Atlanta isn’t as Progressive as Indianapolis or Tampa Bay
(That capitalization looks all janky. Where’s my style guide?)
For some reason, my title statement makes me ashamed of where I’ve chosen to live. Mostly because I have always thought of them as non-places, the way CCT Girl thinks of Nebraska, when we think of them at all. Atlanta’s got a rich history, neat downtown-ish areas (because everything in city limits is “downtown” to commuters), and the best transit system around (50 miles around). However…
Other progressive cities, such as Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Fla., are taking advantage of the pro-transit climate and forging ahead with plans to create and fund major transit systems that include commuter rail, light rail and bus rapid transit to supplement their existing bus service.
Says Liz Rao in Transit: The “It” Factor of Successful Cities.
As much as Indianapolis sounds neat because Bus Nerd tells me it’s pretty much 24 hour and blue collar, now it’s more interested in transit investment than our area as well? “They got plans! Plans!” He just yelled at me, which is his way of saying that nothing is set in stone, but still. If it weren’t so cold, it might be on the short list of our places to move to if Atlanta transit goes to hell. Not that I’m being negative or anything.
Among the better points of Rao’s piece is that areas that have the means to invest in their public transit aren’t necessarily richer, but their priorities are in the right place by looking ahead at the wealth and interest that transit can bring.
According to the American Public Transit Association, for every $1 cities invest in public transportation, they generate $4 in economic returns. Under different scenarios, the overall economic benefits may be as high as 9-to-1.
Economically viable cities make funding transit a priority because they can generate multiple, positive economic outcomes with a single investment.
These positive economic outcomes include development and property value, which are already a big deal for the BeltLine Tax Allocation District (which yes, I’m a bitch about the loop to nowhere, but I am totally considering how that could benefit me as a househunter).
These two things can link by correlation or causation to business revenues and profits, and local and state tax revenues. And remember, MARTA is funded by sales tax, sales tax from businesses that have things to sell, businesses which could be interested in serving transit-heavy areas. So it’s like an endless loop of giving and awesomeness (that might fund the loop to nowhere).
But we are not Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Indianapolis, or other places that are apparently better than us. We are stuck in a halfway, best-we-got situation with no state support and bad state priorities. Things could be getting worse before they get better, like they did in St. Louis specifically. But they could also just keep getting worse. Not that I’m being negative or anything.
What makes these places different? I don’t know. I’d bet a significant amount of these populations have class and race issues (looking at you, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb). I’m sure that some local politicians think that roads are a priority (though none of them might be such tight allies with the department of asphalt), and I’m sure that some residents of these service areas want to keep their neighborhoods small-town-like (ahem, Fayette). These are the general reasons I’ve gathered for why transit hasn’t been allowed to succeed in the Atlanta region. But what is it really? It’s a weak statement to call something stupid, but that’s what it seems all of our transit issues boil down to. Stupidity shown in negative, attention-grabbing headlines. Stupidity in thinking that transit is for poor people, or that poverty is a contagious disease. Stupidity in that the political issues are so confusing for the average rider to grasp that they need to be reduced to thoroughly enjoyable pictures. But I’m not being negative or anything.
These cities are investing local dollars and acting now to take advantage of today’s federal funding climate and focus on transit. They understand transit improvements will have a positive impact on their future economic growth and the livability of their communities. That’s why cities must press ahead with transit plans:
* Seek out and support grassroots transit organizations and regional alliances.
* Build political will by appointing a transit champion. Transit is not a short-term project. It could take years to see a system materialize.
* Elect leaders who share the vision and seek the support of local chambers of commerce. Transit has been successful in cities nationwide because both sides of the aisle recognize it as an economic engine.
* Contact your leaders in Washington and insist they create a sustainable, secure transit funding source for the future.