Mayor’s bus rapid transit plan veers away from Lower Broadway

Friday, September 28, 2012 at 4:48pm

Don’t look for a dedicated bus rapid transit lane to one day front Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Robert’s Western World.

Following talks between Metro transit officials and downtown business owners, Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed BRT project appears likely to take a detour at Lower Broadway to avoid the pedestrian-heavy honky-tonk district.

The so-called East-West Connector is far from a reality, lacking both funding and a final go-ahead. But as Metro officials and consultants work toward a final BRT design plan for the estimated $174 million endeavor, the transit team is leaning toward adopting a route that heads east on Broadway, then steers north on Fifth Avenue, thus avoiding Nashville’s most famous commercial district.

“We’ve been talking to groups of people saying this looks like what the project is going to do,” Ed Cole, executive director of The Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, told The City Paper, referring to a plan that from Fifth would veer right onto Commerce Street and then north on Third Avenue.

“For all planning purposes, in our conversations, this will be the route,” Cole said, though stopping short of calling it official.

This alternate — and now apparently preferred — route marks a change from the primary course that transit officials revealed to Nashvillians at a series of community meetings in July. Under that plan, the East-West Connector, which begins on Harding Road near White Bridge Road, would move through the bustling honky-tonk district before taking a left on Third through downtown to Union Street and across the Cumberland River to East Nashville. Even with the altered plan, a permanent BRT passenger wait station would likely go near Fifth and Broadway.

Transit and city planners have also explored having buses turn left off Broadway at Seventh Avenue, near Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School, but the Fifth Avenue option seems to have gained the most traction during recent meetings with downtown property owners and merchants.

Jim McAteer, director of planning and grants for the Metro Transit Authority, cautioned that despite the momentum for the Fifth Avenue-Commerce route, “Nothing is final at this stage.” He said the team of engineers and consultants working on the mayor’s BRT project introduced the line as going down Broadway to Third to put forth “what we think would be best.” This plan, however, ran into some resistance from business owners who feared the BRT project would interfere with Lower Broadway’s pedestrian activity and historic feel.

“We don’t want to damage anything,” McAteer said, specifically singling out the vibe on Lower Broadway. “We want to be part of it.”

Jack Cawthon, owner of Jack’s Bar-B-Que, situated on the 400 block of Lower Broad, said he believes the alternate Fifth Avenue detour would still be able to accommodate businesses like his by placing a BRT station in front of Bridgestone Arena — at the doorstep of the honky-tonk district.

“It wouldn’t compromise the original plan they wanted to do of going all the way down Broadway,” Cawthon said.

In a Sept. 21 letter addressed to Dean and Metro transit leaders, the organization known as The District Inc. — a nonprofit composed of downtown business owners aiming to promote the Broadway, Second Avenue and Printer’s Alley areas — offered its “general support” for the East-West Connector, but alluded to “varied opinions regarding exact routing through our downtown area.”

Sheila Dial-Barton, an architect at downtown EOA Architects on Fourth Avenue and board chair of The District, told The City Paper that a few of the group’s board members took part in recent BRT meetings to voice the position of downtown businesses.

“Our concerns were going into Lower Broadway and really cutting up that area where the more historic honky-tonks are,” Dial-Barton said, adding that it could also impede on the pedestrian flow. “Now that there’s what we hear is the direction for it to go — on Fifth — that kind of alleviates a lot of the concerns of it really going through the middle of Lower Broadway.”

Dean’s proposed eight-mile East-West Connector would consist of BRT vehicles occupying dedicated lanes of traffic, likely in the middle of the West End-Broadway corridor. By coordinating with traffic signals, the BRT buses are said to make for trips that are 25 percent faster.

The repositioned downtown route would perhaps solve one public relations hurdle. Nonetheless, concerns remain: Some residents in the Richland-West End neighborhoods near the western end of the route have questioned whether the project is warranted at all, while also voicing worries about planned commuter parking areas near Elmington Park. Meanwhile, some residents of North Nashville are feeling left out of the project altogether — which they are.

The timeline of Dean’s BRT project is also unclear. Metro officials had been eyeing a Sept. 14 deadline to apply for up to $75 million in federal grant dollars — the kind of money that Dean’s BRT project needs to become a reality.

One week before this deadline arrived, however, MTA announced it would instead be seeking entry into the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts program under MAP-21, a new transportation law that goes into effect Oct. 1.

The move has shifted Metro and its transit consultants to a new but still unidentified application deadline. Metro officials say the the goal is for a late 2015 East-West Connector opening, but acknowledged recently that it could push into 2016. Funding likely wouldn’t be available until 2014.

“We’re still waiting for some guidance based on the MAP-21 changes, so it probably is a little bit too early to say,” MTA’s McAteer said when asked when the route and application would be finalized. “As soon as that comes out, we’ll have a sense of what we need to have finalized.

“I kind of see this as an opportunity to reach out more and to make sure people have a full understanding of the project,” he said.

The city’s impending BRT funding federal application received a boost last month when the Metro Council approved a massive rezoning of 455 acres in the city’s Midtown neighborhood to accommodate urban-inspired, pedestrian-friendly development. Though borne out of Midtown’s community plan, the new guidelines also promote the type of development necessary for the mayor’s mass transit vision.

Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, while in town for a September MTA electric bus announcement, told reporters his agency had been following Dean’s BRT push “very closely.”

“We’ll be looking for certain things,” Rogoff said of the grant application review process. “We’ll be looking for a strong local financial commitment. We’ll be looking for strong local support. We’ll be looking for the right kind of zoning that will promote the right type of economic development to maximize the impact of the federal investment. But I think things are moving in the right direction.”

The mayor caught some flak from transit enthusiasts in December when he announced he would be moving forward on a BRT system instead of a more ambitious — and decidedly more expensive — modern streetcar.

Rogoff, however, said the mayor made a good call. “Bus rapid transit, when it’s done right, you move a great many people at a very affordable cost. And it’s not just the lower cost of building the project, it’s the lower cost of maintaining the system for decades to come.”

21 Comments on this post:

By: shinestx on 10/1/12 at 5:28

So let's see if I have this right: Jim "Stupor" Cooper voted for a $2 trillion Obamacare boondoggle, but he has never secured 1 federal dollar for his district's transit needs. No doubt the morons and rednecks will re-elect "Stupor" for doing such a fine job... or just because he has a "D" next to his name. It's amazing... his family has never even lived in Nashville. Nashville, you get what you deserve!

By: shinestx on 10/1/12 at 5:30

Don't be looking for that proposed federal courthouse either, btw. It's been on the GSA's "Priority List" for 18 years, and "Stupor" cannot even tell why that funding hasn't been obtained. I mean, if your representative to Congress can't even secure the Constitutionally mandated funding for the federal courts, do you think s/he should be rewarded by getting to keep his job

By: MusicCity615 on 10/1/12 at 7:13

I think this new route is a good call. I really hope Nashville implements BRT!

By: on 10/1/12 at 8:18

Of all the stupid ways I've seen this administration come up with to waste money that we don't have this is the most useless. 200 million dollars for something that isn't wanted by 90 percent of the people and "might" save 25% of the time to get somewhere. Let's see if it takes 10 minutes to get from West End to downtown, you would save 2.5 minutes. Wow, that's worth 200 million without a doubt! Grow up people, this is the type of expenditure that we must ween ourselves from spending scarce dollars on. . Our half of whatever it costs would fund how many teachers salaries, maybe build how many new elementary schools, fix how much of the storm water/sewage issues. Priorities people, priorities. It's like going shopping and saying "I want, I want" put it on the credit card! Oh well I'll worry about that tomorrow

By: MusicCity615 on 10/1/12 at 8:24

So you think a city should not invest in mass transit judy boo hoo?

You think gas is an unlimited resource? You think it's fair for Nashvillians' only option for transportation is to have each individual buy a car, pay for insurance, pay for gas, pay for upkeep?

Common sense judy. Common sense.

By: tbulgarino on 10/1/12 at 9:32


@ MC615

You do not address any of Judyboodo's concerns. All too often, the BRT enthusiasts, ignore valid questions, and proceed with laughably false information.

One of the tent-pole selling points being pushed by the BRT project is the increased speed of travel along the route. I would like to see that quantified. It takes 'x' minutes currently by car, 'x' minutes by existing MTS bus, 'x' minutes to walk, and 'x' minutes to drive, and it will take 'x' minutes via the proposed BRT. How else can anyone make an informed determination?

And far from your statement that, 'Nashvillians' only option for transportation is to have each individual buy a car, pay for insurance, pay for gas, pay for upkeep', you may be unaware that there are 2-3 overlapping MTA Bus routes that service the proposed BRT route. So again, the question is not, BRT vs. nothing; the question is existing bus service vs. a $200,000,000 BRT that services the same route.

Now you evidently believe BRT at any cost and for any reason, I do not and I believe that there are many like me that desire to see a true cost-benefit analysis before we jump aboard.

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
- Winston Churchill

By: jpony on 10/1/12 at 9:56

I agree with tbulg. The "25%" faster refers to a comparison to current transit system time, not car travel.
The currently proposed route leaves out north Nashville, which needs it most, and terminates in a suburban neighborhood where it will cause a terrible logjam of traffic where traffic is already awful.. Mass transit is woefully inefficient in suburban neighborhoods.
The current local tax proposal is to jack up taxes on the suburban neighbors who can't possibly use the system because of lack of sidewalks and the fact that most residents would have to walk well over a mile to get to a station unless they trespass on neighbors' lands.
The rezoning of the 455 acres in Midtown was not "borne out" in the community plan, but shoved down our throats. If you read carefully, you will find tie-ins to rezoning in Green Hills as well. Ideally, growth would happen as a result of the BRT...not the other way around.
The idea is simple...propose the route through a wealthy section of town to jack up the tax money.
Most residents out side of 440 don't want this because it will not serve the area.
This whole plan was predicated to serve the healthcare industry, who have the bulk of employees. Most of those employees come in from outlying areas. This plan is a bust on its face.

By: govskeptic on 10/1/12 at 10:12

Whatever the Downtown Partnership wants-they get. If they don't want it-not
going to happen. Tail has wagged the dog and taxpayers for years here in
Metro! Please don't hold your breath for that to change.

By: Kosh III on 10/1/12 at 10:21

Travel time:
The route along Gallatin Rd to past Rivergate takes( one way) the regular #26 an hour, it takes the BRT Lite #56 45 minutes. If there were a dedicated lane, it would shorten it even further.
One can suppose a similar time saving would be accomplished on the new proposal.

More buses, more often on more routes!

By: Leazee on 10/1/12 at 10:36

I am tired of reading about this project as if it is a done deal...though I recognize that all of Dean's agenda is done before the community is ever introduced to it. How insulting!!
While all in favor of mass transit, trusting Metro with this project is scary. They don't want questions and they cannot answer the ones that are most important to the residents who will be paying for this with HUGH increases in property taxes-40%?!
This project will NOT be faster than driving. Case in point, Eugene OR. I know firsthand and resent their attempt to make this a selling point. Too bad that we spent all the money on the convention center. Could have used that money for light rail trains (real fast) and connecters going north/south. Oh I forgot-we had no say in the convention center either.

By: tbulgarino on 10/1/12 at 10:41


Kosh III thank you for that information.We can work with that example since it is the only information presented. You illustrate a 25% saving in time w/o a dedicated lane. That seems reasonable and cost effective if the only cost was a new bus and driver. It seems a far different scenario that spending $200MIL for a set. 25% increase in trip times.

As a downtown resident, I am not against, nor for this project. I honestly do not have enough valid information to make a decision. I w

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
- Winston Churchill

By: tbulgarino on 10/1/12 at 10:43


I do not believe your 40% tax increase to be accurate, but in lieu of the administration providing ANY information regarding the dedicated funding mechanism, any wild guess is as valid as the information we have in-hand. lol

My hope is we have some facts sooner, rather than later.

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
- Winston Churchill

By: JeffF on 10/1/12 at 12:10

Personally since the point of transit is to get people too and from jobs/school from home, I would think it would be better to shunt this line off of Broadway and through the job-laden area to the North as soon as possible. 9th Avenue would not be too soon. 15th or 16th would work. There are enough circulators and other items providing a multitude of transit options to the tourism and entertainment zone.

For transit to finally work in Nashville it must be convenient to the office buildings and hospitals and educational facilities. Hopefully this will be the first transit push that focuses on jobs instead of the the misplaced economic development desires (the ones that put trains on the river and a single centralized bus station in downtown).

I can see a line that turns left at 17th (wonder if 20th would work to take in Baptist?) and right on Church. Cross the interstate and Gulch and turn left on 9th then straight up Union then over the bridge. If a tourist wants to hop on they can waddle up 2nd. Union would made a wonderful pedestrian/transit street (see Calgary's 7th Ave) but that may be too big a leap right now.

Spend on the 40-hour week workforce and maybe money will be available for the tourists later. Spending money on tourists and hoping the workforce will latch on isn't working.

By: blitz on 10/1/12 at 12:56

The city seems to accept the idea that the Historic feel of Lower Brod. may be affected, but not so much when it comes to the historic portions of West End around Whitland & Richland areas. Many Nashvillians consider those areas to have far more value than Lower Brod.

Come on Mayor Dean - The route for the BRT is a bad design. Forget about this project and have your people go back to the drawing board.

By: JeffF on 10/1/12 at 3:51


Historic: well-known or important in history:
Old: 1. far advanced in the years of one's or its life.
2. of or pertaining to the latter part of the life or term of existence of a person or thing if or appearing to be far advanced in years
4.having lived or existed for a specified time
5.having lived or existed as specified with relation to younger or newer persons or things

I hate when old things are mislabeled as "historic"

By: on 10/1/12 at 4:16

MusicCity615 if your worried about renewable resources and transportation options then why don't you ask why the city only fuel's its buses with diesel and not natural gas? Why does it only use huge incredibly expensive buses rather than more frequently running smaller van based buses that would create more good paying bus driver jobs? Could it be that those cost/benefit options don't shine the future candidate in a bathing light of progressive genius? Maybe just maybe the populace will slowly awaken to the silliness of this idea like they did of the one concerning the Fairgrounds issue. It boggles the mind how much havoc taking the center lanes out of service on West End ave. would create ALL DAY LONG so as to make a LITTLE difference in the morning and a LITTLE difference in the late afternoon. And where are the vast minions going to park out on West End? Who exactly will sacrifice their business parking spaces and easier access to the few "progressives" that will actually use this silly idea? You don't know and probably don't care but some of these taxpayers will care a lot because it will make their life, jobs and livelihood a lot more difficult.

By: joe41 on 10/2/12 at 8:40

Boy, I wish we would go for rapid transit rather than a bus. Underground. Or above ground.

By: Kosh III on 10/2/12 at 9:07


Pay attention! MTA is in the process is acquiring some all-electric buses and will be slowly adding smaller more efficient buses as well. MTA already has several hybrid buses which have been in service for over two years.
It takes time and money to do these things and don't forget that the system suffered substantial losses when many buses were ruined by the Flood. It takes time and money.

More buses, more often on more routes.

By: MusicCity615 on 10/2/12 at 4:07

Thanks Kosh..

Judy, please read the news more often.

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