Everyone's talking about the push for Bus Rapid Transit in Nashville — like a subway, but above ground and subject to the same shitty drivers that the rest of us face on every commute, especially when it rains! (Note: I'm sure that won't be the official slogan, but feel free to adopt it as the unofficial one.)
The City Paper has a very informative story about it:
With buses stopping every 10 minutes, waits should be minimal — and relatively pleasant after the surrounding streetscape is upgraded. Buses will occupy two dedicated lanes of traffic, one in each direction, likely in a middle median along West End-Broadway. The key to BRT’s speed is its coordination with traffic signals: BRT has priority. As cars line up bumper to bumper during rush hour, these buses will whiz through green lights, making for trips that are 25 percent faster.
Over at The Tennessean, Gail Kerr explains what she thinks stands in the project's way — "We Nashvillians are in love with our cars. We want to come and go as we please and park with ease. Changing that will not come easily."
I know it's easy enough to pick on Gail Kerr, but this is trite. Go to any city with a functioning public transportation system and you can come and go as you please. The idea that people are sitting around Chicago or New York feeling like they just can't go anywhere because they don't have a car is laughable. People in Nashville don't have some great love affair with their cars that other cities lack and that's why no one uses public transportation.
The fact is that we don't now have a functioning public transportation system. We've done just enough to say we have one but not enough to really make it work for people. It's more convenient to drive almost anywhere.
Check out Rachel Walden's attempt to take the bus to her neighborhood library, a task people in cities with working public transportation take for granted:
It’s a challenge to try to take public transit — here, the only option is the city bus via Nashville MTA (unless you pay for a taxi), and the online trip planner suggests that getting to the nearest branch by bus would take from 30 to 40 minutes, one way. 30-40 minutes, to end up 2 miles from my house. Depending on which way I chose to go (one route requires more walking, another requires going all the way downtown first and two buses), it would cost $1.70 to $3.40 one way. Alternately, I could spend 30 minutes on one bus to go downtown and then just walk to the much bigger and nicer Downtown branch.
I think if you had small children in tow, or other demands on your time, period, spending an hour or more just to get there and back (not counting actual time at the library), is a pretty sizable deterrent. On weekends, some bus routes only run once per hour, so you’d have to really time it carefully and hope the route is running on time (not at all a given), or you might end up spending even more time.
I repeat, "on weekends, some bus routes only run once per hour." If we don't run buses often enough to tempt people to use them, then we're not going to ever really transition from a city where everyone drives to one where people use public transportation. This means that if BRT is going to be successful, it can't just run every 10 minutes during the work day. It needs to run every 10 or 15 minutes until late into the night — like an actual subway.
People need to feel confident that they're going to be able to take the bus home when they want to go before they're willing to take the bus anyplace else. Otherwise, yes, they will stick to their cars. That's not because we love our cars, but because we don't find public transportation convenient.