After stinging referendum loss, Nashville leaders explore transit makeover on Dickerson Pike


Four months after Nashvillians overwhelmingly defeated a referendum on funding a countywide transit system, the city’s next move could be to zero in on a single East Nashville corridor. 

The Metro Transit Authority in July applied for $1.5 million in federal funding made available through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s BUILD program to study new transportation options on the corridor. It’s part of a $2.3 million overall plan with the city providing local matching funds.

The proposed “Great Streets Planning Study” for Dickerson Pike would embrace a complete streets approach, mapping out new sidewalks and protected bike lanes. It would also explore future transit possibilities, including bus rapid transit, along the corridor as well as new technologies such as autonomous vehicles. 

Transit vote: Nashville voters overwhelmingly reject transit referendum

Mayor David Briley, who supported the transit referendum plan that voters defeated in May, raised the Dickerson corridor study during remarks before the Rotary Club of Nashville on Monday. 

“They’ve seemed quite interested in helping us with federal matching funds to build out a corridor along Dickerson Road that would be more transit-focused, that will promote economic activity along that corridor and also try to preserve the character of the neighborhood, including affordability along that line,” Briley said.

Under the $5.4 million Let’s Move Nashville transportation plan that voters rejected, Dickerson was targeted for bus rapid transit, which involves buses that operate on dedicated lanes.

The overall plan sought to raise four taxes, including the sales tax, to pay for a combination of light rail, bus rapid transit, upgrades to city buses and other changes over the next 25 years.

Briley told the Rotary Club that one of the reasons the transit referendum lost big — by 64 percent to 36 percent  — was because Nashvillians needed to see “more examples on the ground” of how transit can work.

Related: With MLS stadium approved, Nashville mayor eyes shift from big projects to ‘the fundamentals’

The focus on Dickerson Pike is intended to be that example. But future capital funding would need to be reallocated in addition to the planning dollars for a project to advance.

Other elements targeted in the proposed study include an extensive sidewalk and bike program, real-time travel information, fiber optic communication lines, improved street lighting, mobility on demand and safety improvements.

Dickerson Pike, historically one of Nashville’s most impoverished and neglected stretches, has shown recent signs of gentrification with new urban-inspired apartment developments popping up along the corridor. 

But it still remains one of the city’s poorest areas and fragmented in terms of walkability.

The proposed Dickerson plan also calls for public engagement to reach a consensus on a “preferred alternative,” according to the city’s grant application, while exploring a possible redevelopment district that would use tax-increment financing for mobility improvements. 

More: Dickerson Pike project aims for twice as many residential units, but no townhomes

The Metro Council last month narrowly voted to defeat a transit-oriented development proposed for Donelson that also leaned on TIF.

If awarded the grant, the city would also develop compatible land use plans for Dickerson and create housing options that would include workforce and affordable housing, according to the grant application.

Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236, jgarrison@tennessean.com and on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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