Conservative leader makes case for streetcars and rail transit in metro Atlanta

If the Atlanta region wants the regional transportation sales tax to pass in 2012, it will need the votes of at least some conservatives.

Plus the region will need to convince those same conservatives that investing in public transit is in their own best interests.

That was the message that William Lind, director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation based in Arlington, Va., delivered to the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable breakfast meeting on June 3.

But Lind also advised metro Atlanta leaders the referendum would have the best chance to pass if it were held during the general election in November rather than as it’s currently scheduled — the July 31 primary election.

“Try to get that changed,” Lind said. “The urban base is not going to turn out for the primary. If you possibly can change the date, do it.”

It is expected that the most contested July primaries will be in the suburbs in Republican district. Those constituencies tend to be anti-tax and anti-transit.

But Lind said the opportunity exist to sway some conservatives to vote for the transportation sales tax.

So Lind provided those attending the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable, mostly a liberal and urban audience, a primer on how to sell transit to conservatives.

“You can’t get conservative votes with liberal arguments,” Lind said. For example, they should not utter the word — environment. Instead, they should talk about conservation and stewardship. “Vocabulary is important.”

Lind is a big proponent of rail transit rather than traditional city buses. “Very few conservatives will ride buses,” Lind said. “Rail can provide a quality of service to compete with cars.”

On June 1, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s planning director, Todd Long, released the “unconstrained list” of transportation projects that will be considered to be included in the referendum.

The “unconstrained list” of projects that have a price tag of $22.9 billion. But the 10-year sales tax is expected to only generate about $8 billion over a 10-year period.

The Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable — a group of 21 local leaders — will cut down the list of projects by nearly two-thirds.

In a pleasant surprise, the unconstrained list includes $14 billion in proposed transit projects; $8.6 billion in road projects; $205 million in bicycle and pedestrian projects; and $28 million in aviation projects.

And most of the public transportation projects in the unconstrained list are for rail transit — from MARTA’s heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail and streetcars.

Lind said it would be a wise investment to take conservative leaders to cities that have new light rail systems so they can better appreciate how that transportation mode is most beneficial to metropolitan regions.

Lind also passed out a sheet with the headline: “Three Common Misconceptions about Transit and Passenger Rail.”

The first misconception: the current automobile dominance is a free market outcome. Wrong, Lind said. The dominance of automobiles is a result of nearly a century of government subsidies in highways while taxing privately-owned electric railways and railroad-owned passenger trains.

Second misconception: trains and transit are subsidized while highways pay for themselves. Instead, highway user fees, including the gas tax, only pay for 52 percent of all highway costs. By comparison, Amtrak covers 67 percent of its operating expenses from ticket sales and other revenues.

Also, on average, rail transit covers about 53 percent of its costs from the farebox, but fares only cover 28 percent of the costs of urban bus systems.

The third misconception: where public transit is necessary, buses are always better than trains. Actually, buses primarily serve the transit dependent; but rail transit will serve choice riders — people who could drive but choose to use transit. Plus, rail has other advantages.

“If you give people buses, they’ll drive,” Lind said. “And buses are no always cheaper. Rail has higher upfront investment costs but lower operating costs.”

For example, Lind said the average operating cost per passenger mile for rail is 50 cents versus 90 cents for bus.

The argument for rail also is bolstered when it comes to development.

“Rail transit, unlike bus transit, drives tremendous economic growth,” Lind said. “A lot of that can be recaptured by creating public-private partnerships.”

Lind is a big fan of bringing back the streetcar to our cities. But with one big condition.

“The key to bringing back the streetcar is keeping it cheap,” Lind said, adding that a town in Wisconsin was able to build a 2.5 mile long streetcar line at $6 million while a 2.5 mile streetcar line in Tucson cost $180 million. Atlanta is building a streetcar system at about that same length for $72 million.

Lind said conservatives also will embrace the national security argument for transit.

“One third of our defense budget can be traced back to our dependence on foreign oil,” Lind said. But that dependence can be reduced by bringing back rail transit. “Let’s rebuild the network we had back in the 1950s. All we want to do is get back to what we had.”

Later Lind said: “The decline in most of our cities started with the decline of streetcars.” Cities went from being lively places with crowded sidewalks, stores and thriving neighborhoods to “government-mandated suburban sprawl.”

The Atlanta region, Lind said, also should invest in commuter rail, which uses the existing rail infrastructure. When people say metro Atlanta does not have enough density to support transit, Lind said: “in the suburbs around Atlanta, you are getting more and more density.”

A big message the Atlanta region needs to send to voters is “how transit benefits people who do not ride it.” Investing in transit will make it easier for people who choose to drive by reducing congestion on roads and highways.

“Nobody likes being stuck in traffic,” Lind said. “You can not solve congestion problems by adding more lanes.”

As members of the Atlanta transportation roundtable try to reduce the $22 million wish list to one totaling $8 billion, they should heed Lind’s advice.

Investing in transit, particularly rail, is a wise way to go.

This entry was posted in Maria's Metro. Bookmark the permalink.
33 comments
recreation
recreation

Some have complained that the east-west downtown circulator route will be the "Streetcar to Nowhere", but I could not disagree more. Centennial Park, the Aquarium, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site,and the points in between are not nowhere.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

recreation, it is a "Streetcar to Nowhere" unless you are a tourist. If you work downtown or work elsewhere but have business downtown, it's of no value.

It may increase the lagging attendance at the King Center.

recreation123
recreation123

Nowadays, it's easy to do the maintenance with the presence of parts stores that deals with common spare(Distributor,alternator, bumper covers, air filter, fender etc)..great read and hope to see another excellent article like this.

Distributor
Distributor

Atlanta is actually one of the safe place to go with in United States. It's good to know that the government is doing moves to maintain the safety most especially with the vehicles. As we all know, car is the main mode of transportation and without this, we can't go to our designated places, schools, work places etc. Atlanta's government just want to stay on the right track doing such thing. as for car drivers, they should maintain their cars to avoid accidents that may result to further damage and issues on the traffic. Nowadays, it's easy to do the maintenance with the presence of parts stores that deals with common spare(Distributor,alternator, bumper covers, air filter, fender etc)..great read and hope to see another excellent article like this.

UrbanTraveler
UrbanTraveler

If Atlanta's first foray into the urban streetcar is to be a success, it matters less where it is than what it connects. Some have complained that the east-west downtown circulator route will be the "Streetcar to Nowhere", but I could not disagree more. Centennial Park, the Aquarium, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site,and the points in between are not nowhere. Neither are Georgia State University dorms, Peachtree Center, or The Georgia World Congress Center "nowhere." The are all "somewheres" that thousands of people each day visit. For the car-less tourist visiting our city on business, the options to connect them to Atanta's many farflung attractions are dismal. If you've ever walked from one of the MARTA stations to many of these attractions, you quickly realize that the hike is for the young and fit and for those either dedicated to using public transportation or with no other choice. Many leave our city wondering why the convention planner selected Atlanta when there is "nothing to do" here. When the reality is there is little to do if you have to get to it on foot from a hotel that is not directly on MARTA. The trick for the streetcar planners will be connecting the new streetcar to the existing MARTA system, both physically and through the Breeze Card fare system. If they do this from the inception, on either end of the route or in its midpoint, then there will be more than merely downtown tourist audience for the streetcar. To miss this connection may doom the project and label it as unsuccessful boondoggle from the beginning, and to poison the atmosphere for its future expansion and and ultimate destinations beyond the downtown area. This seems like an obvious point, but the plan revealed during the public comment sessions did not have a sure connection to MARTA, and fell a 1/2 mile short of the GWCC, the largest single captive population in our downtown area during convention times. After decades of witnessing plan after plan die on the drawing table and after having been feed a steady diatribe about how Atlanta is not ready for the streetcar, I'm excited that this project will finally happen. I hope that the decision-makers for the streetcar do what it takes to connect it to MARTA, so that we will be talking about the streetcar that completes our trip rather than the streetcar from nowhere to nowhere.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Renaldo says:
June 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

"Unbelieveably and insignificantly LOW amount considering the capital cost, operating subsidy needed, and only a dozen trains a day. Compare the #s with traffic on I-85 and all the other parallel roads."

Dude, I-85 is one of the busiest commuter routes on the entire planet between I-285 & the 316 split. The currently four-lane 316 backs up for miles during morning & evening rush-hours especially with the mulitiple at-grade intersections, many of which are slated to finally be converted to separated-grade crossings & junctions.

Any impact that a parallel rail line can make in taking single-occupant vehicle traffic off the roads is a very welcome one especially during peak periods, but the impact won't be nearly as low as you claim and may be even more significant and impactful than even many proponents think because of the proposed rail line's promixity to five of the state's largest colleges and universities including GSU, GT, Emory, the up-and-coming Georgia Gwinnett College and the state's flagship university in UGA in Athens. Just the imminent heavy use by college-aged students alone has the potential to make a very significant impact not to mention the popularity that the rail line will have on college football gameday Saturdays at GT in Midtown and UGA in Athens and the positive impact on the way people move to and from these places and events of major significance is mind-shattering.

Also, with the pending heavy use of any rail service on the line, there will definitely be more than a dozen trains that will be run on the line, especially if it becomes a double-tracked light-rail for most of or all of the line's length.

The "Brain Train" will take ALOT of vehicle traffic off of I-85, Hwy 316 & Hwy 29...which is why so many developers are lined up behind the thing, they see the overwhelming amount of earning potential that this proposed rail line presents.

Renaldo
Renaldo

Quote from above:
"the proposed “Brain Train” the potential exists to take an unbelieveable amount of single-occupant vehicles off of the roads"

Unbelieveably and insignificantly LOW amount considering the capital cost, operating subsidy needed, and only a dozen trains a day. Compare the #s with traffic on I-85 and all the other parallel roads.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Now you know Jack says:

June 8, 2011 at 11:25 am

"If Atlanta wants to be the next great City, and it does have the potential, then it needs to be looking at futuristic Transportation Systems to incorporate into a regional multi-modal plan."

You are SO beyond correct with that statement!

"With the great Universities in the Atlanta area, where are the smart young people who have the innovation and vision to put Atlanta out in front of the rest of the world?"

Those smart young people have been drowned out by corrupt bureaucratic idiots in places like MARTA, GDOT, the City of Atlanta and under the Gold Dome who benefit greatly from keeping the status quo firmly intact.

Now you know Jack
Now you know Jack

If Atlanta wants to be the next great City, and it does have the potential, then it needs to be looking at futuristic Transportation Systems to incorporate into a regional multi-modal plan. With the great Universities in the Atlanta area, where are the smart young people who have the innovation and vision to put Atlanta out in front of the rest of the world?

Yes, we need to have all the transportation systems as each meets the needs of different elements of the population.

Yes, we need to pay the costs and stop waiting for the Feds to provide money.

Yes, the State Government should fund infrastructure and stop shirking their responsibility.

Build it and they will come. Rail created Atlanta. The #1 Airport in the world sustains Atlanta. What is the next transportation system that will lead Atlanta to the future.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Renaldo says:
June 8, 2011 at 10:17 am

"There is NOTHING glamerous about riding transit!"

"At best it is tolerable especially when it involves a bus-rail-bus/shuttle trip with two transfers to complete a trip. The wait times for the next pickup can exceed the time spent movingt!"

"Also factor in the frquent crowding, occasional abusive co-riders, and other joys of being treated as cattle. Maybe I’m tainted by my use of Marta, but that is the reality for many."

MARTA in its current neglected, underfunded, incompetently-led, not-quite-nearly-as-dependable-as-it-should-be form is NOT the future of mass transit in this town, just as the Georgia Department of Transportation in its current wildly and comically inept would-be-funny-if-it-weren't-so-true state is NOT the future of transportation in this region and state.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Renaldo says:
June 8, 2011 at 8:05 am

"This project is conceived and pushed by developers who want to do a land grab around potential station sites."

A "transportation" project in Metro Atlanta from which developers and land spectulators stand to financially gain?.....Complete SHOCKER! Developers? Land grab? In Atlanta? GET OUTTA HERE!!!!! No way!!!! Your joking, right? Please tell me that your joking with that statement.

Of course the "Brain Train", while not necessarily conceived totally and completely by developers alone, is being pushed by developers who wanna do a land grab around potential station sites if only because they see the immense and exponential ridership potential of the proposed commuter rail/light rail line, ridership potential which is nearly off-the-charts and through the roof.

Heck, darned near EVERY transportation project, ESPECIALLY road projects (Barrett Parkway around Town Center Mall in Cobb, Pleasant Hill Road around Gwinnett Place Mall, Hwy 20 around the Mall of Georgia in Buford, the Hwy 400 toll extension through North Atlanta and Buckhead, Sugarloaf Parkway and Ronald Reagan Parkway are just a few of those land developer-driven road projects in the history of this town), have been driven by developers and land spectulators in Metro Atlanta's post-World War II history as a Sunbelt boomtown, the only difference with this project is that it's a RAIL LINE that will be driving the land spectulation for a change.

"It serves no significant urgent transportation purpose and again will rely on automobile access at both ends to complete any trip."

Sorry, but you are so wrong on that one. The proposed route of the "Brain Train" parallels the heavily-traveled I-85/Hwy 316 and Hwy 29 corridors and will originate from a proposed multimodal transportation near Five Points in Downtown Atlanta and will terminate at a proposed station in Athens that could conceivably be located on the right on or very near the campus of the University of Georgia that many students will be able to walk to.

With the route of the proposed "Brain Train" the potential exists to take an unbelieveable amount of single-occupant vehicles off of the roads in that heavily-populated corridor that includes one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation over the last four decades in the developer-dominated Gwinnett County.

The fact is that you can't stop developers, which are as common as the day and hold overwhelming political sway in fast-growing Metro Atlanta, from being irresistibly drawn to a transportation project of this magitude, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case because of this particular rail line's potential to positively shape this region's future land use patterns for the better.

The reason why a project like the "Brain Train" is so critically important to the future of transportation in Metro Atlanta because it is a rail line that will be so immensely popular that it will forever change land use patterns from sprawling suburban development built to cater only to automobiles to a land use pattern that is centered on and around light rail and commuter rail stations that caters to pedustrians. Residents in other parts of the metro area and region who may be skeptical about investing in commuter and light rail will see the overwhelming popularity of the line and its positive impact and success in guiding land use patterns and wnat those lines like that to run through their area on existing rail infrastructure.

Any project that motivates developers and land spectulators to invest in transit-friendly/pedustrian-friendly development on a walkable scale as opposed to the traditional template of sprawling suburban development with acres of parking, much of which may never be used, will be a very important and very critical turning point in this region's continued evolution.

A change in land use patterns from car-dominated sprawl to walkable density is a must as the current automobile-only centered culture that permeates the Atlanta Region just may very well prove to be unsustainable in the very near future in the face of ridiculously-high and still-rising gas prices, overdependency on automobiles having no choice but to use them to go EVERYWHERE and an interstate network that is burdened to beyond overcapacity during peak times, an interstate network that can't be widened forever.

Renaldo
Renaldo

There is NOTHING glamerous about riding transit!

At best it is tolerable especially when it involves a bus-rail-bus/shuttle trip with two transfers to complete a trip. The wait times for the next pickup can exceed the time spent movingt!

Also factor in the frquent crowding, occasional abusive co-riders, and other joys of being treated as cattle. Maybe I'm tainted by my use of Marta, but that is the reality for many.

Renaldo
Renaldo

The following comment must be a joke:

"The ABSOLUTE BEST place to initiate light rail and commuter rail in Georgia would be the long-proposed “Brain-Train” line that is slated to run from Downtown Atlanta to Athens parallel to U.S. 29 and GA 316 that would connect five of the state’s principal universities in Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory, the up-and-coming Georgia Gwinnett College and the University of Georgia."

This project is conceived and pushed by developers who want to do a land grab around potential station sites. It serves no significant urgent transportation purpose and again will rely on automobile access at both ends to complete any trip.

Mike Schinkel
Mike Schinkel

@John R. Naugle - You make some very great points, but your choice to prefix you rhypotheses with "FACT:" really weakens your comment's credibility, needlessly. Better to make a good argument and let the reader decide if they want to believe it to be fact rather than beat them about the head and neck with it and have them call it into question.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

This approach of trying to operate train and bus service by trying to keep fares as low as possible while leaning heavily on government subsidies has amounted to treating public transportation like an unwanted stepchild that is a service only of last resort.

We don't have to be solely dependent upon inadequate government subsidies from limited taxes and inadequately-priced artifically-low fares as a very poor and inadequate attempt to fund our transportation needs.

User fees, increased fares and sin taxes would be great ways to end the current death-spiral at an agency like MARTA and fund a much-needed expansion of public transportation, but there has to be a vision to increase and expand service and there has to the leadership available to communicate that vision to the public and execute that vision as part of a discipined structured plan.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Sally Flocks says:
June 7, 2011 at 10:25 pm

"Would folks in D.C. be willing to pay $5 each way for a transit trip if daily parking cost just $3 to $5 dollars, as it does in much of downtown Atlanta?"

Actually, yes, they would be willing to pay $5 each way if parking in the District was cheaper (which it's NOT anywhere near cheap, easy, plentiful or convenient in the District of Columbia). Metro Washingtonians would be willing to pay that amount because availability of parking alone is not the only item that factors into their commute and their ability to get around. Other factors that motivate Washingtonians to heavily utilize mass transit is the increased availablity of the high-frequency trains and buses that are a necessity because of the limitations of the overall road network and the very limited amount of bridge crossings over the Potomac River between the District and Virginia and Maryland and Virginia (though Potomac River crossings are still very limited in number and nature despite the elimination of a troublesome drawbridge crossing over the river and the widening of the I-95/495 Capital Beltway to which two HOT lanes are being added in each direction on a roadway that is even more critical to the DC area than I-285 is to Metro Atlanta).

(It should also be noted that when I talk about DC area mass transit I mean different transit agencies like the Metro rail and bus system, the MARC commuter trains into suburban Maryland, the VRE commuter trains into suburban Maryland, the ACELA higher-speed intercity/interstate Amtrak trains along and through the Northeast Corridor form Richmond, VA to Boston, MA)

The crushing amount and volume of exceptionally heavy traffic on that limited road network also serves as a very powerful motivator for Washingtonians to make frequent use of the various modes of transit in the "DMV" (Greater DC-Maryland-Virginia metro area) which is kind of a socioeconomic and cultural "big sister" to Atlanta is many ways that may or may not surprise many Atlantans. Washingtonians, Virginians and Marylanders are more than motivated to ride the rails and the buses into the city when they absolutely know that they ARE going to faced with the prospect of having to navigate through a parking lot on area highways during morning and evening rush hours EVERY workday. Even motorists who may have a guaranteed free or reduced parking spot in the city or at one of the various other employment centers around the region (Tysons Corner, Silver Spring, Crystal City, Arlington, etc) may frequently elect to ride mass transit on certain days just so they don't have to fight the crushingly heavy traffic when possible.

Washington-area commuters are also motivated to lean heavily on mass transit by an era of high gas prices which are hitting everyone everywhere hard, but gas prices in the "DMV" are substantially higher relative to the 7.5 cents-per-gallon we see in Georgia because of the higher gas taxes in DC (23.5 cents-per-gallon), Virginia (17.5 cents-per-gallon, which is still considered inadequate for that heavily-traveled, densely populated corridor) and Maryland (23.5 cents-per-gallon).

"To reform transportation, we need to greatly reduce the amount — and thereby increase the cost — of parking throughout the region. Meeting organizers, dentists, restaurants and others often offer to validate parking. Not once have I heard these people offer a transit pass. Let’s level the playing field."

I kind of (emphasis on "kind of") disagree with you on needing to reduce the amount of parking. We don't necessarily have to increase the attractness of transit by appearing to take away motorists options to park. Actually, we could take the relative abundance of parking and use it to our advantage by, lets say, working with the Atlanta City Council to place a transportation "user fee" on paid parking spaces, lots and garages that would help to fund improvements to mass transit modes like MARTA rail and bus and future commuter rail lines that many of those motorists who pay to park might elect to use as an alternative to having to drive to and from work everyday. Those same "user fees" could also be applied to parking tickets in the city and speeding tickets throughout North Georgia at the regional and state levels as a kind of "sin tax" that would also help to fund regional light rail and commuter rail lines and limited road improvements if desired.

Another idea worth considering is to apply a transportation "user fee" or "sin tax" to DUI/DWI fines as people who may happen to lose the use of their vehicles while being in legal trouble for bad choices would benefit greatly from the increased availability of rapid transit. There are ways of raising revenue other than traditional sales tax increases to increase funding and the attractiveness of mass transit without taking away or appearing to take away people's choices to drive, we just have to use our collective imaginations.

Combine the user fees on paid parking spaces, parking tickets, traffic tickets, DUI fines, other court fines, along with increased adequately-priced transit fares and tolls on future expressways and we just may have a unique and creative way to come up with increased funding for a truly MULTImodal system with comprehensive reach that includes sidewalks, commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, streetcars, buses, bike lanes, bike/jogging/walking paths, cart paths, toll roads, etc without having to appear to raise taxes in an understandably toxic anti-tax/no new taxes political and economic environment.

Increasing transportaton options should be about giving people MORE choices to move around, not about taking them away. I say this as someone who is familar with both sides of the coin in regards to loving trains and mass transit and as someone who works as a courier and is heavily dependent upon my automobile for my livelyhood.

I have to use my vehicle to make deliveries so parking in the city center and/or anywhere else is of a necessity for me personally at times, but when not using my vehicle to work and being out and about, I would LOVE to have the option to use a first-rate mass transit system that is clean, safe, dependable and comprehensive. I would also love to be able to safely walk to the bus and train without being hit or robbed and I'm willing to pay the five dollars or so to have that type of frequent and far-reaching service available.

Because I drive a lot, it would also be to my great benefit for other commuters to have the option of riding trains and buses so that people like me who are dependent upon the roads for a living, would be able to more easily traverse the roads.

Even with a metro population closing in on six-million, there seems to be a continued lack of understanding amongst our political and community about how mass transit works. There seems to be this notion that transit fares have to be as close to free as possible and that transit systems have to be heavily or even solely dependent upon heavy government subsidies from sales taxes.

There seems to be a perception that (sales) taxes are almost the only way to pay for transit and that there can't be progress in operating, maintaining and expanding a system like MARTA until the state chips in to fund it, a perception about funding transit that isn't necessarily true.

Forms of funding like user fees, "sin taxes" and adequately-priced fares shouldn't be discounted in helping to pay for widescale across-the-board improvements to transportation as people will pay substantially higher fares to ride buses and trains so they won't have to always battle this crazy Atlanta traffic. People will also pay higher fares to use mass transit if they know it's dependable, comprehensive, clean and safe, meaning the buses and trains run frequently and to lots of places that people like, want and need to go, that they won't be riding in filth on a bus that stinks and that the transit police will be visible and (hopefully respectfully) vigilant on trains and buses that they'll be riding.

Despite a seeming availability of parking in the city center, Atlantans, like their Mid-Atlantic counterparts will still be very much motivated by crushing traffic jams, high gas prices and painfully long commutes to use mass transit at rates of $3-$5, contrary to the pervasive local misconception that no one will pay more than $1.50 to $2 dollars to ride buses and trains. Metro Atlantans very much want to use properly-placed dependable and comprehensive mass transit, but throughout much of the metro area boarding a bus or train is an option that just does not exist at this time. Atlantans and Georgians will pay to ride it if it is there, but it's not there so they have no choice but to stuck in traffic.

I do fully agree with you on the need for employers and businesses to offer parking passes, but an initiative like that will require lots of education of and outreach to our local, state and regional political leaders on the part of transportation advocates like yourself and transportation agencies like MARTA and GRTA.

By the way, Ms. Flocks, I'm somewhat familar and somewhat of a fan and supported of the work that you've done with the group P.E.D.S. I really appreciate the work that you've done as an advocate for pedustrians. Atlanta is still a very unsafe city for pedustrians but it has improved ALOT from years' past when it was like the Wild, Wild, Very WILD West for anyone trying to cross a busy street. This town still has miles to go when it comes to pedustrian safety and driver and political awareness of pedustrians but there has definitely been a noticeable difference from years past.

Sally Flocks
Sally Flocks

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights says "the D.C. Metro proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that people WILL definitely pay $5.00 to utilize a transit system in droves if the system is dependable, comprehensive, clean and safe."

Would folks in D.C. be willing to pay $5 each way for a transit trip if daily parking cost just $3 to $5 dollars, as it does in much of downtown Atlanta? To reform transportation, we need to greatly reduce the amount -- and thereby increase the cost -- of parking throughout the region. Meeting organizers, dentists, restaurants and others often offer to validate parking. Not once have I heard these people offer a transit pass. Let's level the playing field.

Jerry Royal
Jerry Royal

I'm hopeful,Maria,that your Report will give some emphasis to the arts-specifically museums in the Atlanta area other than the High Museum.A recent trip to the beautiful and well-organized Columbus Museum whose motto is "always changing,always free"mirrors what the High could become with sufficient motivation and involvement by additional individuals perhaps not now involved.The museums at Emory and Oglethorpe and Fernbank are wonderful but under-funded,publicized and patronized in part because of a lack of publicity.The Georgia Museum of Art in Athens is another beloved museum of excellence whose exhibitons would be a fit topic of your newslatter.Please keep all these art institutions in mind as you publish your newsletter.Art lovers all over Georgia will read your newsletter if art information is regularly provided to the readers.All kinds of folks in all kinds of businesses love art and love to read about it;so reaching out to art lovers is practical.Until very recently,AJC did a poor job of covering the arts.Their coverage has improved lately but not overwhelmingly.Good luck in your new undertaking.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Bruce Emory says:
June 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm

"MARTA has had to reduce service because the 50% of sales tax available for operations hasn’t been sufficient to operate everything that it has built. For the last ten years MARTA has not been able to fund any major expansion, because the 50% “capital” portion of the sales tax is fully committed to debt service, and to maintaining the existing system in good repair."

People always seem to cite the 50% capital portion of the sales tax as a reason why the system hasn't been able to fund further expansion, but when you think about it that 50% of the sales tax dedicated to capital expenditures by law is NOT really the reason that MARTA hasn't been able to fund any significant expansion since the lead-up to the Olympics, nor has the inability to expand been because of no funding from the state despite being a challenge, at least on the surface.

The reason that MARTA has not been able to fund a major expansion of service is because its fares have been too low for a system in its unique situation. The Metro rail and bus system in Washington D.C. has fares as high as $5.00 one-way at rush hour to board the system.

That's right, the D.C. Metro has fares as high as $5.00 one-way while Atlanta's MARTA has strived to keep its fares artifically low during much of its history despite not receiving any funding from the state and a pressing need for the system to expand it geographical footprint so as to take some of the single-passenger vehicles off of the road to help relieve Atlanta's notorious traffic problems.

I know that people will say that no one is gonna pay $5.00 to ride a train or bus which is hogwash as the D.C. Metro proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that people WILL definitely pay $5.00 to utilize a transit system in droves if the system is dependable, comprehensive, clean and safe (D.C. Metro transit police have a reputation for being very vigilant on crime and even littering and eating on buses as it is very well commonly known that you do NOT wanna be caught eating on a Metro train or bus by the transit cops who are very strict on both the small and major offenses as the Metro is seen as a very major cog and very critical mode of of getting around in the roadway and parking-challenged D.C. Metro area).

We could at least be a little farther along in the reach of mass transit in Metro Atlanta and maybe even North Georgia if we were just a little more realistic about charging more adequate-priced fares to fund bus and rail instead of trying to depress fares and sitting around waiting for increased regional and state funding to come in the form of increased sales and gas taxes which just isn't happening anytime soon or in this lifetime. It is conceivable that mass transit could get an assist from tax increases at the regional or state level, but it's something that is not likely to ever happen, especially in this sagging Tea Party-dominated anti-tax economic and political environment.

Because of the lack of support from the region and the state, an agency like MARTA has to be able recoup most of its operating revenues from the fare box (not to mention sales of longer-term passes which can include discounts for the elderly, students, the handicapped and frequent riders), though user fees and other forms of creative financing. Most importantly there needs to be the leadership and creative talent to be able to obtain that creative financing.

Since obtaining more revenue through increased taxes is not a real option in this economic and political environment, thought should be given to obtain more revenue for operations and expansion through parking fees and citations, traffic citations and of course increased fares and user fees within the system.

The reality is that transit systems need money to operate. Riders can pay the adequately-priced fares of up to $5.00 and get more and better service or they can pay $2.00 and keep getting the continuously decreasing level of bare bones service that is an embarrassment to a city of Atlanta's size and stature. What's really embarrassing is that the level of service for MARTA has dramatically decreased from the system's peak in the mid 90's Olympic-era period when the system was regarded as one of the top urban mass transit systems in North America down to the point where MARTA is now regared as one of the lower ranked rail and bus systems for dependability because of repeated cuts in service that have negatively affected MARTA's image and reputation.

The city went from having a highly-regarded mass transit system to now just having a "system". Now tell me how that keeping-fares-low-while-waiting-for-state-and-regional-funding-that's-never-coming-in-this-lifetime thing is working out?

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

The place where BRT (bus rapid transit) or heavy express bus service would the absolute most effective would be the I-20 East corridor between Downtown and Covington. There have been many discussions about constructing a either a heavy rail, light rail or commuter rail line down the middle of I-20, but heavy bus service in the form of either BRT or commuter buses would be the most effective at taking cars off of a roadway that is WAY over capacity during peak hours at much less cost than trying to retrofit that right-of-way with a rail line.

The existing CSX line that runs east out of Downtown Atlanta along Dekalb Avenue through Decatur, Avondale Estates, Scottdale, Clarkston, Stone Mountain, Redan, Lithonia and Conyers on the way out to at least Covington and beyond would be the best option for a future commuter rail line out that way.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Bruce, Sally:

Well, of course we can't run rail EVERYWHERE (like to aging suburban shopping centers surrounded by acres and acres of blacktop for the increasingly outdated model of ample surface parking at places like oh, let's say, Gwinnett Place Mall or Southlake Mall, etc). Future rail lines should be planned and considered carefully so as to run in only the most densely-populated corridors where the ridership will be the highest and the greatest impact will be made on development patterns (encouraging more-walkable transit-friendly development) and commuting patterns (in heavily-traveled corridors parallel to major roadways like I-75. I-85, etc).

Two potential rail projects that really concern me are light rail lines proposed to run directly to the aforementioned suburban shopping malls via busy roads with low-density automobile-centered development as opposed to utilizing the existing rail infrastructure that runs parallel close by in the same general transportation corridor.

A light rail line proposed to connect Cumberland Mall with Town Center Mall in Cobb along sprawl-friendly U.S. 41/Cobb Parkway seems to show a lack of understanding about how rail transit should be best utilized especially with limited funding especially with the existing CSX and Georgia Northeastern rail lines running directly through a densely-populated corridor that connects historical walkable town centers in Vinings, Smyrna, Marietta, Kennesaw, Acworth, Woodstock, Holly Springs, Canton, etc. The CSX and Georgia Northeastern rail lines are ripe for the transit-friendly and walkable development that would accompany the commuter and light rail lines that would be perfect for that existing rail corridor.

Another possible future light rail project that is somewhat concerning is the line proposed to run through Western Gwinnett starting at the Doraville MARTA station and connecting Gwinnett Place Mall, and the Gwinnett Civic and Cultural Center campus complex (Gwinnett Arena, etc) in the Sugarloaf area. The proposed Gwinnett light rail line isn't nearly as questionable as the proposed light rail line along Cobb Parkway, but is still concerning in that it is planned to connect sprawling car-friendly locations with acres of parking, locations that might be better served by bus lines instead of a more costly light rail line that might be best for an existing rail corridor like the Southern Railway line that runs parallel to I-85 through historical town centers in Norcross, Duluth, Suwanee, Buford and Flowery Branch up through Gainesville.

The ABSOLUTE BEST place to initiate light rail and commuter rail in Georgia would be the long-proposed "Brain-Train" line that is slated to run from Downtown Atlanta to Athens parallel to U.S. 29 and GA 316 that would connect five of the state's principal universities in Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory, the up-and-coming Georgia Gwinnett College and the University of Georgia. This line has the potential to prove to be so immensely overwhelmingly popular with commuters that it could very serve as the template and the explosive spark to get commuter rail and light rail up and running and make it more desirable and popular along other major ground transportation corridors within other parts of the state.

We've got all this existing rail infrastructure running through and parallel corridors that is perfect for running future commuter and light rail lines so why should we even realy bother buying new right-of-way to run rails through areas of sprawling automobile oriented and dominated development where it may not be the most compatible where buses may be the most effective, which is the whole point of having a truly MULTImodal transportation system that is not overly dependent or solely dependent upon only one form of transportation as we are overly and solely dependent on the automobile in the Atlanta Region.

Bruce and Sally's comments reflect the importance of making sure that new rail lines are correctly placed in the right corridors and that we must take great care to make sure that rail is done right the first time so as to increase the appeal of rail to a skeptical public that wants to see its precious tax dollars spent wisely in the places where they can get the most bang for their buck.

Bus can be a great compilment to rail in a transit system where bus lines (and streetcar lines on heavily-traveled corridors like Buford Highway) feed directly into heavy rail and light rail lines that make up the backbone of the overall system.

Sally Flocks
Sally Flocks

As someone who has been transit-dependent most of my adult life, I strongly agree with Bruce that Atlanta needs both bus and rail. Without that, people will continue to find that our transit system doesn't go to places they need to get to. Rail seems much less appropriate on the interstate than when located adjacent to land that can be redeveloped in ways that enable people to walk to transit and other destinations.

Bruce Emory
Bruce Emory

While I strongly support using most of the potential $8 billion for transit, I think Atlanta should be cautious about putting too much emphasis on rail transit as opposed to bus, including bus rapid transit (BRT). MARTA has had to reduce service because the 50% of sales tax available for operations hasn’t been sufficient to operate everything that it has built. For the last ten years MARTA has not been able to fund any major expansion, because the 50% “capital” portion of the sales tax is fully committed to debt service, and to maintaining the existing system in good repair.

Lind and other rail advocates use statistics that show that rail costs less to operate than bus. But these figures are often misleading. They are generally apples and oranges comparisons. Since rail is built in high-demand corridors, while bus typically serves lower-density corridors, it is not surprising that aggregate unit costs for rail are generally lower. MARTA’s figures for rail vs. bus operations are also misleading because they only include the operating budget. A more accurate analysis of overall costs would also include the “capital” budget, most of which goes to keeping the rail system in good shape. For a specific corridor, the life cycle costs of BRT are usually less than for rail. This would almost certainly be true for the suburban corridors in Atlanta where rail expansion is being considered. Choosing BRT versus rail for corridors such as I-285 North, I-20 East, Northwest, and even the Beltline would allow the $8 billion to cover more miles of transit construction, and would result in lower future operating and maintenance costs. BRT also has the advantage of reducing the need to transfer, and is more suitable for incremental development.

Renaldo
Renaldo

Extensive research and development has gone into defining the ideal transit system:
Seats should be available for all riders with no standing crush loads,
Routes should be available in my neighborhood AND get me close to work,
Available for both work and other trips desired,
Relatively affordable, and
Available 24/7!

Oh wait, it's called an automobile!

Rob Augustine
Rob Augustine

Excellent article and comments.

The rationale for rail is well set out in Lind's statements. Rail is a desirable mode of transit. It enhances economic development. It is the smart way for the Atlanta Region to proceed. And perhaps the only way for it to succeed.

As a long time resident, I remember how downtown was and how it was possible to ride the streetcars to work, shopping and entertainment. We need to link our region in this fashion, as Lind points out, for a number of very good reasons. Let us heed the call of Pericles!

John R. Naugle
John R. Naugle

FACT: Atlanta is currently known nationally, at best, as 'capital of the south' (which is not too shabby because the south is 10 states big and 80 million people). However IF we are smart, then Atlanta can become a global beacon of hope by showing other cities, nationally and internationally, HOW to develop transit alternatives and to lessen dependence upon cars and roads.

FACT: For ANY major city on Earth, like Atlanta, to seize the future it must lessen its addiction to autos, plus the widening and lengthening of roads. Alternatives for transit and getting to work must be developed and supported.

FACT: The maximum rate of global petroleum extraction has supposedly been reached already, and now the rate of production has entered into a terminal period of decline (humanity has reached ‘Peak Oil’).

FACT: India, the world's biggest democracy, is now being Americanized. Their population of 1,155,347,678 (billion) wants autos too.

FACT: China, the world's most populated nation, is now being Americanized. Their population of 1,331,460,000 (billion) wants autos too. [A digressive point: Did you know that over 40% of China's pollution is cause from producing products exported to the USA?]

FACT: The future for Atlanta and other major cities of the world is BLEAK because millions more will want declining supplies of oil and gas.

FACT: Did you know that Atlanta sets one of the world's worst examples on Earth for the number of commuter miles driven daily. Metro-Atlanta citizens drive over 111 million commuter miles PER DAY (it's written on the top of every emission's report that car owners receive). 111+ million commuter miles daily is greater than the distance between the Earth and the Sun... daily! What will the future hold for Atlanta and their addiction to autos and roads?

FACT: City and state leaders seem to have a penchant for ignoring the development of alternative transit and work options. They seem to think that the widening and lengthening of roads is a solution when cost and capacity have been mostly reached already.

FACT: With development of alternative-transit options mostly stagnant, plus car ownership and gas prices accelerating, plus road-capacity and world oil reserves diminishing then metro-Atlanta and the other major cities of the USA and world will eventually be confronted with:
"The End of Suburbia"
http://youtu.be/Q3uvzcY2Xug

FACT: Did you know that metro Atlanta is complicit in the suffering of its citizens, and also those of the world because of our addiction to cars and roads?

FACT: Did you know that there is a statistical preponderance of abuse (child, wife, husband, pets) in the suburbs because of the escalating stress (and expense) caused by long commutes to and from jobs [note: I once worked for a professional photo processor and the sheriff’s department was a client. Tragically, I have seen crime scene photos of beaten, bloody and dead babies, wives, husbands and pets]

FACT: It was recently reported that by the end Summer 2011 that gasoline prices may climb to around $5/gallon which will severely strain the limited budgets of most commuters, plus result in more abuse (to children, wives, husbands, and pets).

FACT: For metro Atlanta to seize the future and set an inspiring global example it must return to supporting and developing all transit options/alternatives (except those supporting autos and roads).

FACT: Even if cars and fuel were FREE-for-Life, would that be an answer? No. Major cities like metro Atlanta have reached capacity. Citizens have grown very weary of having to waste time, money and health sitting in traffic. They want, need and deserve their elected officials to support and provide powerful transit options... and the sooner the better.

In closing, Pericles, Mayor of Athens, Greece was born 2,500+ years ago and is referred to as "History's most productive mayor." This quote by Pericles reminds me of Atlanta's precarious circumstances and also its great possibilities:
"All things good on this Earth
flow into the City,
because of the City's greatness.
Well, we were great once.
Can we not be great again?"

Carol Brantley
Carol Brantley

Surely some conservative, somewhere, rides a bus. Although I am glad to see this focus on sensible solutions to transportation problems, I have to wonder about some of the claims. A "...town in Wisconsin was able to build a 2.5 mile long streetcar line at $6 million while a 2.5 mile streetcar line in Tucson cost $180 million..." sounds like a job for PolitiFact. I suspect there is more to this. Or maybe less. But OK, the overall point....great.

MB
MB

Hey, Maria. I like your blogs because I always learn something new. I am not a conservative, but some of my best friends are! I'll forward this in hopes they'll learn something new as well. We'll see....

Cheers,
The "Other Maria"

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off
Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off

Thank you very, very, VERY MUCH , Maria, for acknowledging that there has to be a very concerted effort to make a big outreach to Conservatives in the push for rail transit. This is a great article/blog entry all the way around, especially in how Mr. Lind talks about that rail advocates have to have the right vocabulary and be able to talk to Conservatives in their language when making the case for critically important investments in rail transit.

Great, no, excellent, no, EXCEPTIONAL timing with this article, Maria as the campaign for the transportation vote in 2012 ramps up and the case is made to Atlanta Region voters for infrastructure investment.

Everything that Mr. Lind said is this article is so timely and relevant to the process that Metro Atlanta is going through with regards to transportation right now. How Mr. Lind points out that heavy subsidies of roads killed off urban rail and streetcar systems that vitalized and brought vibrancy to our urban centers and neighborhoods, how we can't pave our way out of congestion, how Metro Atlanta needs to invest in commuter rail, how overdependence on the automobile and the automobile-driven, sprawl-dominated way of life has led to overdependence on foreign oil and jeopardized our national security, how buses are seen as being only for the transit-dependent and are a turn-off to potential riders but how rail transit like trolleys and streetcars appeal to a broader demographic of middle and upper-class users who will ride the rails if they are there.

This article is just a gold mine or rational arguments in favor of increasing investment in rail transit. Of very great importance to the upcoming transportation sales tax was how Mr. Lind recommended that the vote be held during the general election so as to attract a broader range of voter from center-right to moderate to center-left and farther left instead of just the anti-tax and anti-transit only constituencies that will likely be the only groups to turn out for a vote during the July primary. I really like how Mr. Lind noted that it was important to run a campaign that would appeal across a broad swath of the poltical spectrum, how it is important to appeal to BOTH intown liberals in places like Fulton and DeKalb and OTP suburban conservatives in the other eight outlying counties.

I can't tell you enough how much this is great stuff. To get a conservative like Mr. Lind who has a working intimate knowledge of the transportation issue and is himself a staunch advocate for rail on the side of rail, transit and density advocates is a major coup.

While I completely agree with Mr. Lind that public/taxpayer subsidies in rail as just as important as they are for roads, it should be noted that future investment in road transportation shouldn't be completely dropped from the equation either, though the complete focus on road transportation has been and will continue to be increasingly shortsighted as road congestion becomes unbearable and gas continues to rise and become less and less affordable.

Transportation systems should be MULTImodal and fully utilize roads, rail, buses, bike paths, walking paths, etc. While increased and proper government funding of transit and automobile alternatives would be desirable we cannot give short-thrift to the role that USER FEES must play in getting these MULTImodal systems off the ground, up-and-running and fully operational.

We can sit around waiting for a new road or transit line to never be built with higher taxes or we can elect to pay the toll, the fares and the user fees that will get us that much-needed expressway, commuter rail, light rail and streetcar line much quicker. And NO, sitting around and begging a nearly-bankrupt federal government for funding isn't the answer either.

We are fully capable of taking out bonds to build a new expressway or rail line and paying back the bonds with the adequately-priced tolls and fares collected from those facilities. It's NOT rocket-science, although many of our elected and bureaucratic do seem to think it is.

juanita driggs
juanita driggs

No doubt the ghost of Paul Weiyrich, the alpha conservative rail visionary, is smiling down from up above.

Jock Ellis
Jock Ellis

Lind brings up a really important point in that governments make things too expensive. If Norfolk Southern were building such a system and hoped to make money, the true railroader would not build it like a consultant, who gets a percentage, or a politician who gets to stand in front of an impressive but useless terminal building for a photo op would hope for.

James R. Oxendine
James R. Oxendine

These are some excellent points and well worth serious consideration as the process tolls.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] says next year’s timing of a metro area vote on a transportation sales tax could be improved. From Maria Saporta and the Saporta Report: Lind …advised metro Atlanta leaders the referendum would have the best chance to pass if it were [...]

  2. [...] Click here to continue reading. Filed under: News — garail @ 1:58 pm Comments (0) [...]