Nashville voting today on transit referendum
-- "Who has the edge in Nashville transit referendum as election arrives?," Nashville Tennessean
The proposal aims to build light rail and bus rapid transit, expand local bus service, and make other improvements, by raising/imposing four different taxes, including sales and property.
-- "Koch network group fires back in spat over Nashville transit plan," Nashville Tennessean
-- "Koch brothers group begins ad blitz against Nashville transit referendum," Nashville Tennessean
-- "Bulk of money raised by opposition Nashville transit group kept secret," Nashville Tennessean
-- "The Increasingly Ugly Battle Over Transit in Nashville," CityLab
-- No Tax 4 Tracks
This is less an issue in big cities, but when local issues get repositioned as national ones, or at least national political advocacy take on and oppose a local issue for non-local reasons, this is a big problem with political discourse, and a lesson that the Citizens United decision giving unlimited "free speech" to those with a lot more money is problematic.
(Relatedly, the Washington Post article, "Meet the little-known ‘big fish’ megadonor setting the tone for GOP primary races," on shipping supplies magnate Richard Uihlein funding anti-union very conservative candidates around the country was also disturbing. At the very least, I'm not going to be spending my monies with goods from that firm.)
Time is required to build a base of support for transit. My observation about these kinds of transit referenda is that at least initially, they tend to fail.
This is because in a nation where the dominant land use and mobility planning paradigm is automobile-centric, people have a hard time seeing where transit can be a choice mode. Mostly they see transit as a social service for poor people who can't afford cars.
Referenda failed multiple times in Tampa Bay and in Atlanta. I think this is because the time between putting a referendum on the ballot and the election is so short, it's hard to build the understanding of the potential value in such a short time.
But now in Greater Atlanta there is positive movement towards transit--there at least they have a heavy rail system to build from while most communities lack rail transit of any form. They've had some positive referenda since the failure in 2012.
-- "Failure of the transit-roads sales tax measure in Metro Atlanta," 2012
Greater Detroit is having a hard time moving transit forward with active opposition coming from County Executives in Oakland and Macomb Counties. Oftentimes advocates for low income populations will take anti-transit positions, which is odd. That happened in Atlanta's first round, etc.
Although I wonder if Americans for Prosperity is so active with a Nashville campaign because they see there being a strong likelihood of the transit referendum winning? But why would Koch Brothers interests be so damaged by transit in Nashville?
Would that be a harbinger of land use and mobility policy change elsewhere?
Lately I've wondered about the value of rail transit outside of major metropolitan areas. When I first started blogging, I wrote positively about light rail programs in places like Charlotte, North Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia. But those systems have so few riders, I wonder if it's worth the expense?
The reality is that it is very difficult to put the genie back in the bottle in terms of sustainable mobility versus the car, if the urban form has been reshaped in favor of the car ("Transportation and Urban Form: Stages in the Spatial Evolution of the American Metropolis," Peter Muller, textbook chapter).
On the other hand, light rail systems in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Seattle, maybe Denver are having some positive impact on changing land use and mobility practice. So maybe I shouldn't be so negative? (Dallas? I'd say given how many stations and miles of track they have, usage isn't that high. Houston? Usage isn't that high and definitely land use isn't being reshaped.)
-- "Is Nashville dense enough for a light rail transit system?," Nashville Tennessean
Can bus transit change the paradigm? A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story, "The Next Big Thing in Urban Transit: Fast-Bus Systems," suggesting that bus transit can be equally significant in changing mobility practices. I am still not so sure.
It's not just having a great bus system, developed along the lines I've recommended in the past:
-- "Will buses ever be cool? Boston vs. Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model," 2017
-- "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012
And repositioning with bi-articulated buses is something I've been advocating lately:
-- "Revisitng stories: the L Subway Shutdown in NYC and what to do," 2018
Again, it's not just about branding and design forward buses, success comes down to land use and density and relative efficiency when it comes to taking transit instead of driving--that means relatively short distances between origin and destination, and the ability to trip chain so that you reduce the number of trips.