Tennessee Senate Tries to Cripple Nashville BRT

UPDATE: Though none of the coverage we saw mentioned it, the final law includes an amendment to ban all dedicated transit lanes — not just in the center — “on any state highway or state highway right-of-way unless the project to do so is approved by the legislative body of the metropolitan government and by the commissioner of transportation.”

The Tennessee Senate voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the Amp's center-lane design. Image: ##http://nashvillepublicradio.org/blog/2013/06/11/those-hoping-to-put-damper-on-amp-face-well-funded-backers/##Transit Alliance/Nashville MTA##

The Tennessee Senate voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the Amp’s center-lane design. Image: Transit Alliance/Nashville MTA

In an act of extreme short-sighted stupidity, the Tennessee Senate yesterday voted 27-4 to ban any transit project in Nashville that would run in the center lane. Coincidentally, the proposed Amp BRT line would run in the center lane. The House is working on a similar, though reportedly less horrible, bill.

Even most Nashville-area senators voted for the bill, which takes aim squarely at the Amp, a proposed 7.1-mile bus rapid transit line that would run along the congested Broadway/West End corridor. The line would connect East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood with Saint Thomas West Hospital near Belle Meade, passing Vanderbilt University, which supports the project. President Obama put $27 million for the Amp in his proposed FY 2015 budget.

If you have any questions about why a center-running alternative matters, check out the viral Lego-man rap video Detroit transit advocate Joel Batterman made in favor of the Woodward Avenue line. In short, whether the buses run down the median or on the right is the difference between getting stuck in traffic and a smooth, fast ride.

Though the Amp is the bill’s primary intended victim, it would broadly ban on center-running transit anywhere in the city. Bill sponsor Jim Tracy “worries not only about congestion but also about the safety of people boarding buses in the center of the road,” according to the Tennessean.

Thanks but no thanks for the “concern” for transit riders’ safety, says David Fox, a spokesperson for The Amp Coalition. He told the Tennesseean that Amp riders would only cross half the street, while riders of right-lane-running buses must cross the entire street if they’re not already on the right side.

Besides, if your city’s streets are too dangerous to cross on foot, you’ve got bigger problems.

Sen. Tracy admits he’s also concerned that parking spaces might be sacrificed for the BRT route.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has gotten nothing but opposition from the state as he’s tried to advance the project. The usually enlightened TDOT has been unwilling to support it. Governor Bill Haslam, to his credit, opposed the Senate bill, but that doesn’t mean he’s in favor of the Amp — he still hasn’t decided.

The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity group has loudly opposed the project. Local opponents include car dealers and real estate brokers.