There is a popular saying that people in the South love their cars. That isn’t likely to change, but the Greater Nashville Association of REALTORS® (GNAR), together with the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, are working to ensure Nashville-area residents have more options when it comes to getting where they want to go. At the heart of those transportation options is the development of longterm, viable mass transit choices for people who live and work in Nashville and the adjacent 10-county Middle Tennessee region.
To help fuel Nashville’s public transit discussion, GNAR was recently awarded a $10,000 Smart Growth Grant from the National Association of Realtors® to help fund the Transit Citizen Leadership Academy, a joint effort of the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee and the Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership at Lipscomb University. The Transit Citizen Leadership Academy is educating community leaders about current mass transit challenges and opportunities and empowering them to help the area move beyond conversation to application. The first class of approximately 35 participants, comprised of mayors or their designees from the 10-county Middle Tennessee region, graduated from the Academy late last year. Those graduates then nominated the next set of community leaders as participants in the second session class. When completed, the Transit Citizen Leadership Academy will have graduated an estimated 150 to 200 residents and community leaders.
“The Transit Academy is a powerful process by virtue of the people involved in it,” said Don Klein, chief executive officer of the Greater Nashville Association of REALTORS® and frequent Academy presenter. “It provides a good foundation of understanding so that we can confront urban myths about cost and viability and broaden our knowledge of transit options, related costs and funding sources. Graduates are equipped to provide leadership in the community as transit decisions are made.”
To provide a foundation of understanding, academy program materials cover a wide range of transportation issues and transit choices being explored by the Nashville Metro Planning Department, the area’s Regional Transportation Authority and the Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee. Each session is made up of a series of seven meetings, with topics that include:
• Scanning the landscape — the historical, economic and social impact of transportation in the United States and in Tennessee
• Understanding current reality — an exploration of Middle Tennessee’s transit system and regional challenges
• Identifying models of success — an analysis of the transit successes and failures in other communities
• Evaluating the options — an examination weighing value and cost of options for Middle Tennessee, informed by global best practices
• Engaging the community — identification and activation of community resources to support transit conversations
• Creating the conversation — a design for facilitating conversations on transit options and opportunities
• Moving transit options forward — an individual leadership plan to educate others
As part of the examination of best practices, officials from the Japanese consulate located in Nashville provide Academy members with an inside look at Japan’s highly acclaimed mass transit system. A number of Academy members will participate in an upcoming Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce trip to Portland, Ore., that will, among other things, examine the city’s mass transit system.
The Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, a nonprofit organization connecting public and private sectors and encouraging new investments in mass transit, focuses Academy curriculum on education, motivation and consensus building to develop a visionary mass transit plan. Ed Cole, former deputy director for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, is executive director of the Alliance and developed the vision, program direction and course materials for the Academy.
“As has been said on many occasions,” Cole writes in a letter to Academy participants, “support for investments in mass transit across Middle Tennessee will depend on the understanding citizens have of both the need for mass transit and the choices that we can make to invest in mass transit. With this base understanding, together we can then discuss mass transit options that are appropriate for our area and how such options can be financed and implemented.”
Among the transit options being examined are light rail, rapid transit within the northeast corridor, commuter rail, heavy rail, monorail, a Broadway/West End streetcar, regional express bus service and bus rapid transit. Options would serve the urban core, regional corridors, as well as suburban and rural areas.
One issue has already risen to the surface. Late last year Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced plans to move forward with a bus rapid transit system (BRT) for the east-west corridor. The proposed BRT, using dedicated lanes and fixed stations, would alleviate projected traffic congestion in an area between White Bridge Road in West Nashville and Five Points in East Nashville.
At the presentation of the $10,000 Smart Growth Grant, Mayor Dean praised Academy partners, including GNAR, for their commitment to the continued growth and prosperity of Nashville and its recognition of the integral part public transit plays in the city’s future.
“GNAR consistently supports issues important to our city’s future growth and success, and as we plan how we’re going to grow as a region in the decades to come, mass transit is absolutely critical,” said Mayor Dean. “Educating the public on this issues is step one, and so I commend GNAR for their contribution to the startup of the Citizen Transit Academy.”
Don Klein adds that a clear understanding of the issues paired with local leadership and engagement are critical to successful change. “Nashville is sensitive to issues like increased traffic, gas prices and air quality, and locally we recognize that rapid transit is part of the answer. This $10,000 Smart Growth Grant provides an important resource. NAR empowers local associations. It respects the insights of local leadership.”
Local leadership, spearheaded by current and future graduates of the Transit Citizen Leadership Academy, will help Nashville and Middle Tennessee residents benefit from a mass transit plan that will provide choice and convenience, save energy, protect the environment and enhance the quality of life throughout the region.