Over the past few months, I've been following the news regarding what should be the crowning achievement of Mayor Dean's second term: BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). While I would've preferred to see a trolley line or light rail, after reading more and more about the proposed BRT project, I've grown to like it mostly for it's resemblance to light rail but with a much smaller price tag.
The BRT project, dubbed the East-West Connector, will run along Nashville's "main street", primarily West End/Broadway. Starting on the west side near the White Bridge Rd. intersection the dedicated BRT lane will stretch 7.5 miles along West End/Broadway/Main St and terminate at 5 Points in East Nashville. This major artery is comprised of 25,000 residents and 120,000 jobs - it was the goal of MTA to choose a route that "would be embraced by the residents along the proposed line and those who work in businesses as well". Another goal was to "connect the core of the city without having to continue to rely on automobile travel". MTA sought a system that would "connect residents and visitors alike to East Nashville, LP Field, Vanderbilt University and Medical Center and the other medical centers nearby".
There is no doubt that the proposed route accomplishes those goals. If you had to pick a main street in Nashville, West End/Broadway is obviously the clear choice. But one other positive influence that BRT brings to a city is increased economic development along the corridor. In a recent study of various BRT project across the US, the GAO (Gov't Accountability Office) found that "although many factors contribute to economic development, most local officials we visited believe that BRT projects are contributing to localized economic development."
The article also cited that "while most local officials believe that rail transit has a greater economic development potential than BRT, they agreed that certain factors can enhance BRT’s ability to contribute to economic development, including physical BRT features that relay a sense of permanence to developers; key employment and activity centers located along the corridor; and local policies and incentives that encourage transit-oriented development."
Sounds like a win win doesn't it? Not only does the city get a fancy new form of mass transit, but the corridor it serves benefits from added economic development. Now let me ask another question. If you had a to pick a major corridor in Nashville that needed some help in the economic development department, which would you choose? I'm willing to bet Charlotte Avenue would get that vote more often than not. Which leads me into my argument for developing the BRT route along Charlotte Avenue rather than West End.
Let's start with the basics:
Charlotte Avenue for the most part, runs parallel to the proposed route and still touches most of the major institutions within the proposed corridor footprint (Charlotte and West End are separated by less than two miles at the widest point, with a majority of their separation distance being less than a mile).
• Charlotte BRT would be closer to campuses in North Nashville (TSU, Fisk)
• Charlotte BRT would be closer to the medical district (including Metro General)
• Charlotte BRT would avoid going through pedestrian choked Lower Broad, but still close enough to walk to/from
• Charlotte BRT would retain the same route as the current proposal once you cross the Cumberland
• Charlotte BRT would have potential Park & Ride sites that are closer to I-40 (on the west)
• Charlotte BRT would still go through the main bus terminal, Music City Central (it’s ON Charlotte!)
• Charlotte BRT would still marry up with Woodland St./Main across the river
• Charlotte BRT would go past the Legislative Plaza and state office buildings
• Charlotte BRT would go past the new Public Health Center (Lentz being constructed at 26th Ave)
• Charlotte BRT would go past Nashville West and adjoining retail (West End lacks a retail destination this size)
• Charlotte Avenue is full of vacant properties - you could practically have a plethora of choices of where to put your Park & Ride sites, as opposed to cramming them into already congested areas along West End (White Bridge & Elmington Park).
• You could potentially go FURTHER WEST along Charlotte and capture more ridership among residents in Hillwood and Bellevue. West End route will stop at White Bridge - do you honestly see Belle Meade letting a BRT line come through?
• BRT along Charlotte would also better serve the communities it bisects. The population that lives along the Charlotte corridor would be much more open to using mass transit than the demographic that lives in the West End corridor (read middle class vs. affluent). I wasn't able to find any statistics, but I'm willing to bet that the ridership on the current Charlotte MTA route is much higher than that of routes along West End.
So my question is why not Charlotte Avenue?