By Kelsi Stubblefield Lewis, intern with the Division of Sustainability, Fall 2018
Most people in the United States drive to work alone every day. In the 2013 U.S. census, it was found that 76.4% of Americans travelled to work each day by driving in a single passenger vehicle. [i] For Nashville, and for Nashville’s ever expanding downtown area, the number of lone drivers is even higher.
“84% of downtown Nashville workers drive to work alone,” Nashville Connector Program Director, Miranda Clements said. Clements not only spoke about the current number of drivers, but also about the future of Nashville roads, as well. With approximately one hundred people moving to Nashville each day, the total number of drivers on Nashville roads is projected to rise exponentially. [ii]
“Nashville is growing.” Clements said. “The population is projected to increase by one million in the next twenty-five years, and downtown Nashville is changing as a result,” Clements said. She continued on to say that, consequently, traffic is increasing steadily, “what used to be a fifteen minute commute is now at least a thirty minute commute.”
To accommodate Nashville’s projected growth, Clements said, many building developments are in the pipeline. If all projected downtown developments come into existence, then 40,000 additional workers would be added into the downtown area, and downtown traffic could increase by as much as 45% over current levels.
With traffic already rising steadily, the addition of 40,000 or more cars could mean more stress and significantly longer commute times for many Nashville residents.
But Clements wants to inform Nashville natives that there may be better options out there. In fact, in a world of increasing traffic, there are many alternative commute options that are beneficial to mental health, physical health, and environmental health, and a new initiative called Nashville Connector, run out of the Metro Nashville Planning Department, can help Nashvillians find the commute that is right for them.
“Nashville Connector is the one stop shop for commute options.” Clements said. “We are a new resource for Metro Nashville to connect people to existing transportation options other than driving alone.” The Nashville Connector website houses a stockpile of commute information, including bus routes, bike paths, ride share information, and train schedules. Nashville Connector’s tagline is ‘Plan a Better Commute’ and the program provides a full list of resources to help Nashville residents achieve this goal.
Alternative transportation options such as carpooling, riding the bus, biking, or walking, have tremendous benefits for traffic congestion, for an individual’s health, and for the environment. “As driving becomes more expensive, less convenient, and more stressful, people find that their health and productivity go up if they’re taking other ways to get to work, such as transit,” Clements said, “there are also financial benefits. It costs an average of ten thousand dollars a year to own and operate a car, so a family or an individual can save a lot of money.”
Clements went on to say that she understands how the idea of switching to alternative forms of transportation can be overwhelming, so, to assist, Nashville Connector is hosting The Commuter Challenge this month, October 22-28. “The commuter challenge is a one-week challenge where we are asking people to try another commute other than driving to work alone, and that can be anything,” Clements said, “people can take the bus, ride their bike, walk, carpool, vanpool, or they can work at home for a day.
The week-long Commuter Challenge is hoping to foster a friendly competition between downtown employers, as each business attempts to get the highest number of employees to take alternative commutes for one business day. “After the commute we will recognize the businesses with the highest participation,” Clements said, “but people can also sign up as an individual.” Businesses and individuals across Nashville, including the Department of General Services Sustainability Division, are participating in the weeklong event.
The goal of the commuter challenge is to ‘break the ice,’ and get commuters to explore their possibilities for alternative transportation. “This is an easy way for people to try some other option.” Clements said. “If they don’t want to take the bus or are too far from the bus stop, then they can grab some friends and carpool. We just want to expose people to the different options out there.”
In an ever expanding city, increasing traffic means longer commutes, higher carbon dioxide emissions, and more stress for Nashville residents, and the need for change is apparent. “We feel that ‘one person-one car’ is not the future of downtown Nashville,” Clements said, and Nashville Connector wants to provide Nashville with the best commute options for each budget, location, and ability.
"We believe that knowledge is key," Clements said, "we feel that what Nashvillians need is encouragement and information, a service that Nashville Connector is ready to provide."
For more information about Nashville Connector, alternative transportation options, or to sign up for the Commuter Challenge, visit nashconnector.org.