s good for Nashville is good for the Nashville real estate market. Here’s a brief synopsis of what was discussed at the meeting and how it could benefit Nashville.

What is mass transit?

Mass transit is any method of public transportation that allows people to travel without the use of their personal vehicles. There are many forms of mass transit in use all over the world. Light rail, commuter rail, heavy rail, monorail, streetcar, express coach, and bus were all discussed at the meeting. At this point almost everything is on table but commuter rail, light rail and streetcars seem to be the most likely candidates for Nashville.

Commuter rail uses existing freight lines and is already in use in Nashville. The Music City Star commuter rail has been very successful in connecting Lebanon, Mt. Juliet, Martha Station, Hermitage, and Donelson with downtown Nashville. Existing railways lines might make it possible to expand this service to Ashland City and Clarksville in the future.

Light rail is ideal for a city that doesn’t have the population necessary to support the investment into heavy rail but one which is quickly outgrowing conventional bus lines. Light rail provides high speed service for short or long trips and is currently being used successfully in Dallas, Charlotte, Denver, and Portland. Building a light rail system similar to the ones in these cities would be a major undertaking requiring federal, state, local and private funds but it seems to be the best long term solution for Nashville.

Streetcars are lines that run on existing roadways. Streetcars have been used extensively by the city of Portland and have been credited with the revitalization of several areas of the city by attracting private investment and development into areas being serviced. Mayor Dean is a big fan if streetcars and has been focusing on a line stretching from lower Broadway as far as Murphy Rd and I-440.

Why do we need it?

Nashville is quickly outgrowing its current interstate road system which will lead to even worse traffic congestion in the near future. In Nashville, only 3.2% of our population utilizes public transport for their daily work commute. Because for most people the bus lines are not convenient, the majority of our population is travelling in their cars clogging up our interstates and roads. Even after every currently proposed road project designed to fight traffic congestion has been completed, we will still be dealing with overwhelming traffic by 2035 according to recent projections. Convenient mass transit is the only way to fight the worsening problem of traffic congestion in Nashville.

The future of Nashville commerce depends on mass transit. Nashville constantly competes with cities throughout the nation to attract new businesses and jobs. Not having a mass transit system in place is a major drawback for some major employers and for some workers contemplating relocating to Nashville. In addition, major events like the World Cup game Nashville is vying for are unlikely to choose Nashville as a host city due to its lack of mass transit.

Due to growing environmental concerns, efforts to reduce fuel consumption are underway all over the nation. Worldwide fuel consumption is outpacing fuel production which means gas prices will continue to rise. The public will demand mass transit to save on fuel costs.

How do we get it?

In order for mass transit to happen in Nashville about one fourth to one third of the funding will need to be provided by private businesses. In other cities that have instituted mass transit systems, the local businesses have been instrumental in promoting and funding the programs. It will be ultimately be up to the residents of Nashville to show their support for mass transit to encourage businesses to step up.

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