Organized with matching shirts, stickers and consistent talking points, a diverse coalition turned out Tuesday night in support of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s mass transit proposal.
While there was opposition, there was a stronger and more organized showing among representatives for universities, realtors, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce at a hearing that ran more than 3 hours.
And the supporters, in large part, got to the podium first — dominating the first two hours.
College and universities were lucky to be at the head of the line, with Belmont, American Baptist, Meharry, Tennessee State and Vanderbilt represented.
“Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt University Medical Center are unequivocal in their support for the transit initiative,” said Christine Bradley, who was representing both institutions.
What followed was a string of business leaders and other organizations, including Fifty Forward senior centers, the Nashville Technology Council, environmentalists, architects, high school student groups, a laborers’ union and the Urban League of Middle Tennessee.
They warned that gridlock could thwart Nashville’s future and requested action on mass transit.
“We know that we’re behind,” said Pete Wooten with Moving Forward, a volunteer organization that’s backing transit.
Even many residents speaking for themselves wore matching shirts. One exception was Gary Pope — dress shirt and black suspenders instead of the T-shirt — yet still in favor.
“I am not a productive family member, citizen, employee, when I’m sitting in traffic,” Pope said.
Opponents didn’t show out in the same numbers — but the most consistent critique was that transit spending would take from other needs, especially affordable housing. That was at the core of several comments from members of PATHE, or the People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing and Employment.
Howard Allen, Jr., who lives in an encampment and advocates for the homeless, warned of displacement and gentrification that he said transit development could cause.
Others suggested more granular changes — like altering where transit routes would run.
Longtime transit opponent Rick Williams spoke near the tail end of the hearing, blasting the proposal for not guaranteeing regional improvements beyond the city limits.
“It’s a rail to nowhere,” he said.
The Metro Council has several more meetings before members decide if a public referendum is in order, in which voters would decide whether to fund the plan.