How much would Nashville transit plan really improve travel times? - http://travelporn.info | luxury travel sitesApril 18, 2018 3:41 pm
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A look at the numbers in the Nashville transit plan
A television ad from the city’s transit boosters shows Nashville Predators’ announcers Hal Gill and Chris Mason hopping out of a van and rollerblading downtown to avoid sitting idly in logjam traffic.
As they whiz by parked cars, a narrator promises viewers that voting in favor of the upcoming transit referendum will provide, among other potential benefits, “faster rides.”
But just how much quicker would daily commutes really become?
Proponents of the $5.4 billion plan routinely argue the “Let’s Move Nashville” program would “reduce traffic congestion,” potentially saving residents the burden of owning a car. They point to an immediate increase in new crosstown routes of existing Metro Transit Authority buses and future light rail lines where commuters could one day blow past backed up cars.
Opponents contend the plan is limited because none of the light rail lines that run through five major corridors would extend even close to the county-line. They say that means commuters coming in from Nashville’s suburbs would have to park and ride or connect from buses, leading to potentially lengthy layovers.
“I would suppose if you live next to a train station close to town then you might get faster speed to some other train station close to town,” said Malcolm Getz, an economics professor at Vanderbilt University and a harsh critic of light rail who has donated to the opposition campaign.
“But for the most part, bus routes will be reoriented to train stations. So there will be transfers and layovers between bus and rail, and it will really make it longer and less convenient to use transit in many cases.”
Mayor’s office releases new study on travel time
Tennesseans journalists Andy Humbles, Jason Gonzales, Jamie McGee and Larry McCormack took four methods of transportation to get to downtown Nashville Michael Schwab
Early voting is underway and concludes April 26 on a historic referendum to fund the transit plan, which would include light rail service down four roadways and a northwest corridor on existing CSX track, rapid bus on four other roads, a massive downtown connection tunnel, 19 neighborhood transit centers, expanded bus programs and other upgrades.
The election is May 1.
Transit officials from Mayor David Briley’s office and MTA produced a memo last week that shows faster expected travel times in 2040 — seven years after the project is built — when people take any of the five light rail corridors compared to using cars or buses.
To calculate the overall travel time, the study looked not just at the time in a light rail train but also how long it would take future commuters to walk to a station. Similarly, the study took into account out-of-vehicle travel times for automobile users such as the walk from a parking lot to a final destination.
The projected faster light rail travel times are based on growth assumptions two decades from now — not current conditions.
For example, taking light rail on a proposed 6.8-mile line down Gallatin Pike — if it operated today — would take 35.7 minutes during peak hours in the morning today, slightly slower than 35.3 minutes by car. The Gallatin route, which would be the first line to be built if the referendum passes, goes from Briley Parkway to Music City Central downtown.
A bus trip on the existing MTA bus rapid transit “lite” line on Gallatin, including wait times and walking, currently takes 45.5 minutes, the report found.
There would be modest travel time improvements on Nolensville and Murfreesboro pikes and Charlotte Avenue if each light rail line were existing today, the report found. Light rail on the 6-mile Nolensville Pike, for example, would take 33.2 minutes, compared to 35.2 miles by car and 44 minute by bus.
During peak evening hours under current conditions, the commute on Gallatin Pike would be 35.7 minutes on light rail, 37.5 miles in an automobile and 52.5 minutes on bus.
Travel time savings would grow when full project is complete, proponents say
The report suggests greater time savings would occur two decades from now, once the 15-year transit project is complete.
Because of increased traffic congestion and density, the total driving travel time on Gallatin Pike in the morning is projected to increase to 42.9 minutes by 2040. Bus travel time that year is predicted to be 54.5 minutes down the same road. That’s compared to the 35.7 minutes for light rail, which relies on dedicated lanes.
Projected travel times vary for the other proposed light rail lines on Nolensville, Mrufreesboro and Charlotte, but the pattern is generally the same.
Based on the study analysis, by 2040 the light rail system will on average be 15 minutes faster than using a car and 30 minutes faster than using the bus, said Erin Hafkenschiel, director of the mayor’s Office of Transportation and Sustainability.
“When you are designing a transit system, you’re never going to serve every trip and every rider or driver,” Hafkenschiel said.
“The fact that we’re able to make these substantial improvements on nine different corridors throughout the region…means that we’re going to have pretty good coverage.”
Critics: Plan is based on assumptions
The new travel time projections are a supplement to the 55-page Transit Improvement Program, which serves as the plan’s guiding document.
Jeff Eller, lead consultant for NoTax4Tracks, a group fighting the referendum plan, said the city can’t possibly know whether travel times would improve “based on a 55-page document that has over 60 references to may, could and approximately.”
“It is once again an example of a trust-us mentality around a plan that is based on assumptions,” he said. “I don’t think they can know that. They can assume that. But I don’t think they can know it.
“There’s a completely upside-down nature of this plan. They want to build it to create the density to justify the ridership.”
Hafkenschiel said people in the future can decide to live near convenient transit options if the plan comes to fruition.
However, without a transit solution she said more people means more cars and more congestion. The plan creates a transit system that offers increased frequency, longer operating hours, faster travel times and increased reliability, Hafkenschiel said.
Kelly Brockman, a spokeswoman for the Transit For Nashville coalition, said the transit would plan would “dramatically speed commutes, increasing bus frequency to 15 minutes or faster on high-capacity corridors,” including during rush hour. She said bus service hours would also increase.
In addition to speed, she also said more commuters will be able to travel “more reliably, no matter the road conditions.” She said the four new crosstown routes would increase connectivity and decrease the time it takes to travel downtown and transfer to another bus.
“By making public transportation easier to access, more affordable and more reliable, people will have the choice now to leave their cars at home.”
Synchronized traffic lights a focus of plan
Supporters also note passage of the plan will lead to more synchronized street lights in Nashville. Timing these lights in theory means fewer stops for cars commuting through town.
However, it’s not a new idea. The proposal became a talking point during the 2015 mayoral campaign, and in late 2016 the city announced the completion of synchronizing 550 traffic signals around town.
“Retiming our signals is a prime example of available short-term solutions for addressing the many stresses put on our transportation system by Nashville’s rapid growth,” then-Mayor Megan Barry said at the time.
With or without passage of the plan, U.S. Census data shows commute times in the greater Nashville area have been relatively stagnant.
“The average time spent commuting to and from work increased by 1.7 minutes between 2010-2015 in the Nashville (area), adding up to an additional 3.4 hours per commuter, per year,” the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce concluded in its annual “vital signs” report, citing the census.
While people continue to move to the Nashville area, potentially putting more cars on local roads, additional census data shows the growth may have slowed down a bit.
The population of the greater Nashville area grew by an average of 94 people a day from 2016 to July 2017, down from 100 the year before, census data shows. That includes babies, children and others who aren’t honking their horns as they sit on I-65.
The Nashville region is expected to grow by an additional 1 million residents by 2040, which would bring Middle Tennessean’s overall population past 3 million.
Reach Dave Boucher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8892 and on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1. Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236, email@example.com and on Twitter @joeygarrison.
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