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Streetcars have recently been deployed to drive urban connectivity and economic development because they provide a smoother ride and higher capacity than buses, but can generally be built much more quickly and cheaply than light rail. Streetcars typically operate on embedded rails in mixed-traffic lanes, so speeds tend to be lower than transit that operates in exclusive rights of way like bus rapid transit (BRT) and most light rail transit (LRT). However, certain design and operational features, like level boarding stations, prepayment, exclusive rights of way and center-lane alignments, can allow streetcars to match or exceed speeds found in LRT and BRT systems.

Streetcars fall into three categories:

  • Urban Circulators feature local service and operate along lively streets with many stops.
  • Streetcar Local Transit features higher speeds and can operate along arterial streets.
  • Streetcar Rapid Transit provides wider stop spacing and use of exclusive travel lanes and signal priority.

Should Nashville MTA/RTA consider developing streetcars? Would you be more or less likely to ride a streetcar than a bus or train? Where should Nashville MTA/RTA consider adding streetcars? What are your thoughts?


  1. James says

    Streetcars are too inflexible and destroy businesses during construction. They make cycling and motorcycling dangerous, and functionally they offer no/limited advantage over buses. For some reason, people who don’t currently rely on public transportation have some pipe dream in their head…if only we had trains I would ride them. The reality is that routes could be plastered with ultra-frequent buses giving the same/better service that a streetcar, and those pipe-dreamers would not utilize the bus service.

    The nMotion study is not forward thinking enough. Has nMotion investigated the impact of subsidizing Uber/Lyft rides or implementing a point-to-point transport system? Cars are going to be autonomous soon…do fixed/permanent tracked routes really make sense 10 to 20 years from now? I seriously doubt mid-sized cities will be approving urban rail projects 20 years from now.

  2. March says

    Need to extend potential street car route (last page of the report) on 21st Avenue all the way to Blair Blvd., where the Harris Teeter/Kroger is located. Linking people to necessary services, such as a grocery stores, with direct transit (not having to get off and switch to a bus) makes it more likely people will use that transit, and it will better serve the residential population of the corridor (students and residents of the Hillsboro Village, HWEN and Vandy areas) as a result. These neighborhoods are historic streetcar neighborhoods. Don’t be afraid to extend service a little farther along 21st Avenue, this area is in support of transit!

    • Frederick Smith says

      You are so, so correct, March, concerning the clear logistics of extending the line to Blair. As a matter of fact, as I had indicated a previous comment (below), concerning end of route termini, in lieu of simply ending at stub-track along the route (requiring the movement to reverse and to change via a cross over to run along the inbound track), some well analyzed alternatives should at least be evaluated for establishing a “return-loop”, along some roadways, say, e.g. Blair, and possibly to Belmont, to Portland (which likely is too steep of a grade), or Blair to 24th, and return along some path to inbound 21st Ave. (that being simply one alternative), but due to the preservation constraints and arguments, a loop-back may not be feasible.

      Until Nashville street-railway operations ended in 1941, a streetcar used to run to a short distance south of then-Belmont College. While historic properties and overlays may preclude any viable concept of running a line further south than Blair, I am deeply disturbed, if not disappointed, that no long-range plan has been published (if even conceptualized) to eventually connect Green Hills to a municipal railway network. For the proposed (and endorsed) 2014 Green Hills Plan of Transportation, it only seems logical that the planners would strive to coordinate efforts and therefore to not omit any reference to either streetcar or a light-rail (LRT) sub-branch of, say, another proposed arterial regional line, in consideration that Green Hills is critically strained to over-capacity at present (or so it always appears). The many years of failure to address the narrow segment of Hillsboro Pike between Blair and Woodlawn Dr., to the extent that Metro has permitted and even required new construction to be closer to the existing roadway (as opposed to a set-back), only has exacerbated a dire situation against any feasibility for multi-mode travel along that portion of US-431. Therefore, possibly extending a line along a portion of Belmont Blvd (in addition to Blair at 21st) might be a viable option to connect Green Hills. Additional thoughts come to mind for utilizing I-440 RoW to connect and entirely separate Green Hills branch to tie into a Franklin Pike arterial route to the central core (leaving the 21st-to-Blair line intact).

      As you stated, extending the 21st Ave proposal to Blair is the far better option as a start-up of such a streetcar route, than having it terminate at the VU Hospital complex. But ultimately some plan simply has to include Green Hills, within a comprehensive and cohesive mobility proposal, especially given that buses alone never will be capable of sustaining the increasing demand for travel between that district and the Vanderbilt-Hillsboro area, and on to the central core of the city.

      I only can hope that the MPO is working to fulfill its commitment announced earlier during the year to update the 25-year plan (last updated, I believe in 2008) to 2040 and that it indeed includes some revision to incorporate a connection for the SW reaches beyond I-440.

  3. Frederick Smith says

    I’ll say that, unlike with the modern streetcars operations in Seattle (stub endpoints) but in a similar manner of continuous forward-movement operations in Portland (loops rather than reverse movement of vehicles), I think a combination of streetcar routes directly intersecting with light-rail could be applied in Nashville. Streetcars might work best as giant loops which pass THROUGH the central business district (CBD), rather than as circulators confined to a single district, in a manner similar to Portland’s NS- and A/B-Loop streetcar lines, along which the streetcars run continuously along a track in one direction, either along a route circumscribing a path in “dogbone” fashion, or as a broad circular or oblong path, with streetcars assigned separately to run clockwise and counterclockwise concurrently. I could envision three, four, or more streetcar routes connecting downtown with districts in North Nashville, Jefferson Street Corridor, some layout of East Nashville, Midtown, and perhaps even in some way circumferentially tie into an inner loop referred to as I-440 along the SE, South, and SW sectors.

    I believe that one weighting factor of system design should incorporate streetcars to connect urban core districts to provide conveyance for the transit-dependent and underserved and to potentially induce economic emergence in areas invisibly bound to under-development (the measurable success of which arguably have been with mixed results with some existing systems, both “legacy” and recent-decade startups). Another matter which also should be addressed is the need to provide premium transit service in some proximity to each of the arterial roadways, to the extent that LRT cannot provide a range of local service en-route along the interstates (if so designed), and this could be in the form of streetcar or BRT ─ just as long as it indeed is a premium type of service to connect “near” districts with the central core. Just as Portland’s MAX LRT provides some degree of local connectivity within the core that city, combined with traveling along separated rights-of-way at much greater distances away from the core, a judicious mix of longer-distance LRT lines point-to-point through Nashville’s core with locally operating streetcars can cover much (but never all) of providing alternatives for choice transit riders, while also furnishing that “missing link” conveyance for the transit dependent to and from the employment centers, in locations to which the workplace otherwise would not be viably accessible.

    What lends the concept of LRT to versatility is its adaptability to hybrid use, just as Portland’s TriMet MAX has been for light-rail transit (LRT) in Portland OR, as MAX provides a degree of local, direct-connections with points downtown and with points of intersection with the streetcars ─ along the surface streets, e.g. within a block of where these modes cross at 10th and 11th Streets with Morrison and Yamhill Streets; as well as along an open transit mall shared with reduced traffic. This open “interface” between streetcars and MAX, allows direct interaction between a mix of local foot traffic and LRT, without passengers having to negotiate level or grade separations. Portland’s streetcar connections with MAX at several points, without having to have transfers at a central terminal, make both the streetcars and MAX light-rail that much more versatile and accessible, by having these points “distributed” within the core. At least one short section of track is shared between MAX and one of the streetcar lines, both modes of which pass through downtown at different points and routes selected to minimize bunching by congestion, by not having all streetcar lines and all MAX LRT lines coincide at high-traffic areas. I believe that overall the concept of streetcars, evaluated as part of a comprehensive system, would be amenable and adaptable to the current and projected traffic-route patterns of Nashville’s urban core landscape.

  4. J.R. Marable says

    Streetcars would be great in the city of Nashville in combination with light rail. Streetcars can only be used in the city itself but it would be a great help to alleviate traffic within the city. Add some light rail and commuter and we’re on our way to traffic alleviation.The downtown corridor, west end, green hills, and metro center would benefit highly from the use of streetcars. I do feel that people in this area will take advantage of these services, with ridership high at least 6 days a week.
    The streetcars would be great to ride when there are sporting events, concerts, or just for general use, especially on the weekends.

  5. says

    I would love to see street cars in Nashville. I have lived in other cities that had them and I loved it. I found them surprisingly intrusive and comfortable. Most importantly, I feel like they would help break the stigma that Nashville has towards mass transit. They would feel much nicer than buses and I suspect they would be utilized by a wider demographic of people.

    These, in combination with light rail would be excellent.

  6. John Cannon says

    While street cars are a very good option, BRT is just as good.
    1. It is cheaper for the tax payer to afford and quicker and easier to implement
    2. Can move just as fast if configured correctly.
    3. The BRT lines can easily be converted to street car lines rail later.

    Nashville needs relief now.

  7. Matt says

    As some have also said, a combination of light rail and street cars makes the most sense to me.

  8. march says

    Yes, street cars should be part of the transit solution. We need to be thinking about transit along our corridors and downtown, not just regional solutions. Once you commute in, how do get to your job or shopping without a finer grain transit options? Needs to be a comprehensive transit system, starting with downtown and Nashville’s corridor’s, then the regional connections. Not the other way around, else you would get off your commute, and have no way to efficiently get to your ultimate destination.

  9. David Smith says

    Streetcars sound like a good replacement to buses along major routes. If they could handle arteries, then buses could be freed up to expand service to more areas.

    Would it be possible to have the traffic lights give priority to the streetcars? That would be a plus.

  10. Tony Birmingham says

    If you were dig up 8th ave, Broad, West End, and Charlotte, you’ll find the old abandoned streetcar tracks. I think one ran out Lealand Lane to Glendale Park. These were abandoned when buses became available. Buses are the least expensive method of mass transit and are not stationary like streetcars.

    • Bob says

      I don’t believe you are correct in your cost assessments. In the AMP alternatives, street cars had lower operating costs than busses.

      • says

        Thanks for the response, Bob. You raise a good point, and we need to address both the regional and core elements to create a robust transit system. Thus, we are utilizing regional figures in conjunction with Nashville MPO figures.

  11. Jan says

    There are certain situations that streetcars would be desirable. I believe using streetcars downtown, going to concerts, Preds and Titan’s games would help with traffic issues. I believe it also would be nice to use when the fireworks displays are done at Riverfront.

    However, if streetcars are used, I think there should be two types or routes. Those that are direct, so those on time schedules can get to their destination reasonably and the more scenic route. I don’t think that streetcars need to be more than 15 minutes away from the main terminal connection to rail & bus.

    Having to go across town to get to a main depot would cause these to be a waste of money.

  12. Stephen McClure says

    Streetcars could be an important part of the transit puzzle, especially for connecting riders to broader areas once a commute has occurred. Are there several street car routes that would work for Nashville that converge on downtown?

    • says

      Thanks for the question, Stephen. That’s a good question. Any transit option that we consider needs to connect to others that we already have. We also need to make sure that it’s accessible for pedestrians and cyclists. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read about this in more detail in our paper on Family of Services:

  13. JA Douglas says

    For me, location, availability of parking, and local attractions/businesses are key when considering taking a streetcar as alternative transportation. As a resident of Southeast Nashville, I’d like to see this considered as a transit option in the strategic plan for Nolensville Road.

  14. says


    Coming from Los Angeles,* and having been here only 7 years, I can see where y’all need to get moving on this issue. Downtown has gone from a fun place to go, to “where can I afford to park and how far will it have to be from Broadway. Street cars will be an amazing solution to both problems. (And allow for parking to be relegated to outer lying lesser valuable property.)

    (In LA, 25 years of inaction during the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s caused what is now that city’s permanent personality trait -the ‘traffic jam’…)

  15. Chelsea Lafferty says

    I think a street car or two in the downtown areas would be great, but I would like to see more focus on Light Rail.