Before I changed jobs in October of 2014, I worked for Nashville Public Television in the Wedgewood/Houston area of Nashville. Even though I lived in a number of neighborhoods during my eight years at NPT, from Brentwood to 12South to West Nashville to Belle Meade to Donelson, my main modes of transportation were my car, and a few days a week, my bike. In a five-day work week, let’s call it 60% car/40% bike on average. I now work in Green Hills and have had to come up with an entirely new transportation plan. Donelson to Green Hills can be a bit tricky, as there is really no safe direct route for a bike. But since I consider myself an advocate of both public and active transportation — I grew up in Jersey City, where I walked and took buses and trains most places — I owed it to myself to explore options outside of the car.
For the first few weeks at my new gig, I again alternated between driving and biking, leaning heavily on the former. Let’s say 80%/20%. The bike commute is 30 miles roundtrip, and I wasn’t in the proper mindset to navigate both a new job AND a new commute more than one day a week. But it went OK. The Stones River and Shelby Bottoms Greenways provided an excellent artery to and from downtown, and then there are ample bike lane options from downtown to Green Hills. Commute time on the bike was about 75 to 80 minutes each way.
But then the clocks changed. I don’t mind biking at night, but the Greenway is not lit. So there went the commute home.
I’m fortunate, though, to live in an area of Donelson a mere 10-minute walk from the Music City Star stop. When I had a meeting downtown, I took the Star ($2, or $1.70 if you buy your tickets downtown) from Donelson to Riverfront Station, walked to wherever my meeting was, and hopped a ride to the office with my co-worker. In the evening, my wife, who happened to be working close by on those days, picked me up. That worked nice.The train is great, and on-time. But I didn’t want to inconvenience my wife on nights she wasn’t working close by. I needed a better round-trip plan.
My next option was to explore the bus. After taking the train on a morning with another downtown meeting, and getting a ride to the office, I decided to take the bus from Green Hills. I walked from my office to the edge of the Green Hills Mall parking lot to catch the No. 7 bus ($1.70) headed downtown to Music City Central. It arrived on time, and I took out my book to get some reading done (Luigi Pirandello’s The Late Mattia Pascal, which is excellent, if you’re curious). The bus was scheduled to arrive at Music City Central at 5:26 p.m. This gave me options. If it was exactly on time, I could hightail it on foot to Riverfront Station and catch the 5:45 p.m. Music City Star back to Donelson. If it was a little late, I could still catch the 5:40 p.m. No. 6 bus (another $1.70 — there are no transfers), which heads straight east on Lebanon Pike and would leave me back at the Donelson train station. Perfect.
I don’t recall any significant traffic on the way downtown — there was a little by the entrance to I-40 on Broadway — but for some reason, the No. 7 bus didn’t make it to Music City Central until 5:41. Too late to catch the No. 6 bus, which had already left, and too late for me to make it to Riverfront Station to catch the 5:45, which inconveniently is the last train. The next No. 7 bus wouldn’t depart until 6:18, almost 40 minutes later. I got a coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts and pulled out my Pirandello. The 6:18 left on time and I got home about 6:50 p.m. I left Green Hills at about 4:45 p.m., making my commute home more than 2 hours. By car at that time, it would have been about 40-45 minutes. On the upside, I almost finished my book. This mode has great potential for me, as the connections are all in line. It’s just not convenient if minimal traffic throws the whole thing off schedule. If there’s an argument for dedicated public transit express lanes, this is it.
Time to look at other options. I have a bike. I have a train. Maybe it’s time I put them together. And that’s what I did this morning. It’s a quick ride to the Donelson station, and as long as there is room, you’re allowed to store your bike in the wheelchair access area. Since the ride from Donelson to Riverfront Station is only 15 minutes, I simply stayed with the bike and kind of half-leaned on it. The bike ride from downtown to Green Hills was a swift, easy 35 minutes. Same thing on the return in the evening. More traffic, but I’ve got front and rear lights on my bike, and even one attached to my helmet, to keep me visible. I also wear a yellow reflector vest (you can buy an expensive bright reflective jacket for cycling, or go to Dollar General and get a reflector vest for $3). I got to Riverfront station in plenty of time to catch the 5:45, and even got a seat to sit close to my bike. Total commute time between Green Hills and Donelson, about 75 minutes. Same as if I biked the whole way, and about 30 minutes longer than driving, depending on the time of the evening.
Public transportation may have a ways to go in Nashville, but it’s getting there, and definitely works if you do some research and make the effort. The more demand, the better it’s going to get. And the more crowded the city gets, the more necessary it’s going to become. Until then, mixing modes (active and public) seems like the way to go. It’s also the healthiest. My wife recently challenged me to do a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to intensive exercise a day for the next 30 days.* I’m done for today (and tomorrow, if banking these minutes was an option).
*I know! During the holidays! What’s wrong with her?