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Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Commissioners Closer

July 2, 2014
clayco

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

 

New Frontiers

May 21, 2014

 

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2010 certainly has been a long time since our friends down in Clayton County have seen a local bus.  Ask the family carrying three grocery carts full of groceries from the Riverdale Walmart across the long-stretched State Route 85 Monday. Since then, so much movement has gone on northward, the residents are starting to feel some type of way on if the county can prove to be relevant again.  Well people, there IS hope, and the power is in the people! (and the Clayton County Board of Commissioners…)

 

These past week has been tremendous for transit all over the metro, as MARTA decreased its max wait times to 10 minutes during peak hours, the Atlanta Streetcar is only a doctor’s check-up from operation, and Clayton County is firing up the conversation for reinstating transit to their infrastructure. As of yesterday, reps from the City of Atlanta Department of Public Works and the Atlanta Streetcar announced the PROPOSED (used lightly) fare structure and schedule for the start of revenue service.  Let’s break it down.

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So if the Atlanta City Council approved the PROPOSED fare structure on June 2nd, the fare structure above will go into place around eh…October-November-ish (remember, the first three months will be free). Transfers to MARTA or GRTA will be free, and the council will also decide on reverse transfers.  Now, compared to other streetcar systems, this is pretty fair.  I wouldn’t go off the immediate jump to purchase a monthly pass, though (unless I really wanted to marry the Edgewood Bar District). You can use Breeze Cards as you do on the other systems, as well as purchase them from Breeze vending machines. Also noted to point out, the PROPOSED revenue service plan will be Monday through Thursday from 6 AM-PM, Friday from 6 AM-AM, Saturday from 8:30 AM-1 AM, and Sunday from 9 AM-11 PM. 

Now for the nonbelievers who still think it’s pointless and a waste of money, please take a look around you.  Do you see any streetcar in operation, and are you living in an area of tremendous investment?  As of now, the Atlanta Streetcar will serve as a very key last-mile connectivity tool for pedestrians navigating through Downtown from other systems, as well as the catalyst for a bigger blueprint for an extended streetcar network Downtown, Midtown, and the rest of the intown neighborhoods. They have literally taken every demographic into consideration who would utilize it from downtown business people, college students, seniors, pub crawlers, as well as the tourists. I have stressed long enough that if you don’t like what goes on in your neighborhood, then you haven’t talked loud enough. I can’t explain myself anymore for this, so all those asking me the point of the streetcar, stop. It will be revolutionary. Just wait. 

 

On to the other elephant in the room, ClayCo. Clayton County has been working with a firm out of Tampa to gather public opinion on what they would like to see as far as transit in the now car-dependent nook of the Southern Crescent. Monday, the group has released their Transit Vision for up to 2040.  While it comes to some head nods, it also comes to some clouded conversations with a few of the commissioners. Some people just shouldn’t talk to everyone.  Let’s break this down.

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Shown above is a draft of the 2040 Long-Range vision for Clayton County.  The blue lines represent the local bus which would radiate from the East Point and College Park MARTA stations outward to as far south as Irondale (or the between Jonesboro and Lovejoy part of Tara Boulevard). The restoration of local bus service will be the goal of the 2016 plan.  2020 calls for the introduction of Flex Shuttle service for seniors, those with disabilities, and those in far-stretched subdivisions. 2030 will call for increased headways for the buses, and if the Board and the people decide by November that this is worth sticking the red line in above, a heavy rail line along the Norfolk-Southern line to Clayton State University will bless ClayCo’s presence by 2040. 

Like I said before, the conversation is still a little cloudy.  Most residents still don’t understand how the county lost C-Tran in the first place, and some commissioners are going out of the way to sweep it under the rug and blotch this opportunity by lying. Some locals are also weary that it will increase crime, litter, yada yada yada. Listen here. Make your OWN judgment.  Just know that the State legislation ONLY calls for Clayton to join MARTA through the 1-cent sales tax, and that will be the minimum if ClayCo ever wants to see rail. Property tax won’t have anything to do with funding transit. No one does that, and the residents wouldn’t even go for that. Not even Seattle believes it’s a good idea. You also can’t steal a TV and bring it back on a bus. This endeavor would be not only a very wise economic development opportunity for the county, but a building block for uniting all of the transit systems into one and for us as a region and move forward on how we look at more efficient mobility options.

 

To join in on both of these conversations, please direct yourselves to the following:

Email the Atlanta Streetcar Team at: atlantastreetcar@atlantaga.gov. Comments will be welcomed until May 30th!!!

Comment on the Clayton County Transit Initiative at: http://transit.claytoncountyga.gov/  

Or go to the meetings tomorrow at:

      • Thursday, May 22, 2014
        6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
        6:30 pm Presentation
        Frank Bailey Senior Center
        6213 Church Street
        Riverdale, GA 30274
    • Thursday, May 22, 2014
      6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
      6:30 pm Presentation
      Fountain of Life Christian Church
      3372 Anvil Block Road
      Ellenwood, GA 30294​

Planner Nerdvana

April 30, 2014

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Whew! April has definitely been a whirlwind, and I’m not talking about those massive winds we were supposed to get from this recent storm! (Seriously, I walked around here with a dry umbrella expecting it to pour). Anyway, April brought us the second annual TranspoCamp as well as the massive week-long American Planning Association Conference.  If you were lucky enough to attend both, I hope you made lots of connections and joined in the conversation about transportation and why it is important not just here, but everywhere.

But, let’s touch on the important pieces. See the epic selfie above?  It was part of a session at TranspoCamp inspired by Lyle Harris, Chief Spokesman of MARTA on creating a culture of people who are not only willing to ride, but take ownership of MARTA, similar to other transit cultures in Philadelphia and San Francisco. We called ourselves the #MARTAARMY and we devoted ourselves to involve those who want to make a difference on the system to speak up and bounce ideas to Lyle on what this system should do and how it should function.

The American Planning Association (APA), while well established, was also welcomed to Atlanta just this past weekend.  Attended by engineers, planners, realtors, students, etc., it was also a think-tank for those who wanted to grab ideas and take them back to their respective city.  The student population was kinda here and there, so hopefully, Seattle’s conference next year will attract more students. Interesting sessions I attended included: Expanding Mass Transit in the face of Fiscal Austerity, The Creative Class & Downtown Development, Developing TOD Affordable Housing, and How Millennials Are Changing Planning (which is the standing room-only session above). There were outdoor workshops that took place in the Metro area, as well as a bookstore and expo to peep the latest planning technologies.

Overall, both of these conferences were wonderful, and if you haven’t been to either, I would suggest you find some money and get on that train.  I feel the biggest inspirations for transit planning will come from seeing what other cities are doing and if you have a chance to travel and do that, I’d advise you to make that move, chess master. I would start with the American Public Transit Association Conference in Houston in October and RAILvolution in Minneapolis in June if you’re interested.

This is important.

April 17, 2014

This is happening tonight. You should go.

Clayton County Democratic Meeting April 17, 2014p

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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

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