Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AMPscam: in the absence of studies "presume" the studies

And "forward" ain't "northward"
Because of family illness, I did not have a chance to watch Metro Council proceedings on the Mayor's budget proposals last week live. Yesterday, I started going back and watching the video from the last meeting. I was particularly interested in CM Josh Stites' amendment for bus rapid transit that would have required a study of alternatives to the Mayor's Office selection of West End be included as part of the bond resolution.

The amendment had received a good amount of media attention, which is likely one of the reasons it also was opposed by 3 different CMs before debate was cut off prematurely. The points expressed against the clause were all feeble. Peter Westerholm trotted out, as if on script, the same tired talking points he has in the media. Jason Holleman, who said he shared some of Stites' concerns, argued that he received assurances that Mayor Karl Dean would consider alternatives in the future and that we should place trust in those assurances.

But the weakest tea of all came from CM Jerry Maynard, an at-Large who often self-styles as a North Nashville representative. In his comments to council lawyer Jon Cooper and then to CM Stites on the amendment, Mr. Maynard ran interference for Hizzoner:

Cooper: [I]t's included in the initial bond resolution as part of the project to be funded.
Maynard: If we pass this, what impact will it this have?
Cooper: If MTA has already done such a study, then that would satisfy [Stites'] clause ... [MTA] would have to answer that, but if funds have already been spent for that study and they don't need to do that, then they could show that they have already satisfied that part of the study.
Maynard: Based on the comments that I've heard from [Mr. Ballard] and others, that they have looked at other routes and determined that West End would be the best place to start. I think you could presume that a study has been done of alternative routes and I would aks if CM Stites would withdraw his amendment.
Stites: If [studies] have in fact already been done it would be best to leave the amendment in; and then, if the studies fulfill or meet the amendment then it would move forward

Plainly, all CM Maynard had to do if he wanted to put to rest the question of whether West End is the best alternative is hold the alternative analysis up and refer to the sections that considered options like Charlotte Pike or Gallatin Road. Why not simply read MTA's conclusions, if they exist, to the council? Instead, CM Maynard lectured those with honest questions to "presume" that MTA has done the studies absent any transparent data.

Either the data on alternatives to West End doesn't exist, it is being hidden from the public or all of the Mayor's supporters are willing to jettison transparency and openness in government in the name of placing blind faith in both Karl Dean and MTA. In any one of those scenarios the principle of informed consent has been violated.

So, Jerry Maynard sowed seeds of doubt toward an entirely even-handed, fair proposal, and then North Nashville CM Walter Hunt called for the question, effectively terminating any more debate on adding alternatives analysis as a requirement of the bond resolution. Despite the fact that the Mayor's BRT/AMP plan excludes North Nashville from access to the transit cash that could roll in, none of the North Nashville CMs present--not Matthews, not Harrison, not Langster--raised any questions about alternatives. They all seem to have acquiesced to the Mayor's Office, as has a majority of the council, which voted down Josh Stites' attempt at fairness.

The final report on BRT assumes the West End corridor from beginning to end. The "Alternatives Evaluated" sections only consider alternatives in modes of transit (for instance, light rail vs. BRT) rather than alternatives in corridors considered. The only consideration given to other areas for BRT are for speculative, future possibilities that will no doubt compete with one another. There is nothing to suggest that Charlotte Avenue or any other North Nashville corridor will get consideration over say, connecting the east-west corridor with 21st/Hillsboro to Green Hills. The absence of any consideration in the final report of other corridors further underscores the probability that the analysis is not open to public discussion (and Metro does not make access to this limited report easy, charging a chunk of change to acquire it).

And one more thing. CM Bruce Stanley's earlier comment (in a different context) that a number of council members have been kept in the dark on BRT/AMP sustains my perception that the Mayor's supporters have not been on the up-and-up about the viability of all options. It seems that even council members are voting on this initiative from a position of ignorance or a tacit acknowledgement that the deal was done on arrival. Even its council supporters can only refer to nebulous faith and presumption absent any hard data. That is no way to serve the public on such an important question concerning so much money.


  1. The "study" that selected the Amp route was a 2009 Metro Transit master plan. Basically, that was a wish-list.

    Broadway-West End was targeted for transit improvelments. After the master plan was released, East Nashville got added. I believe lots of other routes are on the wish-list, but this doesn't include mode of transportation.

    When it came to pay for the wish-list, the only available option was West-East because that is the only option that would get federal funding because of people density.

    The Amp is about development. Amp is being done (over other more-deserving) because he who pays gets to make decisions on where the buses go.

    Your post is spot-on.


  2. 2009 - Master Plan

    You see on about page 8 of the Exec Summary that BRT on West End is noted as long term (2026-2035 timeline). Something moved it to the front of the queue. I'm not familiar with MTA projects, but it would be interesting to check each of the short and mid-term projects and see how many have been completed.

    Jan, 2011 - Broadway West End

    April, 2011: Just Broadway-West End -