By Maria Saporta
Thirty years ago, Atlanta was riding high. MARTA had just opened the first leg of its rail transit system on the east line.
Atlanta was the envy of the nation in its ability to have won federal transit dollars to build one of the few modern rail systems in the country (San Francisco and Washington D.C. were the other two cities on the move).
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, metro Atlanta lost its way when it came to expanding and operating its rail transit system. The reasons are multi-dimensional and complex.
So now we are a metro area with a skeletal rail system in dire need of financial and political support while other U.S. cities are rapidly building out their own transit networks.
Still, what Atlanta accomplished 30 years ago needs to be recognized, and MARTA is doing just that.
On Friday, Dec. 18, it will hold a customer appreciation event and transportation summit to mark its 30th anniversary of providing both bus and rail service to the region (MARTA started operating the bus system in 1971). The first rail operation went from the Georgia State station to the Avondale station, opening on June 30, 1979.
MARTA will hold a festive afternoon of events at the Five Points rail station from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. with music, activities and prizes. Beverly Scott, MARTA’s general manager and CEO, will kick off the event.
Later in the afternoon, MARTA will hold a transportation summit at its headquarters near the Lindbergh station. U.S. Rep. John Lewis has been invited to participate in the summit with the theme: “Realizing the Regional Transit Vision.”
The summit will feature a roundtable discussion to discuss the past, present and future of transit in metro Atlanta.
The panelists will include: Fulton County Commission Chair John H. Eaves; Clayton County Chair and Transportation Implementation Board Chair Eldrin Bell; Tad Leithead, current chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Transportation and Air Quality Committee and incoming chair of the ARC; Georgia Department of Transportation Board Member Dana L. Lemon; MARTA Board Chairman Michael Walls and others.
I will have the honor to serve as moderator of that discussion. As my regular readers know, I have a passion for transit and alternative transportation modes.
We need to make sure the public understands the current challenges facing transit today, and what we can do to recapture the energy and visionary leadership that we had four decades ago when Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb approved a one-cent sales to build out the MARTA system.
In addition to the transit discussion, MARTA will recognize its board members from the past three decades as well as honor its retirees and employees with at least 30 years of service. MARTA also will highlight the federal support that it has enjoyed over the decades.
Last, but not least, MARTA will unveil a commemorative quilt and offer a sneak preview of “MARTA Moments,” a documentary chronicling its history and its impact on the Atlanta region and the whole state of Georgia.
Sometimes we must look backwards in order to move forwards. As we retrace our past, let’s hope we find some guideposts to lead us to a greener region that’s transit-friendly, bicycle-friendly and pedestrian-friendly.