Global Economist Questions Mass Transit Plans as Criticism of Mayor Megan Barry’s Nashville Proposal Grows

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s $5.2 billion mass transit plan continues to attract criticism, including from the senior economic adviser for a global real estate firm whose views on mass transit have been changing.

Spencer Levy of CBRE was interviewed this week by the Nashville Business Journal while in Nashville  for a conference. CBRE is the largest commercial real estate services and investment firm in the world and the largest in Nashville.

Levy used to think that when in came to transit, the more the better, and he was sure that cities with limited transportation networks would see only limited growth. But he told Nashville Business Journal that he recognizes that hasn’t happened in cities like Nashville and Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina, which have all experienced tremendous growth.

Levy said he has also changed his outlook because of changing technology.

“Technology is moving so quickly, many places now are foregoing certain types of transit-oriented development — and even parking garages — because of the ability to get around town with Ubers and and where self-driving cars likely will be in 10 or 15 years,” he said.

Levy said he still wants cities to invest in infrastructure, but think hard about the needs of today.

“The type of infrastructure you need to build is definitely changing,” he said. “The need for parking and for trains may be lessening over the longer term.”

Mayor Barry wants to have a referendum in May to raise taxes to set up a light rail network, expand and improve bus service, and build an underground tunnel downtown. A growing number of critics say her plans for Davidson County are too outdated and costly, and working class residents and business owners are worried about being displaced along transit corridors.

Her proposal has been criticized by a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an economist at Vanderbilt University.

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