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The Town Who Cried Wolf

February 25, 2015

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I was going to discuss the month of streetcar service, but this is more pressing. It’s time for Metro Atlanta to stop playing Chicken Little.

So it’s Week 2 of this Winter Weather Warning Wackiness, and yet the usual suspects got snow. Everyone else halted just because their commute MIGHT be affected.  I still find it hilarious that we have a melting pot of Northern transplants who want to cry wolf when this white stuff falls, but now it’s really sad that the people farther South in this region wants to play hooky while they’ve seen more of this in their lifetime than the duration they’ve actually lived here.

I currently work in Buckhead, go to school at Georgia Tech and live Downtown. School was cancelled today (Amazing) but my work was not. However, all city, Fulton County offices, and school districts were shut down due to “weather advisories”; the true keyword for all cancellations south of the Top End Perimeter. What did we end up getting today?

A MIXTURE OF STUFF THAT MELTED AS SOON AS IT FELL.

Not enough to stick, and not cold enough to freeze anything. As a matter of fact, this isn’t the coldest period we’ve had, which is why we in the Metro aren’t seeing any of this accumulation like those closer to God northern suburbs!

So what does this have to do with transit?

I theorize that the no show for snow crowds in the Metro are cancelling because they truly don’t know where their employees are coming from, so since they mostly drive, it’s just better to cancel to avoid lawsuits. I mean, come on, the State of Georgia halted an execution waaaaaaay south of here due to the weather. But if we has our commuter rail system that could run no matter the conditions, I’d bet we wouldn’t shut down so many services. But the current legislature still don’t see that possible to explore in this day and age. That and gay marriage.

C’mon, Georgia. It’s time to grow up and learn how to travel in this stuff. Maybe that should’ve been a conversation piece in HB 170.

(P.S. If you want a good hearty laugh, look up “Gwinnett” on Twitter and look at how Gwinnett County Public Schools have gotten almost three undeserved snow days)

The Density of Columbia

January 31, 2015

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Just like Christmas, the Transportation Research Board is now over and done with.  While the conference was as conferences go, my eyes dazzled around the metropolis known as Washington.

So I left Atlanta last last Thursday for Washington D.C for the annual Transportation Research Board Conference, which for the non-transport types is held every year in the nation’s capitol for professionals and up-and-coming publishers to discuss their findings in the transportation field.  I went because as a student, I was advised that you must go at least once in your career.  Much of the topics were very interesting, and some I’ve really heard time and time again…

But let’s get to the setting of the conference.

Now I’ve never been to the great megalopolis of BosWash (the continuation of cities and suburbs from Washington D.C. to Boston), so I was just all eyes and ears as my Megabus pulled into Union Station Friday morning.  I rode the metro, which after I decided that Atlanta gets points for having a simpler fare structure.  (A week unlimited pass in D.C. was the same as a month unlimited university pass in Atlanta). Oh yeah, I don’t think D.C. has replaced their trains since their inception, as the trains needed a good power wash and some Febreeze…but this transit nerd wasn’t bothered one bit! As long as I got from point A to point B (which in this case was Potomac Yard), I didn’t care. I also rode the new silver line to the Tysons Corner area which was kind of exciting. It takes forever, so what possesses people to live waaaay out there in Northern Virginia and still pay an arm and a leg, is beyond me. Other than that, the trains came quick, the stations are nice and compact, and the trains actually go everywhere.  Oh yeah, single-tracking is an even bigger nightmare here. Humble yourself, Atlanta.

I loooooved the different neighborhoods in and out of the District, with my favorites being: Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Virginia Square, Clarendon, Del Ray, Old Town Alexandria, Chinatown, Crystal City, H Street, Shaw and U Street, and Silver Spring. I know that sounds like a lot, but they all exemplify the dense, urban atmosphere that other cities yearn for.

The Capital Bikeshare was also the best way to see the city.  The Pennsylvania Avenue Cycle Track is a must to bike down.  Luckily, it wasn’t too cold out to bike around as I whizzed past all of the traffic in my own bike lane.

I also took the MARC Commuter Rail to Baltimore. Nice town

Shoutout to CCTGirl for the hospitality and to all of the readers a joyous year of the transit!

This Just In….

December 23, 2014

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The Atlanta Streetcar will officially open for passenger service on Tuesday, December 30th, 2014.

In a press release from the office of Mayor Kasim Reed, it has JUST been announced that the long-waited, constantly-delayed, but well-worth-the-wait light rail vehicle will now commence passenger service next Tuesday, just in time for New Year’s and the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Or whatever it’s called nowadays.

It was only yesterday when onlookers were giddy as the four vehicles were pulled by tow trucks and then they learned to walk on their own.  Now Father Federal Transit Administration has decided to let the young bull roam free into the wild concrete jungle known as Downtown Atlanta.

BUT WAIT…THERE’S MORE!!!

Mayor Reed is also holding a grand opening celebration at the Woodruff Park stop  “Where Peachtree meets Auburn”. Come out and celebrate one of Atlanta’s new milestones.

The Little County That Did

November 12, 2014

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It was the only exciting visual from Midterm Elections this year that wasn’t red.

74% of the county down south voted to approve the one-cent sales tax to join MARTA, and we couldn’t have been happier.  But let’s not take this win easily.  There’s still plenty of work to be done to transform ClayCo from the three bus routes that will now travel south of the Airport come March 2015 to the transit paradise that we enjoy northward. (Ok, so maybe not a paradise, but follow me.)

First off, there needs to be a focus on cross-county connections.  MARTA has a knack for emptying everyone into a train station, hence why many intown buses ride empty.  It’s not bad, but it brings a yearn for always wanting to take the train for every trip.  This ain’t NYC, so let’s not think that everyone in ClayCo goes to Atlanta for groceries. For those who fortunately have trips that begin and end in Clayton, it would make it helpful to know where people want to go in Clayton County instead of defaulting to sending everyone to the train.  The proposed 198 bus along State Route 138 from West Fayetteville Road to Stockbridge Village Shopping Center is a great example.  It doesn’t pass through a train station but focuses on the artery itself.  This is a great technique to attract drivers to try transit if they start seeing more buses along this route.

Second, introduce the idea of transit-oriented development, or TOD.  This is a given, since MARTA is already exploring that intown.  But now that there’s new territory, this will bring a new conversation to people who are now considering the move back into ClayCo.  Would a mixed-use development with residential apartments and condos over coffee shops, grocers and department stores sound great in downtown Jonesboro or around Clayton State? This blogger thinks so.

Third, tell your government friends in Gwinnett County (or if you’re feeling really optimistic, Cobb). ClayCo signing on with MARTA can be the greatest transit success story that Metro Atlanta can tell other places.  We are always in the news for something dumb, and this new endeavor can be a change to show that this metro can be progressive and think outside the box.  But if the other counties don’t see how and why this dog quenched his thirst, they won’t want to drink from the same stream. I can see Gwinnett County being the next to scrap GCT and just calling it MARTA. They’ve got the money, the transit-dependent constituency, and the business community.  They just need the commissioner support. Cobb is a whole pedestrian bridge away from even thinking about joining the rest of the world.

So, congrats to ClayCo, and welcome to the family. See you in March.

To see a map and list of the proposed bus routes to Clayton County, click here —>Clayton-County-MARTA-Map

Houston, Do You Have A Problem?

September 17, 2014

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I’m going to try to not make this a bashing blog — but everyone has to blow their top off once in a while.

So I can count this past Labor Day Weekend as one I spent outside of Atlanta, but for good reason! My cousin was playing his first game as a wide-receiver for the Wisconsin Badgers.  Turns out, their first game was against LSU in Houston, Texas.  Initially, I was excited because I had never even been to Texas, but have heard nothing but good things minus Rick Perry. After landing, I Ubered to my hostel in the always fabulous Montrose neighborhood, and upon first sight of riding I see….land. Lots of land. Not developed and I would even say well-kept. I start wondering if we were in Florida because it seemed like it.  I also noted their elaborate freeway system.  The HOV lanes were barricaded in the middle of the general purpose lanes and they had their own exits and toll displays between exits. TAKE NOTES, SRTA.

I also noticed random skyscrapers just anywhere, which brought to my attention their lack of zoning.  Chuckling, I immediately think of Buckhead, but let’s not blow the cap off of this pot just yet. Settling in, I walk around Montrose and notice that almost every multistory condo and mid-rise was gated. Even the single-family homes and duplexes. They even went to the trouble to fortify the carport. For why??? Maybe it’s because there were few streets with sidewalks and everyone considers unlocked property public property. Who knows?

So then, I wander off to find a three-day METRO pass for the bus and light rail.  This is where the trip went South. Literally. METRO, Houston’s Transit Authority, advertise that these passes can be purchased in various stores and convenience marts all over town.  It took me SIX STORES which I walked to all of them, until I came to a grocery store that didn’t make an excuse that the METRO was lying, or that the machines were down, or that they didn’t have a three-day pass.  As usual, METRO’s customer service was low on the assistance totem pole. Strike One.

The next day, I actually used the pass, but with a twist. It rained. And guess where I had to stand to wait for the bus?

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(sigh) Only one creep managed to drive into the puddle, though. That’s a highlight in Atlanta.

So I take this bus, which showed up twenty minutes late, to the Third Ward in search of a recommended chicken place that will be unnamed. It was terrible and not worth the return trip south of town because another bus showed up on time (for once) and me being a smart individual, thought that any bus emptied into a rail station.  The bus driver couldn’t recognize my frustrations clearly when she explains that I couldn’t ride the bus for fun. I have to pay extra. For what, ma’am? I arrived at the Galleria two and a half hours later. Strike Two.

Day three consisted of bike share and figuring out where this blasted light rail line went.  I kept wondering how does a city the size of Houston (which the city alone has over 2 million residents ranked fourth in America) have only ONE RAIL LINE???! It went straight up from the NRG Stadium through the Medical District, Downtown, across the river, through neighborhoods to a strip mall. I find out that there were two in construction, but if they’re anything like our streetcar, we’re dying to see a vehicle on them. I wondered through Downtown trying to find happiness, but it couldn’t be found on Labor Day. The one thing I really wanted to see was the underground tunnels that Houston kept active over the years with entrances to the offices and condos. All entrances closed. Offices look like they’re open for business, though. Strike three. I’m out.

Soooo, I don’t really know what to make of all this. It seemed the best thing about Houston was the Munchie Meal at Jack In the Box. If there’s a petition to bring that to Georgia, I will gladly sign it. A guy told me that Houston was basically a place where people come to make money. Plain and simple. That made since. NASA, Oil, low cost of living. I’ll try Dallas next time.

Insiders Baseball. Or why Clayton County is an experiment in political suicide

July 3, 2014
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In case you live under a rock, Clayton County Commissioners made a lackluster attempt at putting MARTA on the ballot and MARTA threw it back in their face and said, “Try again”. Again is Saturday. And Sunday is the deadline to making a deal work. Kyle over at the AJC has a great piece up on the game of chicken, but there’s a little more to that story. MARTA isn’t digging it’s heels in and saying my way or the highway; Clayton is playing a political game.

Three weeks ago the MARTA board was firm in it’s requirement for Clayton to come to the table with a full penny. Transit systems cost a lot more to operate now than they did forty years ago when the MARTA act was passed, and for Clayton to have a robust transit system that fully met the needs of its residents, there needs to be adequate funding. 

Then Norfolk Southern sent out their memo disagreeing with the MARTA estimates for commuter rail, throwing a monkey wrench in to the gears of a plan that was actually coming together for the first time in the four years since Clayton lost its transit service. Norfolk Southern is still willing to come to the table to negotiate; it just might not cost what we were expecting. Could commuter rail happen with the penny? Is it feasible? Should residents go to the ballot to fund a dream?

MARTA stepped up, put on her big girl panties, and looked hard at accepting a half penny should Clayton decide that’s what it could agree to in light of the questions around commuter rail. No one questions the desire for rail in Clayton, but no one wants to waste resident’s money, and certainly not MARTA. And the MARTA board decided it could accept a half penny, assuming that there was the possibility of moving forward with a full penny once the commuter rail plan and been fully flushed out.

So what happened?

A bad contract.

 The contract that the Clayton County Commissioners sent to the MARTA board for approval wasn’t one that MARTA could, in good faith approve. It wasn’t one that ensured that the tax revenues would go to be distributed to MARTA in a timely matter, or at all. In effect, the contract gave the Commission all of the control, didn’t provide for the full revenue stream to go to the transit service, and didn’t make an agreement to provide MARTA, leaving MARTA waiting with it’s hand out and hoping to get reimbursed for services provided.

It was a contract that could have left MARTA and the taxpayers in Fulton, Dekalb, and Atlanta holding the bill for Clayton’s services should the Commissioners decide in the future that they didn’t want to pay MARTA for services rendered and could mean Clayton would again lose service.

Now we’re left to ask why the Commissioners would submit a flawed contract? One that they knew couldn’t be authorized. Was their vote Tuesday night simply to postulate and pretend that they’re willing to work for the residents of Clayton? 

And the likelihood of the Commissioners showing up to the Saturday meeting where they could vote to fix these problems is questionable as we go into the holiday weekend. Sonna Singleton, Gail Hambrick, and Michael Edmondson have all indicated that they will not attend the meeting Saturday morning.

Clayton residents should be able to decide what’s best for them. All they’re asking for is the chance to vote. So Commissioners, will you give the people a chance to be heard?

Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Commissioners Closer

July 2, 2014
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Better luck next time, Clayton County.

 

That’s all this blogger can say after the heartbreaking vote to enact not a full penny, but a half-penny sales tax for Clayton County’s buy-in to MARTA last evening.  ClayCo has been without public transit for about four years, and not even the emotional utterances of the residents couldn’t convince the three-out-of five commissioners to put the full penny on the agenda instead of the half-penny; even though for months, the public has been convinced in public forums, by developers and commissioners alike, that the penny is the only way to go. However, we certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on issues like this with politicians.

This blogger was there as the decision was made, even when MARTA CEO Keith Parker and MARTA Chairman Robert Ashe made it clear to the opposing commissioners that running with the dogs would mean one penny or nothing at all. However, the commissioners in question, namely Gail Hambrick, Sonna Singleton, and can’t-keep-a-comb handy Michael Edmonson, couldn’t see a Clayton County where anything but groceries would be tacked with an 8% sales tax, even if it was for the good of those roaming the county not in a vehicle, but walking on an unpaved ruts on the side of Jonesboro Road to get to Walmart on the other side of the highway across from where the “would-be” commuter rail station would go. Instead, they’d rather keep the wanna-be wealthy types protected in their gated Lake Spivey communities to assure to the world that there is a little decency in ClayCo and that it’s not all about over-funded jails and underfunded school systems.

Now today in a not-so-surprising resolution, the MARTA Board of Directors ruled to decline ClayCo’s half-assed request to join the transit system. This goes to show the commissioners, you may think you’re doing a service to protect your constituents by going all Tea Party on the idea of public transit, but unless you have an better plan on how to magically send buses down to the badlands, your fights don’t mean the hill of beans you live on. Transit is not free. You have to make sacrifices and if that means putting in for the future, so be it. Yes, your economy may not do well on an 8% sales tax in your aired-out brain, but your county DEFINITELY won’t survive once the businesses who just located there decide to move out once they see that there’s nothing but tumbleweeds and for sale signs everywhere. That’s not attractive. Partly a reason why signs outside Southlake Mall tell you to shop in Henry County. Was that a read?

So these knuckleheads have until Sunday, July 6th to reconsider their decision, or transit in Clayton County is off of the table for at least another two years. However, in a recent turn of events, the Special Call Meeting is scheduled for Saturday, July 5th. So if you’re still in town during that time, pay your need-to-be-axed commissioners a visit at the Commissioners Boardroom at 10 AM. My advice to the residents of ClayCo, you better look to move to Southwest Atlanta before home prices goes up. If you want to call the commissioners before the holiday, their numbers are below.

 

Chairman Jeffrey E. Turner (D): (770) 477-3208

Commissioner Sonna Singleton (D): (770) 473-5770

Commissioner Gail Hambrick (D): (770) 603-4135

Commissioner Shana M. Rooks (D): (770) 477-3214

Commissioner Michael Edmondson (D): (770) 477-3216

 

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