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Tennessee’s BRT feud shows even modest projects face opposition

Often when a new city proposes its first rail line, opponents who don’t like spending money on transit call for BRT instead. So it’s tempting to think cities might have an easier time implementing new transit lines if they simply planned BRT from the start. Unfortunately, BRT often faces the exact same opposition.

Two projects that have faced major opposition, the Nashville BRT (left) and Cincinnati streetcar (right). Images from the cities of Nashville and Cincinnati.

Nashville is the latest city to face strong opposition to its first BRT project, called the Amp. The Tennessee state legislature recently passed a bill blocking the line.

The debate mirrors one going on a few hundred miles north, in Cincinnati. There, opponents tried to kill that city’s first streetcar line. The state government even tried to block it.

Both Nashville and Cincinnati are among America’s most car-dependent and least transit-accessible large cities. Nashville’s entire regional transit agency only carries about 31,000 passengers per day. Cincinnati’s carries about 58,000.

For comparison, Montgomery County’s Ride-On bus carries 87,000, never mind WMATA.

In places like Nashville and Cincinnati, authorities have ignored transit for so long that any attempt to take it seriously is inherently controversial, regardless of the mode.

Arguments may fixate on rails, dedicated lanes, or overhead wires, but for at least some opponents those issues seem to be simply vehicles for larger ideological opposition.

That may sometimes be true even in places with stronger transit cultures. Arlington’s streetcar and Montgomery’s BRT network are both controversial themselves. Both have plenty of detractors who say the plans are unaffordable or would get in the way of cars.

Ultimately there are many reasons a city hoping to improve transit might choose BRT or rail. The two modes are both useful, and smart cities use them both based on the specific needs of the location.

But either way, expect similar tropes from opposition. It’s inescapable.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

April 9th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, streetcar, transportation

  • hawkeye7

    Welcome to Tennessee, but really this is the case across the south. The system in Atlanta of MARTA, with streetcar (opening soon) and Beltline (under construction) is really the only major urban rail system in the south. This system has zero support from the state and this is the case across the southeast. You will hear a thousand different excuses but it always has to do with race. Transit is seen as just one more welfare project regardless of who rides it. I wish I could afford to move because it is getting old and so am I. The line that Nashville wants to build makes so much sense, it connects dense parts of the city and could be expanded. It should be light rail because the ridership could very well exceed BRT capacity very quickly.nThe only way these projects are going to happen is for the FTA to go around the state DOT and fund the project directly to the city. We need the them to do that here in Atlanta. Nashville could use it as well. The FTA should also ask the state DOT’s for the money they have provided over the years for project studies that the states never planned to build the project.

  • Josh K

    People just hate transit. The local Eugene BRT extension is under fire for not running in enough dedicated lanes and for stealing travel lanes from car drivers… by the same group of people.

  • FourQ

    IMO, getting in the way of cars is a feature, not a bug.

  • Andy Martin

    “Modest project?” Huh?nnIf Nashville partisans win this it will be the largest take ever from the FTA for a grant of this kind: $75 million. Mayor Karl Dean (we call him Mayor Debt because Nashville’s deficit has never been higher, and we just got a downgrade from Moody’s) brags about this and calls it “free money.” Add to that $35 million from the state of Tenn, and $65 from the city of Nashville. Plus we will need new taxes to operate it once it is completed. nnAnd what do we get?nn-A bus that covers 7.1 miles already covered by existing buses that have 3 times the stops but run at 35% capacitynn-Permanent destruction of our major streetnn-0% increase in net new ridersnn-0% increase in net new operating areann-0% chance that any other much more viable solution will be found for congestion and mass transitnnnnThis is why opposition is so strong.

    • BeyondDC

      Thank you for proving the point.nnThose are modest numbers compared to many transportation projects, yes. Every state highway budget in the country faces less scrutiny, for more expensive projects with more questionable benefits.



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