Public Transport Survey Finds MARTA Safe, Reliable Alternative to Cars

By Jennifer Jinadu-Wright

Jennifer Jinadu-Wright, Director of Marketing, MARTA

Jennifer Jinadu-Wright, Director of Marketing, MARTA

The past few years have been transformative for MARTA. The agency is on a much stronger financial footing, rail and bus service is more frequent and more people are riding the system.

Recently, MARTA used an independent research firm to conduct a market survey to better understand our customers and identify opportunities to grow our ridership.

Our findings reaffirmed that we should continue to make the case that public transit is a safe, reliable and convenient alternative to the automobile. Research shows that MARTA has an opportunity to:

  • Increase awareness of where the system goes, both region-wide and at the local level. Many potential customers don’t know if there is a stop or station near where they live, work, or travel for personal business.
  • Use MARTA rail as an introductory point to the system; potential riders are far more likely to try rail first.
  • Increase awareness of the value of MARTA – which is a flat fare system that costs $2.50 to ride (and $1 for a Breeze card) with free transfers.
  • Increase participation among area employers in the Employer Partnership Program, targeting those with their workers who are the most likely to ride.
  • Promote MARTA’s safety and low-crime rate, particularly among non-riders.
  • Improve customer service through better employee training

The population within MARTA’s service area has been segmented into four categories – primary riders, secondary riders, potential riders and no potentials. Millenials are especially keen on riding MARTA and find it a good value compared to driving.

Of those surveyed, rail is the preferred public transit mode. Even so, MARTA is committed to making bus service a more attractive transportation option. MARTA’s Planning department is putting the final touches on the Comprehensive Operational Analysis, an in-depth reworking of our existing bus routes to make them more efficient, effective and customer friendly.

Expect to see and hear more advertisements in the next few weeks encouraging you to give MARTA a try, especially for trips to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. A recent survey ranked Hartsfield-Jackson as the tops in the nation for transit accessibility because of the direct connection to the main terminal gates that MARTA provides.

The Midtown Alliance has named June “Try Transit” month and is encouraging individuals who live or work in Midtown to put down the car keys and pick up a MARTA Breeze card or commute with one of our transit partners: Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Xpress buses, Cobb Community Transit or Gwinnett County Transit.

Use MARTA’s MyCommute trip planner or check Google Maps to find the closest MARTA bus stop or rail station near you. Ensure you’ll have a stress-free trip by downloading our “On the Go” mobile app to get real-time train and bus arrivals. Also, don’t forget to check out our new video and let us know what you think MARTA should be doing to grow its ridership.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

4 Takeaways from Development Day

Conor Sen headshot

Conor Sen is a portfolio manager with interests in demographics, media, technology and Atlanta’s urban development.

By Conor Sen

I spent most of this morning at the 3rd annual MARTA Development Day, a forum for MARTA officials to talk to real estate developers about the progress the system is making, and to facilitate the development of land around transit stations.

4 Takeaways:

1) A new boldness from MARTA CEO Keith Parker and MARTA Chairman Robert Ashe. An old boss liked to say when things were going well that he had the leverage to “play offense.” I attended the State of MARTA address a few months ago and at that meeting Parker/Ashe said that their goals were to remove all legitimate obstacles from the state or other higher government bodies investing in the expansion of MARTA and they believed they had done that. The tone at that meeting was one you might find from a team making a presentation on Shark Tank, where the presenters know that ultimately the individuals on the other side of the room were the ones in control. This morning the tone was different. They spoke with the boldness and the forcefulness of a team that knows it’s done its job and wants to act now. It was heartening to see.

2) Walkable development will be the predominant form of real estate development in this country for the next 20-30 years. Well-known urbanist Chris Leinberger’s presentation was a highlight of the event. He compared Atlanta not to DC but to Boston, saying that the Boston built environment is a direction metro Atlanta appears to be headed towards. Over the past 30 years Boston has gone from a Route 128-focused development cycle to one focused on core Boston around the T and Boston’s universities. The region is still 90-95% suburban/car-centric, but most new real estate development is happening in walkable areas. Real estate in walkable areas carries roughly a 100% premium over non-walkable areas, which is the market saying “to build more of this stuff.” Even in a boom year the built environment only grows by around 2%. Even if the walkable share of metro Atlanta only grows to around 5-10% of the total built environment like in Boston, it will take many, many years of walkable growth to catch up with demand.

3) Gross tax revenues of walkable areas are up to 12x those of non-walkable areas. I’ve mused on this on Twitter a bit in the past, saying that the economic efficiencies gained in walkable places should appeal to the fiscal desires of conservatives, but had never seen the data before. In metro Atlanta we’re seeing in areas as diverse as Cobb County with the new Braves stadium, in Alpharetta, in Johns Creek, in Duluth, in Roswell, in Sandy Springs, and in Dunwoody, hardly the bastion of progressive hipsters, that walkable places are important both because they attract Millennials and because their tax bases are too reliant on suburban residential and not enough on commercial. There’s a need to rebalance the tax base to support the needs of aging infrastructure and aging residents. Younger homeowners want walkability as an amenity and older city leaders need a more balanced tax base which can be brought about by incorporating walkability, so even though the values of the two constituencies may differ their incentives are surprisingly aligned.

4) Financing new forms of walkable developments remains challenging. Everybody wants to build grocery-anchored mixed use developments capped with a ton of luxury apartments. But just because that’s what developers want to build and investors want to finance doesn’t mean that’s capturing all or even most of what needs to be built. But non-traditional walkable developments don’t fit into existing financing models very well, and as a result financing them has up to now been somewhat difficult. This will surely work itself out over time, but for now it’s holding back the creation of more walkable places.

Conor Sen is a portfolio manager at New River Investments. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MARTA to Announce New Transit-Oriented Developments


At its third annual Development Day, MARTA will announce the achievement of a goal established by GM/CEO Keith T. Parker in 2013 to have five Transit-Oriented Developments underway within two years. MARTA’s Office of Transit-Oriented Development and Real Estate, led by Senior Director Amanda Rhein, will update attendees on the agency’s TOD progress and announce the next two TOD opportunities. Attendees will also hear remarks from Parker and MARTA Board Chairman Robert L. Ashe III.

Projects underway include the Avondale, Brookhaven/Oglethorpe, Chamblee, Edgewood/Candler Park and King Memorial stations.

The event will feature a keynote presentation from Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute and coined the urbanism term “walk-ups,” an industry term to define pedestrian access.

Leinberger’s keynote, “How TOD is Meeting the Demand for Urban, Walkable Places” will address the long-term, regional impact of MARTA’s TOD program. Columbia Ventures, a MARTA TOD partner and mixed-use developer, will follow with a presentation on a TOD financing case study.

All speakers will be available for media interviews following the event. Register to attend: Follow the event hashtag using #MARTADevDay.

2015 Development Day

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stand Up for Transportation Day

By Lyle Harris

Lyle V. Harris, Chief Spokesperson, MARTA

By Lyle V. Harris, Chief Spokesperson, MARTA

The federal Highway Trust Fund authorization legislation is set to expire in less than eight weeks. To make matters worse, the fund will be bankrupt by the end of August. Time and time again, Congress has passed short-term funding measures, hampering state and regional transportation agencies ability to finance and implement big-ticket infrastructure projects.

At 11 a.m., Thursday, April 9 at the Five Points station Amphitheatre, join Keith T. Parker, MARTA CEO; Luz Borrero, DeKalb County Deputy COO; Doug Hooker, Atlanta Regional Commission Executive Directory; Stacey Key, Georgia Department of Transportation Board Member for Stand Up for Transportation Day.

The event will feature opening remarks from the Honorable David Scott, Congressman for Georgia’s 13th District and community thought leaders in an interactive conversation about the importance of investing in transportation infrastructure.

Stand Up for Transportation Day will be a local day for national education and outreach to the public and our elected officials. Our goal is to raise awareness for the nation’s long-term transportation infrastructure funding plight.

Help send a message to Congress that the expansion, maintenance and upkeep of our public transit, roads and bridges need to be dealt with now and we need long-term investment in our aging infrastructure.

Active on social media? Help make this event a trending topic across the country by using #SU4T.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MARTA, U.S. Small Business Administration Ink Strategic Alliance

By Lyle V. Harris

MARTA signed a Strategic Alliance Memorandum with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help start, maintain and expand small businesses in Georgia. SBA Regional Administrator Cassius Butts joined MARTA GM/CEO Keith T. Parker on March 3 for an official signing ceremony and small business networking event at the transit agency’s headquarters in Atlanta.

Pictured L-R: SBA Regional Administrator Cassius Butts and MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker sign the agreement while Terri Denison, SBA Georgia District Director and Ferdinand Risco, Executive Director, MARTA Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity stand and witness the occasion.

Pictured L-R: SBA Regional Administrator Cassius Butts and MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker sign the agreement while Terri Denison, SBA Georgia District Director and Ferdinand Risco, Executive Director, MARTA Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity stand and witness the occasion.

Through its Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, led by Executive Director Ferdinand L. Risco, MARTA works hand-in-hand with the SBA’s Georgia District Director Terri L. Denison, other government partners, local chambers of commerce and business organizations to cultivate business development opportunities for Georgia companies. MARTA, the ninth largest public transit system in the country, provides an estimated $2.6 billion economic impact to the state’s economy.

In his remarks, MARTA GM/CEO Keith T. Parker predicted the next few years will be critical to the agency’s growth and success. On March 21, MARTA will begin service in Clayton County, marking its first jurisdictional expansion since its inception more than four decades ago.

“As the economy continues to improve, more residents and visitors are choosing MARTA. We’ve made ridership gains and, with more customers, comes the need for more investment in the system,” said Parker.

“With that in mind, in December, we announced MARTA is boosting its commitment to small and disadvantaged businesses,” he continued. “Now, projects using federal dollars will require 30 percent participation from disadvantaged business enterprises through 2017.”


MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker welcomes attendees to the signing ceremony. Photo credit: MARTA

MARTA GM/CEO Keith Parker welcomes attendees to the signing ceremony.
Photo credit: MARTA

“It is a true honor to sign this historic Strategic Alliance Memorandum with MARTA. This living document will allow our organizations to reach more small businesses that are looking for greater opportunities. Relationships such as this are critical for the growth of our small business community. We are both committed to growing the economy, adding jobs, and helping to make Metropolitan Atlanta a place where small businesses will thrive,” said Cassius F. Butts, Regional Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration.

Prior to the signing ceremony, staff from the Small Business Administration’s Georgia office participated in a meet and greet with local small business owners. Other organizations represented included the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, the Atlanta Business League and the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.

Local entrepreneurs engage with SBA staff prior to the signing ceremony. Photo credit: MARTA

Local entrepreneurs engage with SBA staff prior to the signing ceremony.
Photo credit: MARTA

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MARTA Counts Down Clayton County Bus Launch

Exactly one week before MARTA’s first jurisdictional expansion since its inception, the agency invited Clayton County residents to a ribbon-cutting ceremony and Meet MARTA Day at the Riverdale Town Center. The event included remarks from U.S. Congressman David Scott, Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeffrey E. Turner, Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, MARTA Board Chairman Robert L. Ashe III and GM/CEO Keith T. Parker.

MARTA motorcade rolls into Clayton County for a pre-launch event in advance of March 21 bus service.  Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

MARTA motorcade rolls into Clayton County for a pre-launch event in advance of March 21 bus service. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

The festivities kicked off with a 14-vehicle motorcade along MARTA Bus Route 196, one of three routes that will commence March 21.

In addition to the special guests and local elected officials, Clayton County community leaders attended the standing room only event as well as residents and MARTA staff.

In his remarks, U.S. Congressman David Scott (D-GA 13th District) praised the residents of Clayton County, his constituents, for overwhelmingly supporting the Nov. 2014 MARTA ballot measure. Rep. Scott has long been a champion of public transit and endorsed a 2010 nonbinding referendum for Clayton County to join MARTA.

He pledged to push for federal support of a commuter rail service and said, “This MARTA partnership will be an economic magnet for Clayton County.”

Congressman David Scott addresses crowd at event marking the launch of bus service in Clayton County. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

Congressman David Scott addresses crowd at event marking the launch of bus service in Clayton County. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

In Nov. 2014 Clayton County residents voted by a three to one margin to join MARTA.

MARTA Congressman from Planning and Customer Service were on hand to provide trip assistance for soon-to-be MARTA customers residing in Clayton County.

The three inaugural bus routes will feed into MARTA rail stations, providing free, seamless transfers to rail service in Fulton and DeKalb counties. Before the year’s end, MARTA will provide eight local bus routes and two flex bus circulators.

Parker pledged, “Once the buses start rolling, we will keep listening to our customers and make the necessary tweaks and changes to ensure our customers get the very best ridership experience possible.”

A Clayton County resident poses questions to a MARTA Congressman about new bus routes. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

A Clayton County resident poses questions to a MARTA Congressman about new bus routes. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

Members of the MARTA Police Department were on hand to introduce themselves to Clayton County residents. MARTA is working closely with local law enforcement partners to ensure the safety and security of its customers. The agency will open a mini-police precinct in the county and has assigned 13 officers to monitor Clayton County bus routes.

Local elected officials, community activists and members of MARTA’s Board of Directors cut the celebratory ribbon in front of a new MARTA bus.

“I’m from Atlanta and grew up riding MARTA,” said Ashe, the Board Chairman. “Four months after the November referendum, I am still overwhelmed by the vote that left no doubt in anyone’s mind that MARTA is needed in Clayton County and is here to stay. This is a watershed event for MARTA, for Clayton County and for metro Atlanta.”

MARTA and Clayton County Police Officers talk to local high school students. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

MARTA and Clayton County Police Officers talk to local high school students. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

Dignitaries cut the ribbon to celebrate the upcoming launch of MARTA service into Clayton County. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

Dignitaries cut the ribbon to celebrate the upcoming launch of MARTA service into Clayton County. Photo credit: Adam Shumaker

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New MARTA Bus Loop at H.E. Holmes Station

From new escalators to new roofs, MARTA is hard at work upgrading the Authority’s numerous rail stations to improve the customer experience and to keep the system looking as good as new.

One recent project involved the demolition and replacement of the entire H.E. Holmes bus loop. After decades of use, parts of the busway were severely damaged and had become a safety concern.  MARTA’s Job Order Contracting (JOC) team, tasked with implementing time-sensitive construction projects, was called in to bring the station back to its former glory.

We appreciate the patience of our customers during this renovation and hope you are enjoying the new and improved bus loop. More station improvements are to come, including the complete resurfacing of the Oakland City station platform.

H.E. Holmes Station Bus Loop Before Renovations

Photo credit: MARTA Before: Pictured is the original bus loop from when the station first opened in 1979 as the Hightower MARTA station. It was later renamed to honor Hamilton E. Holmes, a Civil Rights hero.


Photo Credit: MARTA After: The new bus loop has been repaved with concrete able to withstand the continuous pressure from 30,000-pound buses driving on it daily.

Photo Credit: MARTA
After: The new bus loop has been repaved with concrete able to withstand the continuous pressure from 30,000-pound buses driving on it daily.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Transit Safety A Priority

By Reginald Mason

Reginald Mason serves as MARTA's Assistant General Manager of Safety and Quality Assurance.

Reginald Mason serves as MARTA’s Assistant General Manager of Safety and Quality Assurance.

Spend just a few minutes on metro Atlanta’s thoroughfares and in short order you’ll experience the angst and frustration of driving through traffic. In a matter of weeks, we’ve heard of a handful of tragic automobile accidents that have snarled traffic and resulted in the loss of lives due to drivers not knowing the best practices for safely navigating the Interstate immediately after an accident.

New research from the Journal of Public Transportation shows taking public transit is significantly safer than commuting by car; rail transit is approximately 30 times safer than driving and riding a bus is 60 times safer. Through proactive management, MARTA continues to be one of the safest transit systems in the country and serves as a reliable, stress-free alternative to gripping your car’s steering wheel.

Rail Map33x33-2015eTo gain a deeper understanding of how best to communicate critical safety messages, MARTA recently posted its draft safety posters on social media for public comment and received a host of suggestions that will be incorporated into the final version.

As with any public place such as the Interstate, city street, an airplane or a MARTA train, it is always helpful to understand how to navigate an unexpected emergency.

Remember these tips to safely ride MARTA:

  • Stand behind the gray, textured safety edge while waiting for a train.
  • Never lean against the train doors.
  • Use the handrails to steady yourself while the train is in motion and when boarding and exiting the train.
  • If a person falls on the tracks as a train is approaching, instruct them to immediately move to the overhang under the edge of the platform. There is enough space to take refuge and avoid making contact with the train. Do not jump down on the tracks in an attempt to save them.
  • Never place or throw anything on the rail tracks. This may cause a train to derail and potentially cause an injury.
  • Do not run after or alongside a bus to get it to stop. Operators turn their attention to the road and traffic once the bus is moving.
  • Do not stand in front of the yellow line. The area between the operator and the front door must always be kept clear to provide bus operators with as much visibility as possible.
  • Before getting on an elevator always make sure that the elevator is level with the floor.
  • If the elevator stops between floors, push the alarm button, or use the elevator’s telephone or intercom to call for help. Then wait for assistance.

When using the escalator, always stand to the right and walk to the left.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MARTA TOD Making Strides

Amanda Rhein, Senior Director, Transit Oriented Development

By Amanda Rhein, Senior Director, Transit Oriented Development

By Amanda Rhein, Sr. Director TOD & Real Estate

When I joined MARTA just more than one year ago, our GM/CEO Keith Parker shared with me his vision of growing the agency’s transit-oriented development (TOD) program as a way of building our ridership, increasing revenues and enhancing communities.

Since then, our TOD program has been making steady progress with the support and guidance of developers, community advocates, government officials and business leaders. Here is an update on several of the TOD projects we’re working on:


MARTA’s Office of Transit-Oriented Development and Real Estate is excited to kick-off 2015 by announcing three new upcoming TOD opportunities at the Arts Center Station, Oakland City Station and Chamblee Station.

We continue to work towards our goal of having five TODs underway by spring 2015. Thus far, development partners have been selected for the following three stations: Edgewood/Candler, Avondale and King Memorial. We are pleased to report that the Federal Transit Administration recently provided preliminary approval for Avondale Station, including our progressive approach to replacement and shared parking. While there has been a delay in the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe solicitation, we are now moving forward with the re-release of the Request for Qualifications.

We are wrapping up our strategic planning process for the Office of TOD and Real Estate and eager to begin implementing the recommendations which include: hiring new staff, making organizational changes and introducing new technology.

Arts Center Station TOD

Based on responses received to the Request for Expressions of Interest for the development of the air rights, MARTA has determined that the Arts Center Station presents the best near-term opportunity for redevelopment.

Our staff will seek authorization from the MARTA Board to release a Request for Qualifications for the redevelopment of 6.2 acres of property in the first quarter of 2015. The property includes the station, a kiss ride parking lot and open space that will be conveyed to the awardee through a 99-year ground lease, air rights lease or other appropriate and mutually agreed upon transaction. The intent of this RFQ is to identify development partners to convert the entire property into a high-quality, mixed-use, transit oriented development, consisting of residential, retail, office and hotel components.

MARTA will release a Request for Proposals to those pre-qualified through the RFQ process in the summer.

Oakland City Station TOD

Photo credit: Peter Drey  MARTA is considering redevelopment options that will include mixed-income rental apartments with 30-40 percent identified as affordable units.

Photo credit: Peter Drey
MARTA is considering redevelopment options that will include mixed-income rental apartments.

MARTA, in partnership with the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Regional Commission, hosted a community planning process for TOD at the Oakland City Station.

As part of the charrette process, a real estate market consultant and an architect were engaged to envision future development at the site based on community input and market realities. Mixed-income rental apartments were found to be the viable near-term development opportunity. In mid-2015 MARTA will seek authorization to release a Request for Qualifications for the initial phase of development at the station on the closed three-acre surface parking lot. Future phases of development at the site will occur on the northern parking lots and could include commercial uses.

Based on recommendations from the charrette, MARTA will seek community and City approval to rezone to mixed residential and commercial in early 2015.

Chamblee Station TOD

We are excited to announce the pending release of Lot 1 at the Chamblee Station. This 2.16-acre property is located in the City of Chamblee at the intersection of Peachtree and Chamblee Tucker roads.

Originally acquired for a park and ride lot, the surface parking lot has been closed since 2006.

The property is zoned Village Commercial and was identified as a TOD opportunity in the Chamblee Town Center Livable Centers Initiative Report.

MARTA will seek authorization to release a RFP for the redevelopment of this property in first quarter 2015.

Brookhaven/Oglethorpe University Station TOD

MARTA recently announced the re-release of a Request for Qualifications for the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe University Station TOD. MARTA determined that it was in its best interest to cancel the initial solicitation due to a discrepancy in the original RFQ between the requested information and the evaluation criteria.

The purpose of this RFQ is to solicit Qualification Statements from qualified firms capable of developing this 10.3-acre property into a high-quality, mixed-use, transit oriented development, consisting of residential, commercial and civic components.

Only pre-qualified firms will be invited to respond to the RFP, which will include a detailed development plan and a financial model that illustrates the potential economic return to MARTA. A copy of the RFQ can be downloaded, upon registration, from MARTA’s website. Responses are due to MARTA on Feb. 5, 2015.

In the meantime, please continue to share your suggestions on how we can work together on TODs to make our rail stations dynamic destinations that support healthy, thriving neighborhoods. You can reach me on Twitter at @MARTATOD1.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is MARTA’s TOD a light at the end of a tunnel of idling cars?

By Alison Tallman

By Alison Tallman, Graphic Designer & Daily MARTA Customer

By Alison Tallman,
Graphic Designer & Daily MARTA Customer

Ever since Jane Jacobs celebrated diverse, high-density neighborhoods in her 1961 classic “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” city planners, politicians, academics and even some developers have been trying to emulate the quaint West Village neighborhood where she lived.

To adopt Jacobs’ prescriptions for the perfect city — short, walkable blocks, with high-density, functional living — would have required a monumental 180 degree change in most of our nation’s sprawling, car-centric metropolises,  like Atlanta. However, Jacobs’ call for mixed-use development — commercial and residential combined to produce a lively street scene— was one goal that most cities could easily implement without bulldozing and starting from scratch.

Thus was born the artificial American version of mixed-use development. Slap condos on top of a few businesses like a clothing boutique or a chain coffee shop, and – Abracadabra! – you’ve got yourself an interesting, walkable street, right? Keep developing the same thing over and over and maybe you’ll witness the birth of a charming neighborhood — the kind you would find in Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, or Buenos Aires. Too many mixed-use projects are green-lit solely based on residential growth, or because of civic pressure from municipal leaders pushing for what they perceive to be the “next big thing.” The fact that developers are able to pitch ivory tower concepts, absent any kind of boots-on-the-ground, supply-and-demand realities has a lot to do with how many poorly planned,  mixed-use projects exist.

Rendering of proposed Walton Communities TOD at MART's King Memorial rail station. Image credit: MARTA

Rendering of proposed Walton Communities TOD at MART’s King Memorial rail station. Image credit: MARTA

Atlantans are now watching with bated breath as our underdog transit system, MARTA, takes on several ambitious Transit-Oriented Development projects at multiple station locations throughout the city. MARTA will be looking to lease  under-used land they own. In other words, something more attractive and useful than thousands of parking spaces, which MARTA studies found are used only 40 percent of the time during the weekdays.

This is the most positive and exciting news I’ve heard in a while pertaining to walkability and urban development getting more traction in Atlanta. Sure, it will generate millions every year in lease revenue that can fund rail and bus operations, but mark my words, this will be the tipping point for a much larger goal here. As one of the worst sprawling cities in the nation, we have limited options to redo some of the mess that has been created and carried on for the past half-century.

Curate the businesses carefully

However, it has to be done right. Most of the local mixed-use developments, in central Atlanta (and the rest of America), fall seriously short of truly being islands of independence and sustainability. These areas  become destinations for out-of-towners (visitors or tourists) with large SUV’s on the weekends “wanting to be seen” than for the locals who live in walking distance. I see it happening, as I write this, via the Krog Street Market project, Emory Point, White Provisions and Ponce City Market. One major reason, is the lack of any logical curation to the type of businesses leasing the retail spaces. Instead, “mixed-use” becomes glorified shopping centers with way too many fluffy boutique retail stores and moderately to expensively places to eat. Why would you want to live on the Westside in the heart of White Provisions? Your food options would include four-star-rated ($$$) Abattoir, the Optimist, JCT Kitchen or Bacchanalia, and your shopping options would include Billy Reid, Room & Board or Knoll. Realistically, you would only use what is right outside your doorstep if a friend came to visit. Instead, offer one of each thing the neighborhood is in serious need of. For example, the King Memorial area needs a post office; the closest one to us is on Metropolitan Avenue in East Atlanta Village.

Mix density with core functionality

We need these TOD villages to be self-sustaining. The majority should be living units above, mixed with offices, which would include: a dentist, a primary physician, an accountant, a daycare, a law office, maybe a design agency — places where people can work while actually being extremely beneficial to the residents that live in the village. Then below you would have your more fun necessities: a yoga studio or gym, a grocer with a deli and a liquor store, a Kinko’s-style post office/work space, an independently run coffee shop, a dry cleaners, a nail place, a tiny hardware store that sells apartment essentials, a pharmacy and maybe a doggie day care (you get the picture).

Then you can allow your food and retail to come into the picture. Have different money-tier brackets for restaurants so there are suitable options for residents. A pizza place that charges $2 a slice would be right next to a restaurant you could get an omelet on Sunday morning, but also serve sandwiches for lunch and burgers for dinner. I find it laughable that Gunshow (the only restaurant in Atlanta that made the national “Where to Eat in 2015″ list) is in the mixed-use village of Glenwood Park. How does this benefit the surrounding residents? It doesn’t. Instead you now have a parking issue on your hands because you have people from anywhere but Glenwood Park coming to see what the fuss is about. Even if everyone in the village could afford a weekly dinner at Gunshow, they would never be able to casually drop in because the restaurant has a three-month waiting list. This is the complete opposite of mixed-use done correctly, even though I am certain a lot of people would disagree with me.

Let walking rule over parking

In its TOD Guidelines, MARTA wrote a section header called “a new approach to parking.” It states: “TOD does not mean ‘no cars.’ Even with high transit utilization, many people will come and go by automobile and need a place to park.” However, the agency also states that parking will be hidden from the visual pedestrian environment and that there will be considerably less parking than similar, non-transit oriented development. If there are fewer places to park (or less free or cheap spots in general), there will be fewer people driving and more people using transit or other forms of transportation.  Sidewalks, bike paths and additional routes also need to be redone in order to stimulate foot traffic.

I realize MARTA has to keep different types of people in mind, from the commuter to the urban core resident to the outside visitor, but for whom are they primarily building? Are they planning on renting primarily to daily MARTA customers that don’t own a car and are living examples of walkability? Or are they building it for visitors who are willing to drop money on the weekends but leave the community and streets desolate during the weekdays? In order to have urban vitality and a safe community, you have to have people walking around all over at all times of the day and night. If you have people only coming and going in their cars, the true purpose for mixed-use will never be realized.

Lease to actual advocates of transit 

If you rent to just anyone with money, TOD communities will just look like another highly overrated, gentrified project. Only rich, yuppie-types, who drive everywhere, can afford that $1,500 price tag on a studio apartment, which quickly squashes a more multi-cultured, all walks of life, urbanist community that would have filled the streets with presence and given it the life it deserves. This is basically suburbia in town—segregating poor minority locals from a wave of wealthier Millennials looking to rent wherever is cool, safe and where they can still stay in their car bubbles. Mixing in 20 percent of housing for lower-income residents that rely on our transit and walk everywhere is a must and it’s good to see MARTA has already committed to doing so.

What MARTA can show Atlanta now is how density and smart growth will make transit work. Bringing all-inclusive, truly mixed-use development, right on top of the stations, is the smartest step we can take to build a city that people want to live in, attracting new talent and ultimately put an end to unnecessary driving. Atlanta has horrible sprawl, but if they can generate incentives for why people would want to live in town again, the prosperity will follow. We can fix what has been broken; moving people closer together to revitalize downtown and make Atlanta what it never had a chance to become.

Alison Tallman is a freelance designer who writes about her experiences in a city that loves cars. This column originally appeared on her blog. It has been edited for space. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment