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: ##http://nashvillepublicradio.org/blog/2013/06/11/those-hoping-to-put-damper-on-amp-face-well-funded-backers/##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.

  • Alex

    These must be the same “small government” advocates who oppose gay rights and abortion rights.

  • matimal

    This is why sunbelt cities will always be at a disadvantage. Keep it up Tennessee… Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis thank you!

  • Pete

    Southerners are more practical and thus have no patience for traffic-clogging stupidity advocated by streetsblogers, whose agenda is obviously to do away with the private automobile little at a time. Nobody wants to stand outside waiting for a bus in the sunbelt because its very very hot in the summer.

  • Kevin Love

    Because they want a government that is so small that it can just fit into your bedroom.

  • Jay Everett

    I’m a southerner and I don’t agree with you. This is not about some hidden agenda to eliminate cars. It’s about giving people options to make it easier to get around town. That’s called liberty. I love cars, I love driving, but I hate commuting. The car is a wonderful machine but we should have never redesigned our cities around the idea that every person would use a car for every trip. Nobody wants to sit in traffic. The car is not going to go away if we build The Amp. Nashvillians deserve a better option than just sitting in traffic. The alternatives have been studied ad nauseam, center dedicated-lane BRT is the fastest, safest, most efficient option with the highest return on investment. Forgive the pun, but the General Assembly needs to stay in their lane.

  • kaydeebeau

    You obviously are not from Nashville – there is no need or reason to have the AMP – and if you knew anything at all about Nashville or the State of Tennessee you would know that Nashville is asking the entire state to pay for this project and that the proposed route is a State Hwy not just some city street.

    You should also know that existing city transit is a money pit, lacks riders and operates in the red every year since its inception.

  • T.E. Shaw

    Funny how nobody complains when state funds are used to build new roads within a city. Especially since a BRT line would generate FAR more investment and tax revenue increases than equivalent road spending.

    Also interesting to know that Nashville MTA saw a 14% increase in ridership during 2012 and 7% increase in 2013. But let’s not a little thing like 10.5 million boardings get in the way of a wasteful, exclusively-automobile agenda.

  • T.E. Shaw

    Actually, Nashville is an excellent example of how lack of alternative transport leads to greater congestion. It’s the 11th worst in the nation, and every metro area worse than Nashville has at least double the population. http://www.wsmv.com/story/20965554/nashville-has-11th-worst-traffic-in-us-says-study

  • Jay Everett

    I’ve lived in the south my entire life and Nashville has been my home for almost eight years. I’ve lived downtown for almost six of those years. I assure you I’m intimately familiar with this city.

    The State portion is the smallest of the three proposed funding sources. It’s a $174 million total for the project. The federal portion is the largest portion ($75 million) and the local portion is the second largest ($64 million). The State would be asked to chip in $35 million.

    Odd you should bring up who’s paying for what when Middle Tennessee accounts for 33% of the State’s total GDP. The mayor’s of our region who represent 1.5 million people and make up the Nashville MPO Executive Committee have ranked The Amp as our region’s #1 transportation priority for two years in a row.

    Highways do not pay for themselves. According to the Tax Foundation highways in Tennessee receive a 40% subsidy.

    source: http://taxfoundation.org/blog/road-spending-state-funded-user-taxes-and-fees-including-federal-gas-tax-revenues

    Rapid Transit projects like the Amp have an extremely high return on investment. Over $5 billion was returned for the $200 million Cleveland invested in its Healthline BRT.
    source: http://www.itdp.org/documents/ITDP_MORE_DEVELOPMENT_924.pdf

    So tell me again how this will be a money pit?

  • HStreetLandlord

    “Small government” at its best.

  • Alex

    It will never cease to amaze me how anti-transit types view transit as some kind of government takeover but are are happy to drive on government funded roads and use government subsidized gas. They champion their “freedom” but want the government to continue to built infrastructure exclusively for cars to the extent that it completely negates all other possible choices. The hypocrisy is truly astounding.

  • Highways can’t be the only transportation option. There needs to be a multi-modular means for all people to get around. So you are saying “all” transit riders are the “n” word! What is the vulgar slang for transit riders? You’re saying we should do your bidding and not have freedom like you? To shop work, play shop as we want? Huh…

  • I say it as it is! Bluntly!

  • People who can’t do something or are not free to do it are 3rd class citizens.

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