Tufts’ undergraduate planning collective, UP3, brought former Nashville mayor Karl Dean to talk about his time as mayor and working toward the development of a bus rapid transit line in the city. Nashville, known for its country music hall of fame and honkey tonk music and bar scene, has experienced rapid growth over the last 20 years. The music scene, development of Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, and a new convention center have resulted in an influx of people and businesses moving into the city core.
Especially in the last few years, this influx has created demand for a better transit system in Nashville. Despite running on a platform of education, public safety, and economic development in 2007, newly elected Mayor Dean decided to begin working toward a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. Usually, BRT gives a bus a dedicated lane so as to avoid inner city vehicle traffic. The photo below depicts Bogotá’s famous TransMilenio system:
Nashville began with what Dean calls “BRT-light,” which doesn’t include a dedicated lane but is structured more as an express bus (fewer stops, longer distance between stops) and has traffic light controlling technology to move more efficiently through the city. As a result, ridership increased dramatically. Things changed when Dean attempted to put in a dedicated lane. Despite a lot of federal support, the project fell through. The republican-controlled state legislature and local car dealership interests, backed by the big money of the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, mounted enough opposition to block the plan. The idea of providing transit to people without cars was too much for them, and the design process for the BRT system (called Amp) was stopped in 2015.
No longer mayor, Dean now teaches at Belmont University in Nashville.