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Saved By The Bell Building

September 3, 2015


I love a good historical relic, but having a purpose for it is even better.

So, I’m not too happy with my Alma matter Georgia State University. It isn’t the school I remember going to, and it certainly isn’t heading in the direction of a truly “urban campus” like I had originally imagined before attending. Case in point: Georgia State has slated to demolish the Bell Building at the corner of Auburn and Equitable Place for construction of…….a parking lot. (Thunderclap)

If this isn’t one of the most asinine uses for a school with over 12 parking decks near the center of EVERY piece of transit in this region??!!! Either the transportation team is absolutely blind to these mass transit uses, or the student and faculty at this supposedly fine institution is just too good to ride the bus home. MARTA literally began HERE. In the last two weeks, Downtown Atlanta looked as red as Cumberland will look in 2017 mainly because Georgia State still perpetuates the commuter school mentality that driving is the best way to get Downtown. Also, they subsidize heavily on parking just as much as they do transit. So why doesn’t the latter win?

Now, on to the Bell Building itself.  If you haven’t heard, there is a campaign going on to save it. The link to sign it is below. I will admit that while being one of the first to sign it, I was also one of the first to question it. We’ve been down this road with the Trio Laundry building and it is still vacated to this day. I hope the same lax attitude doesn’t follow with those wanting to save the Bell Building, as I’ve only seen a rendering but not a single specific suggestion on what to put here. This is where I hope the historic preservationists (wherever you are) don’t resort to crickets when asked to provide an EXACT plan for the building given Georgia State wishes to hear you out.

Both Georgia State and the Save the Bell campaign need to consider the transit benefit of this building. Its location has prime connections to MARTA, Streetcar, GRTA, CCT, GCT, what have you. If both parties can look at how these modes can help reduce the vehicular traffic in Downtown as a whole, they can work towards a better purpose of utilizing more sustainable travel modes and encouraging historic preservation and adaptive reuse in Atlanta. If not, both will be still be fighting for something they can never obtain.

If you asked me, I would love a multi-story Target Express with condos above. See? That wasn’t so bad. <—-sign the petition!

Bus Is Better

August 18, 2015


Give me one reason that you would prefer bus over rail, and I will give nine reasons why bus would probably trump any new rail project today.

So I took a transit pilgrimage just recently to a city where transit-friendly isn’t quite how you would describe this place.  However, when walking around (and I did a LOT of walking), I could say this is one of my most favorite cities to explore to date.  That city is….Las Vegas: Bus Rapid Transit City.

Surprisingly enough, Las Vegas has a very extensive BRT system that covers a vast land mass. Now while it’s no Bogota, nor the Health Line in Cleveland, the Express routes operated by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) radiate out from Downtown Las Vegas in such a way that presents itself the way the Metra does from Chicago or MARTA from Atlanta, and so on. Features include everything you would see on a normal BRT line:

  • Level Platform Boarding
  • Traffic Signal Priority
  • Real-Time Information
  • Dedicated Travel Lanes
  • Pre-Boarding and On-Boarding Fare Collection
  • Multiple Vehicle entrances
  • Farther-spaced stations
  • On-board security
  • Separate Branding

I bring this up because some cities are investing in it, while others question it (cough..Cobb). It can create an alternative to traffic congestion just like light or heavy rail can, but you have to give it the amenities that both light and heavy rail have to make it work.  Destinations and commuter sheds are also important to fulfill the “it doesn’t go anywhere” sentiment, which can’t be said for that poor, empty monorail that Vegas has that didn’t even touch hardly anything. Finally, vehicle investment would set it apart from the rest of the transit pack.  Vegas has verrrrry sexy vehicles for their fleet that they almost looked like the limos that ran up and down the strip.

Needless to say, Las Vegas does pretty well without rail, and the stats prove it since most of these “routes” (plural) do run 24-hours a day. Name a non-NYC city that can say that…

F.Y.I. I still love rail. I just had an affair with a bus… #sincity

The Mode Less Traveled

July 20, 2015

I didn’t decide to be a jerk to the AJC today. I’m like that every day.

An AJC columnist recently posted an article basically saying that instead of investing in a citywide streetcar plan that would bring premium transit access to many neighborhoods that are not serviced by immediate rapid service, we (meaning Metro Atlanta for some reason) should consider options that do not require us to spend much public money. Throughout the article, he brought up the ridesharing service, Uber, for its ubiquity, and its potential to offer,

“broader service and more flexibility than we will ever build out with streetcars”

-said columnist

Well said, but you left out one item that nixes your whole theory…



Here’s the thing.

1. Uber and other ridesharing companies work on a whole different organizational structure than MARTA and the Atlanta Streetcar. While there are dedicated routes that can and cannot be changed, whether talking rail or bus, someone is going to get on through every trip.  Uber drivers drive until a demand is made by a passenger. Which is my main point that he does not mention….

While Uber may seem like a stronger contender in this fight, the fact of the matter is, it is NOT the cleanest mode of travel. Every mile that Uber and Lyft drivers are not driving someone to their location is another pound of pollution that goes into the ozone and creates smog, such as what’s shown in the pic above of TODAY’s skies.  We are under a Code Orange for smog alerts, which according to the Clean Air Campaign is, “unhealthy for sensitive groups”. Even if a whole 50+ mile streetcar plan would be expensive to initiate, it would surely be cleaner than the ubiquitous emission riders that the ridesharing apps provide. At what point does walking also come into play when running around Midtown anyway?

2. Keith Parker recently reported on Atlanta TechEdge that MARTA wants to partner with Uber to offer flex service to areas not heavily traveled to offer MARTA service. So why you all of a sudden want to forgo transit, I don’t know because the guy in Who Framed Roger Rabbit tried it already. Coexist, much?

3. You mentioned that Metro Atlanta needs to think about our options, but you only reference intown neighborhoods.  Seeing as though the AJC has a huuuuuge Outside-the-Perimeter slant, I would not even consider the streetcar as a viable transportation option in such a low-dense swath of land. You can’t even reach Uber in half those places anyway, so that didn’t make sense. Broad and flexible.

I would say, try again, sir. Uber is nice, but it isn’t revolutionary. It certainly doesn’t change the fact that it’s welcomed either seeing as how the state is still struggling to let it pick people up from the Airport, which MARTA’s been doing since 1988. If you don’t like the streetcar, you just don’t like the streetcar because it doesn’t go to your house. I keep telling all of you, IT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE! Pick carefully where you live!!! It is about short trips, which if you are about transit life, $2.50 is nothing compared to getting screwed paying $6 to go one mile. $1 on a streetcar is a deal about a deal, but if you’re one of those people who thinks that money grows on trees, you won’t appreciate the processes that transit agencies have to go through to secure funding because this country is still in love with the vehicle and only throws money to the highways that get corroded with every single Uber, truck, and commuter who thinks that “they should fix this road”. You ask to spend less public dollars, but the solution is going to REQUIRE PUBLIC DOLLARS TO BE SPENT ANYWAY!!!! As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t seen Uber reach for grants or anything for funding because they’re private. I don’t think people would be too find of spending public dollars for private gain. We all know how that turns out…

Transit IS the 21st century solution to transportation. Uber is merely a fancy taxi service, and I have no remorse for saying that, since one of the rudest Uber drivers in Buckhead yelled at me at a bus stop that Uber was the future and buses are obsolete. Uber has yet to respond to my complaint…

Today I’m going to be a jerk to the AJC

July 20, 2015

But since no one else is covering the fact that the Cobb County BRT line was federally evaluated to not reduce congestion and could, in fact, increase it, I am reporting their subscriber-only article here.

Controversial BRT won’t reduce traffic jams, study says

Study: Transit system won’t improve traffic

Cobb County plan may increase congestion.

By Dan Klepal

Cobb County’s controversial plan to build a $500 million bus rapid transit system will not improve rush-hour traffic along heavily traveled U.S. 41 and could make congestion even worse, according to a key environmental study necessary for the county to qualify for a federal grant that would pay about half the cost.

The document, called an Environmental Assessment, was released in April and includes traffic modeling at five “representative” intersections along the corridor, which is home to two busy employment centers, Dobbins Air base, Lockheed-Martin, residential enclaves, WellStar Kennestone Hospital and the Braves new stadium with its mixed-use development.

That modeling gives letter grades on a scale of A to F, which relate to the amount of time motorists are delayed at the intersections. Unlike academic grades, this scale includes the letter “E,” which is a wait of 55-80 seconds. An “F” grade means a wait of more than 80 seconds.

The report shows the bus system would provide no relief to motorists if operated under 2012 traffic conditions, and that it likewise will not thin heavy congestion in 2040

— under assumptions of both high and medium growth rates between now and then.

In fact, grades at four of the intersections fell in 2040 to an “F” with rapid transit in place. Those intersections graded either “D” or “E” without bus rapid transit, known as BRT.

The highest grade any of the intersections received was a “D,” which means waits of 35-55 seconds.

Ron Sifen, a transit activist who talked about the issue during the public speaking portion of Tuesday’s commission meeting, called the project “ridiculous” in an interview.

“They want to spend half a billion dollars on a project that will make congestion worse,” Sifen said. “There are only two tables in the whole (153-page) report that compare building the project to not building it (in terms of congestion). And what’s the impact? Building it results in worse congestion than not building it.”

Cobb DOT Director Faye DiMassimo was provided several questions for this story in an email July 7. The newspaper emailed additional questions to her after Sifen’s presentation. The newspaper received no response.  But DiMassimo wrote a column for the local Marietta newspaper, published Wednesday, in which she said Sifen was applying “limited intersection-specific results to the overall project and corridor.” DiMassimo also wrote that BRT ridership estimates of between 17,000-18,000, coupled with additional road improvements, demonstrates “how the proposed project benefits the growing multi-modal transportation needs of Cobb residents, students, commuters and visitors.”

Sifen is not convinced.

“She can declare that BRT won’t make traffic worse, but they didn’t study it,” he said. “They’re the ones saying these intersections are representative. This is their analysis — it’s their numbers.”

Commission Chairman Tim Lee has been pushing for the project since 2012, when Cobb voters roundly rejected the regional SPLOST initiative that would have helped fund a $1 billion version of BRT. The environmental report details a long history of BRT studies but fails to mention the T-SPLOST’s 2-to-1 defeat.

Lee on Tuesday refused to talk to a reporter who approached him to discuss several topics, including BRT.

David Welden, a campaign manager for former commissioner Helen Goreham who has served on several citizen committees studying transportation projects, said BRT has never been about thinning traffic.

“It’s about commercial development,” said Welden, who thinks the reversible toll lanes currently under construction on I-75 will do more to mitigate traffic on U.S. 41 than BRT. “Where there’s a little Army-Navy store right now will be a 17-story office tower, or a live-work-play development.

“Most of the substantial property owners are in the community improvement districts and the Chamber of Commerce. Follow the money, and you’ll see why they are so interested in this project.”

Commissioner Bob Ott agreed, saying BRT is “nothing more than a push for economic development.” “There are people out there who want BRT, and there’s a lot of effort being made to move in a directionthat will make it happen,” Ott said.

In addition to at least $500 million in start-up costs — which includes having a dedicated lane for rapid transit buses along 13 miles of the U.S. 41 corridor and building 13 new stations — the project will cost about $7 million a year in operations and maintenance.

Sifen said the operational costs alone should be enough to detour the county from building the project.

“Cobb County has a lot of transit needs,” Si-fen said. “The BRT could increase Cobb County’s budget for transit by 50 percent, all by itself, just to upgrade already existing transit in one corridor. If we have other needs in other corridors, where will we get that money?”


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been following Cobb’s attempt to secure funding for bus rapid transit for the past year. The newspaper was the first to report that Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee wanted to include $70 million worth of transportation projects in the county’s 2016 SPLOST project list that would have counted toward the county’s 51 percent share of the project, without labeling the projects as being related to BRT. The projects were subsequently removed.

Lee then promised a public referendum if commissioners decided to move forward with the BRT project. The AJC then reported that commissioners approved a key transportation planning document under the assumption that it required the BRT referendum, when it did not. The commission has since passed a resolution saying they intend to allow the public to decide whether BRT is built.

Then last month, the newspaper reported that there were incorrect statements in the BRT environmental study and a federal grant application that indicated the commission had“accepted”the project, when it has taken no vote on the issue and commissioners remain divided on the merits of the project.


Here We Gulch Again…

July 13, 2015


If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense. So why are there proposals to put a money-maker in place of another?

That’s what MGM wants to do with a proposal of a…wait for it…$1 billion dollar casino in the Gulch area of Downtown Atlanta. Now, while this seems cool and all, most non-transportation souls will also overlook the fact that the space is also the site of the Multi-modal Passenger Terminal.

Now the first thing that came to my mind was, “Someone is proposing yet another big ticket item that isn’t transportation”.  The next was, “Not another casino project.  The GOP will looooove this”.  Now the item on my brain is, “Say if MGM gets the green light to do their money vacuum. It’ll take up about what…6 of the 119 acres in the Gulch for what…a sea of parking?

No, thanks.

I know that the MMPT is a wish upon a star, but if we can take cues that accessibility to and around Downtown Atlanta may just be more important that what attraction is Downtown (because we have PLENTY TO DO!), then people will stop calling everything they won’t want to use a boondoggle. We can’t always overlook a bigger project for something that is expected to turn over an immediate profit.  I’m not against the casino either, but it’s just not a logical place judging that the infrastructure for future high speed rail, Amtrak, the existing MARTA rail and future busbays, GRTA Xpress, Greyhound, Megabus, taxi service, and adjacent mixed-use activity can fill up this whole space. Also, there is plenty of space in South Downtown right where all those ‘2 hours to Harrah’s Cherokee billboards are. But what do I know? I’m just a city planning nerd with a Masters Degree.

One If By Air, Two If By Transit

July 9, 2015


Atlanta (and the rest of the world) is at speculation of the Aerotropolis that is in the works for one of the nation’s biggest airports. The question is: will this be another car or die scenario where the rental car center will be your best friend, or will the airport community embrace another alternative mode of transport?

So I attended the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Transit Committee meeting today, and I listened to one of my colleagues present on the new transportation management association, or as the transportation biz calls them TMA’s, for the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International area. Known as “aeroATL”, their goal is like other TMA’s in Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead: promote alternative transportation solutions to employers and employees.  It’s great that this is happening, seeing as that community improvement districts (CIDs) are now popping up west and south of the airport, and the Aerotropolis plan to turn the modal hub into a 24/7 airport community is becoming the savior for this area the way the BeltLine is for the intown neighborhoods.

Now what’s going to DRIVE all of this concentrated development? Let’s not make it obvious.

It is often joked by locals (and layover passengers who think that Atlanta is literally our airport) that the ATL SkyTrain and PlaneTrain are Atlanta’s only real transit vehicles. Sure, they do arrive on time, have fewer headways, fewer delays, and get to actual destinations, but they only reach as far as their intended purposes.  Try doing that with a growing SunBelt metro who just peaked over 6 million. It’s not that simple, I say. However, when I search for plans for this Aerotopolis, I get
“a mixed-use development in Hapeville”, which I get scared because we haven’t had a true live-work-play-transit-oriented-mixed-use community in the metro. I only hope that the SkyTrain is being considered for expansion AS WELL AS the true cornerstone of the development.  I mean, let’s face it. Are you really going to rent a car to get around the airport for a four-hour layover? I wouldn’t, but Federal Aviation regulations don’t make it so for you to walk around the premises, either.

So kudos to aeroATL and the surrounding Airport CIDs for uniting the airport region and turning the tide for the other options to travel to work at Hartsfield.  I hope the focus can also be stretched for future residents and businesses that the Aerotropolis will be transit-focused and seamless to access surrounding amenities. Although, if I were to give a suggestion to them: do not use the picture above as the final blueprint. PLEASE. One Atlantic Station is enough.

The Streetcar Experiment

July 1, 2015


Lately, a lot of people have been asking me about my experience with the Atlanta Streetcar and how it has been performing.  Quite frankly, I’m getting tired of defending its existence as much as I get questions about its usefulness, but since I am a likely candidate to testify the half year that the streetcar has been in operation, I figure that I would spill how I truly feel about it.  So today, I will give my personal diary of the last six months of trolley trials.

First some background about me. I live in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta.  So two stops are within a quarter-mile (or in my case a 5-minute walk) from my front door. I tend to use the Dobbs Plaza stop more than the King Historic District stop due to the fact that I can time when the vehicle shows up.  Generally, this is two to three minutes after it turns the corner at Jackson and Auburn every 15 minutes. I went to school at Georgia Tech during these first four months of streetcar, and now I work in the Equitable Building on Peachtree and Auburn, so I am a TRUE testament to what the streetcar was originally designed to do: PROVIDE LAST-MILE CONNECTIVITY.

Before the streetcar, my options of travel to class were: Walking to the MARTA stations (15-20 minute walk + MARTA trip + Tech Trolley), catching the 99 to Midtown (15-minute ride + Tech Trolley), catching the 3 to Five Points (10 minute ride + MARTA trip + Tech Trolley), and biking (15-20 minutes + sweat).

Generally, I have enjoyed the additional transit vehicle to my arsenal of options.  Pending traffic, I have had as high as 10 minute trips getting to Peachtree Center, to as low as today’s record-breaking 5 minutes from the Dobbs Plaza to Woodruff Park. (Shoutout to the driver who wears the suit). I’ve even shown it off to family, as my cousin who attends the University of Wisconsin was blown away by it, and wanted Madison to get a streetcar based on the size of the interior and the ease of connecting to MARTA’s bigger system (which was the point).

But every good thing comes with its problems…

The main hang-ups I have is that it still doesn’t have signal prioritization, that 10-minute layover at Centennial Olympic Park, and that most of the riders are generally homeless, tourists, and local (outside of downtown) streetcar hecklers (Bah! It’s not like San Francisco. Wah!). Oh yeah, and the fact that people cannot follow directions and don’t park in the lines.  That put two cars out of commission and I had no way of knowing when the streetcar would show up for about a month.

So overall, it’s great for me as a resident and employee of Downtown Atlanta.  if you don’t fit into either of those two categories and have something negative to say about it, save it. It’s not your fight. What I will say with this expansion all to and around the BeltLine, is that we need to be really wise about the options that we’re given and what we ultimately decide.  To that I will end with a quote from the great transit poobah, Jarrett Walker.

“I love seeing a house built, so I respect the role of hammers.  But if you fall in love with the hammer rather than the house, you’ll just go around looking for nails to pound, and that’s not the way to build the best possible house”

-Jarrett Walker


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