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Posts from the "Nashville" Category

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State Interference in Nashville BRT Could Have National Implications

Annie Weinstock is the regional director for the U.S. and Africa at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Nashville's BRT project, the Amp, would devote a small amount of this asphalt to transit. Photo: ITDP

Nashville’s BRT project, the Amp, would devote a small amount of this asphalt to transit. Photo: Wikimedia

Last week saw the quiet death of the misguided, Koch brothers-funded Tennessee Senate Bill 2243, which would have effectively banned real bus rapid transit in Tennessee. The Senate’s outrageous overreach, attempting to prohibit transit from using dedicated lanes, was conferenced with a far milder House bill, and the compromise allows the use of separate lanes — including the center-running transit lanes the Amp BRT project intends to use. However, the bill requires such projects to get approval from the state legislature, even if they don’t use any state funding.

The compromise deal still spells trouble for the 7.1-mile Amp BRT line, but it sets a far less dangerous precedent than the Senate bill. The Senate’s version, one of the most anti-mass transit pieces of legislation in recent memory, would have hurt Nashville and other Tennessee cities environmentally, socially, and economically.

-Cleveland’s HealthLine BRT, a median-aligned silver-standard corridor on Euclid Avenue, has leveraged 5.8 billion in development, while the city’s contribution to the project was only 200 million. Photo: ITDP

Cleveland’s HealthLine BRT, a median-aligned silver-standard corridor on Euclid Avenue, has leveraged $5.8 billion in development, while the total cost of the project was only $200 million. Photo: ITDP

But even though the Senate bill did not fully succeed, this coordinated attack on high quality transit could still have national implications. When the Tennessee Senate first took up the bill, it raised eyebrows nationally for its unusually specific prohibition on “any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system.” Such a direct attack on BRT from a state authority is unprecedented, and is a clear threat to the ability of one of Tennessee’s major cities to remain competitive.

The U.S. is still woefully behind European, Asian, and Latin American cities in building modern and efficient transport innovations such as BRT and bike-share. In the past decade, U.S. cities have finally been waking up to the fact that in order to be modern and economically competitive, they have to make their transportation systems cleaner, more attractive, and more efficient. With much of the electorate opposed to increased taxation, cost-effective BRT represents one of the few areas where the U.S. has made progress.

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Long Arm of the Koch Brothers Extends to Nashville to Slap Down Transit

Fossil fuel billionaires Charles and David Koch are meddling in local Nashville transit politics. Image: screenshot from the “Koch Brothers Exposed” trailer, via Salon

On Tuesday, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced that he might do away with dedicated transit lanes on two stretches of the Amp, the proposed seven-mile bus rapid transit line that could set an important precedent for the car-centric city. Dean is the main political backer of the project, so the fact that he’s buckling says something about the mounting pressure to water down or kill the Amp. And that pressure isn’t going to let up any time soon, because Dean and other supporters of effective transit in Nashville are up against opponents with very deep pockets.

Until recently, the anti-transit campaign in Nashville — organized under the umbrella of a group called Stop AMP — seemed like garden variety NIMBYism. Some nearby residents don’t want to transfer any street space from cars to buses, and they had a fitting ringleader in local car dealer Lee Beaman. But when the Tennessee State Senate passed a bill that would ban transit lanes, that raised some eyebrows.

Where did Stop AMP get the muscle to move a bill through the State Senate? “Concerned citizens writing us checks for $100 here, $200 there,” Richard Fulton of Stop AMP told Streetsblog. Fulton is the son of former Nashville mayor and Tennessee state senator Dick Fulton.

Yup, $100 checks — and oh right, a lobbyist paid by the Koch brothers, billionaire funders of the Tea Party movement and smart growth paranoia everywhere. “They do have a lobbyist that has been assisting us and helping lobby but mainly because he’s a citizen of Nashville and against the Amp,” Fulton admitted.

Americans for Prosperity, the most illustrious of the political organizations financed by Charles and David Koch, has a new chapter in Tennessee. It’s just nine months old but with the State Senate vote it already has a big win under its belt.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Play the Gray Away

Jeff and I had a great time this week, getting all outraged at the short-sighted move by the Tennessee Senate to ban dedicated lanes for transit, and high and mighty about cities that devote too much space to surface parking at the expense of just about everything else. And then we treat ourselves to a fun conversation about the origin of the American playground — and whether the entire city should be the playground.

We think you’ll enjoy this one.

Meanwhile, have you subscribed to the Talking Headways podcast on iTunes yet? Well, why the hell not? While you’re at it, you know we’d love a little bit of listener feedback. Oh, you can also follow the RSS feed. And we always enjoy your comments, below.

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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.

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Dateline Nashville: Students Spotted Walking to School — Outside!

Today in what’s wrong with everything: The Nashville news media is apparently aghast that students at a local high school had to take a walk.

According to WKRN, on the way back from a field trip around 100 students from the Nashville School of the Arts were dropped off about eight-tenths of a mile from school. The students, the station reports, were forced to endure 15 minutes of walking after bus drivers left them at a McDonald’s to attend to other routes.

“As the buses left,” says anchor Bob Mueller, barely concealing his incredulity, “the only way to get those students back to school was to walk.”

WKRN’s Nick Caloway did the same walk himself to double-check the school district’s half-mile estimate of the journey, which school officials said was within the official “walk zone.” Caloway does a pretty good job detailing road conditions that might make what should be a routine activity dangerous. He makes a point of saying the road was “busy” and that one section of sidewalk was closed, though these details are seemingly offered only to strengthen the argument that the students should not have been walking.

How sad that an activity that was commonplace for generations is now completely foreign to much of the U.S. Given the tone of the coverage you’d think these kids flew back from their field trip by flapping their arms.

As for the students, one described the experience as “not fun.”

“It was sunny, it was windy,” she said.

(Hat tip to Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids.)

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No, Nashville BRT Will Not Work Better Without Transit Lanes

Nashville, Tennessee, is trying to take its transit to the next level.

A rendering of how the Amp would look in Nashville, via Nashville Public Radio.

A rendering of how the Amp would look in Nashville, via Nashville Public Radio.

That ambition is most apparent in “the Amp,” a proposed 7-mile bus rapid transit route linking East Nashville with downtown and parts of the city’s West End. The project — which is entering the final design phases — would be built to a high standard, with 82 percent of the route running on dedicated transit lanes in the center of the street.

The route will give residents new options for getting around town without a car, especially the young people living in East Nashville, who are some of the project’s biggest supporters. Nashville MTA has applied for federal New Starts funding, and advocates of the proposal are optimistic the $75 million will be awarded in February or March.

But as with any transformative transit proposal, there’s some resistance. Part of that stems from everyday concerns from nearby residents and property owners — questions about left turns and other design details. The other part is general resistance to change, as well as doubt that a city like Nashville can influence the way people move around.

A recent article in the Tennessean seemed to suggest the answer is to water down the proposal altogether. In a piece headlined, “Could there have been middle ground on Amp’s center-lane design?,” reporter Josh Brown writes:

Nashville never analyzed whether a bus line with the same mass-transit-style features — such as stations with level boarding platforms and pre-purchased tickets — would prove just as effective without the bus-only lanes.

Ed Cole, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, said he wouldn’t support diluting the proposal, and that his goal is to “push the BRT concept as far as possible.”

“It’s so easy for opponents to say, ‘Just put more money into the bus system,’” he said. But that wouldn’t lead to the same dramatic shifts in travel behavior as BRT would.

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Study: Walkable Infill Development a Goldmine for City Governments

A study out of Nashville by Smart Growth America provides more evidence that building walkable development in existing communities is best for a city’s bottom line.

Nashville's "The Gulch" -- a mixed-use development downtown -- generates a much greater public return than more suburban developments in the same city. Image: Cumberland Region Tomorrow

SGA recently examined three different developments in the Music City. One was a large-lot, traditional suburban-style development called Bradford Hills built on greenfield site. Another was a “new urban”-style, mixed-use, walkable development also built on a greenfield, called Lennox Village. The third — known as The Gulch — was a mixed-use, compact housing and office development with retail and dining, built on a brownfield between Nashville’s Music Row and downtown.

The study compared the costs of local services to each new development with the revenues returned. Overall, the urban, infill development was far and away the best value for municipalities.

The Gulch — a 76-acre project, including 4,500 housing units and 6 million square feet of office space — yielded the highest returns in the form of “property taxes, sales taxes, and other recurring revenues,” according to SGA. Per unit, the development produced a total of $3,370 in public revenue annually, while costing the local government about $1,400 per year in infrastructure maintenance, policing, fire response, and other general fund obligations. In comparison, the traditional suburban development Bradford Hills generated only half the revenue — $1,620 per year — and cost more to service — $1,600 — making it basically a wash for local taxpayers.

Per unit, the performance of new-urbanist Lennox Village barely beat out the large-lot suburban development, generating $1,340 for the municipality annually while costing about $1,300.

When you factor in density, the differences between the three models really crystallize. The Gulch, filled with condo towers, generated $115,720 in net revenue per acre annually. That’s an astounding 1,150 times greater than Bradford Hills, which generated a total of just $100 per acre. The downtown development also performed 148 times better for the local government’s bottom line than new urbanist development Lennox Village, which yielded $780 per acre.

Developers often shy away from urban brownfield sites, fearing the cost of cleaning them up. Given the incredible benefits to the city of that kind of development, there should be better incentives for developers to look to infill, rather than greenfields, for their next project.