Saturday, December 19, 2020

The mayor's $1.6 million transportation plan is the wrong plan for Nashville.

by Rod Williams - Last week, the Metro Council passed a $1.6 million transportation plan. The Executive summary says, "Mayor Cooper is delivering on his commitment to produce a new people first transportation strategy within his first year of office: Metro Nashville’s Transportation Plan proposes $1.6 billion in critical projects for community resilience, neighborhood livability, shared prosperity, and system preservation and performance."

What that pablum means is a better bus service, 19 miles of Bus Rapid Transit, more sidewalks and crosswalks, a Traffic Operations Center and signal synchronization, bikeways, greenways, improvement to enhance pedestrian safety, road maintenance, some green strips along some roads and a few other things. 

The report is chocked full of liberal pablum and woke political correctness telling us, "... while the national movement for racial equality seeks change that addresses past injustices, including our investments in mobility and use of public spaces. Equity goes beyond jobs, attainable housing, and educational opportunities. It also means ensuring that our streets treat all modes of travel with equal care."  In another place the plan tells us, "It is not surprising that some of the most important moments in the fight for equal rights throughout this country’s history have taken place on buses, bridges, and streets." On tone alone and woke gobbledygook, I would almost have to vote against it had I a vote.

The plan spends no money but that does not make it harmless.  Metro intends to pay for these improvements with annual capital budgeting and with state and federal grants.   With a plan in place we may be eligible for some grants and the grants will likely be matching grants and then the argument will be we already have an approved plan, so we have an obligation to fulfill the plan.  We can't reject the grant to fund our plan, we have to welcome the money and fund the match. 

I oppose this plan and would have voted against it, if I had a vote.  First of all we can repair roads without saying so in a plan so some of this is useless. Secondly, we should not even be talking about sidewalks unless it is to talk about why our current sidewalk plan is a failure.  We routinely rip out sidewalks showing only minor ware and tear and replace them with new clean sidewalks.  We spend millions on sidewalks already and get almost no new sidewalks to show for it. Rather than come up with a plan for more sidewalks, we should investigate why we waste so much money with almost no sidewalks to show for it.

Thirdly, we just had a 34% tax increase and if we keep spending money and committing to spend more money, we will have to have another tax increase.  Now is a time when we should be looking for ways to save money, not spend more.  Also, there is a move afoot to roll back the 34% tax increase.  Enough signatures were gathered to put that proposed roll-back on a public referendum but a court ruled the wording  to be technically inadequate and the proposal did not make it to the ballot.  That fight may not be over.  The wording of the proposal has been reworked to address the judges concerns and the drive to gather petitions signatures to put the question back on the ballot may began soon after the first of the year.  The city should be looking at ways to get by with less, not new ways to spend money.

Fourth, in my view, large buses on a fixed route is yesterday's way of moving people. New technologies are going to make fix-route mass transit obsolete.  If one notices almost any bus, except in the morning rush hour, you will see an empty bus or a bus with one or maybe two passengers.  We still may need some rush hour buses on major corridors but the service needs to shrink, not expand.  The Covid-19 pandemic indicates that it is not wise to confine a large number of people in a container with no air circulation.  The Covid-19 pandemic also may have reduced the need for mass transit and added roadway capacity with more people working from home.  Post-Covid-19 this trend of people working from home is likely to continue.

Fifth, where the plan could have been bold and called for what is sometimes called "smart traffic," instead it only calls for an upgrade to our existing system of traffic light synchronization. Smart traffic is a system in which the whole system is adjusted in real time so that one does not set at traffic lights that are red when there is no cross traffic.  These systems are working to amazing success in some parts of the world, reducing travel times and need for roadway expansions. For links to more on "smart traffic, follow this link

There is much wrong with this plan.  I think we have made traffic worse in recent years by taking roadway capacity and turn lanes for bike lanes that are almost never used. We have also taken many streets and reduced the number of lanes and attempted to do so on other streets but backed off in the face of public opposition. In my part of town, we reduced roadway capacity on Belmont Blvd., 12th Ave South, 10th Ave. South and tried to do so on 8th Ave. South.  As a result 12th Ave South as become a lively commercial community.  I like it.  However, when you take away that many options for heading south out of town, you slow traffic and create traffic congestion. That should be studied and the policy reversed before we move forward with more plans to spend more money. 

 I also wonder how much we spend on the name change from "MTA" to "WeGo" for our buss system.  If that is how we spend our transportation dollars, we don't need to be giving the city more money to spend.  I like the part about repairing roads but we don't need that to be part of some new plan.  It is a budgeting priority issue.  I like the new emphasis on pedestrian safety.  I walk almost every day and cars just ignore the pedestrian signaled crosswalks.  One is taking their life in the hand crossing a street. We needs enforcement of existing laws.  Police need to write tickets when people turn on yellow or turn while a pedestrian is in the crosswalk.  I am not sure we need a new comprehensive plan to improve pedestrian traffic safety. 

I have not read the full report but read enough to know I do not support it. For more of my thoughts on transportation see, What to do about Mass Transit and traffic congestion.
To read the complete 384-page plan follow this link.
For news reports on the plan see link, link, link. and link

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