Dean, consultants favor bus rapid transit — not streetcar — for east-west connector

Monday, December 12, 2011 at 11:30am

Mayor Karl Dean has his eyes set on a full-fledged bus rapid transit system –– with buses occupying exclusive lanes of traffic –– taking passengers from West End Avenue down Broadway, across the river to East Nashville’s Five Points district.

That’s the preference over a more ambitious –– and considerably more expensive –– modern streetcar system to serve as an east-west connector, following the Monday release of a much anticipated transit study.

In a report conducted by the engineering consultant firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, planners pinpointed a streetcar and bus rapid transit, BRT, as the two best transit options for future transit investment along the congested Broadway-West End stretch. But the installation of a streetcar –– like those in Portland, Ore., for example –– would cost $275 million. The price tag for BRT is significantly smaller: $136 million.

“I’m a big fan of our buses,” Dean said Monday morning to members of the Broadway-West End Steering Committee, who voted to support consultants’ recommendations for BRT. “The fact is, with BRT, we’ll have even better buses.

“If you look at decisions the way I have to look at things, there is the cost,” he said. “There is a $130 million difference in the cost. That is significant when we have to figure out how to pay for this.”

Dean, who said BRT would generate virtually the same ridership numbers as a streetcar, indicated a new BRT system along West End, Broadway and into East Nashville could be installed by late 2014 or early 2015. The report –– initiated more than a year ago to review transit options from White Bridge Road to East Nashville –– is a prerequisite to land federal dollars for transportation projects. The level of local dollars needed for the project is still unclear.

“We’ve been working with consultants, looking where the best chances are to get federal funding,” Dean said. “We believe it is bus rapid transit.”

Metro installed a light BRT system on East Nashville’s Gallatin Avenue in 2009. Under consideration for Broadway-West End is a more sophisticated BRT version in which buses would occupy lanes exclusively.

Paul Skoutelas, transit market director of Parsons Brinckerhoff, said consultants explored four options for the east-west corridor: doing nothing, light rail, a streetcar and BRT. He said consultants emphasized finding an option that could begin operating within a short timeframe.

In physical appearance, Skoutelas said buses for BRT would look similar to streetcars. BRT buses –– which use advanced technology to operate freely from automobile traffic lights –– could be hybrid or electric. They are designed to allow riders to board or exit quickly. BRT stations would be located along the corridor at unspecified locations.

Streetcars require the construction of rails and overhead electrical wiring. BRT can run along preexisting roadways and requires low infrastructure investments.

The report projects a streetcar system would generate 1.44 million trips during its first year of operations, while a BRT system would generate 1.35 million trips in year one.

“A BRT system, to really come into its own, needs its own identity,” Skoutelas said, referring to design and signage that sets the system apart from traditional buses.

Orlando, Fla., Cleveland and Las Vegas are some of the cities nationwide that have adopted sophisticated BRT approaches. Many of Nashville’s so-called “sister cities” such as Denver, Colo., have streetcars.

“At the national level, both bus rapid transit and streetcars are seen as amenities to improve economic development,” he said, adding development is dependent on BRT having its own, exclusive lanes. “That’s first and foremost. That’s the most important factor.”

Metro officials identified the east-west corridor because it “brings together” universities, hospitals, businesses, and tourist and cultural attractions.

“In many ways, this is a ‘Main Street’ for the region of Middle Tennessee,” said Ed Cole, executive director of the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee.

The idea of a modern streetcar along Nashville’s most prominent corridor had generated buzz around Nashville. The nonprofit Nashville Civic Design Center, interested in the design of a streetcar, produced a visual study last year that explored how a streetcar would look on the corridor.

Nonetheless, developers and others see some positives of BRT.

“I’m excited about the concept of the BRT,” said Joe Barker, a principal at MarketStreet Enterprises, a development group with a strong presence in The Gulch neighborhood. “We all had visions in our mind about light rail. But we don’t have the density for that.

“BRT has come so far,” he said. “I really feel like now is the time to embrace BRT.”

38 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 12/12/11 at 12:43

I would really love to see our city graced with a comprehensive transit system modeled on the examples I observed living in Europe, with a mix of bus, streetcar, underground, etcetera.

In my dreams.

The reality is, expanding the bus system we have now is probably our best answer. As our population density increases, and the citizenry becomes accustomed to the idea of mass transit, perhaps the streetcar or light rail idea can be revisited.

One other factor to consider, as Baby Boomers continue to age and inevitably quit driving, voluntarily or forcibly. the demand will increase and the city and county need to be prepared.

Just my opinion.

By: MusicCity615 on 12/12/11 at 1:20

I am in favor or streetcars. You can't just look at the cost, you have to look at the investment long term. Long-term, streetcars would create more investment. I hope we go the streetcar route.

By: Kosh III on 12/12/11 at 1:57

How would streetcars create more investment?

I can see that they are double the expense, years of traffic snarls from the construction, and more upkeep as well.

Aside from being a boon to certain construction companies for a few years, I fail to see any extra benefit.

I am a regular rider on the current BRT. It's comfortable, reliable, faster than the regular route, it's filled in the morning with people headed to work, and far less headaches for me.

By: JeffF on 12/12/11 at 2:35

This is twice in a row where an overpriced consultant came back with results that were logical and most cost effective. They were actually able to say "no" to neourbanista hype. Why were we not allowing consultants to do this when were hiring them to recommend both of the MCC projects?

Buses are the most cost effective and take advantage of the resources already in place to quickly get off the ground. I would hope that the dedicated lane they are thinking about on West End are the crazy parking lanes on both sides. Eliminate these, dedicate them to transit, get off the ground far cheaper than the price the consultants mentioned.

But alas, money will need to spent to bring them up to the charm the Portland obsessed have with that city's transit systems.

I still have a hard time believing my city will build something that does not have downtown as its primary focus. There has to be a catch.

By: Kosh III on 12/12/11 at 3:05

Downtown is the focus, it just happens to continue on over the river after arriving downtown.

I don't understand why it stops at White Bridge instead of continuing on to at least that messed up intersection of 70 & 100.

By: JeffF on 12/12/11 at 3:26

Wouldn't it have been nice to use the Korean Veterans Blvd as it was intended instead of as the MCC's driveway? The system could have gone down that street and been immediately in position to go over the river to East Nashville in one direction and to Music Circle, Vanderbilt, and Hillsboro Village areas in the other direction. Now we will have to build a transit system on Broadway and West End where tourists will have more need rather than through those pesky office, medical, and educational local residents.

By: NewYorker1 on 12/12/11 at 3:37

I prefer the outdoor escalators.

By: Captain Nemo on 12/13/11 at 5:16

I think this is a step in the right direction and it should not be the only step. Other alterative means of transportation maybe come in effect as time goes by and that the city will need to adapt when that occur.

By: nvestnbna on 12/13/11 at 6:40

Wouldn't it have been nice to use the Korean Veterans Blvd as it was intended instead of as the MCC's driveway? The system could have gone down that street and been immediately in position to go over the river to East Nashville in one direction and to Music Circle, Vanderbilt, and Hillsboro Village areas in the other direction. Now we will have to build a transit system on Broadway and West End where tourists will have more need rather than through those pesky office, medical, and educational local residents.

Well put Jeff, I'd add the out and back vs the loop Braodway to 8th to KVB to Shelby to tenth to 5 points in lieu of Woodland seems to make more sense. I don't get at all the Div 19th loop what a mess that would be, but the above because of the already wide streets would be great. The MCC development team totally wasted any opportunities on the south KVB side of the convention center. They still refuse foresee or plan for any economic vitality in the Lafayette St. area.

By: dargent7 on 12/13/11 at 6:52

Nashville is too small to require mass transit, light rail, street cars...maybe for the novelty.
Most major cities have the 'burbs 25 miles away.
Belle Meade and White Bridge are 5-6 miles away.
If you were talking Cool Springs, Franklin, Brentwood...but they have the Galleria out there that has everything known to man.
If the wealthy wanted to see a Titans game, the Symphony, TPAC, they'd drive their BMW or Mercedes. Never take a "Public Transportation" method.
Only the unemployed, or minimum wage, currently take the bus.

By: Kosh III on 12/13/11 at 7:30

"Only the unemployed, or minimum wage, currently take the bus."

Not true. Many Vandy, Metro and State employees regularly use the bus system for the daily commute.

Still, there is an elitist attitude about buses; the Belle Meade types see it as no more than a way for their illegal alien maids and gardeners to commute to their underpaid jobs.

By: natz798 on 12/13/11 at 7:39

Good Morning - you must not get out much "only the unemployed, or minimum wage currently take the bus" !!

If you were out and about you would see the fleet of State Vanpools that ship COMMUTERS from the "suburbs" aka rural areas who WORK in Nashville. Putting money into a larger bus system running more routes and bringing in the "rurals" will add to the revenue of downtown and the larger shopping spots that we do not want to drive to because of time, gas, congestion etc. Being from the Cleveland, OH suburb area and working/playing in downtown Cleveland their bus system catered to the employed - and not minimum wage - who chose to be green and save their time by riding instead of sitting in congested downtown traffic.

Just saying.

By: dargent7 on 12/13/11 at 7:50

I've ridden the Bus very rarely, but over the past 5 years when my car was in the shop, for a Titans game when I knew I'd be drinking, or when it snowed and the roads were too dangerous to drive, and that's about it.
NEVER have I seen a man in a suit and tie or a woman in a fashionable dress.
ALL riders have been minorities, all dressed in torn blue jeans, sweat pants, all are unshaven, all have small children crying/ fussing.
Maybe college students ride the bus, but they don't travel downtown to spend money.
Show me a lawyer who uses the bus to get downtown to the Pinnacle building!

By: Rasputin72 on 12/13/11 at 8:06

This is the first time that I have noticed that Karl Dean makes any suggestion that has to do with a low cost solution. This is a temporary fix at best. The domestics who work in Belle Meade may find this a very good solution but the people in Belle Meade will not ride the bus until gasoline hits $15.00 per gallon and some of them will not ride the bus until gasoline hits $25.00 per gallon.

By: catenarykat on 12/13/11 at 8:14

Only the unemployed, or minimum wage currently take the bus? That's an old misconception. Ride the bus and look around you before passing judgment. The bus routes reflect the populations and destinations of the areas they serve.
There's frequent service on the heavily-used Broadway/West End Corridor, where BRT is being considered. Riders, myself included, come from all walks of life and the full range of the pay scale, with many working at Vanderbilt. One of the newest routes now goes to Belmont.
I'll give you this: You will see many riders who could not get and keep jobs without reliable public transportation to and from work.
Other well-educated, well-paid commuters just find the bus more convenient, more interestng, and more environmentally responsible.

By: Kosh III on 12/13/11 at 8:26

I've actually seen Mayor Dean a couple times getting off the bus in the morning.

Darge, I'd suggest you ride the Gallatin Rd BRT between 6 and 7am on a weekday. Or the Bellevue/West End #3.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 12/13/11 at 8:26

Karl Dean, aka the consultants Mayor, has another money scheming plan to enrich our lives. Good, bad, or indifferent the bottom line is money. “We’ve been working with consultants, looking where the best chances are to get federal funding,”. The Federal money tap is about to be turned off people. We have to quit looking to Washington to fund local dreams. If the people of Nashville want it then we can pay for it! Lower my Federal taxes and convince me to pay for it locally. Is it worth more local sales tax? Is it worth more property tax? Put it to a vote. Then see how enticing this kind of idea is. That is the real test. Just like LP field and unlike the MCC.

By: Jughead on 12/13/11 at 8:31

I wish Dean and the Greentard Metro Council will stop WASTING taxpayer dollars on the stupid charging stations. Hundreds of thousand of dollars for unused liberal pipe dreams.

Let the private sector fund that albatross, Karl. Nobody can afford Leafs, and the Government Motors Volt is just plain dangerous.

By: govskeptic on 12/13/11 at 8:34

Living just a couple blocks off the West End corridor, I would agree
with this recommendation versus the "Pretty or Cute" Street Car plan!

By: Left-of-Local on 12/13/11 at 8:35

Oh there they are. I was wondering how this would be turned into a "Dean sucks and Liberals are bad" whine-fest.

I will simply repeat my mantra: IF YOU DON'T LIKE PROGRESS, GO FIND A FARM, HILLBILLIES. Damn, even when the man makes the fiscally-superior choice, someone has to come crying. Nashville has OUTGROWN you, small minds.

By: Archit on 12/13/11 at 8:55

“A BRT system, to really come into its own, needs its own identity,” Skoutelas said, referring to design and signage that sets the system apart from traditional buses.

This is critical, do not compromise on this. The lanes need to be physically seperated and identified. so that everyone on a day to day basis is aware of the lines existance and route. For any transit system to work, familiarity is key. This cannot be like typical buses that have an unidentifiable route. The buses themselves don't need to be cute like a sanfrancisco trolley but If I am driving my car everyday on west end and I see the route in the street, and I become familiar with it's location then I don't have to do extensive research to figure out if it's going to work for me. Right now I don't ride the bus because I have no clue where they go or when. I could do the research and find out but most people like me are to busy or lazy to try to figure it out. A simple up and down west end route would be a no brainer if it is in my face everyday.

By: Captain Nemo on 12/13/11 at 9:40

d7-

Murfreesboro, Clarksville and Lebanon are more than 25 miles away from Nashville.

By: jcole on 12/13/11 at 9:44

I like the BRT idea, but not because it's half the cost. I like it because we could do twice as much with the same investment. If we're saving 130 million by using BRT instead of a streetcar than why not add BRT to 21st all the way out to Green Hills (traffic is just as bad there). From 21st this route could jump over to music city circle, start down division, go through/over the gulch on a new dedicated bridge, hook up with the new traffic circle by the MCC, proceed down Korean Veterans Blvd, go through downtown and into Germantown. Once we get the east-west connection rolling, we need to get to work on this 'north-south' connection. For the record: I'd prefer streetcars or light rail, but if the money we save going with BRT can pay for a larger system, with more routes (must have dedicated lanes!) I think that would be better for Nashville.

By: FLeFew on 12/13/11 at 10:09

Is this just a fast way to get the maids to Belle Meade??? Dean, Cooper, Bredesen and all of the rest of the Liberal Politicians live in the silk stocking district.

This will be just one more thing to slow traffic in Nashville.

By: FLeFew on 12/13/11 at 10:09

Is this just a fast way to get the maids to Belle Meade??? Dean, Cooper, Bredesen and all of the rest of the Liberal Politicians live in the silk stocking district.

This will be just one more thing to slow traffic in Nashville.

By: FLeFew on 12/13/11 at 10:22

Is this just a fast way to get the maids to Belle Meade??? Dean, Cooper, Bredesen and all of the rest of the Liberal Politicians live in the silk stocking district.

This will be just one more thing to slow traffic in Nashville.

By: natz798 on 12/13/11 at 10:37

dargent7:

I work in the Pinnacle building AND use public transportation - and by the way - I work at a law firm as well.

Thanks !!

By: JeffF on 12/13/11 at 12:17

jcole, you have a great idea and at one time it would have worked. But alas KVB now will have a large soulless building (with a wavy roof and with a few tourists a few days per week) blocking its path. So no transportation for SoBro and Music Circle.

KVB is nothing but a driveway for Shriners Conventions now.

By: MusicCity615 on 12/13/11 at 6:07

Go with the streetcar route on the West End portion at least.

By: JeffF on 12/13/11 at 11:18

Why? If it is going to cost twice as much and not carry anymore people why do a streetcar? Is it just for the postcard images. A BRT gives us flexibility that a streetcar can never do. What is someone in the future decided that is was important to carry people to work instead of tourists to their hotels? With a streetcar rails and electical lines that cost millions to install on West End would need to be moved to one of the parallel streets with offices and homes. BRT costs, new signs for the stops, switches for the traffic signals, and training for the drivers.

The steel rail boys really need to wake up to the needs of people instead of quaintness.

By: shinestx on 12/14/11 at 7:15

For 15 years, the feds were almost giving away millions of dollars to cities for building light rail... Nashville slept and our Congress eunuch Jim "Stupor" Cooper kept his lard-@ss on that back bench doing nothing. Just as he did nothing to secure funding for Nashville's proposed (for 18 years) federal courthouse. Now the country is broke and Jim "Stupor" is still fighting those little battles (while he votes for budget-busting other federal programs)... but nothing for Nashville. Now Stupor's clone in City Hall, Dean, proposes this waste. BRT is nothing better than what we already have, especially when the proposed system will take a lane away from already congested corridors (just drive me on out to Cool Springs, ok?). These consultants' reports are nothing more than high-dollar "official" validation for the predispositions of the current government. Dean wants mass transit on the cheap, and he will wast $150 million to do it. Meanwhile, a great opportunity to build actual rail around the perimeter of the most busy areas of town will be squandered. A waste! Waste!... but Dean got his 'greenlight" in the form of this P-B "study".

By: Jughead on 12/14/11 at 8:25

I hate liberal greentards. They are always willing to spend other people's money on ideas that are not well taken.

Point: stupid Volt/Leaf charging stations. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars so liberals can feel good about themselves. And, NOBODY will use the stupid stations--because nobody owns the cars. Volts catch on fire, Leafs are expensive and stupid for daily use.

Liberals. Idiots. Dean.

By: Jughead on 12/14/11 at 8:27

And I agree about Jim Cooper--he is the ultimate liberal who has worked both sides of the fence for years. He's a full-blown tax and spend Obama lover, and PLEEZ vote against him. He does nothing, except misleading voters into thinking he is not Obama's lover.

By: jcole on 12/14/11 at 9:16

JeffF, I agree that the Music City Center is a major blow to sobro development but I still think there are opportunities that brt might promote in that area. Obviously 3 blocks of KVB are now gone, but there is still redevelopment opportunity west of 8th ave, and from the river all the way to 4th ave. A pedestrian/transit bridge crossing the gulch to the KVB circle would provide connection between cannery row, the gulch, and potential future redevelopment between 8th and the gulch. In short, I see BRT passing by the MCC on KVB as medicine for the lousy urban design that is MCC.

By: sharko20 on 12/14/11 at 11:41

Bus Rapid Transit??? When did buses become rapid transit? This is ridiculous. The city has buses and it makes sense to me to try this idea out before spending $136 mil the mayor doesn't have on this scheme. Politicians are only happy when they are spending money. Stop spending!!!

How much has the bicycle mayor spent painting bike grahics on the streets and putting up bike signs? How many people do you see risking their lives each day riding on Charlotte Pike to downtown? Nada!!! Have you notice how the bike path disappears and ends up in the street?

Americans are not going to give up their cars. We love our cars. Just the way it is.

By: MusicCity615 on 12/14/11 at 12:10

Jcole, JeffF-

Music City Center a major blow to Sobro development? HA

What do you call the Omni Hotel, Country Music Hall of Fame expansion, proposed Hyatt Hotel, Proposed Giarratana Hotel (Which he just bought the land for...), Giarratana's 30 story apartment building, not to mention to MCC itself!

None of the cranes you see up right now and will see would be there DEVELOPING Sobro if it weren't for the Music City Center. Without the MCC, Sobro would still be a bunch of surface parking lots.

By the way, sales in The Encore increased since the announcement of the MCC and Omni Hotel, and it is 97% sold.

Back to the topic, the fact that streetcars do have permanent lanes and routes is a GOOD thing. Developers like the fact that streetcars have permanent routes, so they can best plan their development. When you can change bus routes at random, that is bad for development.

And to be frank, for the West End Corridor to truly catch on, it needs to be transit that all Nashvillians will go for. Like it or not, but the majority of Nashville believes buses are for the poor. The new, trendy look of the streetcars will catch on for all of Nashville and help finally get Nashville out of the cars.

By: Radix on 12/14/11 at 4:41

Kosh III said "Still, there is an elitist attitude about buses; the Belle Meade types see it as no more than a way for their illegal alien maids and gardeners to commute to their underpaid jobs."

You mean like Al Gore? LOL!

By: jcole on 12/15/11 at 9:05

MusicCity615-
Sorry- I was a little vague. You're right- there will definitely be development in sobro, but it will only be for tourists, instead of being a vibrant urban neighborhood where nashvillians want to live, work, and shop. Nashville still has extremely low population in it's downtown core and when you take away 3 square blocks of that downtown core and create incentive for more tourist-driven development around those 3 blocks, it has a negative impact, especially since the footprint of Nashville's downtown core is relatively small.
Also- this BRT will have a dedicated lane, with transit platforms in the center of the street. It will look exactly like a streetcar or light rail system, just without the tracks. The 136 million isn't just for buses it's for these drastic changes to west end/broadway. This BRT route is about as likely to be moved as a streetcar route. In fact I don't know why they don't just call this a streetcar system if it helps the image of it. Louisville has a 'streetcar' or 'trolley' (not sure which they call it) that is just a bus made to look like a streetcar.