Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light: A “Choose How You Move” Breakdown


May 17, 2024 10:15AM

Recently, Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell released the full details of his long-expected transit plan “Choose How You Move.” The plan, costing over $3 billion, is paid through a variety of grants and a half-penny sales tax increase. The increase in the sales tax will bring Nashville’s rate to 9.75 cents per dollar, the same as many of Davidson’s surrounding counties. Not only is this half the proposed tax hike of the previous plan that Nashville voters soundly rejected back in 2018, it also differs dramatically from the previous transit proposal.

So what to make of this new plan? We’ve got you covered. But buckle up and grab a cup of coffee, as there’s a lot to break down. But don’t worry, it’s not as long as it would have taken to build that tunnel downtown under the previous transit plan.

Green Light: The Good

When a plan is called “Choose How You Move,” there better be some parts that benefit all Nashvillians, not just those who utilize or want to utilize public transit. Because let’s face it: the vast majority of people will still drive no matter what. In fact, many surveys have shown that people overwhelmingly support transit for other people to ride so they can stay in their cars (to the point it’s the subject of a famous article by the satire site The Onion). Luckily, there are some parts of the plan that will benefit all:

Traffic Signal Automation – $158 million

Have you ever been sitting at a light waiting for what seems like forever while nobody drives in the direction that has a green light? You and I both. Every so many years Nashville has had to retime traffic signals due to changing traffic patterns, with great benefits. For example, when the city retimed signals back in 2016, traffic times improved by 14 percent. However, this has to be redone frequently as traffic patterns change. Back in 2018, Beacon called for the city to update signals and create what is known as Adaptive Traffic Signal Control which would allow signals to be updated in real-time from a command center. Think NASA’s mission control but for traffic. In Los Angeles, this technology has proven to reduce travel time by as much as 12 percent and increase speeds by 16 percent. In other countries that have adopted this technology, such as Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, travel times have decreased by as much as 30 percent. According to the Federal Highway Administration, “real-time management of traffic systems is proven to work, yet these systems have been deployed on less than one percent of existing traffic signals in the United States.” The new transit plan will ensure that roughly two-thirds of traffic signals across Davidson County will be updated with this technology. This will directly benefit every resident regardless of whether they take the bus, or like the majority of Nasvhillians, continue to drive.

Legitimate Funding of Sidewalks – $372 million

If you’ve followed Beacon’s work closely, you know we’ve criticized Nashville’ attempts to fund sidewalk construction by forcing property owners to pay for sidewalks to get their permits. In fact, we represented Nashvillians in two different lawsuits and eventually won, with courts declaring the city’s efforts unconstitutional.

But that doesn’t mean sidewalks aren’t a worthy goal. Nashville does need sidewalks, roughly 1900 miles according to the city. More sidewalks will make our city a better place to live, and make a denser, more walkable city possible.

Working with the Private Sector – $300,000 annually

Despite being the largest and most dense city in the state, there are outskirts of Nashville that just aren’t dense enough for any kind of bus service. Back in 2018, Beacon called for Nashville to work with private sector ridesharing companies to provide subsidized service and connections in the outskirts of Nashville rather than build costly rail or bus lines to those areas. Some cities like Dallas have taken similar approaches, and its neighbor Arlington, Texas recently made microtransit services through Via available city-wide. Back in 2021, WeGo (Nashville’s transit service) launched WeGo Link, a pilot program with Uber serving approximately 18 percent of the city. As part of the new transit plan, WeGo Link will be expanded city-wide. Ideally, we’d like to see more leveraging of the private sector, perhaps creating more integration with the system focusing on shared rides in order to reduce the number of cars on the road and provide options for residents throughout the county, not just those along major corridors.

Yellow Light: The Okay

Street Safety Expansion – $492 million

As part of the proposed transit plan, certain streets will be redesigned to better separate uses (car, bike, or walking for example) to enhance safety. And Nashville desperately needs safer roads for all. According to the city, six percent of streets currently account for 59 percent of all fatal injuries. But don’t just take their numbers for it. In fact, one recent study found Nashville was the second most dangerous city in America for pedestrians. And while safety is obviously more important, accidents do slow down traffic and make it more unpredictable. Planned improvements include 39 miles of Metro’s “Complete Streets” program with crosswalks and bike lanes. If you’re wondering what this looks like in practice, take a trip down 12th Avenue South. Just know that these improvements are slotted to be completed over 15 years, so expect lots and lots of potential road construction in the meantime.

12th Avenue South is the most recently finished “Complete Street” that is a focus of the plan. 

Park & Ride and Transit Center Expansions – $157 million

One of the biggest complaints of the 2018 proposal was the lack of a regional vision and how adding light rail down our busiest corridors would address traffic on the interstates. One thing this new plan proposes is to fund 17 new park-and-ride locations around the edge of the county with roughly 3,700 parking spots. From there, many of these centers would have frequent or express routes into downtown. The plan states that these express routes could serve as building blocks for service into outlying cities like Clarksville and Murfreesboro. However, it would still require commuters to drive into the city to the park and ride locations to then take a bus downtown, so it will likely not be the most convenient option.

The new Park & Ride facilities are located around the edges of the county, providing at least some ability to serve a more regional approach for commuters into the city.

In Nashville’s defense, options are limited until the choice lanes as part of the state’s Transportation Modernization Act are built, which will allow buses to take advantage of the choice lanes and bypass traffic on the interstate.

The new transit centers will provide almost 4,000 parking spots at Park & Ride locations.

Additionally, these park-and-ride locations would be the launching points for special service routes for big events like Titans games, events at the new soccer stadium Geodis Park, or downtown events. This could be an attractive option for people in the suburbs looking to come into the city and not wanting to deal with the downtown traffic, let alone the cost of parking.

Orange Caution Light: The “I Have Questions” Portion

All Access Corridors – $1.4 billion

By far the single most expensive portion of the transit plan is the 54 miles of “All Access Corridors.” This section includes the most intensive transit investments including dedicated lanes and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). What is BRT? BRT is a level of bus service intended to mimic rail service with increased capacity and speed compared to traditional buses. BRT features usually include:

  • Dedicated lanes
  • Priority for buses at intersections
  • Raised platforms for easy embarking and disembarking
  • Prepaid fares (so no wait times)


An example of BRT in Bangkok, Thailand. Notice the large shelter and raised platform for easy step on and off and a dedicated lane to bypass traffic.

To give Mayor O’Connell credit, BRT makes a lot more sense than light rail from a financial perspective because it has a much lower cost. Light rail costs about $200 to $500 million per mile. Meanwhile, BRT costs roughly $40 million per mile. This was the main reason for the astronomical cost of the last proposal that had multiple light rail lines. These All Access Corridors focus on the busiest streets and roadways in Nashville like Murfreesboro Pike and Nolensville Pike (see below for the full list).

The full list of the proposed All Access Corridors. These are some of Nashville’s busiest roads. The first five are most likely to see BRT-level service and represent roughly 80 percent of existing WeGo ridership according to Metro.

So with better transit access and options at a fraction of the cost, what’s not to like? We have two concerns.

First, will any dedicated lanes come from expanding our roads and adding lanes or through what is called a “road diet,” where you take existing lanes from a four-lane road for a middle turn lane, bike lanes, or transit lanes? The Federal Highway Administration generally recommends that road diets can work on corridors that average less than 20,000 car trips a day. When lanes are taken away from a corridor with already higher amounts of traffic than that, the potential exists to make the problem demonstrably worse, defeating the whole purpose of allowing Nashvillians to “Choose How You Move.”

Three of the potential BRT corridors (Murfreesboro Pike, Nolensville Pike, and West End Avenue) already average above that amount, let alone 15 years from now once all the corridors are fully implemented. A transit plan that focuses on all Nasvhillians shouldn’t try to favor one type of transportation over another, including the majority of Nashvillians who will continue to take their cars. Unfortunately, we don’t know how these corridors will be designed, or whether lanes will ultimately be added or taken away for years to come.

The second concern is whether or not Nashville has a high enough density to justify and support this level of service. There is a general consensus among transportation planners that a city needs approximately 15 dwelling units per acre to support BRT or light rail service. None of the potential corridors come anywhere close to that level of density. Meanwhile, the corridor that comes closest, West End Avenue, interestingly has the lowest WeGo ridership levels of the potential BRT corridors.

Population Densities and Traffic Along Proposed All-Access Corridors

None of the main corridors that are a focus for the plan have the density to support BRT service and several are already above federal recommendations for taking away existing lanes for transit.

Without the density to support this expensive level of service and with several of the planned corridors already facing high levels of traffic, should high-quality bus service like BRT be an automatic dealbreaker? Not necessarily. But if Nashville does decide to make dedicated lanes for transit, it shouldn’t be at the expense of motorists and should only be through expanding our road network’s capacity by adding additional lanes. If Nashville had higher levels of density, that would be a different matter entirely. Speaking of which…

Red Light: The Downright Inexcusably Awful 

Government-led Real Estate Development – $34 million

In what should make you say “Hold up, wait a minute, something ain’t right,” part of the new transit proposal includes the city purchasing roughly 26 acres of land around new transit centers to develop “a variety of transit-connected community leads, such as thoughtfully designed affordable housing.” So now a government that not too long ago had problems delivering basic services like trash pickup is going to get into the real estate development business? It gets worse, as taxpayers could be put on the hook for ongoing costs. From the same page of the transit proposal: “Once delivered through a Metro-sponsored joint development, Metro general funds could be used to support programs to keep these transit-oriented communities affordable and accessible to today’s Nashvillians”. What does that mean, you ask? It sounds like using your property taxes to help subsidize others’ rent or mortgage payments. I sure hope your current rent or mortgage is affordable because you’re about to take on part of someone else’s payment.


This November, Nashville voters have a big decision to make. While Beacon cannot and will not take a position on the sales tax referendum itself, we hope this provides some insight and perspective on the new transit proposal. This plan, in addition to simply improving existing bus service (which we didn’t even touch on here), does focus more on improvements that will benefit all Nashvillians, even those who will never hop on a bus. It also focuses more on things that can be improved quickly at a relatively lower cost than the 2018 plan. For this, Mayor O’Connell and his staff should be applauded.

Additionally, while there will be construction pains for the foreseeable future should this plan be approved by voters, our roads will receive important safety improvements and at least the groundwork for a more regional approach to traffic will be put in place.

However, we have questions about how the most intensive bus infrastructure features of the plan will be implemented and severe concerns about Metro getting away from the basics of good government.