Dean Throws Weight Behind West End Bus Rapid Transit

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is putting his foot on the accelerator to get dedicated bus lanes running from West End to East Nashville. It would be the city’s first true venture into bus rapid transit.

Artist rendering looking down West End Avenue toward downtown (courtesy of Metro Government)

Artist rendering looking down West End Avenue toward downtown (courtesy of Metro Government)

A consultant has now laid out the route – from White Bridge Road, down West End Avenue and across the Cumberland River to Five Points. The third-party study makes a case that this is one of only a few corridors in Nashville that has enough homes and businesses along it to support this kind of mass transit.

Mayor Dean says it has the potential to attract a wide range of users, from university students to health care executives, and even tourists.

“If we do nothing, the traffic congestion on West End – one of our most important economic corridors – is only going to worsen, and it’s going to worsen dramatically over the course of the next 20 years.”

The bus line would have to be well-received to alleviate traffic because it has the potential to take away lanes from passenger cars. Bus rapid transit depends on a dedicated lane, making it a big step up from conventional bus service. The necessary infrastructure also drives the cost – an estimated $136 million.

Light rail has been ruled out for being too costly. Streetcars are still an option. But Dean says dedicated lanes for high-capacity buses would cost roughly half the expense of installing a streetcar system and serve nearly as many riders – 4,500 on weekdays. The city’s first bus rapid transit project also has the possibility of being completed while Dean is still in office.

“I’d like to see everything done in the next four years. That’s my personal desire and I think we need to move forward. There’s this proverb that says the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Bus rapid transit, Dean says, also has a better shot at attracting federal grant funding.

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The buses, as envisioned, would be low-floor, high-capacity vehicles, possibly electric or hybrid. Bus stops would operate more like train stations, with self-serve ticket kiosks and real-time information on departure and arrival times.

Buses would come every 10 minutes or so and remain on schedule by getting traffic signal preference at intersections, as well as having their own lane.

The East-West corridor was chosen for it’s density. The consultant’s report says 170,000 people work in the study area, 25,000 live there, and 17 percent of the households have no car.

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