Ed Cole, Executive Director, Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee

By Ed Cole

Earlier this year, the New York Times ran an article in which it called Nashville, Tennessee – the “it” city.

The coverage was an exciting and complimentary tribute to Nashville as a culturally-rich, fast growing metropolitan region. The Times highlighted the culture with music and trendy restaurants, and the economic health of the region attributing that in part to our, “mix of employers in fields like health care management, religious publishing, car manufacturing and higher education, led by Vanderbilt University.”

For all the accolades in the Times piece, there was mention of a very real problem in our “it” city – the need for better transportation. 

How are we going to get to enjoy all the city has to offer, the live music venues, the parks, the museums, or the chic social gatherings, if our roadways are choking with congestion?      

We welcome the growth of our region, but we have to be smart about it too.

The need for a better transportation system is not just about reducing the headaches of gridlock on the highways. Improving transportation is about improving our lives and changing culture. If you study the history of transportation from horses to trains, and from street cars to airplanes, then you realize that the changes in modes of transportation changed lives, altered communities and economic growth. 

Our region is dealing with the effects of rapid growth on our sprawling transportation network including some of the longest commute times in the U.S. This is among the reasons that we engaged IBM to help determine what type of investments could most benefit the region.

Five strategic areas emerged – two of which revolve around using Big Data to drive improvements in the transportation system. Using technology to combine and sift through transportation data for actionable insight means that the region can move from reacting to anticipating and avoiding many of the daily transportation issues their commuters face.

The report also provided high impact, short-term and long-term recommendations, which you can read here. At the Transit Alliance, we’re using this to help plan for future transit alternatives that are safer and smarter.  

Specifically, bus rapid transit (BRT) was identified as one of the most important steps for Nashville, which supports our work and the Mayor’s plan for “The East-West Connector.” 

The East-West Connector, a bus rapid transit route from Five Points in East Nashville through downtown to White Bridge Road in West Nashville, is a great example of how we’re working towards a more transportation options.  

Across Middle Tennessee we are seeing an increase in the use of mass transit options already available to us. Ridership on the MTA has grown significantly. The MTA’s free “Music City Circuit” downtown is very popular with those who live and work in the area, as well as tourists.  More and more riders are using the train, “Music City Star” between outer communities and downtown Nashville. 

These are steps in the right direction for transportation in the region, but we know there are many more ways we can improve. The IBM study recommends several plans for reducing commute times, creating better access to public transit, and cost efficient transportation. 

But most importantly, these new options for mass transit are improving our quality of life, making it safer and smarter to enjoy our “it” city.