Freeway Transit/Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

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This report in the Transit Strategies Series explores freeway bus services.  Freeway bus services operate along freeways, either in regular traffic lanes, in high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, or along the shoulders.  Freeway bus services also have stations within the freeway right-of-way to minimize travel times by eliminating all or most of the local circulation that is required to serve stops or stations off the freeway.

What do you think?  Where should Nashville MTA/RTA consider freeway bus rapid transit?


  1. Jackie says

    I think a major concern for me coming from Murfreesboro/Smyrna area is that most of the schedules don’t seem to work around people who have to drop their children off at school. Schools don’t allow you to drop your child off before 645 at the earliest if it’s elementary and I’m fortunate my child’s bus picks her up at 625am. However, I have to be at work by 730 and I don’t work downtown but in the Metrocenter area. Their needs to be consideration for those that work in Nashville but not downtown. The closest bus stop for me is on the opposite side of town and even if I did catch the bus, I wouldn’t even make it to Metrocenter until after 8:00 and that’s if I’m lucky. 3 buses to serve all of Murfreesboro and Smyrna is not a viable option. This plan seems like it would help for a temporary fix but I still prefer the idea of a subway/monorail/train because times can be more continuous and flexible then as opposed to buses. This area is growing so fast and to put a bandage on a broken bone is not going to repair the problem. I know a lot of people in this area don’t like the idea of spending more money or taxes but I am more than willing to pay say $5 per month in a fund to help facilitate the cost if that’s what it takes for me to not have to waste more than that in gas in the future.

  2. says

    Of the options presented, this feels like the most feasible both in opportunity and cost.

    Aside from freeway busses, an even more cost effective fix not listed would be TDOT Pace Cars deployed on I-24 during rush hour.

    The idea is a row of these vehicles moving at a constant speed to prevent backups, the classic stop and go “wave” of traffic, and the countless rear-end collisions on I-24 each day. Several blocks of pace cars would allow traffic at the I-24/I-440/I-40 junctions to disperse before each new block of paced traffic arrives. Even traffic moving at a constant 40 mph would be a faster commute than the current stop and go madness on I-24 in the morning.

    More info here:

  3. Rebecca Shaw says

    I’m strongly in favor of improving/expanding public transit–both by more frequent bus service (possibly delivered by smaller vehicles?) and more cross-town service.

    But I’m still disillusioned about the too-quiet aftermath and the questions NOBODY asked about the Amp, the ill-fated bus rapid transit system Dean, former MTA commission Paul Ballard, Rick Bernhardt, and many city councilman who should have known better tried to impose on the city with a big marketing campaign and any number of polls where all results = the Amp as a perfect solution.

    I would like to see a clear public admission by somebody (Ben Vos, perhaps, since you posted on this forum) that the Amp failed because it was badly engineered, not because the (entirely justified) opposition to the project as a costly boondoggle won the day. The final presentation of the consulting report to a community committee stacked 4 to 1 with people who favored the Amp omitted the amount of time required for Amp buses to travel from 12th Avenue on the West Nashville Side through downtown in a naked attempted to disguise the fact that this project was not technically feasible.

    The battle over the Amp also set back transit planning in Nashville by at least 5 years. People who should have focusing on a more comprehensive solution for Davidson County and surrounding counties–a system that encompassed both Metro Nashville and connections with regional hubs–were either pushing the Amp or fighting against it. The Amp–a 7-mile route along a single corridor–was also promoting as something it wasn’t: a regional solution.

    At some point, we are going to have to recognize that:

    (1) Many people do not want to go to downtown Nashville to get anywhere else, nor do they have the time to do so.
    (2) Many people who could take public transit don’t because service is not dependable and covered stops too few.
    (3) The ability to get off and back on a bus along a route–for example, stopping to shop at a grocery on the way home from work–shouldn’t require the purchase of 2 bus tickets. Can we have a system where a passenger can get on and off a bus unlimited times over a 2-hour period?
    (4) Simply increasing the frequency of buses would encourage more people–including me–to take transit more often.
    (5) The transit industry needs to “think outside the box” regarding the size of vehicles. Some routes might be better served by the kinds of buses used by rental car companies than enormous buses.
    (6) Routes where use is high deserve more service, not less. One of my issues with the Amp was that it reduced and eliminated some regular bus routes in the same area.

  4. says

    With all the either/or thinking we may be missing out on one of the best both/and options out there. We should find ways to partner with Uber to solve many of the problems of mass transit and over utilized infrastructures. The “last mile” problem from the bus and train terminal points can be solved with Uber. The many advantages of shared ride options can also minimize the costs of travel and parking and even automobile ownership. With more out of the box thinking perhaps the solutions we seek already exist without significantly more tax subsidies and costly construction. Just ask Luke Marklin Uber General Manager in Nashville. More viable solutions exist than we need additional funds to pay for.

  5. J Moore says

    How many buses are we talking about employing here? Because if you take all the major corridors in and out of the city, having them run on 15 to 30 minute intervals during the rush ours, you are looking at a pretty substantial investment, considering labor, maintenance, road construction, etc.

    I want to move my family to Mboro, but this is the #1 reason I don’t. the Bus option is fine, but I would really prefer a light rail system for the interstates and a more robust bus system for the downtown/midtown/burbs areas. I think that would better serve all of Nashville better than just buses running up and down the interstate.

  6. says

    Expanding freeway transit is essential to building ridership, but as several others have noted, at some point people need to leave the freeway to get to their destination. Good access to a network of bus services serving the whole city is essential.

    Personally, I love riding by train, but I don’t think that we are ready to make that leap in Nashville yet. I see good BRT and freeway service (note the “good” here) as the precursor to train lines. This will allow MTA a low-cost way to figure out where the demand is likely to be greatest and to tweak routes and schedules before committing to an expensive long-term building project. Once the train line is complete, there will be an existing group of transit users who will happily fill up the trains.

    Finally, what about I-440 and Briley Parkway? This is not a line out to the suburbs, but it would be a good way to improve cross-town commuting for those in Nashville. There are a lot of office parks off of I-440, as well as shopping destinations and dense residential developments (not to mention the presence of Vanderbilt Medical Center offices at 100 Oaks Mall). Having a bi-directional loop (running both clockwise and counterclockwise) that people coming off of freeways could link up with would make transit better for both those in Davidson county and those commuting into Nashville from surrounding counties.

  7. Christine Watt says

    I love the ideas LG put forth. I agree completely that the HOV lanes are not used properly and are NOT enforced. A monorail or train system would be wonderful – but to begin with some sort of dedicated lane for rapid bus service could definitely be implemented more quickly and would provide some much needed relief!

  8. Christine Watt says

    I love the idea of a Freeway Transit/Bus system. Traveling from the southeast corner of the city to the northwest corner every day for work makes taking transit impossible at this point. Dedicated Freeway Bus lanes with good crosstown routes would make this quite feasible. Right now the trip would be about an hour and a half – and driving it is close to an hour most days. The traffic situation has reduced the quality of life in Nashville so much that I have considered leaving. I look forward to the day it will be as convenient as the CTA in Chicago. At one point, I was able to be without a car because everything I needed was a convenient commute via CTA.

  9. Ben Vos says

    When I served on the Nashville Amp Citizens Advisory Committee, I had an opportunity to meet with incoming (and current) CEO Steve Bland. He said something that has stuck with me, which is that he’s always looking for the next rider – i.e., the next person who will adopt transit.

    There are several factors that contribute to making the leap to transit:

    Not having to be behind the wheel frees up attention for work or recreation (and makes onboard WiFi a must!)
    Rides have to be consistent and frequent enough to meet the needs of riders at the time they need the rides
    Congestion becomes enough of a factor that a switch makes more sense
    People who ride transit often recognize the reduced carbon footprint of sharing a ride with others

    The no-brainer at this point is two-way Freeway BRT on the I-65 north corridor through from Cool Springs (and probably Spring Hill!) through Brentwood to downtown, and I-24 between Murfreesboro/Smyrna and downtown. Other priorities would be I-40 between Mt. Juliet and Bellevue, with service to the Airport and TSU as well as downtown. What this does that the Amp didn’t do is capture the imagination of regional groups outside Metro Nashville (and the West End corridor). But we will need to work harder for more ridership, whereas the Amp had a route that was ideal for those already using transit and living in the downtown corridor.

  10. Roy Wellington says

    I like the median transit stations; I can see ones at the ends of the RapidBus (BRT Lite) loops at Regional Hubs at VietVets and Conference Drive, also I-24 and Bell Road, also I-40 and Sawyer Brown Rd. Regional Hubs could be transfer stations between RTA Express BRT, RapidBus, and local or cross-town service. I don’t see I-65 south to Williamson County connecting directly with a RapidBus but OHB could serve as a Regional Hub for MTA and Williamson County local service as well as RTA Express BRT service.

    Start with BRT but always include optionality for a future upgrade to commuter rail.

  11. Rae says

    I was a regular #2 Belmont bus rider from 1997 to sometime around 201x?? Getting from Green Hills to downtown is a 20 minute car ride. Getting from Green Hills to downtown on the Belmont bus is at least a 50 minute commute taking into account having to walk to bus stop and wait. I finally got fed up with bus a few years ago when the Belmont schedule and route was changed and it took even longer to get to work. Why ride a bus for about an hour when you can hop in car for 20 minute drive. The changes to the Belmont route and schedule became so inconvenient it forced my hand and I finally gave up on riding the bus. Green Hills needs an express route from the mall to downtown. It currently takes well over 40 minutes to get to downtown with the #2 Belmont and if you miss the bus then you have to wait another 40 minutes. Why bother? I am a huge bus advocate but the schedules and routes seem to discourage ridership from Green Hills to downtown.

  12. BeeGee says

    As it has been stated: it is IMPERATIVE that a viable option for getting around downtown compliments whatever regional services we develop! Why would someone take a BRT into town if they cannot get around once they have arrived?

  13. S Berry says

    Our communities have developed around the interstates, so it makes sense to embrace that and develop a quick, reliable and efficient mode of public transit within these existing corridors. With complementary service throughout town and park/ride lots at these freeway stops, it seems like a great idea.

    Additionally, for people to trust they can really commute via public transportation, they need to know they can get home at any time of day, not just one time of day. Frequent service, in both directions, is vital. I don’t want to leave my home and feel that I’m trapped on the other end of town with no option, other than a very expensive uber/taxi ride if something comes up and I need to return to the other side of town. Our current commuter system often leaves riders stranded, with extremely limited frequency.

  14. Andy Borchers says

    I’m very excited about freeway BRTs as they appear to be the fastest and most economical way to relieve our over crowded freeways. I’m a regular Music City Star rider and I’ve learned the benefits of commuting. For example, my wife and I are a one car (and one small scooter!) household. The Star really saves us financially.

    Where? Two factors come to mind – which freeways have the highest traffic? Second, which routes have high density on the end points (particularly employers). Routes like I-24 from the Southeast seem to have traffic (as do other freeways). Spots like Cool Springs, metro center and mid-town seem to have density. A key point might be to engage employers with last mile service – such as a circulating van to get folks from a transit endpoint to their work place.

    Regards – Andy

  15. Mary Stone says

    Rapid bus service with a dedicated right hand lane sounds like a great idea. So what if it is a bus. If it gets into town 30 minutes or more faster, and the rider can read, use wireless, whatever, on his commute, plus incur no parking costs, it will work. You just have to dedicate that lane and let the thousands in their cars see the bus go by at 65mph day after day. It may take 6 months, but eventually drivers will see the benefits and hop on.

  16. LG says

    Freeway BRT is certainly a viable alternative to hard or light rail for commuters coming in from suburbs but there three important things to consider for most Nashvillians to consider trading their cars in for public transit.

    1) No public transit that brings commuters in from the suburbs will be successful until and unless there is a reliable, convenient and efficient way to get around downtown without a vehicle. This means more than just a circulator bus – there needs to be a multi-line transportation system that has permanent stations that are protected from the elements and shaded from the heat; the system can be bus-based, but needs to incorporate ways to get around traffic congestion preferably in dedicated lanes; and the schedule needs to be frequent enough to be convenient.

    2) Freeway BRT HAS to be faster than taking a car for Nashville commuters to consider using it. This likely means dedicated lanes will be required. HOV lanes on Nashville interstates are a JOKE, I would advocate removing HOV lanes altogether in favor of dedicated BRT lanes. No one correctly utilizes HOV lanes and no one enforces them. Utilize right-side dedicated BRT lanes with climate-controlled stations, park-and-ride parking garages and weather-protected pedestrian bridges. Doing ANYTHING you can to make this feel more like heavy-rail and less like a bus will make people in Nashville more likely to use them.

    3) Finally, the schedule of these busses must be realistic to the needs of the average commuter. Extremely frequent routes during high-traffic times to keep wait times down would be essential, with platforms informing commuters when the next bus would be arriving. Also, having a LATE route – even if with longer wait times in between – but having service at least until 2-3 AM and starting would be necessary for commuters to completely cut the car-umbilical cord and utilize public transit.

    • Jan says

      I agree with LG. I live in Wilson county and have to drive to Metro Center every day. Rail can’t guarantee that I’ll be at work by 6:30 or 7 am. Busses don’t connect to the point that I can get to work by that time guaranteed either.

      Rapid transit needs to go out on more than just the north/south corridor and needs to be able to address the needs of those who work second and third shifts as well if you really want this to be a successful venture.

    • Daniel says

      Great points, LG. It cannot be stated enough how great the need is for functional local transit options within the city before commuter options will make sense.

      One minor clarification: Our HOV lanes were constructed with federal funding specially apportioned in the early 1990s for such a purpose. I definitely agree that something needs to change regarding their usage and enforcement, but due to accompanying restrictions, they cannot be removed or repurposed simply because they are ineffective. It will be interesting to see how federal requirements necessarily evolve to meet today’s transportation needs.

  17. Bill Hennessee says

    Rail/monorail is FAR more expensive, much longer to implement and inflexible.
    Buses in the carpool lane would be a better option.

    I agree with what Sarah said about shoulders.

    • Andy Borchers says

      Indeed – if we said “yes” today to rail when would we actually see it? 10 years?

  18. Randy Rayburn says

    All strategies must be evaluated within the context of the larger vision multi-modal transit plan. Implementing what will work best with return on investment given the existing infrastructure should be designed as part of the larger plan. Until we have in place funding mechanisms to Move Nashville Forward, lower cost options must be included as part of the plan. Light rail will work on some corridors of right of way if available. BRT will help where feasible to implement. Develop the plan and people will respond to the vision for the next 10-30 years. I may not see the end of the curent process, but my two boys will.

  19. Stephen Graham-Ching says

    Trains and light rail are a much better idea, but some of these freeway ideas do sound better than doing nothing.

  20. Liz McC. says

    It sounds like a possibility, but my concern is the “low cost” option. Is it the BEST option? Truly… is it REALLY the best???

    I’m still 100% gungho about monorail or elevated train service that runs down the middle of the interstates. They’d be raised, so it wouldn’t take existing freeway space.

    I understand the cost for a rail system would be more, but it is FASTER and more people would be interested in the long run. I think it would pay for itself relatively quickly.

    This bus system described here sounds OKAY. Better than what we have for sure, but again…is it TRULY the best for our city? Why go with a lower cost fix when we could try to get private capital and go with a better mode of transportation like rail/monorail which would be more attractive and quicker???

    • Steve says

      By private capital what do you mean? If all these people In these outlying counties are suggesting that Nashville/Davidson county residents pay for a Mass transit option without any monetary investment from these outside counties that are the ones that need this benefit then you r dreaming but selfish. While u r considering these expensive options consider that you would b the one paying for it and see if you still want to pursue that option because those of us that live in Nashville don’t need this mass transit and surely don’t want to pay for something that makes your life easier.

  21. Jesse Call says

    This could be a particularly good option for the underserved Donelson and Hermitage communities and expand RTA service into Wilson County to provide a route traveling I-40 with stops at Old Hickory Blvd and Stewart’s Ferry Pike. Right now, people living on Stewart’s Ferry Pike must either walk to end of the Route 38 line near the dam and travel all the way down Bell Rd, through several residential areas in Antioch, then up I-24 to downtown which makes for a miserable trip (both walking and riding). And it would provide closer access to the popular tourist attractions at Percy Priest Lake marinas and Nashville Shores, where you could probably get buy-in from businesses to provide their own shuttle service for the remaining short distance. In addition, stops at Donelson Pike and Fesslers Ln could reduce the burden on the popular Murfreesboro Rd and Airport routes by providing another option to riders in that area, especially if coupled with the current airport routes to pick up residents traveling to the airport from points east. Lastly, the route could then turn up I-24 to head to Music City Central and provide a stop at the bus dead zone at the Shelby Ave/Korean Veterans exchange, and provide additional service options to the Cayce Place community and additional access to Nissan Stadium, especially for those traveling from out-of-town for events. While the Music City Star is a great service, it fails to accommodate those without cars who live closer to the I-40 area than the Lebanon Rd area.

    In addition, to ease congestion on the packed Gallatin Rd and Dickerson Pike buses, this kind of service along Ellington Parkway could also be beneficial for residents in those communities, and you could just incorporate current express bus routes like the 34 and 43 to make those stops, which would also provide greater connection between the Donelson and East Nashville communities, separated by the Cumberland River.

    The main concern, of course, is if this would add to the already exacerbating congestion, especially along I-40.

  22. Sarah Nowicki says

    Running the busses on the freeway for “express service” or “crosstown” service sounds like a good idea. I would support the use of regular or shared ride lanes, but not the shoulder. (Driving on the shoulder is dangerous, and against the law!)

    • Andy Borchers says

      Sarah – I believe with appropriate engineering, use of the shoulder for transit can work. This isn’t free – but may be doable.

      Regards – Andy