Notes from Connect Mid TN on Mayor Cooper’s Transportation Plan

 

November 10, 2020 

The Transit Alliance is one of many diverse Middle Tennessee nonprofits and businesses in Connect Mid TN (CMT) who share a belief in reliable, equitable, affordable, and diverse transportation options for all in the region. While the CMT coalition focuses on near-term transportation access improvements, we are still committed to working toward a dedicated funding strategy for regional multi-modal transportation.

With Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s new Transportation Plan, CMT had the opportunity to participate in a stakeholder listening session to give some feedback on the Plan. After the session, CMT members gathered to discuss the Plan further. See the note CMT sent to Faye DiMassimo below:

“Thank you for the work you and your team have done to understand Nashville’s transportation situation, future needs, and collect feedback from Nashville communities on what matters most to them in terms of improving their transportation options and safety.

Recognizing the challenges before the mayor and his Transportation and Sustainability team:

This new proposed transportation plan comes on the heels of the failed 2018 Let’s Move Nashville referendum that would have seen an almost immediate improvement in bus services, including higher frequency and longer service hours. Then, earlier this year, a tornado decimated parts of North and East Nashville. Adding insult to injury, a global pandemic upended everyday life and nearly crippled the economy. With all of these challenges, Mayor Cooper’s transportation and infrastructure team continues to put in the hours to meet and converse with communities, council members, and other stakeholders about improving our city’s transportation system to put forth a genuine community-first Transportation Plan for Nashville. 

CM-T views any forward movement to improve transportation options and infrastructure as a step in the right direction. We are encouraged by the stated priorities of the plan: updating the bus system, modernizing traffic management, investing in neighborhood sidewalks, bikeways, and greenways, improving safety, and exploring a Nashville Department of Mobility and Infrastructure to manage performance and increase accountability. There was an effort to share this plan with as many community members and stakeholders as possible for feedback before COVID struck. 

Additionally, we see the effort to create more equitable projects through their ‘Equity in Design’ tool. The mayor’s team led by Faye DiMassimo purports that all transportation projects will be held to these standards thus creating an overall equitable system. Equity in Design, a questionnaire, is a document divided into six categories: accessibility, populations of varying age, safety, connectivity, outreach, and environment.  

Even still, CM-T believes the most successful transportation plan will prioritize communities by focusing on four core values: action to achieve racial equity, a plan for dedicated funding, a plan to safely, conveniently, and reliably moving transit through downtown Nashville, and safety for all users. This Transportation Plan is a solid plan, but CM-T is not convinced it meets the four core values outlined here.

With this Transportation Plan, Nashville has an opportunity to demonstrate action to achieve greater racial equity. Prioritizing neighborhoods that have been traditionally underserved and/or under-resourced by enhancing community-based mobility and safety while adding more transportation options is critical to reaching equity goals as a city. As the economy recovers and jobs return, residents deserve safe and affordable transportation options that are frequent, dignified, and reliable, too. The new Equity in Design tool is a good starting point, but it could do more in terms of explicitly prioritizing communities of color by making that a guideline in the tool. 

The most practical transportation plan includes an intentional build-out timeline based on dedicated funding or a long-term reliable funding stream not tied to general funds like our current system. Without a defined and transparent funding strategy, we fear this plan will become like many others: lining a shelf. This year, even during COVID, there have been several successful ballot initiatives for dedicated transit funding in the US. These wins in other cities mean that the right plan can win–even during a pandemic and economic crisis. CM-T maintains transit is essential. Thus, it deserves a dedicated funding stream to support improving services and the transportation system that supports public transit as a vital component. CM-T would like to see a more intentional and dedicated funding plan.

With downtown Nashville as the employment, entertainment, and civic core of the region, a successful transit plan – that links residents to jobs, education, and amenities – must travel safely, efficiently, and reliably through downtown. Mayor Cooper’s Transportation Plan must outline a clearer path to a final plan for moving transit through downtown Nashville. CM-T would like to see a more fleshed out downtown plan and a timeline for the plan to be implemented.

Recognizing safety is always a top consideration for planners and engineers, CM-T would like to see more efforts to prioritize transit and non-driving users on all corridors, arterials, and local streets. Public spaces, like streets, better serve neighborhoods when designed to for all users — pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and drivers. Keeping all road users safer may require novel changes, inclduing but not limited to slower vehicle speeds, increased space for foot and cycle traffic, or a reduction in overall car volumes. CM-T is pleased to see that advancing the Mayor’s Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate traffic fatalities is a priority of the plan. The plan reserves $75 million for the backlog of traffic calming requests and operational safety improvements. 

Connect Mid-TN (CM-T) is a coalition made up of a diverse group of businesses and nonprofits that believes enhancing Nashville’s transportation system is vital to both the city and region. To this point, we are pleased to see Mayor John Cooper following through on his campaign promise to present a new Transportation Plan for Nashville within his first year as mayor. We hope to find more ways to work together as we move forward.CM-T concludes the mayor’s new transportation plan does support and enhance residents’ transportation options.

Increasing access and frequency, improving current public transit services, adding sidewalks, and implementing smarter technology along busy corridors to move vehicle traffic more efficiently are all parts of a functional and effective transportation system that Nashvillians deserve. Mayor Cooper’s plan attempts to solve these many issues in effective ways.

CM-T believes there is room for improvement, it’s our hope that we can work together to continue creating a cohesive and intentional plan that meets the goals outlined above because Nashville communities are worthy of improvements to our transportation system. To get there, we support adding a dedicated funding strategy for a transparent process and timeline that allows us to reliably reach the objective outlined above. 

 

Signed,

CM-T Partners

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Faye promptly responded (see bullet points below). It’s nice to have such a good rapport with the Mayor’s office.

  1. Metro Nashville recognizes the need and necessity of dedicated funding so that major projects can proceed to implementation. Further, dedicated funding is necessary for the comprehensive Metro wide impact of this system of projects to realize the performance of 94% and 92% respectively of improvements within ½ mile of our residents and employers as well as other specified performance measures. That said, we equally appreciate the unprecedented times that Metro has found itself in over the past year with financial matters, tornadoes, and the pandemic creating economic uncertainty for so many of our residents and businesses. The opportunistic funding approach in the short term allows us to make progress, build community confidence, and allow for necessary recovery to occur. You will also note in the Appendix section on funding strategies from Infrastrategies work, page 4, slide entitled Metro Nashville’s Transportation Plan Timeline that between 2023-2026 Intermediate includes “Develop and implement local funding package to advance Nashville’s Transportation Plan”. We will further mention that in the Executive Summary to be included in the final plan document.

  2. The Downtown Neighborhood Traffic project contained in the plan is intended to advance with identified funding within the first 18 months. The detail of the scope will be further refined during that timeframe.

  3. We appreciate your recognition of the importance of improving safety for all system users most notably evidenced by the Mayor’s commitment of Metro Nashville to a Vision Zero City.

The Transit Alliance and Connect Mid TN will continue to work toward ensuring dignified transportation options for all.

Connect Mid-TN Partners