2023 Mayoral Candidate:
1. What is your vision for multimodal transportation and mobility, including public transit in Nashville?
For Nashville to be a great city, residents should be able to live a full, high quality life without being dependent on car ownership. Our transportation future should maximize options and connectivity. Regardless of whether you want to walk, bike, drive, or ride public transit, you should be able to get to work, to school, to access groceries and essential services, and to take advantage of the city's parks, restaurants, entertainment venues, and cultural institutions without being forced to own a car. As young people come of age seeking to lead less-car dependent lives, families seek to have fewer financial resources in automobiles, and with a growing number of retirees seeking independence from the hassles of constant traffic, Nashville must change the way we grow to accommodate more walkable and bikeable communities, as well as more consistent, reliable transit links across the community. Where growth is becoming denser, we need to take transit to the next level with dedicated lane bus rapid transit or light rail. Our city's Transit 2.0 investments should be undertaken in line with a broader plan that incorporates intra-city, regional, and inter-city transit connections that may lie years or decades away, along with progress toward electrification of our fleet. All that said, my core belief is that Nashville has to stop changing the vision for public transit each time we elect a new mayor. The planning, design, financing, and construction of meaningful mass transit takes place over decades rather than four-year mayoral terms. The most critical leadership task is taking our various plans and studies and forging a strategy that has the buy-in of key stakeholders across our community.
2. What is your plan for multimodal transportation and mobility improvements, including public transit, in the first 100 days of your administration?
First, we should work to restore and deepen the trust of citizens in existing infrastructure by focusing on maintenance, repairs, and maintaining safe access to sidewalks, greenways, bike lanes, and roadways, as well as strictly limiting construction-related closures – and by making sufficient investments in HubNashville (and related communications) services to improve responsiveness and information flow to residents. Nashville is less likely to trust that we have a credible plan for transit if they feel we're neglecting the infrastructure we've got.
Second, we need to urgently advance strategies to reduce and work toward eliminating fatal pedestrian and bike accidents, while simultaneously accelerating the pace of sidewalk construction, greenway development, and protected bike lanes where appropriate. These improvements not only dramatically improve quality of life and accessibility of transit, but simultaneously promote another key priority: community health.
Third, we must maintain and improve the frequency, extend the hours, and guarantee the reliability of our existing bus service especially along key corridors, while better harnessing data analytics to plan targeted investments in new or expanded service, as well as the development of additional micro transit options, pedestrian access, community transit centers, and bus station infrastructure that will improve the quantity of riders and the quality of their time using transit.
Fourth, there is urgency within the first 100 days to take actions to relaunch our longer-term transit strategies. For Transit 2.0 to be a reality, the Mayor must reinitiate discussions around our city's plan and timeline for moving toward dedicated transit funding in order to forge sufficient stakeholder consensus and community support. Simultaneously, the Mayor must prioritize regional planning discussions with mayors and legislators across middle Tennessee, as well as our state department of transportation. These discussions should include (a) improved coordination around maintenance of state highways within counties, (b) the incorporation of multimodal transportation priorities within major TDOT projects, and (c) assessing the viability of shorter-term investments in dedicated-lane transit prior to undertaking a new transit referendum for dedicated funding.
3. What is your strategy or approach for funding the multimodal transportation, mobility, and public transit infrastructure in your vision above?
To cease being the largest U.S. city without a significant transit system, Nashville must work toward dedicated funding for multimodal transportation and public transit. Taking that step will take a much larger public conversation than occurred in connection with the 2016 transit referendum – and before that's even considered, the city must build trust with voters that it is maintaining the infrastructure we've got and making best use of the resources currently available. In the meantime, we should not only maintain current funding levels, but begin making smart investments in the type of small-scale bike, sidewalk, and bus stop infrastructure that can be leveraged to achieve greater access to existing transit, as well as investments in service improvements targeted towards increasing ridership and reliability. Finally, we should explore the viability of using private-public partnerships authorized by state law and the potential gains from transit-oriented development to explore making an initial Transit 2.0 dedicated lane rapid transit investment along a key corridor such as Murfreesboro Pike from downtown to the airport and continuing toward Rutherford County. The success of such a project and seeing it in action on the streets of Nashville would make it that much easier for our city to pull the trigger on dedicated funding.
4. How will you work with community organizations, advocates, and neighborhoods to shape and build support for your vision?
Rebuilding the coalition of the city and setting a much broader table for discussion of Nashville's transportation future would be a core priority of my administration. This begins by working with NDOT, Wego, Walk-Bike Nashville, the Transit Alliance, GNRC, the Regional Mayor's Caucus, and other organizations who have long prioritized multimodal transportation. But the work of convening cannot end there. To build the consensus needed for Nashville to move forward on transit together, the Mayor must convene both key institutional and industry leaders, Council members, legislators, neighborhood associations and non-profits. Perhaps more importantly, the City should use new technologies and good, old-fashioned human outreach to ensure residents, bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians are both receiving high-quality information and empowered to provide ideas and priorities to flow into a longer term transportation strategy for the city. We already have numerous plans and studies, but the critical work is forging a working plan with sufficient buy-in to move forward as a city – a strategy that will outlive the next four or eight years of any particular mayor.
5. When making transportation decisions, how will you balance the needs of our diverse neighborhoods and people, respecting context, history, and identity?
Nothing reveals the historic inequities of Nashville more than transportation infrastructure. Each of our three major federal interstate junctions is located near the respective centers of our three oldest African American communities. You can literally trace from the division of neighborhoods by those interstate projects back to redlining and ultimately back to Civil War era camps where people gathered after escaping enslavement. The transportation infrastructure projects of last century divided communities that deserved to remain united and diminished the value of real property, businesses, and homes along the way – accordingly dismantling trust that has not been fully repaired. Part of moving forward requires remembering that past and righting it where possible. But such projects must be undertaken carefully so as to not further displace residents and owners who've built their lives and businesses in these often neglected corridors. There should be intensive stakeholder engagement, input, and consensus-building to design more comprehensive community investment strategies that incorporate transportation and transit infrastructure – rather than top-down decision making about how the city would like to use these communities in service of the city's larger transportation agenda and priorities. In all honesty, the ideal approach to transit planning would adopt a similar approach in all of our neighborhood communities because the strategic approach, range of options, and design of of multimodal transportation options across the county should reflect the identity, character, and particularized needs of particular neighborhoods while still working harmoniously toward a system that links communities together and operates in an efficient, unified manner.
6. Given Nashville’s history of inequitable transportation investment, how will you keep these investments equitable?
The critical step for equitable transportation investment is to do a better job of tracking and communicating how Nashville is making sidewalk, roadway, bikeway, greenway, and public transit investments in particular neighborhoods and communities. Where investments are lower in a particular community, decision makers and residents should know it – and the city should be on the hook to explain the rationale for such discrepancies. You can't lead people if you're not willing to level with them. We in Nashville understand that certain transportation investments must be prioritized to account for areas of frequent pedestrian fatalities, to speed flow along clogged traffic arteries, to account for historic neglect, to account for areas with less access to automobiles and greater dependence on transit, and to communities who are bearing relatively larger share of the affordable housing and density burdens of a growing city. But we shouldn't be afraid to be honest with communities about which investments are or are not being prioritized – so neighborhoods and leaders can better make a case for investments that work for their communities and so neighborhoods have a better understanding of how they can move towards desired and often overdue investments.
7. Rank the following:
Pedestrian Infrastructure - Sidewalks, crosswalks, HAWK signals, lighting
Transit Priority Corridors - Bus Only Lanes, Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail, etc on identified corridors like Murfreesboro Pike
Higher Frequency Bus Routes - bus arrives every 5-10 minutes
Hours of Bus Service - longer hours up to 24/7 service
Protected Bike Lanes - (Mobility Lanes)
Neighborhood Mobility Hubs - decentralize the transit system by adding more transit/mobility hubs around the city (i.e., Hillsboro & North Nashville Transit Centers)
Transit Oriented Development, TIFs, etc.
Traffic Signalization - coordination of traffic signals to manage the speed of vehicles and efficiency of through traffic
Crosstown Routes - support existing crosstown routes and add more where it makes sense to increase one-seat rides
Traffic Calming - speed humps, bulb-outs, trees, roundabouts, etc.
Regional transit solutions - WeGo Star (commuter rail), other regional commuter/express bus options
Traffic Enforcement - focused on speeding and reckless driving
Park and Rides - permanent, safe parking for those riding the bus into downtown
8. Explain your rankings (optional).
This is hard because I have very strong feelings about virtually every item on the list. My top priority is pedestrian infrastructure – and I give greenways protected bike lanes, and mobility hubs where people can access micro and last-mile transit options relatively high scores – because this type of infrastructure is intensely connected to improving quality of life, improving safety by further activating streetways, improving access to transit, and when cities are intentionally designed to promote walkability as well as biking, we see vast improvements in overall community health. My other top priority is building a robust backbone for transit along key corridors (along with more frequent, more reliable, longer hours of service, optimized signalization, and development oriented toward the dense housing made possible by transit), which plays an outsized role in getting more and more cars off our roads and making key arteries run smoother. My rankings for regional transit are relatively low not because it's not a huge priority, but because it is both beyond Nashville's immediate control and its success is inherently dependent on whether people can move around the city once they get here – intracity transit is Nashville's most critical contribution to regional transportation efforts. I rate park & rides low because a similar function can be played by mobility centers and we should err towards seamless connectivity over the park & ride model. I love getting into the weeds of effective design geared towards traffic calming, and have passed legislation regarding stricter enforcement of reckless driving standards, but each is more in the realm of best practices that should inform day-to-day planning and public safety operations rather than strategic levers that must be urgently addressed to bend the curve on the future of Nashville transportation.