If the Nashville area wants to fulfill the goal of graduating from “it” city to great city, it needs to go big on transit.
Residents, community leaders and elected officials can choose to keep the status quo, which will do little to relieve tightening congestion and demand for better service.
A better choice would be to expand service that will provide competitive alternatives to the automobile.
The aim is not to have residents give up their cars, but to create more options that continue to make the area attractive to current residents, newcomers and visitors.
Research from the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority shows that better transit options appeal to a diverse group of people, from retirees to Millennials who have less desire to drive than past generations, but also disabled and low-income people who may have no other option for getting around.
Current estimates predict the Nashville region will grow by more than one million people in the next 20 years.
Present infrastructure and transit options cannot handle that growth, potentially leading the area into downward spiral as quality of life suffers because of heavier commutes and the inability of people without reliable transportation to get to work.
Suddenly, “it” city becomes a shadow of itself.
MTA CEO Steve Bland explained the problem plainly at his board’s meeting on Thursday: “Whether we like it or not, it’s going to get harder to drive in this region.”
A robust investment in transit is about economic development, fighting poverty, and connecting the community — critical areas for a city like Nashville and a region like Middle Tennessee to tackle.
The mayors of the region via the Mayors’ Caucus agree in concept. The challenge now is to execute it.
At Thursday’s MTA meeting, the board of directors reviewed scenarios developed in its nMotion strategic planning process, which began last April.
Consultants Nelson/Nygaard put together three scenarios based on numerous public engagements including surveys, blogs, forums, work group, live chats and social media posts that drew 2,428 comments and 6,268 survey responses through December.
The process mirrors the successful NashvilleNext three-year community engagement, which resulted in the Metro Planning Commission approving the city’s long-term plan last summer.
In February a new nMotion public engagement process will begin, and residents’ voices will be critical to deciding upon the direction of the conversation and the ultimate decision.
There are many efforts to support improved transit in the city from the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Moving Forward” initiative to legislative funding proposals to the recently approved long-term federal highway bill empowering cities to seek better transit options.
Citizens should tell elected officials that a great transit system not only serves the needs of this growing region but adds to the prosperity of the entire state.