There was the usual amount of drama inside a LGBTQ+ bar on Church Street tonight. However that wasn't how it was supposed to work this time…
The Nashville LGBT Chamber hosted a forum on Wednesday evening to discuss the proposed multi-billion dollar mass transit plan favored by progressive-leaning groups and voters across Davidson County.
Mayor David Briley joined the mostly LGBTQ+ audience at Play on Church Street to witness an hour-long presentation by transit advocate groups, with support from the LGBT Chamber, explain how a new light rail transit network, improved bus options, more than a dozen new neighborhood transit hubs and nearly twenty-four hour service would improve the lives of all Nashville communities.
The forum comes before a county-wide referendum over the plan on May 1st, whose fate will be decided by a current populace that is expected to grow by one million over a relatively short amount of time. Traffic congestion, while bad now, will only get worse as new people move into America’s “It” city..
“Thanks for coming. It’s fun to have a transit forum with a disco ball.” said a smiling Lisa Howe, Chief Executive Office of the Nashville LGBT Chamber…on a stage where such a beautiful decoration is never out of place.
The Nashville LGBT Chamber is a member of the Transit For Nashville coalition for several reasons, she began.
“Having good transit gives us an opportunity to recruit good companies here like Amazon,” Howe said. “Amazon would bring fifty-thousand jobs for people here, but also maybe they would move twenty to thirty thousand people here…thirty-thousand new voters who would live in our little ring of fire around our little blue bubble.Amazon is a company who will not stand quiet if our state legislature attacks (our community) with anti-LGBT legislation,” she said to much applause.
The opportunity to support small business owners, a mainstay of the LGBT Chamber and a major employment source for openly LGBTQ+ people, also led to their support.
“Small business owners are adding jobs,” she said. “For every person they hire, there’s another car on the road. I do not ever want our small business owners to not be able to hire because we’re so congested and we do not have enough talent coming here (as a result) to fill those jobs.”
Then came something personal and from the heart…the third reason was to support our own community.
“When I started working for the chamber,” Howe explained, “I was at OutCentral down the street. The first people that I met did not have cars. They used the bus to get to OutCentral and to their jobs. I am concerned for them. For their mobility and their ability to hold a job, and quite frankly for their safety.” A better transit option would make things easier and safer for everyone, not just the LGBTQ+ community, she explained.
She introduced Mayor David Briley, remarking that he was a “long-time ally” of the LGBTQ+ community. Briley stepped up to the podium and, after thanking the crowd for inviting him, began his remarks with a surprise update about another friend of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m going to go off script for a little bit,” he started.
“One of our good friends, Mayor Megan Barry, is…um…suffering a lot as a result of everything that has happened,” said Briley to a hushed audience.
“I want to let you all know that I spoke with her about two days ago. She is, I think under the circumstances, doing great and I hope everybody will be thinking about her as we move forward because she is an important part of this community regardless of what happened last week,” he finished as the audience erupted in applause.
“Back on script now,” he continued to polite laughter.
“This is the moment. Right? For our city to decide where we are going to go…” the mayor continued.
“We’ve been in places before where we’ve decided to go one way or another…and today, we are working as hard as we possibly can to convince everybody in this community that if we want to be a progressive city, if we want build out the kind of place that people enjoy living in, if we want to be a place that can recruit businesses from around the world…we have to build out a transit system that people want to use.
Let me tell you about the plan…This is not some sort of dream. This is a plan that has fifty-thousand touches. Fifty-thousand times Nashvillians looked at our city and decided where we wanted to grow, what we wanted to look like, where we were going to put transit in. Then we pulled experts in from around the world, from around the country to look at it and decide (if) this plan makes sense for us? Does it work? Will it be possible? Is the money that we are going to raise (for the plan) enough? We looked as well…at other cities around the country to see what is working. Is this a best practice?
May 1…this city has an opportunity to decide. Are we going to go forward? Are we going to build a city that we like, we love…that people can move around in different ways? Where you can take an Uber one day, then the next day take a train to work, a bus to the grocery. Or are we going to be a city where people are trapped in their car with no other way to get around?”
Briley paused and scanned the faces in the room. He spoke on.
“A million people are coming…to this town…to this community. Are we going to build something that can support them? Or not? I’m convinced that Nashville is the kind of city when faced with a decision like this…will make the right choice.
But I need you, each and every one of you, to convince ten, or twenty, or thirty of your friends to go vote on May 1st. The younger the group, the more progressive the group, the more intelligent the group that goes to vote…the more likely it is to pass. That it critical. It is critical that we expand the electorate into people who are willing to think about transit…are willing to invest in the future. So each one of you has to get out there and has to get them to vote in order for the truly representative voice of this community to be heard.”
A final pause as Mayor Briley looked down at the podium, then lifted his head up to reveal a wry smile, and possibly a good trial lawyer’s skill.
“So, I’m asking. Will you help me?”
He was answered with a chorus of yeses, loud applause and a couple dozen thumbs up.
“I know you will,” Briley finished…giving a quick glance and smile toward the disco ball above his head as he turned the programme over to Mary Beth Ikard with the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Sustainability.
Ms. Ikard spent the rest of the time giving an overview of what the new transit options will look like if approved by voters and how the city was planning to fund it, followed by questions from the audience. Notable highlights from her presentation included:
The explanation that Nashville area is expected to naturally grow by one million people in a relative short period of time with roads fully clogged by traffic already Nashville is where the cities of Denver and Seattle were at from a population standpoint twenty-five years ago with an antiquated transit system
The plan being presented is five years in the making with input from transportation experts, finance experts, and average citizens who would likely use an improved transit system.
Once approved by voters, the plan would take fifteen years to fully build out. The first five years would see markedly improved bus transit options with a larger and newer fleet and the build out of neighbourhood transit hubs…while also building a transit tunnel under the downtown (roughly under 5th Avenue) that would eventually be used by both light rail trains and buses
Light rail would be built towards high traffic areas. A dedicated fleet of rapid buses, much like we have now on high traffic corridors, will expand in areas not planned for light rail at this time…but will improve in travel time because of the planned transit tunnel under downtown that they can use.
Light rail could expand to neighboring counties if they want service. They would have to pay for build out and operation costs from their own sources of revenue if so
Projected cost to build is between five to ten billion dollars (depending upon which estimates and sources you choose to rely upon…) The cost to build and operate the new transit system will be split almost 50/50 between Davidson County residents and non-residents. Sales and use taxes will be the primary revenue source tapped to build out and operate the new system…allowing for non-residents to pay into the costs.
Local tax increases to build out the system roughly break down to an extra five dollars a month per household for the first five years, then ten dollars a month until the completion of the build out. There is a legal provision in place to roll back tax increases after the build out is paid for, but it would be the responsibility of the Metro Council to do that
More jobs and growth are projected to accompany better transit options. A provision to allow heavily discounted fares has been proposed for users who fall under the poverty line. Air quality is expected to improve significantly once more cars come off the roads in favor of public transit. Better transit options means fewer cars…fewer cars means less gridlock on highways.
First light rail operations are scheduled for 2026. County mayors around Davidson County have expressed quiet interest to transit reps in potentially linking up with a built out system in Davidson County…but we would have to go first before they would pitch any ideas to their counties down the road
You can find their detailed plan at this link. The referendum for the transit plan will take place on May 1st. You have until April 1st to register to vote in this referendum if you have not registered yet.
Please click on the videos below for the full presentation and interviews with the forum participants: