Technology Drives Transit in Nashville

Transit is a big conversation with the Let’s Move Nashville dedicated funding vote coming up May 1.

Since 2010, Nashville’s population has grown by more than 100,000 people. If it feels like your commute time is taking longer, it is. And transit officials have forecast that by 2040, the average commute will be more than one and a half hours. Luckily, new technologies will be part of the solution.

Real-Time Transit App

One part of the Let’s Move Nashville proposal that isn’t discussed much is the creation of a real-time transit app. This app will allow bus and light rail riders to access up-to-the-minute information about vehicle status (like if a bus has broken down), how far the vehicle is from the station, and arrival and departure times.

These apps use Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) systems and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to track where a vehicle is located at any given time.

While Nashville has already started to install real-time information boards in current transit shelters and stations, if the referendum passes, this technology will become available to anyone with access to a smart phone. This app technology is already being used in major transit cities all over the world. Some apps allow a user to get to public transportation information from an assortment of larger cities from one place, such as Moovit.com or transitapp.com.

Tunneling Moves Cars Off the Streets

The point of the transit conversation is to cut the number of automobiles on the road at any one time. City streets will soon not be able to support any more cars, and there is no place to go to widen them. In downtown areas, that also means getting buses and light rail off the street. Going down under is the least expensive solution, and remarkably the least disruptive.

At a recent Transit Citizen Leadership Academy class, the international engineering firm WSP gave a presentation on what is involved in boring a tunnel under the city of Nashville, and the latest technology used to do the job.

Part of the Let’s Move Nashville proposal is to take transit under the city of Nashville by creating a tunnel from SoBro to the Music City Central station. The process has changed a lot since the first tunnel was dug out under the city of Brooklyn (then a separate entity instead of part of New York City) in 1844.

Not only has the process gotten faster and safer as we have come to have a better understanding of geology, but the drilling machine looks like something out of a science fiction movie.

Current boring machines use state-of-the-art computer technology to not only monitor where the machine will go, but to also be aware of what it is digging into. The machine sends information to the operator’s smart phone to allow him or her to gauge progress, and be aware of potential problems. It makes a big difference if you are drilling into limestone, as they will be doing in Nashville, or digging though something less stable. 

Autonomous Automobiles

While self-driving cars will not get cars off of the road, they will allow more cars to travel on a freeway with less space between cars and decreased potential for accidents. This technology is sure to affect buses and light rail machinery.

Tom Brewer, associate vice president of strategic initiatives at Tennessee Technological University, is also the executive director for the Tennessee Center for Intelligent Mobility. In his position he is on the frontline of intelligent car design.

Research into driverless cars has been taking place since the 1920s. According to Brewer, most of the car companies have developed strong prototypes. The problem is infrastructure, and politics. The cloud will have to be able to process calculations quickly in terabytes, and we do not have the infrastructure to handle that kind of capacity currently. Political concerns include management and ownership of the system, as well as personal privacy.

Face of Transportation is Changing

Just as our grandparents and great grandparents grew up with the now defunct horse and wagon only a hundred years ago, how we move from place to place will, in the near future, no longer look as it does today.

App technology, underground tunnels, and computer control of vehicles will all affect our mobility choices tomorrow.

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