A major mass transit system proposed for Nashville by the current Mayor is long overdue, but I hate to say [because the Nashville metro area is where I live] that the proposal is an attempt to apply “old paradigm” thinking to “new paradigm” needs. My posts to this Blog and the website I set up to host it have an overall “theme” that is much broader in scope than the design of any particular city’s mass transit system — or for that matter, a national design for population mobility. However, what I’d like to provide in this post is yet more evidence that there is A Major Paradigm Shift Well Underway in this country, and that evidence of that phenomenon is all around us.
Nashville needed a mass transit system like the one currently proposed — which will require fifteen years to complete — at least five years ago, probably ten, maybe even more. Traffic in the area covered by this plan is terrible now, and the population is increasing by about 3,000 people per month. The situation here is a classic example of what happens when a population grows orders of magnitude faster than the infrastructure needed to support it.
Old Paradigm Thinking — Old Paradigm Solution
The Mayor’s proposed system is estimated to cost $5.2 billion and take fifteen years to complete, and as anybody who’s ever followed government-funded projects knows, it will ultimately cost much more and take much longer. It is a combination of 26 miles of new light rail, more robust bus service, and a major tunnel below downtown where the new transit lines would run. The only “innovative thinking” expressed as such in the proposal is that the downtown tunnel will use new boring technology being touted in tunneling projects in other areas [similar to the technology being promoted by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company].
Apparently concerned about [or at least frustrated with] some negative views of her plan being expressed in the media, the Mayor contributed to an article that appeared in the 11/21/17 Tennessean. In it, she refuted what she called “transit myths” showing up in the media about flaws in her plan. Detailing her logic here would make this post too long, but her arguments come across to me as “typical politician-speak”, and the article quotes two respected academicians [who do not live in Tennessee] who disagree with her logic [Senior Fellows at the Cato Institute and the Manhattan Institute].
The main revenue generator for financing the project would be a 0.5% hike to Nashville’s sales tax in July 2018 that would jump to 1% in 2023. Proposed increases to the city’s hotel-motel tax, rental car tax and business and excise tax are simply more “taxes in disguise” because they simply increase the already-too-high costs of those services [businesses don’t pay taxes — people do]. As with the physical and functional design, the financing is simply traditional [old paradigm] formulas into which Nashville-specific parameters have been inserted.
From a design and financing perspective, this proposal would probably track pretty closely with decades-ago proposals in other cities.
How About Some New Paradigm Thinking?
I was encouraged that two people writing letters to the editor in the 11/20/17 Tennessean seemed to agree with what I’m saying here:
Letter 1. “It seems to be addressing tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s tools. Cooperation with Uber, Lyft and other businesses to address the problem would make sense. How about 24/7 passenger minibuses as a method of carpooling? A hundred of them would take 2,400 cars off the streets of downtown. The city could license them and make money instead of spending it. How about airport-style moving sidewalks from the stadium parking lot to downtown? Focus on moving people around downtown instead of moving cars to and around downtown.” Letter 2. “The most important element in getting Nashvillians to use public transportation is not what we do with the arteries, but with the capillaries. Two elements have appeared on the horizon recently: ride-sharing services (Lyft and Uber) and autonomous vehicles. I submit that the most important factor in keeping Nashville roads free of gridlock and pollution is a system of getting people from their homes to a bus or train line. There is no reason that Metro and other cities cannot operate a software-based system of collecting passengers along residential streets on demand, and transporting them to main lines, and doing the same at the destination end. It may cost more for drivers or autonomous technology, but it will cause the buses and trains to be filled and not operate at a loss as most lines do today.”
I read an article recently about how major players in the hotel industry are rapidly moving toward new designs of rooms that are based on trends in consumer habits [I hope Nashville’s Mayor read that article (or sees this post) and absorbs this concept]. The article indicated that their designers “spend hours debating how best to use space, pay[ing] close attention to the types and sizes of bags that people are traveling with. They also study how guests move around the room, [thinking] ‘How do we make it easy? How do we make it seamless? How do we make it intuitive?’ [They don’t want] guests to spend too much time on figuring out where to place belongings. People want to go out and experience the city. No one wants to spend time unpacking. [Designers want to] minimize clutter and maximize space and promote a clean, minimalist area that is functional and easy to access.”
The lesson here? … People designing one thing [e.g., a mass transit system] can often get innovative ideas by observing not just the “history” and current “goings on” related to that thing, but also the “history” and “goings on” related to some other thing [e.g., a hotel room].
I don’t mean to imply that some, maybe most of the current design [the diagram I chose as the first lead graphic for this post] will need to be a part of Nashville’s transit system. My whole point is that the design doesn’t stem from the right starting point [see Closing Thoughts … below] and does not include sufficient “out of the box” thinking [which the second lead graphic depicts].
Closing Thoughts: For Nashvilleans; For Everybody
As for Nashville, I hope more people will speak out on this and move sentiment toward re-thinking the design, starting where initial research should have started in the first place — with the consumer: i.e., the goal should be determining what overall design will optimize, on average, the ability of a person getting from where he/she is at the moment [not necessarily his/her home] to his/her destination — “optimize”, in this context, meaning striking the best balance between the lowest cost and the shortest time.
As for my readers, I hope this post has been enlightening in terms of recognizing that there is indeed A Major Paradigm Shift Well Underway in this country, and if on any given day we look at “goings on” in almost any area of our lives, the evidence is all around us. The more of us who are aware of the paradigm shift, the more likely the rapidly-emerging New Paradigm will be the best match to our future needs.
Thanks for reading this post, and if you regularly follow my Blog, for that, too. Please consider sharing this or other posts with your friends, colleagues and associates.
Charles M. Jones