Is Transit Only Transit If It’s Expensive?

Wired magazine freaks out because the Tennessee senate supposedly passed a “mind-boggling ban on bus-rapid transit.” AutoblogGreen blames the legislation on the left’s favorite whipping boys, the Koch brothers because it was supported by Americans for Prosperity, a tax-watchdog group that has received funding from the Kochs.


Not only would Nashville’s bus-rapid transit consume up to three lanes of traffic and be given priority at traffic signals, the design of stations in the middle of a major arterial will create hazards for pedestrians.

In fact, the senate did not pass a bill to ban bus-rapid transit; it passed a bill to limit the dedication of existing lanes to buses. There is no reason why buses need their own dedicated lanes, at least in a mid-sized city such as Nashville. Kansas City has shown that bus-rapid transit in shared lanes can work perfectly well and attract as much as a 50 percent increase in riders.

The bias of the writers whose minds are boggled by the senate bill is clear from their stories. “Voters in Arlington, TX famously voted against public transit funding for decades, and an acrimonious debate in Cincinnati almost derailed a streetcar project,” says Wired, “but both those cities now have service.” In other words, it isn’t real transit unless it costs of lot of money. An 8-mph streetcar that has just 30 seats and can’t get out of its own way is real transit; 40-seat buses that are faster and more nimble apparently are not.

Wired also claims that, unless bus-rapid transit is built, “drivers in Nashville can look forward to increased traffic and longer commutes.” In fact, the opposite is true. Dedicating space that could otherwise be available to autos to a few buses, and also giving those buses priority at all traffic signals, will make congestion a lot worse, not better.

Even Nashville’s transit agency doesn’t claim that its plan will reduce congestion; it only says it will allow “residents and visitors to move along the corridor faster than they can in a car stuck in traffic.” Of course, part of the reason the car will be stuck in traffic is the city has given priority to those people who will ride the bus. In an urban area where only 1.6 percent of people take transit to work today, that won’t be very many people.

Atlantic Cities abuses data to support Nashville’s plan. “According to Census statistics, less than 2 percent of Middle Tennesseans take public transportation to work,” says the writer. “By contrast, in Portland, Oregon, a city roughly the same size as Nashville, an estimated 12 percent of residents use public transit for work commutes.” Notice that the writer compares the city of Portland with the Nashville metropolitan area. Only 6 percent of commuters in the Portland metropolitan area take transit to work; that’s still more than Nashville, but less than it was in the Portland area before Portland began building expensive transit systems.

The Tennessee senate may not even be particularly aware of the effects on traffic. The real issue is that Nashville’s plan will cost $174 million. Why spend all that money on a project that will benefit a relative handful of bus riders while it makes travel worse for everyone else? It would be better to spend it on things that will improve everyone’s travel, whether they go by car, bicycle, foot, or transit.

Share

11 thoughts on “Is Transit Only Transit If It’s Expensive?

  1. OFP2003

    Drama, emotion, the language of the right brain. Facts have to translated into that language, for example: “Wired magazine is on a Quixotian-like Crusade against the Koch brothers and they could care-less if they make the streets of Nashville less safe of the children of the disadvantage.”

  2. Frank

    “Dedicating space that could otherwise be available to autos to a few buses, and also giving those buses priority at all traffic signals, will make congestion a lot worse, not better.”

    This happened in Seattle after the city unceremoniously and surreptitiously converted lanes on 99 north of the Aurora Bridge. Rush hour is now such much worse as the city has created yet another bottleneck.

    Worst still is that Seattleites (supposedly some of the most literate people in America) can’t understand traffic signs outlining the hours cars are banned from the lanes, thereby increasing congestion at all hours and increasing collision risks as the illiterate unnecessarily and urgently flee the bus lane, often cutting off or nearly hitting those in other lanes.

  3. Dan

    Wired magazine freaks out …AutoblogGreen blames the legislation on the left’s favorite whipping boys, the Koch brothers because it was supported by Americans for Prosperity, a tax-watchdog group that has received funding from the Kochs….The bias of the writers …

    The Tennessean must be hempen-wearing hippies too for pointing out the obvious:

    The Tennessee office of Americans for Prosperity, a lobbying organization founded and funded by Charles and David Koch, played a big role in passage of state Senate legislation…”Tennessee is a great state to pass model legislation that can be leveraged in other states.

    One factor appears to have been the involvement of Americans for Prosperity. Soon after the vote, opponents of the Amp issued a statement that thanked the group for its work in support of the bill — efforts that included direct lobbying and urging foes to contact lawmakers.

    “Some try to frame this issue as a local issue only, but it’s state and federal dollars,” said Andrew Ogles, the organization’s state director. “It’s $175 million.

    I guess now they’ll be telling everyone that a BRT stuck in traffic is Rapidly sitting.

    DS

  4. letsgola

    As has been noted elsewhere, the Anti-Planner is only pro- bus lane when there’s a train to be opposed.

    From a libertarian perspective, you should be against this law: it is central planning by the state of Tennessee, telling a local city (Nashville) what it can and can’t do. If Nashville runs a traffic analysis and the results are acceptable, and no state money is involved, why should the Tennessee Senate have a say at all?

  5. MJ

    Biased magazine/blog is biased. Film at 11.

    As an aside, if one believed in the Koch conspiracy, wouldn’t one expect that they would favor the BRT option, since all they (allegedly) care about is rapaciously consuming more fossil fuels?

  6. MJ

    From a libertarian perspective, you should be against this law: it is central planning by the state of Tennessee, telling a local city (Nashville) what it can and can’t do. If Nashville runs a traffic analysis and the results are acceptable, and no state money is involved, why should the Tennessee Senate have a say at all?

    Yes, if in principle the city were financing the project on its own, libertarians would probably prefer that the state mind its own business. However, once we drop this lofty abstraction and look at what Nashville is actually doing, that caveat flies out the window.

    For those of you who don’t like links, the project’s website indicates that Nashville MTA is in fact seeking federal money to (in their words) “fund a significant portion of the project”. So what are federal taxpayers getting in return? Well, they’re silent on that question. I’d wager the locals aren’t getting much either, considering the experience with the Music City Star.

  7. Dan

    wouldn’t one expect that they would favor the BRT option, since all they (allegedly) care about is rapaciously consuming more fossil fuels?

    MJ, as noted above, they were directly involved in defeating it, as part of a larger strategy of using TN as a test bed for creating and exporting ALEC tactics to block other such projects.

    As the Tennessean notes, outside money is also coming into TN for school vouchers (we see that here as well, where outside money is electing Republicans to school boards to dismantle public education). The AFP-TN head came right out and said they are using TN because of the supermajority R lege to draft ALEC legislation.

    Nevertheless, I see that the lege has reached a compromise and allowed the Amp to go forward, but with more state oversight.

    DS

  8. metrosucks

    yes it’s all just a big Koch brother conspiracy all around, they control the entire government, every public works contract out there, got our senate, house, and president elected and in their pocket…..oh wait.

  9. Frank

    “outside money is electing Republicans to school boards to dismantle public education”

    And *I’m* the one who is accused of hearing voices. Right.

    Go ahead. Talk about public education. You know *everything*! Accuse me of having a sad. Or, instead of being a psychopathic narcissistic who has to have the last work, just shut up. But you can’t. Because you can’t control yourself. Because you are the center of the universe and a know-it-all.

  10. Frank

    Sandy, brace yourself for all manner of personal attacks because you dared question the holy religion of climate soothsaying, which time and time again has been utterly discredited by reality.

Leave a Reply