A great metropolitan area is a place where taking transit for almost any trip is convenient, safe and affordable. Rapid transit, circulator buses, and extensive pedestrian and bicycle routes can cohesively connect citizens and tourists alike with live-work-play destinations, fostering the redevelopment of urban and suburban spaces into walkable, mixed-use environments with ample green space.
To remain economically competitive and to position Middle Tennessee as one of the most healthy and livable communities in North America, local leaders are now on the cusp of financing and building a modern mass transit system for the 21st century. How we go about planning and implementing quality, high-capacity public transportation in our region today, will have significant benefit for generations to come.
In 2010, Middle Tennessee's mayors agreed on a milestone, ten-county vision for transit - official policy as contained within our 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. Among other things, the plan recommends rapid transit service along the region's most congested corridors (between Nashville and Gallatin, Murfreesboro, Franklin); a larger network of buses running more frequently; commuter rail and premium express coach service.
To help propel regional transit policy and plans into actual implementation, the MPO & its partners hosted an educational workshop on Oct. 25-26, 2012. More than 250 Middle Tennessee political leaders, transportation and land use planners, transit agency partners, developers, architects, engineers, academics, and non-profit advocates came together to discuss how to turn the idea of a modernized regional transit system into action, by hearing from national experts and peer-metro regions on best practices, lessons learned.
The symposium was held at AT&T Headquarters in downtown Nashville, just a few blocks from Music City Central— a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled transit depot, where customers can purchase tickets, pick up schedules, and wait comfortably in an inviting environment- as 200+ buses serve 45 routes in Metro-Davidson County, and express commuter service to surrounding counties.
Over the day and a half, more than 220 participants took part in the symposium which focused on state and national transportation policies and programs; the economic ROI and financial common-sense of reigning in suburban sprawl; and how transit can make communities more prosperous, healthy, and livable. Experts contributing to the discussion included Beth Osborne, Dep. Asst. Sec. for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation; Arthur Guzzetti, VP of Policy for the American Public Transportation Association; Mitchell Silver, President of the American Planning Association; and Ken Rose of the Centers for Disease Control.
Former Metro-Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell keynoted day one, delivering a motivational lecture comprised of transit's history in greater-Nashville (his administration's involvement in projects like the Music City Star, Music City Central, and the modernization of MTA's vehicle fleet), as well the case for improving transit to advance human\environmental health and economic development under current & future Metro mayoral administrations.
Advice from peer metro regions included stories of ambitious transit capital and service expansion in recent years from Salt Lake City (Matt Sibul of Utah Transit Authority and Robin Hutcheson of the Wasatch Front Regional Council); Joe Calabrese of Greater's Regional Transit Authority (Bus Rapid Transit in the form of their Euclid Corridor HealthLine); and Denver's renown FasTracks system (Jennifer Hillhouse of Denver City/County Dept. of Public Works) - all of which contain elements of a futuristic vision for for the ten-county Nashville area (BRT\LRT, commuter rail, frequent bus service, etc).
Developers from U.S. cities also shared their experiences with high-quality transit as an economic development boon, via rising real-estate values and restorative urban infill projects (largely mixed-use, incl. restaurant/retail, commercial, residential). Presenters hailed from the Atlanta BeltLine, the Cleveland Euclid Corridor, and Minneapolis. The New Jersey Institute of Technology also presented on a forthcoming practitioners' Web-based tool that will serve as a national database of transit-supportive development projects & plans.
The agenda also included substantive consideration for:
Area Leaders Discuss Current Efforts
Our region is preparing to confront unique challenges on implementation of its vision for modernized, robust local and regional transit service: funding, land availability and zoning policy, coordinated planning, and public education on "new" concepts for Middle Tennessee like Bus Rapid Transit and Transit-Oriented Development. Participants heard from local leaders on current efforts to move forward on tackling these challenges head-on, including:
- Federal Highway Administration Tennessee Division's efforts to aid state & local leaders on understanding provisions of America's new surface transportation program, MAP-21 -including performance measures based on a facility's multi-modal movement of people, not just cars.
- Tennessee Dept. of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer and Director of Multimodal Transportation Resources Liza Joffrion on overcoming significant financial constraints for transport infrastructure, including departmental efforts to "right size" projects, and evaluate alternative solutions to declining fuel tax revenues statewide.
- Mayor Karl Dean on Metropolitan-Nashville's efforts to improve transit service and supporting bicycle/pedestrian networks in Davidson County - including (among other efforts) the flagship Bus Rapid Transit project for the region (also presented in detail by Jim McAteer, planning director for the Nashville MTA).
- Gary Gaston, Design Director for the Nashville Civic Design Center, explained the Center's partnership with the MPO on Moving Tennessee Forward, a highly-visual, exploratory publication on how urban design â€“the process of giving form, shape, character to groups of buildings, neighborhoods, citiesâ€“ can enhance the livability aspects of transportation planning through place-making strategies.
- Dr. Bridget Jones of Cumberland Region Tomorrow, which has launched a new statewide network focused on advancing smart growth / reducing sprawl, through knowledge and resource sharing among Tennessee's metros.
- Tim Roach of the Greater Nashville Regional Council, a leader on providing local governments with high-level technical assistance for the amending of municipal comp and growth plans, to prepare for transit through zoning updates.