By Maria Saporta
Here we go again.
The Georgia Department of Transportation on Oct. 22 hosted a public presentation to present three possible corridors for high-speed rail service between Atlanta and Charlotte.
This is only the latest in a long line of concepts for improved passenger rail service in Georgia – plans that date back decades. And yet it’s the same old story.
We can draw and look at plans all day long. But there never has been any real money available to implement a high-speed rail or improved passenger train service in Georgia.
GDOT and federal officials continue to float such ideas that raise our hopes and expectations – inevitably leaving us disappointed.
But at the same time, GDOT is undermining our existing passenger rail service by favoring automobile transportation over intermodal access.
Atlanta is a city built on rail. Yet all that is left of Atlanta’s passenger train history is the AMTRAK Brookwood Station (once the suburban station).
It serves the AMTRAK Crescent traveling between New York and New Orleans – a station that handles two trains a day. The southbound train arrives in the morning on its way to New Orleans; and the northbound train headed for Washington, D.C. and New York arrives in the evening.
For years, the station has been served by the 110 MARTA bus, with a bus stop and shelter located directly across Deering Road from Brookwood Station.
GDOT has replaced the bus stop with a right-turn only lane from Peachtree onto Deering. That means the closest MARTA bus stop is at least two blocks away in either direction – a hike for anyone carrying luggage after a long train trip.
Transit planner David Emory brought this latest insult to our attention when he recently posted on Twitter (which was retweeted by Atlanta Urbanist Darin Givens):
“Back from Birmingham. The 110 bus passes right in front of the station, but we now must walk ~2 blocks to catch it – the stop that used to be right here was recently removed to make way for a dedicated right-turn lane for these cars. Welcome to Atlanta.”
Actually, Emory should have said: “Welcome to Georgia.”
The new lane means there are now five southbound lanes at that stretch of Peachtree compared to two northbound lanes. Seriously, did we have to remove a bus shelter and bus stop so cars could more freely make a right turn lane? Remember right turns often make intersections far more dangerous for pedestrians.
What were they thinking?
Aren’t we supposed to be promoting greater pedestrian transportation and transit in our urban area? Aren’t we supposed to quit making the car the king of the road as we shift our transportation priorities to more environmentally-friendly modes of movement?
And aren’t we supposed to encourage the easy transfer of transit modes?
In an ideal world, we would have intercity trains (AMTRAK), intra-state trains, commuter rail, long-distance buses, MARTA and local buses converge at a multimodal station in downtown Atlanta.
That concept that has been endorsed numerous times over the decades, and yet we have been unable to recreate our version of a Grand Central Station in downtown Atlanta.
And let us not forget that we tore down two architectural jewels – Terminal Station and Union Station – located near our city’s zero-milepost. (Oh yeah, didn’t they move our historic milepost to Buckhead nearly a year ago?)
The least we can do – I mean the very least we can do – is to have a MARTA bus stop next to our only AMTRAK station.
Seriously, who are the government bureaucrats who made the decision to eliminate a convenient intermodal stop at Brookwood Station? Because Peachtree is a state road, it had to be someone at the Georgia Department of Transportation. But did MARTA have to go along with the ill-conceived plan? And where was the city’s voice in this decision?
By the way, MARTA’s website still describes the 110 bus stop as being right next to the AMTRAK Brookwood station.
In reality, Atlanta should have a MARTA rail stop serving our intercity train station (at least a streetcar) that would connect people to the MARTA Arts Center Station about a mile away.
And yes, Georgia should have high-speed rail – an idea that has surfaced and resurfaced many times over the years. I remember riding the TGV from Paris to Lyon, France in 1985 with then-Lt. Gov. Zell Miller telling me at the time: “This is not an idle dream for Georgia.”
Over the decades, we have seen multiple plans calling for rail service from Atlanta to all the major cities in Georgia, and we have seen plans to create a commuter rail system. Just a few years ago, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced plans to develop high-speed rail between Atlanta and Savannah.
But all these great ideas and plans have never gained any traction in a state where the transportation department is really a department for roads and highways.
We’re spending billions of dollars to expand Georgia 400 north of I-285 – a plan that will exclude the possibility of extending the MARTA rail line to Alpharetta as originally planned,
Georgia is so behind other states, such as North Carolina and Virginia, when it comes to building out a multi-dimensional transportation system that includes passenger trains and a multimodal station.
Sure, we can have all the public hearings we want for pie-in-the-sky high-speed rail lines that have no pathway for funding at either the state or federal level – allowing state leaders to give lip service about having a multimodal transportation vision.
But follow the money. There’s always money for roads, and there’s never money for passenger rail. Trust me. I’ve been following this issue for decades.
If and when we get more enlightened leadership at the state and in Washington, D.C., we will have to pay billions of dollars just to catch up with other regions around the world.
In the meantime, GDOT, please fix what you’ve broken. Bring back a MARTA bus stop at Brookwood Station.
As you said at the beginning, the Amtrak station gets two trains a day, one in each direction. So it makes more sense to me that transportation officials would choose to deal now with the traffic congestion problem they actually have. If one of these rail plans they’ve been studying for the last 50 years ever gets off the drawing board, I’m sure they’d consider how to coordinate with it at that point.
Even so, how hard can it really be to add back that bus stop?
This issue is a no-brainer. A dedicated intermodal connection (i.e. MARTA bus stop at the train station) is essential to our credibility as a world class city welcoming visitors and wishing them to return again once they’ve come for the first time.
First off, move the damn bus stop back to the train station. That’s such a no-brainer. But secondly, I’ve lived in Atlanta for 40 years and have been teased with the notion of rail service somewhere other than New Orleans. In my lifetime I don’t think it will ever happen but for heaven’s sake, can we please commit to building transit. Our planet and our children’s futures depend on it.
I had the recent experience of taking the Crescent to Baltimore from ATL. Got to the Amtrak station via MARTA from the Sandy Springs Station to Arts Center. A few steps and one escalator to the 110 bus to the stop across from the Amtrak station. Then three crosswalks and light cycles later I finally made it to the Amtrak station. There is no direct crosswalk from where the 110 bus drops passengers as it moves north on Peachtree Street to the south side of Deering Ave and the Amtrak station.
It seems like a simple thing to re-establish the southbound MARTA stop at Deering and share the right turn lane for those moments when the bus is headed that way. Other places do this, why not GDOT?
WEll Written. Seems for those making the decisions the public must speak very slow and use short words to get their attention.
Since there are only 2 trains a day, why can’t MARTA set up a shuttle or something?
Excellent article Maria. You hit the nail on the head that if we can’t get the “small” things right such as convenient connections between transit systems, none of the “big” pie-in-the-sky transit ideas that have been floating around for years are worth wasting our attention on. These kinds of “small” improvements don’t cost lots of money, they just require political will to prioritize transit at the right levels of government. Combined together, I think a lot of these small low-cost improvements in transit experience and service will start to have a compounding positive effect on transit usage and help reorient the region more towards transit. I wish regional planning orgs and advocacy groups (looking at you BeltlineRailNow) would get on board more with this kind of approach rather than obsessing over “grand plans”.
“What were they thinking?” They weren’t nor will they ever beyond road construction to supposedly relieve traffic congestion (like Ga 400) that will be (per usual) outdated long before completion.
Better still, place the bus stop the other side of the intersection, right next to the Amtrak Station, then passengers could trundle straight from train to bus, no lights.
Private railroads gave up passenger service because it was, and still is, an outmoded money loser. Amtrak has been in red ink since May, 1971. Promoting this type service throws good money after bad. Airlines and interstates killed this business in the 1960s, though they SHOULD put that bus stop back where it was.
Leave a comment