Experts discuss plan to improve Nashville transportation at campus panel


Grace Allaman

In an effort to improve Nashville’s public transportation, the Mayor’s office is pushing for a $5.2 billion plan to be completed by 2032. Authorization for the project is pending Metro Council approval and a May 1 referendum vote.

On Tuesday, a panel of representatives from organizations involved in the initiative held a “lunch and learn” meeting in the Kissam Multi-Purpose Room to raise awareness and answer questions about the plan. The standing-room-only event brought in over 150 people, with community members as well as Vanderbilt students and faculty in attendance.

Holding the event at Vanderbilt brought the discussion closer to the students who may be impacted by the changes to the transit system, as well as professors working on the initiative and administrators supporting it. Additionally, Vanderbilt and the Vanderbilt Medical Center have together contributed $200,000 to a non-profit focused on educating the public about the proposed project.

Dr. Craig Philip, Vanderbilt professor and Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Transportation and Operational Resiliency (VECTOR), facilitated the event and began by explaining the need for improved transit in Nashville.

“One study finds we are ninety-third in metropolitan areas in the U.S. in access to transportation,” Philip said. “And we are the fifth most sprawling area of two hundred they measured.”

Future students will love the opportunity to move around Nashville in a way I couldn’t

The new plan calls for increasing the number and frequency of public buses, a light rail system, more sidewalks, safer intersections, neighborhood transit connection centers and a tunnel running beneath downtown which aims to move cars and buses more efficiently between opposite sides of the city.

Noah Van Mierlo, a Vanderbilt junior majoring in political science, participated in the panel to lend a student perspective. He compared his transportation experiences in Nashville with growing up in European cities.

“When I was a kid in London, I didn’t have to ask my mom to drive and pick me up from the movies,” Van Mierlo said. “I could just take a five-minute Tube ride.”

Though it will not be completed before he graduates, he is excited for Nashville’s new project. One transit center is expected to be located near Vanderbilt’s campus, giving students access to the expanded transport system.

“Future students will love the opportunity to move around Nashville in a way I couldn’t,” Van Mierlo said. “I’ve only been outside Davidson County a few times, but there’s so much more to explore.”

The first phase of the project, to be completed between 2018 and 2023, includes improvements to the existing public bus system. Nashville aims to increase its bus fleet by 50 percent, with buses arriving at stops in fifteen minute intervals and operating twenty hours a day.

We’re focused on the fact that a walkable and bikeable community is a more friendly city

“The current bus service is very good, and more of the same is a good first step,” Steve Gild, Senior Safety Officer at Vanderbilt’s Sustainability and Environmental Management Office (SEMO), said.

Gild’s work focuses largely on environmental sustainability efforts, a top priority of both the transportation initiative as well as Vanderbilt’s FutureVU development project. Improving sidewalks and intersections is another early goal of the city’s plan. Gild said Nashville is working to increase sustainability and continue to keep smog levels down, and Vanderbilt is focusing on walkability in its new constructions.

“We’re focused on the fact that a walkable and bikeable community is a more friendly city,” Erin Hafkenschiel, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Sustainability, said.

Hafkenschiel emphasized the benefits of improved public transit, from reducing pollution to creating jobs and fighting poverty with increased access to reliable, affordable transportation across the city.

Another forum addressing the new transit plan will be held on February 19, though location and time are not yet determined. For more information on Nashville’s transportation improvements, visit