The population of Metro-Nashville and the surrounding 10-county area is projected to increase by a million people by the year 2035, according to Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).  As new businesses make Nashville home, more people are flocking to Nashville to take advantage of the area’s up-and-coming technology sector, mild climate and friendly natives.

While a boon for the local economy, the population increase also means Nashville’s roadways will become increasingly crowded as more people will be commuting to high-density areas.  In Davidson County alone, more than 100,000 additional people are expected to be using Nashville’s interstates and main arteries to get from point A to point B.

Widely known as one of the more car-centric city layouts, Nashville offers very little in terms of mass transit options.  If you grew up in Nashville, hopping in the car to go just about anywhere probably comes as first nature.  Besides, it’s too hot to walk, and if you do, good luck finding safe, well-connected pedestrian routes that will take you anywhere you need to go.

Nashville Next Wants You to Cast Your Vote

While newcomers find our lack of transportation …quaint, the city has identified a real need to do something about the city’s growing population and lack of scalability when it comes to moving people from point A to point B.

The Metro Planning Organization is in the process of implementing Nashville Next, an initiative that will help guide Nashville’s growth plan over the next 25 years.  And they want to hear from you.

“On June 22, 2015, the Metro Planning Commission unanimously adopted NashvilleNext after three years of community engagement involving over 18,500 participants,” according to nashville.gov.  But this is no closed-door plan.  The city is asking all residents to weigh in on Nashville’s transportation planning using their online survey tool.

Take the Survey

nMotion is the Metro Transit Authority’s strategic plan for transit in the greater Nashville area.  Currently, there are three (3) possible scenarios that are being considered.  More studies and further analysis will be required, but the MPO is inviting everyone to read about each scenario and take the survey.

Average Rankings

When asked to rank the areas of greatest concern for Nashville’s transit issues, “Minimize Costs” seems to be of the greatest concern.  Second is  “Expand to New Areas”, with “Improve Access to Transit” and “Improve Existing Services” coming in as a close third and fourth.

The areas that received the lowest ranking include “Ambitious Visionary Plan” and “Develop Premium Services”.

So early survey results would indicate that Nashvillians want better transit options, but they don’t want to spend lots of money to achieve those options.  Also, they don’t care so much about competing with cities with internationally renowned transit systems.  They’re looking for a middle-of-the-road option.

Scenario One: Comprehensive Regional System (Regional Transit System)

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Pros:

  • Longest service spans
  • Best frequency
  • Most regional connections
  • Increased ridership to offset cost
  • Greatest projected increase in ridership
  • Greatest emphasis on transit
  • Maximizes expansion of existing transit
  • Most improvements to existing transit

Cons:

  • Most expensive
  • Largest burden on individual tax payers
  • De-emphasizes auto travel

The Comprehensive Regional Transit System would be the most ambitious and most expensive option for Nashville’s transit expansion initiative.  The plan calls for a Frequent Transit Network made up of a combination of light rail (above-ground express trains), streetcars and busses.  It would include 11 new crosstown routes, a commuter train to Clarksville, “major improvements to the Music City Star, Freeway BRT, Express Bus-on-Shoulder operations, and local services in outlying counties,” according to Nashville.gov.

Scenario One would mean cross-town busses that offer commuters an easy way to access both major arteries and secondary roads and expanded pedestrian and bike access.  This scenario would allow Nashville riders to get to the most places with minimal effort, without having to rely on additional services such as park-and-ride, taxis or Uber.

This scenario would put Nashville on par with other cities of modest size with public transit networks like Portland, which is an attractive option to local businesses looking to attract the best and the brightest for its emerging tech sector.  However, with an estimated cost of more than $8 Billion, skeptics are already calling this option the least desirable due to early analysis by both official city planners and interested parties.

Because this scenario would require the transition of existing automobile lanes to be converted into light rail ‘lanes’, some early analysis causes some to question the sustainability of such an option.  If the total number of people a light rail system can move per hour barely exceeds the total number of people who can travel using the equivalent amount of automobile lane space, the new rail system could quickly go the way of the Nashville Star with puny ridership and strong resistance to change due to  our ingrained car culture.

Scenario Two: Bus-Focused Expansion

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Pros:

  • Less expensive while emphasizing local and regional transit
  • Increased ridership projected to offset cost
  • Maximizes expansion of existing transit
  • Less impact to auto traffic

Cons:

  • Less ambitious
  • Questionable sustainability (cost/benefit ratio)
  • Fewer transit options in underserved areas

Scenario Two offers a light-weight version of Scenario One with many of the same transit improvements.  While both scenarios offer additional and expanded services including light rail (above-ground express trains), streetcars, busses and nine new crosstown routes, the primary difference is that Scenario Two emphasizes bus transit in lieu of additional light rail service lines.

Using existing railroad tracks, Scenario Two will reduce costs, making it an attractive scenario for those concerned with taxpayer burden.  In addition, transit ridership would increase with Scenario Two, but not as significantly as with Scenario One.

  • Commuter Rail: Additional service on Music City Star, including an extension to Lebanon’s Expo Center
  • Full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): Dickerson, Gallatin, Murfreesboro, Nolensville, West End, and Charlotte
  • Rapid Bus (“BRT–Light”): Shelby, Hillsboro, Metro Center, 12th Ave. South, Bordeaux, Edgehill, Jefferson
  • Regional Rapid Bus Routes: Gallatin, Nolensville, and Murfreesboro
  • Freeway Bus Rapid Transit: Franklin, Murfreesboro, Clarksville, and Gallatin Corridors
  • Bus-on-Shoulder: Along freeways without Freeway BRT facilities where feasible
  • Express Bus: New service to Airport, Murfreesboro-Cool Springs, White House/Portland, Columbia, and Ashland City; Additional trips on all routes
  • New Local Service: Brentwood, Cool Springs, Hendersonville, and Gallatin
  • Longer Service Spans and Better Frequency: 5 a.m to midnight with 10-15 minute frequencies on key routes.
  • New Crosstown Routes: Nine

Scenario Three: Modest Improvements

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Pros:

  • Least expensive
  • Maximizes existing transit infrastructure

Cons:

  • Offers the least amount of new transit options
  • No new regional transit
  • Most emphasis on expanding auto transit
  • Will require ongoing new road construction / expansion to accommodate more cars

Scenario Three would bring only modest improvements to existing transit infrastructure and would make existing services more robust.  However the transit system would have little to no impact on future development patterns – something that may bump Scenario Three to the back of the line in terms of realistic sustainability.  Ridership gains would only be expected to increase along with population growth while any significant changes in behavior in terms of ridership for existing residents addicted to their cars would remain the same.

  • Commuter Rail: Additional service on Music City Star only
  • Rapid Bus (“BRT Light”): West End, Hillsboro, Dickerson, Charlotte, Gallatin, Nolensville, and Murfreesboro
  • Bus-on-Shoulder: Major freeway corridors where feasible
  • Express Bus: New service to Cool Springs and Airport; Additional trips on existing routes
  • Longer Service Spans and Better Frequency: 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. with 15-30 minute frequencies on most routes
  • New Crosstown Routes: Five

To let your voice be heard and weigh in on which transit scenario would best meet your needs, visit http://nmotion2015.com and take the online survey.