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#PrayForDCMetro

January 9, 2017

img_20170107_080825275Cold, empty tunnels lingered for upwards of 30 minutes as nothing short of a regular weekend on the beleaguered DC Metro .

If WMATA wanted to start a Gofundme to fund their SafeTrack program, would you donate?

To the daily commuters of the DMV that actually use the 41-year old aging heavy rail system, you would get mixed (mostly vulgar and petty) responses.  It would seem that the nation’s second-busiest heavy rail system would have a better approach on comforting the loyal commuters than playing the “mum’s the word” card on their constant single-tracking, bus bridge, and shutting down of important lines every other day.

Prior to the Transportation Camp DC conference this weekend at George Mason University-Arlington Campus, warnings went out not of the pending snow that blanketed the area, but that there was absolutely ZERO rail access between Rosslyn, the first Northern Virginia stop across the Potomac, and McPherson Square near the White House.  There was a host of other delays, but in a gist, the largest throughput on this system was not on line this weekend. I was treated to a bus bridge from Foggy Bottom to Rosslyn en route to the conference, with thoughts running through my head on if  I should even bother making my connection to Union Station via metro later that day.

 

I skipped it as the train never showed up after 30 minutes for me only to make three transfers for an estimated two hours of travel. Lyft be a lady tonight.

 

I get it.  The DC Metro, along with BART in the Bay Area came up in a time when Federal dollars were easier to come by compared to now as the second-generation of heavy rail systems in North America. The expansion was quick, but the maintenance was not. Now, with transit ridership at an all-time high, as well as the district’s population, what is an agency to do?  Promises of an even larger shutdown on Super Bowl Weekend apparently doesn’t soothe the soul, but as someone who knows about single-tracking, I explore other options within the metro.  The Metrobus system is pretty solid and offers many parallel routes that could help.  Promote much?

I mean, there’s always the Gofundme approach. If they can do so for Betty White to stay alive, so could metro.

 

I Left My Heart on a BART Train in San Francisco

December 29, 2016

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It’s somewhere in one of these empty BART trains at Millbrae. Or Hayward. Embarcadero? 

 

Sooooooo….i’m back. Been around the world and I, I, I…I can’t find unity – regionally or with this country.  But this isn’t about angry oppression. Let’s talk about my travels.

 

I had a lovely three-week stint in the Bay Area studying regional transit and the minds of human resource departments. While trying to figure out what an employer wants to hear from a fresh college grad, I attended sessions at the 2016 Annual Rail-Volution Conference held in Downtown San Francisco.  Not only did I make major networking waves,  I also explored the luscious landscape that is the Bay. I could not fathom how many different options for transit dotted both sides of the bay from BART to Muni to Caltrain to AC Transit to Marin Transit to the cable cars to VTA to ACE to the Capital Corridor which I was unaware you could take to Sacramento…

 

But do they all connect? Clipper card, yes. Physically, no.

 

Similar to the tumultuous climate of this year and the even worse future that is upon us with the orange squirrel and legions of mad-as-hell fundamentalists that are going to run our country for the next four years, the regional unity of the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Metropolitan area has about as weak a united front as a 90’s pop band after one smash hit. The obvious pain point of affordable housing isn’t a secret as most monthly rents here could pay for half a year’s rent in Bozeman, Montana. Connecting it to a minority flight from the city itself (San Francisco in this case) and BART’s ailing system eyeing expansion to San Jose, the largest of the Bay Area cities, it baffles me to wonder how the whole region can keep this world wide web woven.

Given the massive population, a regional government probably isn’t possible.  Merging all of the 20+ transit systems also is out since not all systems go everywhere. However, the transit issues should definitely connect to the other issues that plague this region so that we could kill two birds with one stone. Until then, I will continue to fix Metro Atlanta’s transit woes. But I will return for my heart…

Thrill of the Fight

February 9, 2016

IMG_20160128_174555424_HDRToday will be another day for the record books for the fight. Today, there will be a hearing for Georgia Senator Brandon Beach’s MARTA Expansion Bill (SB 313).

 

I say it is a fight because it has been an absolute struggle for one generation to understand what another generation needs. I’m not talking about baby boomers vs. Millennials but more middle and upper class vs. lower class, car driver vs. alternative transportation, in-the-perimeter vs. outside-the-perimeter, and Atlanta vs. the rest of Georgia. If passing a marriage equality law and a healthcare reform act wasn’t enough to let the world know that we need to think about the brother man and the other man, I am pretty sure that transportation would also be another amenity that we would not be so selfish about.

Those currently against this revision are against it because they’re not getting anything in their district or that they were left out of the conversation, or that they don’t want free riders benefiting from the system.  These claims are sophomoric and are shameful for someone who is supposed to be in an office serving “the people”.  But hey, Donald Trump is a frontrunner for president. My permanent flight to Belgium is awaiting this election.  This fight is not for a specific area of town.  This fight is for THE REGION.

MARTA is a REGIONAL system.  You may not think it because it doesn’t go to Marietta nor Norcross, but the plan before most of you little boys and girls could count to three was to send it to BOTH of these locations. Currently, buses connect to MARTA through their respective systems, but the transfers and headways are not sufficient for one to travel in a timely manner. Both bedroom communities depend on Atlanta for jobs and vice versa.  Don’t ever think that any community in Metro Atlanta is not like another.  We’re all one big ball of Atlanta, or at least that’s what you tell people when you leave the area. Not everyone knows where Lawrenceville is, but they know it’s a suburb of Atlanta. REGIONALISM.

To you that don’t care which way this vote blows, you might want to care. The same reason Mercedes-Benz moved here and NCR moved here could be the same reason your job may blow with the wind wherever else, IF they decide to keep you: The team didn’t like the climate and wanted a better option for their employees. In enters MARTA-not the only reason of relocation but the asset proved very worthy than the transit-rich New Jersey and the transit-poor Dayton, Ohio and now Gwinnett County. Think of the brother or sister that has to take two buses and two trains to travel a fraction of what you travel. Your annual airport trips on MARTA seem so meager.

For you that support it, come to the Capitol today at 1 PM and come show love.  You are a big influence with the fight because either you need it to live or you cannot see others perish.

For you that don’t support it, imagine someone totaled your $55,000 E-Class and your only lifeline was MARTA.  You would want it to be just as good as running around in your higher power automobile that we ALL constantly as taxpayers have to repair the roads that you run into the dirt. Maybe it’s time to put some money towards the emergency fund.

One more thing.  Let’s look at this funding mechanism like a child’s growth.  High-capacity transit projects aren’t built in a day. Nor is a child.  Transit projects are expensive. Just like a child. They both need plenty of attention and maintenance, and when we don’t put money towards it, they are destined to fail.  If MARTA fails, Atlanta fails.  METRO Atlanta, that is.

 

Join the fight for Regionalism or leave.

Saved By The Bell Building

September 3, 2015

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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.

http://www.savethebell.org <—-sign the petition!

Bus Is Better

August 18, 2015

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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…

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TAILPIPE EMISSIONS. 

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
by

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 dan.klepal@ajc.com

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 STORY SO FAR

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.

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