Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sulphur Dell "community meeting" made ballpark look like done deal, but audience posed hardball questions that require quality-of-life answers

Thursday afternoon's community meeting sponsored by Metro Planning and the Mayor's Office on the latter's plans--with an assist from the state--to build a new Sulphur Dell ballpark was a reveal of information they had been playing close to the vest. As quoted in the Tennessean, I came away from the meeting feeling guardedly optimistic, but not because of the info I got from the concept's unveiling. What impressed me most--regardless of the marketing spin put on a new ballpark by Metro planners, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling and a cast of architects and designers--was the quality of questions asked by the audience during the Q&A session after the pitch. At one point during the Q&A, Mr. Riebeling quipped that he was hoping for more "softball questions". I came away feeling that if a ballpark does get approved it will not be because ordinary Nashvillians neither failed to ask critical questions nor neglected to hold Metro government accountable.

South Davidson State Rep Jason Powell:
owns property in Hope Gardens
The questions asked were even more noteworthy than the turn-out, which the Mayor's supporters and pro-ballpark minions (many of whom met with the Mayor's Office before the 2p community meeting and donned red "Sulphur Dell" t-shirts) are spinning as impressive. Admittedly, the meeting seemed well-attended. There were approximately 100 chairs set up for the event. By the time the meeting started the audience was standing room only. I would charitably add 100 people standing to those seated. The total was likely somewhere around 200 (which is what the Tennessean estimated). Planning officials opened the meeting by saying that they were aware of the inconvenient scheduling of the meeting for working people and by promising to have more community meetings that others will be able to attend.

CM Walter Hunt: buoyed by campaign donations
and a catbird seat on the Planning Commission
According to Finance Director Riebeling's count, there were approximately 20 elected Metro and State officials present. I would add to that maybe a dozen from the news media. At least a half a dozen planners and around a dozen support staffers and assistants were also there. When I take those factors into account, I would guess that there were likely around 100-150 citizens, many in suits, there. The troubling question is: how many more could have shown up if this media circus were not held in the middle of the afternoon on a work day?

While I did not submit any questions myself, the audience queries touched on most of the concerns I expressed last week (planners asked the audience to present their questions on cards and hand them to the front). At least a dozen, maybe more critical and thoughtful questions oriented toward quality of life concerns in the community were asked.

Here is the information I learned that addressed the questions I asked last week:

  1. "Complete Streets" and parking?

  2. The planner receiving question cards from the audience observed that queries about impact on parking seemed the most popular. I would add, "As they should be". This scale of development has the potential to be a dramatic day-to-day problem for the communities along the Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks corridors to the north and west of the project (the Sounds are said to want the ballpark to be in use 365 days a year for "nontraditional" events). All that the planners and developers seemed to be able to hope was that people would be motivated to utilize 17,000 parking spaces Downtown that they said are available during evening ball games. They also said that the distance from the Gulch and from Downtown garages and lots is "walkable", without any reference to infrastructural changes to sidewalks and streets that would discourage auto traffic and encourage pedestrian traffic. Building a ballpark without sizable upgrades to thoroughfares would be purely symbolic as well as discouraging of Complete Streets.

    Mr. Riebeling said that he expects the impact on the North End neighborhoods to be "minimal" going into the first season. However, in the event that parking does start to be a problem for residents, "Metro will take steps to deal with it", said Riebeling. The problem with that is that it is probably too late for us to deal with it. At that point the Sounds and developers within the footprint will be lobbying and leveraging Metro to allow fans to park in any convenient space because their primary interest is in maximizing their attendance before, during and after ballgames. We need a plan for any scenario now. Not after the build happens and the profit motive blooms full.

  3. The North Nashville Community Plan?

  4. No mention was made of the relationship between a ballpark and the North Nashville Community Plan. Will it come up in future meetings Metro Planning said they will schedule in the community? The lack of consideration was further evidence to me that the first "community meeting" had more to do with marketing to the media and setting the tone for future discussions. I can say this: architects said that their intent is to blend the new development with the history of the area much like the ballpark will be blended with the greenway that currently slices through Sulphur Dell. The team insisted on the name "ballpark" instead of "stadium" based on their belief that a small facility connoted by the former can integrate the communities. They said that they see "a gap" between Downtown and Germantown and Salemtown. They intend the ballpark to fill that gap. If they do intend "to knit" these neighborhoods together, they will have to be cognizant of the North Nashville Community Plan.

    The Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods Director Courtney Wheeler was there bouncing between Metro big shots. I'll be interested to see if she shows up to the promised community meetings in the neighborhoods to interact with and listen to actual neighbors. MOON should be accountable for respecting the plans upon which the neighborhoods rely to guide and to check development and growth. MOON should not strictly be whipping up support for a brick-and-mortar accomplishment to suit the political aspirations of the Mayor.

  5. Flood mitigation and neighborhood impact?

  6. Mr. Riebeling said that the Mayor's Office is "keenly aware" of the need to "manage" potential flooding. He and the architects underscored the point that most of the built space on the footprint would be above the 2010 flood stage. Architects also said that the drains under the ballfield could handle some of the run-off. That may satisfy prospective tenants and business owners of a ballpark development, but it provides little assurance for those of us in the neighborhoods. If the ballpark is going to be built on flood plain, but high enough to stay above flood stage, the water will be pushed somewhere else, perhaps higher into Salemtown and Germantown than the 2010 crests. The notion that drains can handle a catastrophic flood that backed up the storm sewers in 2010 is insulting to the intelligence of those of us who lived here in 2010.

  7. Mass transit strategy?

  8. A similar type of shuttle service as that used for Titans games will serve a new Sulphur Dell from Downtown. Architects played up the south side greenway (which, as "integrated", will be opened to ticket holders and closed to the general public during ballgames) and several ballpark entrances facing pedestrian access to Downtown. The team did not mention any strategies to limit car access from Jefferson Street to the north, although they explicitly said they expect North End residents to walk to games. I am unconvinced that they have a real strategy outside of hope.

  9. Jobs strategy?

  10. Finance Director Riebeling deferred questions about team operations hires to the Sounds, although he did say that he believed the Sounds envisioned additional jobs at Sulphur Dell. He said he sees the construction jobs as more important to address North Nashville job needs. It sounded like the same pie-in-the-sky predictions of the Dean administration in the past. No bold strategies mentioned beyond saying that some council members would make sure that minority and women owned contractors would get a fair share of construction jobs.

  11. Youth programs and service opportunities?

  12. The question did not come up. The Sounds did not have a representative to speak.

One question that came up audibly 2 or 3 times from Germantown residents had to do with fireworks, which are a staple out Sounds games (or any other sporting event nowadays). Mr. Riebeling told the crowd that this was an "operations question" that the Sounds would need to address after construction of the ballpark. The planning team insisted that the situation of lights and amplifiers mitigate any bother for local residents.

The elephant in the room that generally went unaddressed as to specifics was the impact on the Metro budget and on delivery of other Metro services. Mr. Riebeling told those in attendance that the Sounds think Sulphur Dell is a good location and that they were willing to put "real" and "deep" financial commitment into the project. The devil is in the legislation that the Mayor's Office says they plan to introduce to a generally compliant council in the coming weeks. Once that happens we will start to see the potential impact unfold.

Finally, planners and architects were throwing around names like "Capitol District" and "Ballpark District", saying that they had heard that we were using them. I have already shared my view that "District" is the most overused and boring label for communities in Nashville. I don't use either term, and I have not seen either one used very much in our particular lifeworld. Why not be more creative? How about calling the surrounding neighborhoods, "Capitol Dell"? Anything that does not have the term "district" but mirrors who we are and have been historically suits me.

The impression I was left with was that this plan is a done deal just waiting to be tied up in a bow by the State of Tennessee. If this ballpark is inevitable, the neighborhoods had better start writing, calling and cajoling Metro Council now to make sure that their quality-of-life concerns are written into the ballpark legislation. It may be a waste of time and energy to oppose and to fight a new ballpark. So, I would suggest that we leverage and push to insure that architects and planners design the kind of ballpark that will be the best neighbor to all of us who will have to live with the burdens and the inconveniences it creates.

UPDATE: video of the entire hour-long meeting posted on YouTube.


Friday, October 25, 2013

In his zeal for a ballpark, Jerry Maynard rewrites our history

Last night I started a post on my impressions of yesterday's Sulphur Dell ballpark community meeting, but it is not in a place where I am satisfied with it. In the meantime, I have been reading the media coverage and noted this:
No one was happier Thursday than At-Large Councilman Jerry Maynard, who at one point before the meeting began, could be seen standing on a chair proclaiming strong support for the project and directing a crowd to pick up red Friends of Sulphur Dell shirts.

"In 2008, we formed Friends of Sulphur Dell right here at Farmers Market, with Freddie [O'Connell, president of the Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association, who was standing nearby] and all the neighborhood association and groups,” Maynard said, following the meeting. “And we didn't know if it was going to happen, but we fought hard for Sulphur Dell because this is the birthplace of baseball [in Nashville]. This is where it should be, the neighborhood ballpark. I'm so excited that it's going to happen. I can't tell you how excited I am. I mean, it's going to happen."

If Friends of Sulphur Dell started in 2008, it is news to me and I have been blogging on North End news since 2005. The group was not announced in Salemtown until 2010, and it was my distinct impression that it was being founded at that time. 2010 was definitely the year that Salemtown Neighbors was invited to participate. The website for Friends of Sulphur Dell was not started until 2011.

CM Maynard's claim that all of the neighborhood associations "fought hard" for a new ballpark in the area is an outright fabrication, misstatement, error and any other word synonymous with "falsehood". Salemtown Neighbors has always expressed a willingness to consider a ballpark as long as all of its questions and concerns were addressed. SNNA appointed me to be one of its representatives to the Sulphur Dell group.

On April 13, 2010, a few days before this group that would become Friends of Sulphur Dell convened at Farmers' Market, Freddie sent a message to the Salemtown Neighbors listserv about a Tennessean reporter incorrectly saying that everyone in our community supported a new ballpark at the early stage:
it seems like the narrative is already that the North End supports Sulphur Dell. He called me yesterday, and I explained that we were not going to take a position till after Saturday's meeting, if at all, and I'm glad he noted that in the story.

After I made it clear in the Sulphur Dell meeting that we were on the fence and that we had particular questions about traffic and parking, and when I asked that we set up community meetings, I stopped being included in the group's proceedings (assuming they had many more after that; the website went quiet in 2011 and did not become active again until August 2013, when news media reported that the Mayor wanted Sulphur Dell).

Where Jerry Maynard now gets the idea (or the gall) to misrepresent Salemtown's support, ambivalence or opposition to a new ballpark is beyond me.

His rewrite of our history is supported by nothing I can find in my records. I received an email saying that Karl Dean told a Hope Gardens resident in 2010 that Sulphur Dell was his preferred location. I was also told by an insider whom I trust that, while the news media was reporting Sulphur Dell as only one option among others the Mayor was considering, the push for finding grassroots support for Sulphur Dell that year came top-down from the Mayor's Office. Around that same time Freddie made it clear to me that he shared concerns the association had about negative quality of life impacts of a new ballpark on Salemtown. He also told me that if Salemtown Neighbors chose to oppose Friends of Sulphur Dell, then it would be a "stumbling block to the unified approach" the boosters were trying to project.

Obviously the council member at-large has taken that disingenuous approach to heart. I hope Freddie took the time yesterday to pull Reverend Jerry Maynard to the curb and to correct his fast-and-loose abuse of the truth in his zeal for a ballpark concept that may or may not be worthy. The record should be set straight.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

It's almost like they do not want the community to attend a community meeting

It is bad enough that this afternoon's ballpark community meeting was announced by Metro Planning with short lead time and scheduled at an hour when most people who pay their own bills are at work (2:00), but the poor communication of it by accountable Metro officials since last week's announcement is even worse.

Two parties who should have been taking the lead on notifying the neighborhoods most affected by a new Sulphur Dell ballpark have done very little to lead.

The only word I have received from our council member, Erica Gilmore, was an email sent last night (a little over 12 hours before the meeting convenes at Farmers' Market). The email was nothing but a cut and paste job of last week's Metro Planning announcement, which she could have cut and paste and sent out last week. Waiting for developing news on the project before emailing constituents is one thing, but dragging her feet on an announcement that was nothing but week-old cut and paste is irresponsible in light of the fact that this is a community meeting on a project that she has consistently touted in communications before.

Like gangbusters in August email blast
In August, no more than 24 hours after the news media broke the story and nearly 3 weeks before the Mayor officially unveiled his plan for Sulphur Dell, CM Gilmore sent out a "media advisory" email to her list declaring her unequivocal, unqualified support for a ballpark that had not been expressed in plan, design or community impact yet. In that declaration, she also speculated that all of her constituents were "thrilled" with the idea. Not that we were open to it. Not that we were willing to listen and provide feedback. Not even that many were thrilled but that she hoped that those who were unsure might hop on board after considering the plans. No. She took it upon herself to speak for us as if she had actually polled us (I have not seen a survey yet). She shot from the hip in August, despite the fact that she has at least one neighborhood association that remains unclear whether it supports a Sulphur Dell ballpark.

The point I am trying to make is that CM Gilmore came out with announcements of support like a house afire, and she presumed to speak for the community at that time. Now that community meetings are being held where there might actually be popular reactions to the plan she supports, she is late with her announcements to the community. I have talked to at least two other constituents since I got the email who have heard nothing from CM Gilmore about this meeting.

The second party who should have been communicating today's event to the neighborhoods is the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods. Outside of 2 or 3 tweets on the subject, they have done nothing that I am aware of to communicate the Sulphur Dell community meeting. I cannot even find any news on their static website. And yet, this is the Mayor's initiative. The fact that MOON would drop the ball on this means either that they do not care about neighborhoods or that they are more concerned to control the community reaction by discouraging citizen attendance, which still means that they do not care about the neighborhoods.

The poor communication by Metro officials on today's community meeting is disgraceful. I would not be surprised if I walked into a room full of developers, bureaucrats, politicos and the flacks that support them. That may be how Mayor Dean wants it: as undemocratic and as exclusive as possible.

Friday, October 18, 2013

6 important questions I would ask planners of a new Sulphur Dell ballpark

These are questions I am hoping will be answered at next week's community meeting on a new Sulphur Dell ballpark sponsored by Metro Planning. They are in no particular order:

  1. Please tell us how you are going to incorporate the idea of "Complete Streets" (that is, making streets safe for all forms of transportation besides cars) into the ballpark development.

  2. Complete streets at Fenway:
    2 sidewalks, 3 planters & 1 rain garden!
    • Karl Dean paid lip service to Complete Streets consistently throughout his tenure. He should not have a problem demonstrating that the redevelopment around the Sulphur Dell site will place limits on auto traffic while installing amenities for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. In their stories on Dean's ballpark designs, the news media is fond of dropping the factoid that the Mayor is a big Red Sox fan. If Dean fails to include complete streets in his design, would it be too much for the media to point to redevelopments around Boston's Fenway Park that have aggressively incorporated Complete Streets and to ask about the lack of consistency at Sulphur Dell?

  3. How does a new Sulphur Dell fit alongside the North Nashville Community Plan?

    • Pick your plan. 2002: traffic calming along the major roads and a diversity of housing stock to attract diverse groups of residents including lower density options. 2010: parking solutions for busy urban corridors, leaving flood plain undeveloped, conserving green space, restricting taller buildings to major corridors. The community has a clear track record of expressing how they would prefer growth to be managed rather than be permitted to run amuck. A new ballpark plan should be consistent and sensitive to already formulated community plans, which represent the most significant democratic brake on the power of money and on Johnny-come-lately political influence.

  4. What measures are taken to incorporate flood mitigation into this ballpark plan? What will be the impact on the North Nashville neighborhoods of Sulphur Dell flood mitigation in the event of another catastrophic flood?

    • This is a simple equation: the old Sulphur Dell flooded because the ballpark sat on flood plain. In May 2010 the area flooded again. Metro plans to do what it tries to prohibit Nashvillians from doing since 2010: build on flood plain. If they do not take measures for mitigation, the new Sulphur Dell will likely be inundated in a catastrophe. If they do mitigate future floods, the water will have to go somewhere. The most obvious place it will go is higher into the surrounding neighborhoods.

  5. What is the mass transit plan for the North Capitol area to MetroCenter on game and event days/nights at a new ballpark? If the only plan is to build more parking for car owners on site, what plans do you have for alleviating overflow parking and congestion in the nearby neighborhoods?

    • Parking is already becoming a huge challenge with the rapid wave of mixed-use developments sweeping the area, including massive apartment complexes. The stadium plan includes even more mixed-use residential along with the entertainment complex itself. The strain on on-street parking, our primary mode of parking, will only grow more intense. If the Mayor is committed to Complete Streets in more than just words, Jefferson Street will become a choke point of cars, bikes and people without a mass transit strategy that he has yet to divulge (if he has one).

  6. Besides uncertain, pie-in-the-sky predictions of local job growth with new businesses around a new ballpark, what job strategies do you have for hiring people from North Nashville for every phase from construction to team operations?

    • Watchdogs of another of Mayor Dean's immense capital projects, the Music City Center, discovered during the construction phase that Hizzoner did not follow through on promises to extend contracts to local companies and that jobs created by MCC looked lousy. The planners of a new ballpark should have to explain why North Nashville can expect more from the development than Music City Center offered our community.

  7. What commitments can we get from the Nashville Sounds baseball club that they will provide programs and service opportunities for North Nashville youth (for example, inner city baseball training programs)?

    • I am not aware of anything that the Sounds are working on with neighborhoods around Greer Stadium. North Nashville needs the ball club to commit to be more involved here.

Those are six I have off the top of my head and a good start toward formulating other important questions. Look forward to hearing from others who are concerned about our quality of life.

UPDATE:  Nashville Scene reporter Steven Hale gets Metro Planning to explain why they would schedule a community meeting on the ballpark in the middle of a weekday afternoon when most people cannot attend the meeting. Planning's response to Hale indicates to me that this meeting may be more of a pitch of a done deal to the community and less of an invitation to influence the ballpark plan:

This was the first meeting Metro and the State could schedule that could work for all of the speakers, and we wanted to get the conversation started.

For those unable to attend, we plan to tape the meeting so that they can view the presentation online and make comments and ask questions. We also hope to offer more community meetings as this process continues to give additional opportunities for community questions and comments.

So, there is a slate of speakers and they are going to tape for the "benefit" of those who cannot attend. It does not sound like to me that they are enlisting the community's participation in the formulation of this plan. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that since the unnamed speakers' attendance is more important than the community's attendance, the plan has been agreed upon between Metro and the State without reference to community planning. Yesterday in an email exchange with Planning's Craig Owensby about the meeting I asked him whether such a perception was correct. I received no response from him on that particular question.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Salemtown association walks a delicate, but firm line on the way to a Sulphur Dell ballpark

I find it interesting that Metro Planning's announcement of a community meeting to discuss a new ballpark at Sulphur Dell is coming on the heels of some notable conclusions that Salemtown Neighbors recently came to. SNNA had a business meeting a couple of weeks ago, and a new Sulphur Dell was on the agenda. The members present expressed concerns about unanswered questions about impact of the development, and they agreed that a community meeting with Metro officials to address their questions was necessary.

In my opinion, SNNA has generally been the most reflective and inquiring of a ballpark of any of the four neighborhood associations in the North End. Both Germantown and Hope Gardens hopped aboard the Mayor's ballpark bandwagon without a second thought to quality of life questions. I am not absolutely certain of the differences that would cause SNNA to be more circumspect about a ballpark, but I do know that their past stances on preservation, conservation and quality of life could make an all-in embrace of a new ballpark an uncharacteristic stretch.

Salemtown Neighbors is just coming off a long and contentious bid to pass a conservation overlay, which set height limits to protect the residential character of the neighborhood. That hard, but successful conservation struggle should have sensitized members to the important questions about untrammeled growth and its negative effects on community development. But an uncritical and blind acceptance of a ballpark would also be at odds with our association's history. After a period of open discussion and debate about impact, SNNA expressed support for Germantown's historic overlay in 2008. In 2005, SNNA opposed the closing of historic Jones Paideia Elementary School in support of their PTO's struggles with Metro Nashville Public Schools. To break with our past of exercised thoughtfulness about demolition and development would be inconsistent with who we have been.

If this ballpark plan passes, it should not do so without officials honestly answering serious questions about its long-term impact on our quality of life. You can bet that politicians with power interests, property owners with real estate interests and developers with exclusive interests in the financial bottom line will all show up to next week's community meeting. They will not be the ones asking the critical questions. They will be too busy bandwagoning and cheerleading this project. The process will need level-headed, sober community leaders to ask adult questions about this project. And SNNA's history on development has been one about cutting through childishness and asking the grown-up questions.

The news media tends to focus on the unabashed boosters and to ignore those with serious questions. And yet the latter are the ones who will eventually be the most effective catalysts of a sustainable and contextually-consistent ballpark integrated rather than at-odds with community life. Amid positive comments, the media parrots the Mayor's points that a ballpark would be an economic boon for the Jefferson Street business corridor. And yet, who will speak up for preserving the quality of life around our homes off Jeff St as economic development spreads if not the neighborhood associations? The Mayor has responded in the past that the neighborhood associations would be brought in at some point, but that a ballpark belongs to all of Nashville. Likewise, shouldn't the ballpark's impact on community development in Salemtown, Germantown, Hope Gardens and Buena Vista matter at least as much as the economic development for Jefferson Street's merchant association? The ballpark's beneficiaries should not begin and end at Jeff St.

If you look around different parts of Nashville, there are communities recently in upheaval after economic development in the business sector outstripped quality of life in the neighborhoods. We know that the Mayor and the powerful interests who are largely free to show up at next week's mid-afternoon community meeting at the Farmers' Market are going to breathlessly booster a ballpark. If the neighborhoods fail to warn the city to step back in order to take deeper breaths before taking the plunge, there will not be anyone left to do so.

Sulphur Dell ballpark "community meeting" announced

I, like many of you, just received the following in my box:

Information session and community meeting to discuss new baseball stadium

The Metro Planning Department will hold an information session and community meeting to discuss the proposed new baseball stadium in Sulphur Dell (south of Jefferson/Jackson Street, west of Third Avenue North, north of Harrison Street, and east of Fifth Avenue North).

Sulphur Dell is the historic home of professional baseball in Nashville.

This event will include discussions about the stadium project, site and building design, street design, and operational impacts. Community members will have the opportunity to submit questions and comments.

The information session and community meeting will take place on Thursday, October 24, from 2 pm to 3:30 pm at the Nashville Farmers' Market, 900 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard, Nashville, TN 37208.

I guess I should be pleased that they are going to have a community meeting, but can it really be a bona fide community meeting if most of the working people in the community are not free to leave work to attend at 2:00 in the afternoon?

And I am withholding judgment on what is meant by the public having the opportunity to "submit questions and comments". Hopefully, this means that the community will have influence over the development, just as it did the North Nashville and Downtown community plans. We will see.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reflections on last weekend's Germantown Oktoberfest (and Germantown Street Fest)

Munich's Paulaner friar now a relic of Oktoberfests past

Having just passed my 9th straight year of attending Oktoberfest celebrations a few blocks down from my home I have a few reflections on the 2013 version just past:

  • The split of the two festivals from one Germantown Oktoberfest into the Oktoberfest and the Germantown Street Festival gets more regrettable each year. In their interactions with me over the years Historic Germantown leaders have tended to play their motives for breaking with the churches over the community-congregation fundraiser close to the vest. They would not share their reasons even when they expressed dissatisfaction with mine as a local blogger on the subject. (There has been drama, too).
  • The split continues to strike me as lacking any d├ętente. This year Oktoberfest leaders but up an inflatable arch between the street fest and their celebration with a banner that read: "Nashville's Original German Festival". When entertainer Lari White posted on Twitter that she would be appearing at Oktoberfest, Oktoberfest tweeted back confusion about her appearance. Ms. White was actually slated to appear at Germantown Street Fest. Do the two sides appear to have any diplomatic relations at this point?
  • There are profound cultural and class differences that could be a wedge between these two festivals. Oktoberfest continues to be a homecoming for former Germantown residents. It tends to showcase German folk and country music. Germantown Street Fest has little "German" and a lot of "street fest". It inclines to popular music as well as more high-brow jazz (to go with that glass of wine). One Oktoberfest leader told me of personal concerns that there is an exclusive demographic moving into Germantown with less diverse tastes and less interested in preserving the community's history and character: young childless adults who likely will not lay down roots here and likewise are not concerned about the roots from whence Germantown sprang.
  • Funds preserve historic churches
  • The decision by Oktoberfest organizers to start their celebration on Friday evening (5p-9p) is a winner. If they do it again next year, I'll be back. The turnout was better than I expected for the limited offerings they had (mostly biergarten fare and polka music), but it had the feel of being more for the locals than Saturday's blitzkrieg of festival goers. If Germantown Street Fest organizers want to keep up, they might consider kicking off on Friday night as well. I can see the Friday Oktoberfest pre-party becoming its own thing.
  • How can they hold an authentic German Oktoberfest and not have authentic German beer on draft? The sponsor for Oktoberfest was American brewer Sam Adams. The sponsor of the Germantown Street Festival was local brewing company Yazoo Brew. I am not an opponent of either buying American or buying local, but I was disappointed that my only choice at a German festival was between Sam and Yazoo. One Germantown Street Fest beer puller offered the information that they did put the beer in Spaten cups (left over from last year?). Great. A veneer for my beer. When I bought my Paulaner stein filled with Paulaner beer here years ago I was told that Germany's festival sponsor shipped unused steins directly from Munich's Oktoberfest, which ended the week before Germantown's celebration. I always thought that was cool. I'm not demanding Reinheitsgebot, and I acknowledge that beers made in the German style make this a slippery question, but come on; no German beers offered at these German festivals? Really?

I usually record past impressions of Oktoberfest in photos, jump to see them.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bus rapid transit plan being sold as tried and true even though it is a convoluted experiment hemmed in by straw men

Vanderbilt professor Malcolm Getz sent a letter opposing the plan to fund bus rapid transit down West End to Metro Council a little over a week ago. His comments are relevant to my views of the BRT proposal:

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) sent a funding request to the FTA prematurely. The MTA systematically suppresses critical documents and misrepresents the effects of its proposal. We have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for the original Parson's-Brinkerhoff study, and have not received it. We have received (through FOIA) the Alternatives Analysis and the Preliminary Engineering Report (118 pp. and 333 pp. respectively.) All of these reports were taxpayer funded and none have been made available to the public. The reports published on the MTA website are merely excerpts and summaries, and do not reflect the facts presented in the full reports. The MTA claims public involvement and implies public approval.

The MTA’s letter to the Council today refers to the "Alternatives Analysis" for the corridor begun in 2011, which forms the basis for the MTA Board’s January 2012 recommendation to advance the current plan. The plan removes lanes from traffic to dedicate them to buses. The Metro Council, State officials, and the Federal Transit Administration should insist on seeing the Alternatives Analysis. I have discussed the lack of public access to the full report with Mr. Peter Rogoff, the Federal Transit Administrator.

A pivotal issue is increased traffic congestion. The project removes two lanes of traffic and a turn lane from key sections of the highway between 440 and 5th Avenue. As a consequence, the project will dramatically increase traffic congestion, creating choke points. This effect will begin immediately as construction begins and will remain at a higher level after the project is complete. Although a number of other cities have deployed limited-stop bus rapid transit, only a few have provided lanes just for buses, and among these, none have taken lanes from major arterial roadways in the center of the city where no alternate routes are available for traffic. The AMP proposal is an experiment, but is presented as "tried and true."

The MTA claims that the new bus service will enhance access to the three major hospitals between 440 and 40 but the plan provides no bus stops at any of the three hospitals. Travelers face transfers to other vehicles or long walks to complete their journeys. Indeed, the bus stops are a block or more from major cross streets that provide connection to these major destinations. The quality of bus service to major mid-town destinations will be inferior to that provided today. This information is not included in the Summary Reports.

The primary effect of the project for bus riders is to move people from today’s cost effective service to a less convenient and more expensive service. The MTA claims the project will serve 4,500 weekday riders daily. But its own ridership estimates demonstrate that the vast majority of these riders are already making trips by bus. A very high level of expenditure per added local bus rider means the project is not cost effective.

The MTA proposes to dramatically reduce the frequency of the local bus service, making bus service less convenient for many people who make short bus trips and value being able to enter and exit buses at any blue bus stop sign. A major reduction in local bus service means that access to mid-town hotels and restaurants will degrade. The proposed limited stop bus service will not appeal to convention visitors.

I have spoken to many groups about this project and found that, once people understand the details, even many enthusiastic supporters of better public transportation for Nashville—and I count myself among them—become skeptical of this plan. It serves Nashville poorly. The MTA should make the public documents available for review and reconsider the issues of traffic congestion and bus ridership.

I have made it clear before that my opposition to Nashville's "Amp" as proposed by Mayor Karl Dean is based on the fact that alternatives analysis of routes has not been made public for scrutiny. We cannot thoroughly judge the validity of the claims of Metro Transit deciders (for instance, that West End is the best route for bus rapid transit) until we have access to the data collected from all routes. It would be interesting to know whether there is something to hide about Charlotte Pike and other alternatives that might make the West End corridor less compelling than the Mayor's supporters let on. (One other interesting question raised by CM Josh Stites is whether the HCA jobs projections, now sinking into refilling Lake Palmer, were included in MTA's filed proposal for federal funds).

The failure to be forthcoming is magnified by the fact that Metro Nashville has a tradition of neglecting North Nashville and of concentrating resources and infrastructure west and east. While the new "Amp Coalition" represents a rebranding of the mission to build an east-west connector and an attempt to flip the script to say that West End is merely the first move to provide BRT for everyone, I can see no good reason to have faith that North Nashville is even on the agenda of these hip transit nexters.

For his part the Mayor, rather than simply ordering that all analyses be made public, has taken to tilting at windmills:

The strongest case for The Amp would seem to be that as the mayor says, worse traffic is coming no matter what. West End, a corridor that is already often congested, will only get more and more crowded as the Middle Tennessee region grows (according to the city's oft-cited projection) by a million people between now and 2035. A transit option without a dedicated lane does little to solve this, the mayor and project supporters reasonably argue, because it would be subject to the same worsening congestion.

Unfortunately, the mayor wields this argument against an opponent unrecognizable to anyone who's been following the debate over The Amp. Call it "Dean to Straw Man: Drop Dead."

Sure, people may say, "Let's just leave everything alone, let's change nothing" — but largely they aren't saying that. There are those who strongly support investing in transit but think that we should start on Charlotte Avenue (and include parts of North Nashville, where many people depend on public transit). There are others who say a BRT Lite system — like those in operation on Gallatin Road and Murfreesboro Road — would be a better option on West End.

Why is Hizzoner acting so quixotic on an issue he should be winning? Steven Hale goes on to suggest a possibility: Mr. Dean may be expecting us to buy into Amp not on the basis of its merits, but simply because he himself as Mayor expects us to. If this is mayoral hubris, it is further indication to some of us who have not seen alternative data that West End might not be able to stand on its own merits.