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Agreeing With Karl

February 16, 2010

The other day I was poking around my WordPress admin page for this site, and started looking at some of the search terms that have brought folks here. Most were to be expected, but the one that jumped out at me was “people who don’t like Karl Dean.”

I understand why that phrase would lead folks to this site, for on several issues of importance to me, I have found myself at odds with Nashville‘s mayor. Frankly, as one who voted for Karl Dean to be our mayor, I have been disappointed at times by a lack of engagement with the social safety net, and what I see as a resistance to engaging citizens directly in the business of governance. I likewise feel that Mayor Dean sold himself as a “progressive” (I hate that word, but I don’t have a better one right now) alternative to the other candidates, someone who would continue our previous mayor’s emphasis on neighborhoods and not forget the needs of the “least of these” in our community. My interpretation of his candidacy seems flawed in hind sight, and I have found myself again and again critical of the priorities that this administration seems to think are important.

But that bent toward critique doesn’t mean that I “don’t like” our mayor, nor that I am unwilling to support anything he suggests. We have honest differences in our visions for our city, differences that are important, but there are times when our visions align more closely, and we find ourselves in agreement.

One of those places is in a belief that the public transit system of Nashville has to be improved, either through the additional of light rail, or through a revamping and renewal of the bus system so that the entire system is more functional.

One of the greats sins of corporate American was the move by General Motors to buy out existing municipal trolley systems to remove competition against the automobile. For many years, Nashville had a vibrant and functional trolley system that efficiently moved folks throughout the city, but as happened in so many cities, these trolleys were shut down in favor of roads. The remaining bus system was kept in place primarily to provide transportation for underclass maids and cooks in North Nashville out to the western suburbs of Belle Meade. For many years Nashville’s bus system was a joke, and it’s only in recent years, with the subsidization of state employees to ride downtown, and the use of the system by magnet school kids, that the system has become more functional and ridership has increased.  Even with the improvements, the fact is that the system continues to be difficult to access and understand, and doesn’t functionally work for most people who don’t have the time to take a bus all the way downtown before they can get anywhere else in the city.

Mayor Dean’s vision for improving public transit is spot on, and one that I can agree with. It understands that great cities not only have large public edifices, but also have an effective means of transporting citizens and visitors alike to those public monoliths, as well as to the services they need. This transportation has to be convenient, fast, and efficient in order to lure folks out of their cars. It’s something Nashville needs, and something that I will certainly support.

Yes, it ain’t going to be cheap, and given all of our other priorities, this is something that will likely be pushed to the wayside. As you might guess, my preference would have been to take the billion dollars on the MCC project and devote it to this, but that is not a possibility. Helping car addicted Nashvillians to see the importance of this project will be tough and perhaps impossible. But we need to do it anyway, for improving our transportation infrastructure is greatly needed.

See, I can agree with Karl.

Let’s see if he’s serious about this and can get something moving.

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