Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Metro's Midtown "Open House" on the Amp threatened to turn into a town hall meeting earlier tonight

".... go to Cleveland. See what a mess it is."
Tonight's Midtown transit "open house" or "workshop" (or whatever officials are deciding to call it at the moment) nearly busted out into a full blown public hearing on the east-west connector after one person in the audience asked an Amp engineer who was finishing up at the podium if he would take questions from the floor.

The citizen expressed his opinion that he did not think that projections could be correct based on his own experience with metro transit. The engineer moved to the fellow and started answering his questions as if they were having a one-on-one, and someone else in the crowd spoke up and asked the engineer to use a microphone so everyone could hear him. The engineer declined to grab the mike and expressed his own wish that all questions be expressed at the tables.

I wondered why he seemed resistant to fielding some crowd questions before turning to the tables. As I saw it he could have answered and parlayed the group to dispersing more diplomatically without seeming so bent on individual conversation. If the reticence to discussing these issues is about controlling the rabble, it really does hit me the wrong way.

In the meantime, a third attendee spoke up and encouraged others present to go to Cleveland and see "the mess" that a similar system is there. Pitchforks were starting to emerge. Meeting organizers seemed on the edge of losing control to the masses.

But there was a lull, then some aside chatting, and before anyone else had a chance to take the floor, engineers regained control and got those in attendance to the tables where different members of their team could manage expectations.

Crisis caused by uppity populism averted.

Crowd backed down the hallway, the foyer, and outside.
In the meantime, people were still trying to get into the main room, but the crowd was stacking up in the hallway and out the front door. I actually left 20 mins into the meeting because I felt guilty about taking up space when I had already attended the East Nashville meeting. I asked one member of the design team whether they were expecting this many people. I learned that they were not either tonight or in East Nashville the night before last. I joked with another official as I was leaving whether the number of people in the building was a fire code violation. The reply: "I plead the 5th". When I got outside to my car, there were yet others walking through the parking lot to the building and I saw several cars circling and stalking potential parking spaces. As soon as I backed out one of them grabbed mine.

Before I left I heard interesting things. First of all, the engineer at the podium said with emphasis, "In no way are these final designs, yet". I do not recall him saying that in East Nashville. If he did it was not with as much verve or I would have remembered it. Whether he felt like he did not need to make the point across the river or whether this was an attempt to be more measured, he left himself wiggle room to refer to this stage as a "visioning" process. Although again, even if a final stage is "only" 30% complete, a good part of the vision seems already achieved. Haggling over the details at specific intersections does not seem like "visioning" to me.

I heard many more concerns expressed at this meeting than in East Nashville, particularly about where bus riders would park around West End, whether 5,000 riders per day with Amp was believable, whether historic preservation would be endangered by infrastructure changes and whether adding extra lanes would create more snarl. I was in earshot of a woman who exclaimed that, given the current parking situation along West End, there was absolutely no way that riders would be able to find parking to catch the bus. I heard one design team member tell one concerned transit rider asking for ridership comparisons to projections that he did not know what the current daily ridership was.

As I left, I noticed a police officer who seemed to be letting people into the room as others like me exited early and I wondered, with this much unexpected popular response to a transit proposal, pro and con, should not the public meeting process have started long ago with honest communication so that we would all not be so caught off-guard now? More specifically, why weren't we permitted to "vision" long before the transit authority reached 30% of the final stage of the project?

UPDATE: Rather than simply reporting the news, the Tennessean is resorting once again to bias by speculating in their report about how many green and red reps attended. Just like in East Nashville, most of those I saw in attendance had no form of pro or con signifiers displayed, so why does Brian Wilson feel emboldened to say that there was "balance" between pro and con? Did he interview every single person? I doubt he will share his method of counting, but it cannot be very scientific. There could have been many different points of view beyond simply polarized opinions, and it really is unfortunate when the news media fabricates "facts" instead of conveying them.


  1. I was at this meeting, and MTA is using a "divide and conquer" strategy: Don't let everyone in the crowd hear everyone else's questions and concerns about the project, because then people will become better informed about the project...and thus more likely to oppose it.

    Thanks, Mike, for the only serious coverage of the AMP process on any public venue in Nashville. The Tennessean has been unabashedly partisan in favor of the AMP, while the Scene has wimped out utterly.


  2. The public input process for the AMP began with a series of public meetings held in 2012.

  3. And, that public input process continues today. I don't see the point of Anon 11:31.00 posting. Please elaborate.

  4. The chronology I remember is a discussion of an East West Connector, probably along Charlotte, some radio silence, and then the launch of the AMP with a taxpayer-funded marketing campaign--followed by a hard-sell that has included business-funded non-profits (the AMP Coalition) with full-time employees selling the AMP, the Chamber of Commerce, at least 2 PR firms, a bogus "town meeting" held by AMP supporters for AMP supporters (during which a poll--in an AMPYes event--revealed that more than 50% of participants either opposed the AMP or didn't know enough about it to have an opinion), and bogus polls, underscored by sycophantic coverage from the 20-somethings that pass for reporters at the Tennessean. - Anon3

  5. And, P.S., Mike, you are correct that there was NO WAY to tell how many AMP supporters, opposers and average Joes who just wanted to learn about the project were there. The Tennessean's heading was also favorable to the AMP. The Tennessean should be embarrassed by its partisanship.

  6. East-West Connector was always Broadway/West End. It started with talk about light rail vs. BRT vs. streetcar. That's fancy and got everyone excited (people hearking back to the actual streetcar days, thinking about old-timey lighting on West End, cobblestone intersectsion). BRT won because of cost and relative efficacy.

    EWC has been part of a larger transpo plan for awhile. It became priority #1 when the idea of federal funds came about. East Nashville lobbied for, and got, it routed over the river. Downtown lobbied for, and got, it not routed below 5th avenue. Pols floated the idea of taxes on residences and businesses close to the line (shot down).

    Richland neighborhood has been discussing BRT since at least 12/2011. Meetings started after mid-2012 (not all "community" meetings; some Metro Planning not discussion-oriented, just presentations). People have tried to make their anti-BRT opinions heard since these dates in 2012, at least - but even in July, 2012 - BRT was a "go" by Metro. It was not an either/or.

    Location Date Time
    Vine Street Christian Church Monday 5:30 p.m.
    4101 Harding Road July 9

    East Nashville Community Center Wednesday 5:30 p.m.
    601 Russell St. July 11

    Downtown Library Tuesday 11 a.m.
    615 Church St. July 17

    West End United Methodist Church Wednesday 11 a.m.
    2200 West End Ave. July 18

  7. Grist for the mill...

    Sent: Friday, June 22, 2012 4:16 PM
    To: BRT project meetings
    Subject: Opportunity to participate in small-group discussions about the East-West Connector

    I recently sent you an email inviting you to join us for a one-hour meeting of East-West Connector Steering Committee members and priority stakeholders. We are holding these smaller meetings to engage in a discussion and obtain your feedback. During the meetings, we will provide additional details on the project, including an update on the route, potential transit station locations and how bus rapid transit will operate along the corridor.

    While the original invitation invited you to a meeting to discuss specifics related to the portion of the East-West Corridor in which you work or live, I understand that there may have been scheduling conflicts. We are reaching out to you again because we feel you are an important voice along the route and we value your input. Therefore, we would like to invite you to attend any of the below scheduled meetings:


    Please note that while we will be discussing a specific portion of the corridor, each discussion will include an overview of the East-West Connector. We would be happy to discuss additional portions of the route at the end of the meeting, if time allows. We are also happy to schedule a small meeting with you and others in your community, if you would like to discuss the specific portion of the corridor in more detail.

    Please reply with your attendance plans to

    Please note we are working to keep these meetings small to encourage discussion and feedback, therefore we request that you consider this invitation as non-transferable. Thank you for your commitment of time and support of bringing bus rapid transit to Nashville.

    Hope to see you next week!


    Ed Cole, Executive Director
    Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee
    511 Union St. Suite 1850

  8. The engineer's 30% complete comment this week is funny when re-reading this amp timeline from april 2012:

    "STEP 3 — Phase Two: Preliminary Engineering/Design and Environmental Analysis
    The Preliminary Engineering and Environmental Review phase initiated in April 2012 provided more detailed analysis and understanding of the proposed BRT project, its benefits, and impacts to the community. Currently, only 30 percent of the engineering has been completed. There is still 70 percent of the work to complete to get to the final design. "


    Traditional bus riders maxed out at 2.6m riders in it's final year. Cleveland HealthLine BRT was 4.6m riders the following year?!?! The only "mess" would have been how those people would have gotten around without the BRT.

    Come on, Nashville, if it works for Cleveland, it can work for us.

  10. If I understand you correctly, there were never public meetings about WHERE the route would be. There were public meetings announcing the route, not meetings soliciting comments about where the route should go. Correct? Anon-3

  11. Anon-3 - go to the AMP-timeline link 2 posts above. Read the MTA Masterplan. In 2009, the 5-year plan included this (Gallatin Pike BRT was coming soon):

    "Potential Extension of BRT from MCC to Vanderbilt
    Some preliminary consideration has been given to the potential for operating a Gallatin Road BRT route beyond the
    Music City Central (MCC) through to the West End / Vanderbilt area. A routing via Charlotte, Union, Church, and 21st
    Street is being considered by MTA and this routing is already utilized by Route 35X Rivergate Express. Such an
    extension would appear to be logical since it would provide distribution/collection through much of the downtown area
    as well as providing a direct link for passengers travelling to/from the Baptist Hospital, Vanderbilt University, and the
    Vanderbilt Medical Center. These are some of the strongest trip generators in Middle Tennessee. Providing through
    service would attract more riders to transit as well as provide more capacity in the segment between downtown and
    Vanderbilt. This is primarily served by Route 7 Hillsboro whose buses sometimes have standing-room-only due to
    the short distance passengers (Chapter 7-BRT)

    Then, in 2010, the Alternative Analysis (brt, streetcar, etc.) was commissioned because federal funding was available for the study. So, from 8/2009 to 4/2010, the master plan was hijacked from (original) connecting Gallatin Roads BRT to West End, maybe Charlotte, and Hillsboro to (current) dedicated Amp going from St. Thomas to East Nashville. The master plan also prioritizes Murfreesboro Road and Nolensville Road.

    Chapter nine of the now-ignored master plan puts West End in mix for improvements in the mid-term (2016 - 2025).

    Basically - West End was on the list for a BRT Lite like everyone else, and prioritized down the list. When federal funds were available, you saw re-zoning in Midtown to meet density requirements and EastWest Connector move to not only priority #1, but at a much higher service level (not Lite).

    1. So that I'm correct that (1) the Five Points / downtown / VU / St. Thomas route was not a "locally preferred alternative" selected by local citizens. The route was upzoned by city government because it was the only chance Nashville had to (barely) qualify for federal grant to pay for a BRT. Which means it was selected for a bad reason--possible free money--rather than because it meets a legitimate transit need.

    2. Are any transit projects ever selected by citizens? Unless there is a dedicated tax to vote on, why would the citizens have a yes/no vote? The process is more: there are planners and they plan. That planning, in general, is open to input. That input is at the margins, though, unless you are high enough up in the food chain.

      Certainly, 440 was conceived and opposed by affected neighborhoods. And, oh, we got the concession that there'd be no trucks allowed on the 440. That did not last long.

      I posted the above to get the info in a handy place for people. Amp has not been a secret, but it has not been a community effort, either. And, as noted in the blog post above, other (probably more needed) projects will suffer even if Amp pans out to be great.