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