The Nashville Tea Party and a Vanderbilt University economics professor are raising concerns about the $6 billion regional mass transit plan for Middle Tennessee.
Much of the plan is still tentative and designed to be phased in over 25 years. However, in her State of Metro address in April, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry committed to starting work on light rail along Gallatin Pike immediately. She also said she would have a referendum on the ballot in 2018 to raise taxes to help fund transit projects.
The Gallatin Pike plan calls for putting train tracks in the middle of Gallatin Pike from Briley Parkway south to the downtown bus station.
The Nashville Tea Party sees problems with that.
“This will mean many years of construction noise, choking dust and major traffic disruption,” the tea party chapter said on its Facebook page last week.
The regional transit plan also calls for light rail along Charlotte Pike, Nolensville Pike and Murfreesboro Pike and for light rail connecting Nashville and Clarksville.
The Nashville Tea Party posted a study by Malcolm Getz, a Vanderbilt University economics professor who is critical of the regional transit plan primarily because of its heavy reliance on trains, though the plan does also call for improved bus service. His June 29 report notes that he is expressing his own views and is not speaking for the university. While Getz is not affiliated with the Nashville Tea Party, group leaders believe his conclusions support their concerns.
In his report, Getz outlines five problems with the transit plan, known as nMotion: transit has not been proven to reduce congestion, buses provide better service than trains because they can go more places, trains are more costly, landowners benefit more than the people who ride, and express lanes and other digital systems should be given greater consideration.
Getz writes that contrary to popular belief, transit does not lesson traffic.
“The alternate view, one well supported by evidence, is that the volume of vehicular trips expands to congest whatever space is available for traffic regardless of the level of transit service,” he says.
Getz points to Atlanta as a cautionary tale. “After 45 years with a one-cent local sales tax earmarked for transit, 50 miles of quality rails, and an extensive bus service, congestion grew to high levels. Congestion is as extensive on roadways near rail lines as in areas distant from the rail lines. The obvious conclusion from both statistical evidence and the experience of individual cities is that transit does not reduce traffic congestion.”
Putting railroads in the middle of major streets will reduce traffic flow at choke points during rush hours, Getz maintains.
Getz also says some potential riders are likely to be discouraged from using transit because of the amount of time they would have to spend on their commute via trains that make stops and require transfers by bus from one downtown station to another as needed. Plans call for four downtown rail terminals instead of a single hub.
Getz believes a better approach would be to make better use of buses and vans and to establish express lanes that use digital systems to collect tolls with varying rates depending on the volume of traffic. He also calls for managed downtown parking, which would involve dynamic pricing to reduce congestion resulting from drivers circulating the streets looking for a parking spot.
City planners also need to consider how transportation is going to change in the future, and how it is already changing, Getz says. More people are using car services such as Uber and Lyft, which are efficient and low cost and also reduce parking hassles. Subsidized car services in areas of low-rider density might make a good alternative to bus service, and retailers might want to consider underwriting part of the cost of car services to get people to their stores as an incentive like free parking has been, Getz says. Getz also believes that self-driving cars will reduce the demand for cars in the future.
In the future, Getz writes, “personal car ownership and conventional transit are likely to have diminished roles.”