- Nashville Mayor Megan Barry took on opponents of her $5.2 billion transit plan in a speech last week and addressed what she calls the top three "transit myths," according to the Nashville Business Journal and others. She said the city has to tackle its increasing traffic congestion and called on citizens ignore critics' claims.
- The top three transit themes the mayor believes opponents are wrong about are: decades of declining transit ridership across the country, a lack of population density in Nashville to adequately support light rail, and that autonomous vehicles will eliminate the need for transit.
- Mayor Barry would like the issue to go to a public referendum vote on May 1, with voters deciding whether to raise four different taxes to fund the transit plan.
Mayor Barry unveiled her ambitious $5.2 billion transit plans last month amid mixed reviews. It involves a light rail system, digging a huge tunnel below downtown for easier transportation and revamping the bus system. Proponents applaud the plan's focus on equity, with a particular emphasis on serving the city's elderly, disabled and disadvantaged.
Nashville's population has been booming for the past several years, even earning it a spot on a list of the top 10 hot real estate markets to watch in 2018. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Nashville grew by more than 32,000 people — a more than 11% increase — between 2010 and 2016. The growth is prompting city leaders to examine all types of issues that could arise from such a rapid increase in the number of residents, including the loss of trees to commercial and residential development.
Traffic congestion is one of those growing problems. The transit plan would boost numerous aspects of transportation in Nashville to ease traffic congestion and improve residents' multimodal transportation options. Regarding the transit myth about density, Mayor Barry said that waiting for every neighborhood to become denser will create more congestion in the long run, as opposed to her idea preempting more gridlock by bringing light rail to developing neighborhoods.
The mayor seems determined to put into action the transit plan that has taken years of planning and public outreach to devise. She repeatedly calls on supporters not to give up because of a minority of naysayers. Mayor Barry points out that the measures in the plan address both current and future issues and that problems will not solve themselves. She wants to tackle Nashville's sprawl, for example, by bringing transit options to less populated neighborhoods before they become too dense.
Mayor Barry often explains that Nashville needs to keep up with and get ahead of its rapid growth and change. She infers that those who perpetuate the transit myths send the underlying message that Nashville can't change its trajectory toward severe traffic congestion so nothing can or should be done. Her proactive measures could be the investment in the future that Nashville needs to become a city with a smoothly running transportation system that can support growth and improve citizens' mobility, while potentially reducing traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.