This is Councilman Freddie O’Connell’s personal Facebook post from April 16, 2018. Re-posted here with his permission.
Early voting in Nashville is underway for our May 1 election, which means we have the chance to vote for #LetsMoveNashville.
I voted yes because our mobility crisis, though less discussed, is easily as pernicious and widespread as our housing crisis.
What follows are some thoughts related to the “better plan” I keep hearing about, usually from someone who asserts that they are “for transit” just not “this plan”.
If a “better plan” is not consistent with one of the scenarios presented among the various scenarios considered in NMotion, be very skeptical that it’s “better.” Transit policy expertise matters in urban planning, and Nashville MTA & RTA engaged a ton of it in putting together this plan.
It’s absolutely appropriate to be critical/skeptical of elements of it, but to reject it wholesale does suggest that there is a unicorn we haven’t yet caught.
Further, the planning process engaged thousands of Nashvillians. So if a “better plan” hasn’t matched or exceeded what nMotion did in terms of engagement, again: be highly skeptical.
The IMPROVE Act is now state law. It stipulates that we can’t vote again for at least a year. That’s one among many challenges for those promoting a “better plan” that doesn’t yet exist.
Having worked through nMotion personally (especially on the front end, when I was still on the MTA board), a “better plan” that is a redo of nMotion with public engagement that meets or exceeds it will probably take a similar amount of time. I.e., on the order of 6 years.
For the BRT-only crowd, the General Assembly did Lee Beaman the favor in the Amp discussion, of ensuring that BRT on state routes with dedicated lanes would require legislative approval. That’s important because the only BRT worth doing is gold standard BRT per the standards described by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
And _that’s_ important because it’s very easy to value engineer away from a proposed BRT implementation (especially when the paid opposition is encouraging you to do just that) to the point where you wind up with the “BRT Lite” we’ve had operating on Gallatin Rd for a few years now.
BRT Lite in Nashville is basically an articulated bus with fewer stops. The slightly fancier edition has traffic signal priority, but even then it stops way short of what cities like Cleveland and Eugene have done.
For the tunnel skeptics: revisit the Amp conversation. Discover how hard it is to find surface routing that pleases the same people (i.e., establishments on Broadway) that are unnerved by the thought of a tunnel.
Now take the owners of the honky tonks out of the equation and just contend with the epicenter of Lower Broadway from a traffic perspective. You know how many times there are road closures on or adjacent to Broadway in a given year? A lot!
Moving people efficiently through and around downtown is very challenging. Be very wary of ignoring this issue in a “better plan”.
It can be hard to acknowledge the importance of downtown Nashville as a factor in our state economy and as a jobs center, but it matters. And it will continue to matter in a “better plan”.
For the bus-only crowd that serves more neighborhoods with greatly improved service levels. Most neighborhoods spoke up and said they wanted growth in centers and on corridors.
Trying to give the many critics saying neighborhoods aren’t served by the proposed transit centers and cross-town service _more_ is going to induce sprawl and density exactly where Nashvillians have said time and time again that they don’t want it.
For the nearby crowd lamenting that light rail doesn’t serve more areas, consider the extraordinary discomfort that many have expressed about the expense of light rail in this plan.
If we can’t digest this much investment in light rail, we’re very unlikely to digest more. We’re similarly unlikely to invest along corridors with lower ridership projections than those currently proposed.
For the automated vehicle / ride sharing crowd: both scenarios relying on these as alternatives to transit provably add more vehicles to our roads, which is a thing this plan is trying to avoid doing. There are geometric and ecological benefits to reducing the number of cars on the road.
There’s also this consideration: mass transit is not the same thing as public transportation. In a model that relies on a status quo bus system and emphasizes AV/ride sharing, what’s the subsidy model for the people who rely on transit fares now? That has to be a part of a “better plan”.
Generally speaking, consider how a coalition will form around a “better plan”. Who will lead it? Who will design and champion a “better plan”? And who will be part of the coalition?
Let’s Move Nashville was drawn directly from nMotion. It was approved by the Nashville MTA and RTA boards and supported by four former and one current mayor of Nashville. It has been endorsed by the Middle Tennessee Mayors Caucus, suggesting its regional appeal. Our local mobility advocates (Transit Now Nashville and Walk Bike Nashville) support it.
We clearly haven’t done enough work to satisfy people concerned about affordable housing and the related issues of gentrification and displacement. But the mayor’s office and Metro Council continue to work on these issues.
A “better plan” must somehow deliver better transit and mobility success _and_ satisfy these advocacy communities. How?
And provided someone actually produces a “better plan”, consider how it will be funded. The IMPROVE Act has tightly restricted revenue opportunities for dedicated funding. Sales tax surcharges will likely still be in the picture in a “better plan”.
The wheel tax was eliminated from consideration for funding in part because of its unpopularity (despite its actual relevance), but it wouldn’t have made up most of the necessary revenue for Let’s Move Nashville.
If you’re skeptical, these are all points worth considering. If you’re supportive and know people who are skeptical, they’re worth thinking through as contingencies.
Don’t get me wrong: there are cheaper plans. But there are other southern cities (e.g., Austin, Charlotte) I’d like for Nashville to outperform in a variety of dimensions. They’ve already invested heavily in transit.
And there are those I’d like to continue to outperform (e.g., Birmingham; Jackson, Miss.) that are investing like we are in their status quo. We can do better as a city. How does a “better plan” do that?
Even as a supporter of Let’s Move Nashville, I know we need to do these things if it passes: continue working to ensure that the plan is as closely linked as possible to efforts to create more affordable housing and mitigate to the extent possible displacement and gentrification.
We also need to return to communities that claim they want better service levels and figure out how to square that with a centers and corridors growth sensibility (that is actually smart from a land use perspective).
For anyone voting no, in short: you’re ensuring preservation of the status quo of a near lack of mobility freedom for Nashville for at least a year. I fear you might also be discounting the incredible amount of work it will be to develop a “better plan” apart from Scenario 2 in nMotion.
And you might be discounting the severity of the opposition for any plan that tries to leverage the IMPROVE Act to secure dedicated funding in order to implement it.
Many, many people have thought hard about transit and worked hard to address very specific concerns and constraints.
Let’s Move Nashville wasn’t just created by a mayoral administration to cater to developers; it has been the result of a lot of tough decisions to try to offer Nashvillians more and better ways to move around their city.
Finally, transit can change your life. It changed mine. It kept me debt-free until I decided to become a homeowner (where the debt is arguably good debt). Economic freedom. Mobility freedom.