Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Cleveland's curse" could be North Nashville's curse if Amp is built

For the sake of argument, let's grant without question the major points east-west connector supporters are giving for building the Amp:

  1. Since Cleveland, which some ballyhoo as a success, is the model for Nashville's Amp, the odds are good that BRT on West End will succeed.
  2. Amp will increase growth along its corridor because all transit stops drive up the value of nearby land.

Even as I grant these arguments, the reality that remains represents the motive of my opposition to the east-west connector: it is not equitable transit. Proponents can call it "the first step" in regional transit if they wish, but repeating it over and over is no guarantee of more than one step. In fact, the logic of development would encourage keeping BRT rare to maximize the riches along a wealthy corridor. And who would blame East Nashvillians for trying to keep their Amp funds away from the risk of future northward BRT expansion? So, believing that Amp is a first step would be the height of gullibility.

And, ironically, Cleveland provides the case for being wary.

There are indications that Northeast Ohio is having problems expanding past the initial progress they have made. As proud as Clevelanders are reported to be of their BRT line (a.k.a., "HealthLine"), there are real questions as to whether they have the will to expand BRT to spread the benefits to others:

With some minor gripes aside, we all get to witness BRT success everyday. But, has the influx of “choice” riders to the HealthLine whet the appetite for another BRT line?

Certainly, at $200 million for 5 miles of infrastructure and hybrid buses, an award-winning BRT system is not cheap. But, this isn’t just infrastructure, it’s transformative, high-value infrastructure. The economic return is an estimated $4.3 billion for infill and redeveloped buildings on Euclid Avenue. It makes the case for a second act. But is there a will among the leadership at Greater Cleveland RTA, a city in its service area, and at the source of funding, NOACA, to build another BRT line in Northeast Ohio?

It took quite a bit of swimming upstream to get the Euclid BRT line funded (80% was federal and 20% a local match. The case was built more than a decade earlier in the Dual Hub Streetcar plan...).

So much has changed in the world since 2008 — much for the better in transit projects. Nearly every city in the U.S. is clamoring for a new streetcar line — and at least half a dozen, including Dallas, Charlotte and Cincinnati are poised to add lines soon to existing streetcars in Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Denver, and Portland.

Before the recent leadership change at NOACA, observers noted, there was no more juice to do a follow up project at transformative scale like the HealthLine ....

RTA's director of planning, Maribeth Feke, told CEOs for Cities where the transit agency could envision another BRT line. But does anyone else besides RTA see BRT as a catalyst for revitalizing old streetcar districts...? Without a concerted effort to the multi-year planning and development, it's unlikely the region will see another Bus-Rapid Transit line soon.

So, ballyhooed Cleveland has their beautiful BRT line, showcased by many, including Nashville's Amp proponents, but the wealth is not going to be spread around any time "soon". BRT is not expanding, even though the HealthLine garners positive national attention and mimicry.

Cleveland's limited progress does not bode well for progress in North Nashville, where I live.

Now explain to me again slowly why I should support, especially with my taxes, a BRT line that bypasses my community and pumps wealth into already wealthy communities with no guarantees of transit equity? Why should I look to Cleveland and be inspired to support Nashville's Karl Dean's Amp? Why should I wish to subsidize West End wealth when the political will to fight the same fight for North Nashville transit would likely be lacking after east-west BRT is built?

1 comment:

  1. Last night's meeting at West End Middle School was chaotic, but it showed how desperate people are to understand this project--especially for those who see beyond the marketing hype and wonder why Nashville is being set up to become the latest victim of an unfortunate fad theory of public policy and public transportation.

    The short answer to your question is that the route--which otherwise makes no sense, since its serves existing bus routes where buses are running far below capacity--was chosen for one reason only: federal funding. It does not connect up to the BRT on Gallatin Road. It does not serve the areas of greatest need for additional public transportation in Nashville. It does not serve commuters--West End has never been a viable commuter route--but it will make it harder for west Nashville commuters to reach the interstate and other commuters to get off interstates anywhere along the route. So who does it serve? Follow the money: The AMP Coalition (the AMPYes people) has a paid staff (Ed Cole & Co.) funded by local businesses. The Chamber of Commerce is promoting this project. MTA is promoting this project. And this under a mayor who is a Democrat. Wow. Anon3