News from Nashville

It’s not even spring yet, but there’s a lot of bike and transport news items happening in Nashville!

Last week, I attended a “visioning session” at Oasis Bike Workshop about the Tennessee portion of the United States Bicycle Route System.  The route system, which was started in the early 1980s, has ramped up again in the last 10 years—six new routes were added in 2011, and two in Minnesota and Michigan last year.

bicyclingroute

Now, they want to plan a route to bring USBR 25 through Tennessee, connecting Franklin, Kentucky, with Ardmore, Alabama, and passing through Nashville. David Shumaker and Bruce Day from Bike/Walk Tennessee came to explain the concept of the Bicycle Route System.

corridorplan

After their talk, we divided into two groups and marked a map of the greater Nashville area with stickers, highlighting places of interest (yellow), bike-friendly routes (green) and places to avoid (pink).

map

Once a route is pulled together, it will have to be submitted to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials at their spring or fall meeting for approval. Looking at the map made me realize that I need to expand my biking horizons a little—there wasn’t much that I could add outside the urban center and the greenways! Maybe it’s time for a more ambitious ride…

You can follow the USBRS on Facebook or Twitter (@usbicycleroutes)—and of course I’ll be posting anything I hear here.  If you have a brilliant idea for a route through Nashville (or between Nashville and Franklin—we were slightly stumped!), email me and I’ll pass it along. If you’re curious about what might be going on with the USBRS in your state, this PDF gives a brief update, state-by-state.

The other Tennessee project I got a glimpse of this month was the Nashville Bus Rapid Transfer project, which is going full steam on the East-West Connector. They wanted input from cyclists about how we might use the BRT, and where they should put bike racks (answer: all of the stops!). It was encouraging to see that the people involved really cared about getting this right, for the city and for the citizens—including cyclists.

a mock-up of the BRT, at the intersection of Broadway and 21st Ave. S.

Concept mock-up of the BRT, at the intersection of West End and 21st Ave. S.

The buses, which will be double length and hold around 80 people, will have designated lanes for most of the route, which goes down West End from St. Thomas, merges onto Broadway, then takes a left on 5th to Church and then across the Woodland Street bridge to Five Points in East Nashville.

I won’t lie, I’m kind of bummed we aren’t getting light rail—but BRT is about a million times cheaper (why yes, that is an exact figure!) and quicker to build. There will be kiosks at each stop, where you can buy tickets, as well as sheltered waiting areas and the aforementioned bike racks. There will be park-and-ride locations and extra bike racks at both termini. And the buses are going to act like light rail, which is the important thing. You don’t have to consult a schedule, because they’ll be coming by every 10 minutes.

We were told that it currently takes 16 minutes to get to downtown from St. Thomas. If traffic continues to grow at the pace it has been over the past few years, and no major transportation changes are implemented, by 2018 the same 5-mile trip will take more than 30 minutes, so this project is definitely needed. Construction could start as early as this fall, although it probably won’t be completed until 2015. For more on the BRT plans, this video is a good summary.

What’s going on in your city’s transportation world?

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10 thoughts on “News from Nashville

  1. If I have my sums right, the average speed from St. Thomas to downtown is about the same as the cruise speed of a typical commuter bike, and getting slower. That means the only advantage to not riding a bike is weather protection including A/C, while that advantages to riding a bike are 2 or 3 orders of magnitude lower initial purchase price, lower fuel costs (partially canceled out by some people having to buy more food), aerobic exercise on a regular basis, and zero pollution from the vehicle while the operator pollution only increases slightly (and only in the worst-case scenario) over the motor vehicle alternative, resulting in a net reduction of pollution. I wouldn’t like to ride in the hills in TN (I greatly prefer the flat prairies of TX), but this would not be a bad ride if the same investment was made in segregated bicycle infrastructure that was proposed for bus infrastructure. IOW for less money initially and almost no ongoing costs you could move more people without creating more traffic or any more pollution.

    Not that it would ever get built, but it’s nice to think about.

    • LGRAB says:

      Well, yes, that is definitely nice to think about. And as far as hills in Nashville go, the grade along West End isn’t even that bad. But for a project like that to be worth the investment, there would have to be projects like that going on all around the city—because if you can get from St. Thomas to downtown easily by bike, but can’t get anywhere else in the city easily by bike, people are still going to drive. And tearing up the whole city to build segregated bike routes when less than 1% of residents ride bikes is not going to happen. While I love dreaming about cycle routes as much as the next girl, I am also excited about real-world projects like BRT that would give people an incentive to drive less and consider multi-modal commuting…which in the long run, could increase the number of cyclists and the will to build bike infrastructure. (OK, reading over this, I’m probably a little bit of a dreamer too…)

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Guesty_McSpanky says:

        I’m a huge fan of actual BRT, and think actual BRT has some distinct advantages over light rail. Unfortunately, with the way transportation projects are financed in the United States, the Nashville DOT will be under extreme pressure by the FTA to cut costs here, cut more costs there, cut a few more costs over there, to the point that the BRT will no longer be a BRT and will likely become a glorified bus line. So far, the best BRT system in the US is Cleveland’s Healthline, which is 7 miles long with 40 minute travel times between downtown and its outermost station. That’s more of a BT than a BRT. It does run every 5 minutes during rush hour, though, which is nice. The nice thing about light rail, (and I think a properly built/designed BRT can be just as good as a light rail. Maybe even better in some ways) is that there is no way slash it down to a glorified bus line with a thousand cuts.

        http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/17389/the-us-has-only-5-true-brt-systems-and-none-are-gold/ http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/9600/brt-creep-makes-bus-rapid-transit-inferior-to-rail/

  2. Gordon Inkeles says:

    We did one of these bike studies a few years ago in Arcata. The consultants who set it up charged the city $1 million and then left town. We still don’t have the new bike paths.

  3. Alaina Jane says:

    Before reading this post, I had never heard of USBRs. The crazy thing is, as it turns out, USBR35 runs through my town in MI. How did I not know this? I guess my only excuse is that I’ve only lived here just over a year, and apparently the cities (Roosevelt Park- where I live and Muskegon- where I work) don’t do a very good job of promoting it.

  4. Oldcyclist says:

    Hey,
    Thanks for the post. Wouldn’t reserving an existing lane for bus only travel, an existing lane for bike only travel, and letting the third lane be used for those who are just to stubborn to give up their cars work! Then the city doesn’t pay an arm and leg for new infrastructure. Sooner or later, automobile drivers get the message and viola, the bus doesn’t look that bad!! Especially those sleek looking machines! Keep on riding the bike, you are the impending wave! Change comes when we all ride. Hey roadies, commute too! Thanks for your blog, I love it!!

  5. Sten says:

    I think the concept image of the BRT shows the intersection of West End Ave and 21st Ave S as you would see it from the Lowes Vanderbilt building (Broadway and 21st Ave do not intersect).

    • LGRAB says:

      Thanks for noticing my typo — West End and Broadway are still completely different streets at that point! I edited the caption.

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