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Really stupid legislation of the week award

Bus Rapid Transit image courtesy of the Transport Politic

Bus Rapid Transit image courtesy of the Transport Politic

The State of Tennessee wins the award in stunning fashion. You see, in Nashville they're having a big debate over a proposed bus rapid transit line in the heart of the city. It's a technology so controversial and difficult that... well, actually it's not either. It's something that's been used for years as an inexpensive compromise instead of light rail or streetcars. So many cities have done it successfully by now that it's become, frankly, a run-of-the-mill solution in cities around the world.

Whether the specific design in Nashville is great or lousy, it's no matter. Instead, the state legislature is stepping in (because it clearly understands urban transit issues better than say, people who live in the city) and making sure the plan can't happen. Five Republican legislators (2 Senate, 3 House) have sponsored a bill to do the following:

The Senate bill would block bus rapid transit not only there but in any other portion of the city. It would ban mass transit projects that load and unload customers in the center lane, a core element of The Amp's design.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, the legislation's sponsor, said he worries not only about congestion but also about the safety of people boarding buses in the center of the road. He also raised concerns about the possibility that parking spaces or private land could be taken to make room for bus lanes.

So, let's get this straight. A State Senator, who probably vociferously opposes the Federal government telling the State how to implement any specific idea in Tennessee, has no problems telling the metropolitan government and citizens of Nashville how to design and fund their transit system. And beyond that - how many roadway projects has the state DOT undertaken that take private land or eliminate street parking? Does the Senate plan to write a bill to prevent road widenings to do the same?

The hypocrisy is pretty astounding, but sadly not surprising. So is the ignorance. Americans for Prosperity is also on the scene, reportedly involved with crafting the bill. Because, well, transit systems don't exist in prosperous places? I'm not sure - you figure it out and tell me. But I'm sure this fits in with their view of limited government giving people maximal freedom.

While many conservative Republicans understand and value the economics of transit, the memo still hasn't gotten around to most. I long for a day when we can get past the "your team likes it so mine has to write laws against it" phase of democracy, but it seems farther off than ever. In the meantime, laws like this are only going to make it harder for cities to attract and retain people and capital.

Mabye the actual design for AMP is good, maybe it's not. But leave it to actual experts and citizens to figure out - leave the ideologues and opportunist politicians out.

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