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If You Build It, Will They Come?

April 1, 2014

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Shown above is a picture of two things Atlanta will soon have and not have.  I will leave it to you to guess the obvious.

Before I go into this opinion peace, I want to post a disclaimer:  I believe in all kinds of transit, no matter where it goes.  If it serves a purpose, turns a profit, and brings peace to whomever passes through or whomever arrives, I stand firm to welcome it. 

 

When Atlanta was nicknamed “The City Too Busy To Hate”, I don’t think anyone counted ‘argumentative’ as a offspring of hate.  That seems to be the case ever since the Atlanta BeltLine released its comprehensive Streetcar expansion plan to the streetcars that they don’t yet seem to uh…have. I say that not to be negative, but to really get everyone to look at this with a bigger picture of this burgeoning “Streetcar” Network in Atlanta.  Where did it come from? Where is it going, and why can we not agree on where to put it?

A big complaint from streetcar opponents (some of which don’t hold a City of Atlanta address) is that they still won’t go anywhere, even after east-west connector routes were put in for the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Phases of the plan.  Peachtree Street, they say; put it where it belongs on the main thoroughfare! Okay…let’s look at that.  I tout the Peachtree plan as the one the Feds didn’t think was worthy enough to debut in Atlanta or the one that doesn’t seem practical enough because A) There’s a huge heavy rail running right under most of it, B) The Peachtree Street corridor runs through 2 of Atlanta’s most walkable neighborhoods. C) The 110 Bus Route runs down the whole corridor, and D) In what way are we really ready to tear up Atlanta’s most famous street?

Another point against the Peachtree Streetcar is of whom will patronize it. Who do you think uses the one in the picture above?  Definitely not the guys or gals in suits but the ones in Bermuda shorts and fanny packs admiring how long the skyline goes on and on and on…It’s mainly a big reason everyone is counting against the current streetcar because it will just be an extension of the tourist bubble that covers pretty much the western half of ‘Downton Abblanta’. It’s going to bring other forms of change. Believe me. Sadly, those people who make the Peachtree argument didn’t like the Auburn/Edgewood Streetcar. Although they forget there’s a huge university, trauma center, and about 20,000 of my closest friends here. (not to mention an even growing neighborhood in the shadows who will soon receive the first phase of the next expansion). Who do they expect?  Most tourists are even scared to take actual MARTA, even though the residents probably share the same sentiment. So are you really going to step foot on that vehicle if it does go down Peachtree, or will you hear it from your distant cousin who visited that one time who swears by the streetcar?

I also look at much fault at putting a streetcar down Peachtree because it still does not create a vehicle for MOVEMENT.  The BeltLine is supposed to be about MOVING. That less than three mile trek won’t really put you anywhere else that you couldn’t get by any other MARTA vehicle, or better yet, by your own two feet! (I’ve done the walk. It’s not that bad.) But it does not do what the North Avenue/Hollowell Parkway line would do, what the 10th Street Line would do, and that is send you through different neighborhoods with a notion that you will end up in a place totally different then where you got on without having to switch vehicles. Point blank and simple. Just as an aside, because Andres Duany recommends something, it doesn’t always mean we should do it.

I want everyone to stop the arguing about the streetcar because the reality of it is that it won’t even be up until the late summer.  So we really don’t even know how this one will perform, or if it will.  Again, not being pessimistic, but realistic.  I will be excited for yet another mode of transport, but I have had it to here with the back and forth about something that isn’t even a reality yet.  You don’t know how excited I was to see the poles and lines being put up from my return from New Orleans.  Atlanta has to work on this idea of comprehensive planning again.  We still cannot grasp that concept.  Just like our addiction to tearing down fairly-new stadiums or erecting parking decks that look like actual buildings. Until we can evaluate this one, let’s calmly plan for the future, but in a practical sense.

The Howell Mill Conundrum

March 10, 2014

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I think that we can all safely say that we like going to Howell Mill. There’s a slew of activity at the beginning of the road, in the middle, and even at the end of the stretch. We don’t, however, like TRAVELING down Howell Mill. Some points make it impossible to believe that there could be something done about the corridor. But there is something to really be done that does not involve transportation:

 

STOP THE DEVELOPMENT.

 

I do agree that this is a little conservative for my nature, and totally not in my best judgment, but for the past few weeks, I have seen nothing but new projects in not only the most traffic-choked, but the most densely-spaced areas, whether it be the new Jimmy John’s near Chattahoochee Avenue, the new Elon Apartments opposite White Provision, the new apartments next to Chick-Fil-A, as well as the new apartments Perennial is building near Bishop Street (are we starting to get the picture??) I don’t think a single one of these units will forgo parking infrastructure for their perspective residents nor are there alternative plans for transit vehicles to shuffle people up and down the “sometimes” three-lane artery, but in my perspective, these new developments are going to do nothing but make this area undesirable.

My solution? The mighty Bus Number 12 that heads between Midtown and Cumberland keeps its ridership heavy at all times of the day.  Perhaps a little spur could help entice locals that MARTA might be the DJ that saved their life. Imagine what wonders a Number 12 Spur from Five Points up Marietta then to the Howell Mill spur could do. It might even be MARTA’s next attempt at Bus Rapid Transit if they consider shifting the route from going through residential Buckhead. Seriously, do we know anyone who rides the bus from there? Also, far fetched, but it could be reality, what if there was a light rail line that ran under the road connecting Howell Mil both north and south of the Waterworks? Someone has to un-congest Howell Junction one of these days…

All that I am saying is that Howell Mill, I believe, has met its capacity for the moment.  If we could slow down the development for a while and focus on some alternatives or traffic calming methods, we can see property values actually reflect what they’re worth about now. But right now, Howell Mill is, and until they put in work, will be a hot mess of a road. It will be a REALLY looooong summer. Better have a good radio station on your dial.

Snow-induced worker shortage slowed MARTA, but didn’t stop it

February 3, 2014

I think this article is fantastic.  And I’m opposed to the AJC firewall, since the awesome quote by Chief Operating Officer Rich Krisak isn’t out there more in the universe, so I’m posting it here for your reading glory:

By Andria Simmons – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As the roads and interstates that snake through metro Atlanta sat paralyzed in last week’s frigid grip, MARTA, for the most part, kept moving.

No, the mass transit authority wasn’t unscathed by the three days of ice and snow. Trains ran less frequently because many MARTA employees couldn’t make it in through the epic gridlock, and bus service was canceled entirely one day because it was unsafe to go out on the road.

“Staff doesn’t have a supersecret highway to drive to work on,” said MARTA Chief Operating Officer Rich Krisak.

But while leaders in Georgia — from Gov. Nathan Deal to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to Georgia Emergency Management Director Charley English — are under a microscope over their handling of the crisis, MARTA decision-makers are largely out of the spotlight.

“The ice storm was a difficult set of circumstances for every governmental entity throughout metro Atlanta, and MARTA was no different,” said state Sen. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, the MARTA oversight committee chairman and a critic of the agency in the past. “I don’t think it is appropriate to lay any blame at MARTA’s feet.”

Riders’ reviews about service were mixed.

Bibiana Antoine, 35, waited an hour and fifteen minutes at the Buckhead Station for a train to her Ellenwood home Tuesday night. She said MARTA did an “OK job” but “the trains were a little bit slow.”

Blogger and digital strategist Jared Degnan, 33, of Midtown Atlanta, called his transit system experience on Tuesday night “absolutely flawless.”

Degnan said he usually only rides MARTA to sporting events or The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race. But after it took him three and a half hours to travel a quarter-mile in his car Tuesday afternoon in the Perimeter Mall area, a light bulb went off.

He saw the Dunwoody MARTA station. He pulled off the road, parked and hopped onto a train less than five minutes later. Within 40 minutes, he was walking through his door.

“Though MARTA won’t be my primary mode of transportation, I have to say I am going to use it much more often,” Degnan wrote on his “Just Friggin’ Peachy” blog.

MARTA instituted a weekend schedule as metro Atlanta became increasingly snowbound Tuesday and kept it going through Thursday. On weekends the wait time between trains is 10 to 20 minutes, versus a regular weekday wait time of 7.5 to 15 minutes.

Seventeen trains are needed on a typical weekend schedule. But because some train operators were unable to make it to work during the “snowpocalypse,” waits were extended by five to 10 minutes across the system, Krisak said — although some riders, such as Antoine, waited for far longer.

Buses were a bigger challenge. Weather-related gridlock stranded bus drivers and their passengers Tuesday, and service was eliminated entirely Wednesday, although about a third of MARTA’s typical weekday bus-driving crew had made it in.

There are 91 bus routes on a typical weekday, Krisak said, adding that the 142 drivers who made it to work Wednesday would have been enough to operate at least 27 core routes serving area hospitals, industry/service centers and the airport.

But as that day dawned, officials learned 102 buses and 22 mobility vans were already stranded around the metro area. So MARTA, after consulting with the Georgia Department of Transportation, decided not to doom any more vehicles and passengers.

The transit authority operated 39 priority bus routes by Thursday and resumed normal operations on Friday.

Service frequency, however, wasn’t the only complaint. Riders cited a lack of communication about wait times at some station platforms, confusing signage, and announcements over speakers that were too garbled to comprehend.

Robbie Ashe, MARTA board chairman, said he expects to be briefed at a board meeting this week about what went wrong and lessons that could be learned.

“We continue to strive to improve our signage and in-station communications,” Ashe said. “That’s true on a regular day. Under stressful circumstances, I can certainly understand why people would want us to do even more.”

Krisak said an effort to replace the 30-year-old public address system is already under way. A contractor will be selected this summer, he said, and new message signs and speakers will be installed in phases over the next three to five years.

As for workers who couldn’t make it in, they will not be faulted or disciplined, Krisak said. In at least 84 cases, MARTA police went to essential employees’ homes to provide transportation, and many workers stayed and slept in buses, trains and station facilities so they could keep the mass transit system running.

The chief operating officer also noted that MARTA contended not only with ice on Tuesday but fire — specifically a rail car fire that stymied trips just as the snow started falling around midday.

The flare-up, caused by a mechanical problem, was small enough to be quashed with a fire extinguisher. But the entire system was shut down in the vicinity of the Five Points Station while all six cars on the train were inspected, Krisak said, causing a major disruption of service on the north-south lines for about three hours.

Staff writer Dan Chapman contributed to this article.


SNOW STORM 2014 COMPARISON

Ridership numbers for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of storm week versus the corresponding three days of the preceding week.

Bus Ridership

Jan. 28 — 88,556 versus Jan. 21 — 149,801

Jan. 29 — N/A versus Jan. 22 — 142,773

Jan. 30 — 27,309 versus Jan. 23 — 148,122

Rail Ridership

Jan. 28 — 156,886 versus Jan. 21 — 163,507

Jan. 29 — 43,011 versus Jan. 22 — 154,289

Jan. 30 — 82,688 versus Jan. 23 — 160,700

Source: MARTA

Where is CCTgirl?

February 3, 2014
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This post is long overdue, but here it is. For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter and who don’t know, I’ve moved to DC to accept what’s turning out to be the best job ever. I’m now the transportation policy manager for a small consulting firm. So you’re not did of me just yet. I’ll still host MARTArocks! And I’ll still post, but I’m going to need my other friends to pick up some of the local slack, and so far,

they’re doing a bang-up job.

So look for us to get a more national spin. And a lot of WMATA whining.

PS I don’t want to hear any slack about not being able to call myself “CCT” girl anymore.

TSPLOST 2.0 – maybe one day we’ll get transportation options

January 30, 2014

I’m glad to see that the UrbanCommuter wrote such a lovely post on snowpocalypse 2014 (but I disagree on not blaming Nathan Deal. Blame him. Blame him like he’s a red-headed step child and then elect Jason Carter as your next governor,  Georgia.) While the city was falling apart and sleeping on the roads, I think many of you might have missed the announcement of the TSPLOST 2.0 Wednesday morning, on the cusp of the natural disaster that had the Twitterverse demanding another go at the transportation funding mechanism the region decided it didn’t need just 1.5 very short years ago.

BFFs the Sierra Club and Tea Party joined forces with the business community to form yet another unholy alliance called PolicyBest, this time led by the brilliant Charlie Harper of the Peach Pundit to demand a go at a smaller scale TSPLOST 2.0 and the unrealistic goal of diverting the 4th penny of the gas tax or of the already underfunded general fund and back to transportation, where it belongs. (Holy run on sentance!) I told Charlie that I hope he proves me wrong on my jaded disbelief that the legislature will never give up the 4th penny, but the Sierra Club has been demanding that as long as I’ve been advocating for transit and they haven’t made any progress yet.  Keep in mind that if that does happen, transit is excluded from access to the current gas tax funds, by state law, so that would have to be a part of the deal for it to be a good deal.

TSPLOST 2.0 has some passing potential in that it would allow votes in much smaller regions,  two or more counties or municipalities, and could mean fractional sales taxes, a much easier pill for voters to swallow. This legislative session has already given us HB 195, proving this ability for areas to begin planning their own mind – TSPLOST, should it pass this year. But with elections looming this fall, don’t hold your breath for a productive session.

The pessimistic in me needs to point out that even when this all comes to be (because I think it will, in the 2015 session unless Deal starts putting his weight behind this to make up for Snowpocalypse) that the liklihood of these mini – TSPLOSTs furthering the cause of transit is pretty slim unless we demand it and pray every night and wish upon every birthday candle and penny on the ground for it.  And it still keeps us years behind where we would have been if TSPLOST 1.0 would have passed. But hey, I’ll be tickled pink if I’m proven wrong.

In Defense of Mayor Reed, Governor Deal, GDOT, etc, etc, etc.

January 29, 2014

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.     

What Would Ya Do-ooo-oo for a MARTA Card?

January 6, 2014

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So….about the hiatus. I’m deep in mourning for the loss of another Atlanta institution. No need for explanation there. I discovered something today.  A commuter calls me and asks me if there are any transportation options to get from Covington to Atlanta.  The awkward realization that ran through my mind was…

 

1. Drive. The buses don’t go where you live, honey.

 

2. That’s a tad far, isn’t it?

 

In the commuter’s defense, I think it was an honest question due to our crazy commuting patterns in this region.  While Covington may be a very far off exurb of Atlanta, it still is a sort of “commutable” area. After breaking the sad news that there wasn’t any other option than driving the lonely road to Dixieland, I gave her the closest alternatives (i.e. the two Xpress routes in Conyers). This brings up a very valid question.  While I have always lived in Downtown Atlanta for my five plus years of being here, I have never really stopped and thought how the suburbanites and rural dwellers even find out where the nearest bus stop is or what time it even comes.  With today’s technology, you could definitely douse that flame, but what if you’re 53 and haven’t a clue (which I think was this lady’s issue).  

 

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My philosophy in the transportation business is and will always be this: Information should be provided so that even Big Foot knows where he’s going. Not everyone will have access to a smartphone or a computer, so assuming that “the instructions are online at www…” is not a sound business practice.  Even with language barriers, all demographics must be able to understand what and where you are giving service.  GRTA has done a wonderful job with their Park and Ride Lots, which I take great pride in visiting when I’m out in the fields.  MARTA also does their part in guiding drivers from the road to the stations, and Douglas County even went as far to create a Multimodal Center which is the center for all things transit in the West Metro (see pic above).  However, we have a long way to go in providing information to everyone on demand.  We should take these instances where we stop and say, “Where are we?” to think about how we can better relay information to newcomers and lost travelers.  It makes everyone feel more comfortable in the long-run. 

 

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