In Defense of Mayor Reed, Governor Deal, GDOT, etc, etc, etc.
Before anyone can even begin pointing fingers at Mayor Reed, Governor Deal, GDOT, and whoever else is out there I recommend we start passing out some individual mirrors. Not to everyone. Mainly just to the 67% of the metro that voted down TSPLOST a year and a half ago and anyone else that may have been against it. Now we know a rail line to Cumberland wouldn’t have been built by yesterday if we passed it, but we might at least have the reassurance that what happened yesterday may be less and less likely to happen over the years as our transit network and walkability could have expanded. Unfortunately the entire political regime of metro Atlanta has had to go on the defensive.
But see it wasn’t Reed who was at fault here. No, the City of Atlanta isn’t responsible for the miles and miles of interstates that spawn out from our city center. And Deal can’t be held to blame for even more reasons. GDOT did a fine job. They can’t necessarily clear roads that are jam packed with cars. The meteorologists gave us the heads up for days, whether the term was watch or warning, the signs were there. Maybe the schools could have cancelled earlier, but even pointing the fingers at them ignores the root of the problem. Kasim Reed, Nathan Deal, and the GDOT didn’t tell 4 out of every 5 residents of metro Atlanta to live in auto dependent sprawl heaven.
Let me preface this for a second because I am sure that the rest of what I say is likely to piss a few people off. I do feel bad for many of those that were stranded last night, mainly the children. As for the others, not quite as much. Because regardless of how one does or doesn’t feel about TSPLOST, mass transit, Democrat, or Republican, the decision of over 5 million of our 5.4 million residents to live in areas that are entirely automobile dependent was solely theirs. It is not intended to sound mean or callous, it is just the truth. And while we all hoped to not have something like this happen because we knew this is exactly what it would bring, be it 2” of snow or a zombie apocalypse, it did. I am not one of those paranoid people that would compare this to some hypothetical disaster emergency like a nuclear attack or some cheesy early 2000’s disaster movie, as a means for sweeping changes. But this was a pretty damn big deal that exposed the flaws of not our politicians, but of our built environment. To a point that may have never been as far reaching and clear as this one.
By rejecting alternative modes of transportation and the improvement of our built environment and planning, this was the bed we made and last night tens of thousands (if not more) of residents had the opportunity to spend a long night in it. Is transit perfect? Nope. We saw the minor glitch at Five Points yesterday, but once that was over those cozy warm trains were zipping around the city for the rest of the day. Clearly the buses were not as efficient. I had to abandon mine on Peachtree and walk about a mile and half home in the snow. Was it fun? No (well kind of, I terribly miss a good snow). But that wasn’t transit’s fault, That was the mass exodus from Atlanta clogging the streets. But it also spoke to the intent of this post. Options. I had options. I have a car, but fortunately chose not to use it. So my second option was a bus. And when that didn’t work I was in close enough proximity to my home with quality sidewalks and safe streets that allowed me to make the trek. Either way, I wasn’t going to be abandoned, stuck, stranded, or whatever other word people have been applying to their own self inflicted misery.
And transit isn’t the only solution to this. It is better school siting and planning. Placing oversized storage sheds as schools away from community centers with access only via bus and private automobile does us no good either. Because as we saw last night, those schools, often serviced by one way in and one way out, create chaos in emergency situations, particularly when their parents who need to come pick them up have only one way in and one way out of their employment center (the interstates). What if half of those kids could have walked home by attending a school that is located in the center of a real community with safe streets to walk on? They wouldn’t have been sleeping in gyms, busses, and being transported to fire stations. Parents wouldn’t have had to rush out of work to go pick them up. What if in the heart of that suburban community was a transit station that connected directly to the employment centers of Midtown, Downtown, Buckhead, and the Perimeter so that those parents could have left their cars in place that day and hopped on the train? The answer to that is, we wouldn’t be a national embarrassment as we are right now. We wouldn’t be scrambling to blame this governor, or that mayor, or any of the other myriad of organizations that actually did a mighty fine job with the resources they are allotted.
Will we learn from this? Not at all. We had a minor version of this in 2011. What did we learn? Increase the number of plows and spreaders from 4 to over 30. This time around we will probably up that number from 30 to 100. And the results will be the same. In my fantasy world we would be smarter than that. We would be bringing together mayors, commissioners and the governor to beginning crafting transportation and walkability solutions that not only help in a once a decade (though I think this is now twice) snow storm, but enhance our everyday life. Provide us with options on how to commute from school and work, and from city to suburb. Solutions that do not require paving over the rest of the region, nor would they require transforming Marietta into Midtown. But for now that will remain fantasy, and the reality will be everyone attempting to point their fingers at everyone else, ignoring that they dug their own mess.