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Here We Gulch Again…

July 13, 2015

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If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense. So why are there proposals to put a money-maker in place of another?

That’s what MGM wants to do with a proposal of a…wait for it…$1 billion dollar casino in the Gulch area of Downtown Atlanta. Now, while this seems cool and all, most non-transportation souls will also overlook the fact that the space is also the site of the Multi-modal Passenger Terminal.

Now the first thing that came to my mind was, “Someone is proposing yet another big ticket item that isn’t transportation”.  The next was, “Not another casino project.  The GOP will looooove this”.  Now the item on my brain is, “Say if MGM gets the green light to do their money vacuum. It’ll take up about what…6 of the 119 acres in the Gulch for what…a sea of parking?

No, thanks.

I know that the MMPT is a wish upon a star, but if we can take cues that accessibility to and around Downtown Atlanta may just be more important that what attraction is Downtown (because we have PLENTY TO DO!), then people will stop calling everything they won’t want to use a boondoggle. We can’t always overlook a bigger project for something that is expected to turn over an immediate profit.  I’m not against the casino either, but it’s just not a logical place judging that the infrastructure for future high speed rail, Amtrak, the existing MARTA rail and future busbays, GRTA Xpress, Greyhound, Megabus, taxi service, and adjacent mixed-use activity can fill up this whole space. Also, there is plenty of space in South Downtown right where all those ‘2 hours to Harrah’s Cherokee billboards are. But what do I know? I’m just a city planning nerd with a Masters Degree.

One If By Air, Two If By Transit

July 9, 2015

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Atlanta (and the rest of the world) is at speculation of the Aerotropolis that is in the works for one of the nation’s biggest airports. The question is: will this be another car or die scenario where the rental car center will be your best friend, or will the airport community embrace another alternative mode of transport?

So I attended the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Transit Committee meeting today, and I listened to one of my colleagues present on the new transportation management association, or as the transportation biz calls them TMA’s, for the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International area. Known as “aeroATL”, their goal is like other TMA’s in Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead: promote alternative transportation solutions to employers and employees.  It’s great that this is happening, seeing as that community improvement districts (CIDs) are now popping up west and south of the airport, and the Aerotropolis plan to turn the modal hub into a 24/7 airport community is becoming the savior for this area the way the BeltLine is for the intown neighborhoods.

Now what’s going to DRIVE all of this concentrated development? Let’s not make it obvious.

It is often joked by locals (and layover passengers who think that Atlanta is literally our airport) that the ATL SkyTrain and PlaneTrain are Atlanta’s only real transit vehicles. Sure, they do arrive on time, have fewer headways, fewer delays, and get to actual destinations, but they only reach as far as their intended purposes.  Try doing that with a growing SunBelt metro who just peaked over 6 million. It’s not that simple, I say. However, when I search for plans for this Aerotopolis, I get
“a mixed-use development in Hapeville”, which I get scared because we haven’t had a true live-work-play-transit-oriented-mixed-use community in the metro. I only hope that the SkyTrain is being considered for expansion AS WELL AS the true cornerstone of the development.  I mean, let’s face it. Are you really going to rent a car to get around the airport for a four-hour layover? I wouldn’t, but Federal Aviation regulations don’t make it so for you to walk around the premises, either.

So kudos to aeroATL and the surrounding Airport CIDs for uniting the airport region and turning the tide for the other options to travel to work at Hartsfield.  I hope the focus can also be stretched for future residents and businesses that the Aerotropolis will be transit-focused and seamless to access surrounding amenities. Although, if I were to give a suggestion to them: do not use the picture above as the final blueprint. PLEASE. One Atlantic Station is enough.

The Streetcar Experiment

July 1, 2015

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Lately, a lot of people have been asking me about my experience with the Atlanta Streetcar and how it has been performing.  Quite frankly, I’m getting tired of defending its existence as much as I get questions about its usefulness, but since I am a likely candidate to testify the half year that the streetcar has been in operation, I figure that I would spill how I truly feel about it.  So today, I will give my personal diary of the last six months of trolley trials.

First some background about me. I live in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta.  So two stops are within a quarter-mile (or in my case a 5-minute walk) from my front door. I tend to use the Dobbs Plaza stop more than the King Historic District stop due to the fact that I can time when the vehicle shows up.  Generally, this is two to three minutes after it turns the corner at Jackson and Auburn every 15 minutes. I went to school at Georgia Tech during these first four months of streetcar, and now I work in the Equitable Building on Peachtree and Auburn, so I am a TRUE testament to what the streetcar was originally designed to do: PROVIDE LAST-MILE CONNECTIVITY.

Before the streetcar, my options of travel to class were: Walking to the MARTA stations (15-20 minute walk + MARTA trip + Tech Trolley), catching the 99 to Midtown (15-minute ride + Tech Trolley), catching the 3 to Five Points (10 minute ride + MARTA trip + Tech Trolley), and biking (15-20 minutes + sweat).

Generally, I have enjoyed the additional transit vehicle to my arsenal of options.  Pending traffic, I have had as high as 10 minute trips getting to Peachtree Center, to as low as today’s record-breaking 5 minutes from the Dobbs Plaza to Woodruff Park. (Shoutout to the driver who wears the suit). I’ve even shown it off to family, as my cousin who attends the University of Wisconsin was blown away by it, and wanted Madison to get a streetcar based on the size of the interior and the ease of connecting to MARTA’s bigger system (which was the point).

But every good thing comes with its problems…

The main hang-ups I have is that it still doesn’t have signal prioritization, that 10-minute layover at Centennial Olympic Park, and that most of the riders are generally homeless, tourists, and local (outside of downtown) streetcar hecklers (Bah! It’s not like San Francisco. Wah!). Oh yeah, and the fact that people cannot follow directions and don’t park in the lines.  That put two cars out of commission and I had no way of knowing when the streetcar would show up for about a month.

So overall, it’s great for me as a resident and employee of Downtown Atlanta.  if you don’t fit into either of those two categories and have something negative to say about it, save it. It’s not your fight. What I will say with this expansion all to and around the BeltLine, is that we need to be really wise about the options that we’re given and what we ultimately decide.  To that I will end with a quote from the great transit poobah, Jarrett Walker.

“I love seeing a house built, so I respect the role of hammers.  But if you fall in love with the hammer rather than the house, you’ll just go around looking for nails to pound, and that’s not the way to build the best possible house”

-Jarrett Walker

Corn on the Cobb County

June 15, 2015

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So does Cobb County want to just secede from this union known as Metro Atlanta?  I don’t know. Their actions about transportation lately speaks so many volumes that put them on the same level as another over-superficial suburban county. (cough…Fayette)

  • The commissioners passed a $5.3 billion comprehensive plan for transportation which included the “possibility” of bus rapid transit.  Fine.
  • Benita Dodd from Marietta has soooooo much to say about the Atlanta Streetcar like she spent her whole lottery winnings on its construction. Whatever.
  • Old Man STATE REP. Earl Ehrhart still lives in 1971 in that he doesn’t believe that MARTA manages their system correctly. Big Whoop.
  • Tim Lee doesn’t believe in a world where more MARTA service than the Number 12 and the Six Flags shuttle would exist in Cobb County. Do you, sir.

These actions cover a huge overarching theme: Cobb County doesn’t really want to be apart of this region.

It’s easy to create your own newspaper and your own transit system and your own Department of Transportation, but Cobb County leaders, in these instances, are acting like the kid at daycare who has a sharing problem.  They can deny that they are not like the City of Atlanta or Decatur or anywhere else where people have common sense all they want to, but what they cannot erase is their location smack dab in the center of the region. I mean, Vinings has an Atlanta zip code for Christ sake, and so will this new stadium! #bravesocalpse

Here’s what I see for the Cobb County Commissioners for the rest of this year.  They will table the BRT project (yet again) and make an excuse like, “We wanted to devote our funding towards more research for a teleportation system from your location to the SunTrust Park. This way, we keep your taxes low”. They will keep looking for ways to prove that premium transit will not work for them.

I have had the displeasure of traveling to Cobb for the fifth time this month via transit, and it took me one hour and 40 minutes EACH WAY to get from Midtown to Cumberland, and even after that, I had to bike to get where I needed to go. That is ridiculous. Cumberland is the largest business district in the metro without premium transit access. Town Center is getting there. Not everyone who works or shops there reside in Cobb. When these Commissioners start to realize that there are other people on this earth than Corn Cobbs, East Cobbers, or whatever they refer to themselves, maybe they can join into this regional transportation conversation. But this regional transportation network will continue to deteriorate with places like Cobb County’s administration’s denial that commuters from the outside come to Cobb.

I don’t know.  But bashing the streetcar won’t do you any good, miss, because we got our matching funds and the infill development is coming. I need for everyone who has nothing to do with this vehicle to not talk about the vehicle because you’re doing nothing but showing off your sheer ignorance on something that you obviously have no stake in.

It’s Time We All Became Mode Positive

April 28, 2015

This is a blog post that I’ve been meaning to write for some time now, but the spark was re-ignited in me when earlier this week a transit advocacy group (I won’t call anyone out here, but know I was terribly disappointed) posted an anti-streetcar article on their Facebook page. For a while now, transit advocates have been infighting about mode amongst themselves and not only is a waste of our precious time, it’s harmful to everything that we do.

To borrow from another positivity movement here, we need to stop mode shaming.

No one would argue that transit doesn’t already have to fight a constant uphill battle. There are never enough funds to build out the systems of our dreams and certain Republicans are trying to eliminate all transit funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Why then do we feed the critics with ammunition by poo-pooing our own projects and debating the merits of streetcar over BRT over heavy rail over good, old-fashioned buses?

When transit advocates get themselves in a tizzy over pitting the superiority of one mode over another we just give the opposition arguments to use against us. They already latch on to buses as a means of throwing transit a bone, but we all know that while buses are fantastic, there are many instances in which buses aren’t capable of meeting ridership needs. When the transit community declares streetcars or light rail inadequate, we look like the kids crying wolf.

Heavy rail isn’t appropriate for every project and requires significant public investment. Streetcars aren’t appropriate for every project, even if they’re cheaper, adorable, and trendy. Buses suffer from a public perception problem even if they’re the quickest way to boost service and have cheaper initial capital costs. BRT meets buses and streetcars in the middle, but only when done right and we all know that is a big if.

Our problem isn’t mode; it’s ensuring that projects are well-planned, perfectly implemented, and that we educate riders and advocates on the uses and goals of each mode. Heavy rail moves a lot of people a great distance; it’s not to get around town but to town. Streetcars are the last mile circulators to get around town. They are meant to connect neighborhoods and spur development. They do not directly ease traffic congestion but enhance the existing network and by completing the trip, streetcars encourage a global transit use. BRT is, like heavy rail, meant to move a greater number of passengers a greater distance, mimicking heavy rail at a fraction of the cost. And while it an encourage ridership growth and can be converted to rail in the future, it does not solve the last mile segment of the transit equation. Buses serve a multitude of purposes and intersect all of these functions, but they lack the perception of permanence to spur significant economic growth.

Some transit projects are bad, but all modes are good. But not gondolas. Never gondolas.

What’s In a Rename

April 15, 2015

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We have just about as many streets with new names as we do streets with “Peachtree” in them. Why rename?

For the same reason that just yesterday, a certain festival that is held every year in Downtown Atlanta got an earful from residents of the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association over the confusion of the Civic Center and the Civic Center MARTA station.  Now, in all fairness, it is easy to confuse the two because: 1. Neither are next to each other. 2. One is used daily and the other isn’t (Give you a quick second to guess which), and 3. The (actual Civic Center) goes by ANOTHER NAME- The Boisfeuillet Jones Civic Center. Why not just call it that? Or the generic name itself? I don’t know. Philadelphia renamed one of its SEPTA stations in an agreement for revenue and cellular service for five years. But the gag is…There’s nothing in the vicinity of the station relating to AT&T, which the station’s named after. Well, I guess if those checks come in for improvements, MARTA could rename North Avenue to AT&T, but since we have so many AT&T offices near MARTA staions, that couldn’t fly.

WHICH BRINGS ME TO THE TOPIC AT HAND!!!

So, if you haven’t heard, Council member C.T. Martin has proposed an ordinance to rename the southern portion of Spring Street (from Whitehall Street near I-20 to West Peachtree near the connector) to Ted Turner Drive. Once again, here’s yet another street rename. Once again, here’s another street with nothing to do with the honoree. I agree the man should be honored. He invested in Atlanta when no one else would and we are now a communications hub, so to speak. But WHYYYY do we always have to honor people by naming a street after them??!!! He has a stadium, and with that said, if he really wanted to keep THAT honor, he would’ve said something to the Cobb Crooks or whatever that team will be named. Atlanta shouldn’t be in the name anymore. Besides the point. We have to stop this vicious cycle of renaming streets. They are confusing to not only the tourists and visitors, but the ITP visitors (yeah you, suburbanites), the parcelowners along Spring who now have to spend money on stationery, business cards, building placards, and I bet dealing with the USPS would be a hassle.

Either way, if you want to gripe against it, the public hearing will be Thursday, April 28th @ 9:30 AM at City Hall. Let’s end this cycle of renaming streets just because we have very important people here, and find alternate ways to honor people. We’re now Hollywood South, but that doesn’t mean Tyler Perry will have a street named after him now. Hopefully, I’m not speaking too soon…

#NewTrain

April 15, 2015
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Yesterday I railfaned hard and got up before dawn to ride the first 7000 series train to go in to service in Washington DC. The new space-age trains are stunning, with lots of room and the greatest signage ever. Imagine what MARTA would be like with some new trains rolling down her rails.

Check out my photo essay on the Mobility Lab blog.