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Maria's Metro

Snow Jam 2014 reveals to the world that metro Atlanta is a divided region

By Maria Saporta

Snow jam 2014 opened a window for us see ourselves through the eyes of how the rest of nation and the world sees us.

And what they saw was an Atlanta that did not have its act together.

What they could not see or understand was why. From the images of cars and trucks on highways that had turned into parking lots they did not see political dividing lines separating the multitude of counties and cities in our region.

They saw just one city, just one region — Atlanta — in a state of paralysis. They did not see a patchwork of 60 cities and dozens of individual counties and school districts. Instead, the script on the bottom of television screens kept reminding us that we are the ninth largest metro area in the nation.

But for us to really be a region, we need to think and act like a region.

Unfortunately we are much more like Humpty Dumpty’s egg — broken into so many pieces that many of our citizens don’t even want to admit that we are part of one region — that our livelihoods will rise and fall with the success of our combined success.

Some among us falsely believe that they are part of independent governing units, and that they don’t have to worry about economic fate of Clayton County or south Fulton or any other corner of our complex region. That they don’t have to worry about the modes of transportation (or lack thereof) in a non-adjacent county.

Then Snow Jam 2014 happens — and if we’re paying attention, we realize that we are experiencing the consequences of decades of inadequate regional cooperation and governance combined with myopic vision.

This past week we became the region of ridicule by the national media. It was not just a Southern city that couldn’t deal with two or three inches of snow. We became a story of a region that couldn’t work together — of a region without leadership.

How much has that cost us in terms of our national and international image?

Like it or not, the signature of our region is Atlanta. When the world looks at I-285 and I-20, it doesn’t think that it is looking at DeKalb County on the east or Cobb County on the west. To the national viewer, he or she is looking at Atlanta.

Atlanta is the brand — it is the calling card — not just for the 10-county or 20-county or 28-county region but even for the entire state of Georgia.

And yet, when it comes to investing in the brand, protecting the brand and promoting the brand of Atlanta — so many of the elected officials in Georgia as well as the metro counties and the multiplying cities in the region turn the other way.

There are so many lessons we can learn from Snow Jam 2014.

Images shown in the national media reinforced the perception that we are a region of sprawl that has invested primarily in one mode of transportation. Jon Stewart joked about whether there was some law in Atlanta that required only one commuter per car.

Just a few years ago, we had a well thought out regional transit plan that would have offered transportation alternatives in the core 13-counties in our region. The plan actually had been embraced by all the commission chairs in those counties as well as all the local and state transportation agencies.

But ever since the regional transportation sales tax did not pass in July 2012, talk of transit has become a hot potato. (I still believe that if the referendum had been held during the general election of November, 2012, it likely would have passed).

Now there’s talk of a fragmented approach to transportation funding — two or three counties joining up and passing a fraction of a penny tax, which only further perpetuates the sad reality that we can’t think or act like a region.

And a common refrain is that the cost of transit — especially rail transit — is too high. A lesson to be learned from this week — bus transit may be cheaper, but buses really do not offer a true alternative when our roads and highways already are parking lots.

And have we really weighed the costs of not having a robust rail transit system (for both passengers and freight)? Can we really afford to not invest in our future? Can we really afford to continue being a region of ridicule?

In reading news stories and watching television reports, people in metro Atlanta ended up getting out of their cars and walking miles to get to where they needed to go.

There’s another lesson here. Let’s create a city with streets where people can actually safely walk and ride bicycles. Let’s create a city where we don’t have to live so far away from where we work or shop or play.

Actually throughout our region we do have livable communities that encourage walkable lifestyles. But last week’s national window that became our mirror showed we still have a long way to go before we reduce our overdependence on cars and trucks on our roads and highways.

At one time — during the administration of Gov. Roy Barnes — the hope was that the governor of the state of Georgia would realize that he also needed to serve as the mayor of metro Atlanta — as the leader who could bring the region together.

But, for whatever reason or reasons, the governors since Barnes have had little to no inclination to assume the role of metro mayor.

Another hope had been that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed would have stepped up and become the symbolic spokesman for the entire region.

Reed could have acknowledged that we — the Atlanta region and the state — could have done a much better job managing through this snow storm. He also could have used the debacle as a platform to explain why we need more transit and infrastructure investment in our region as well as most metro areas in the country.

Instead, in several national interviews, Reed got defensive and said that the roads in the City of Atlanta were not congested and that the images on television of stalled traffic on streets and highways were either not in the city limits or were the state’s responsibility.

But to the national viewer, that was irrelevant. To them, the images they saw were of Atlanta.

Whether we like it or not, to the rest of the world we are a region. Whether we act like it or not, we are still one region.

And that’s why it’s a shame that our national image took such a serious hit this past week.

After all, Atlanta has worked hard for decades to craft its national and international reputation as a cosmopolitan and enlightened city where people of all walks of life can find prosperity.

We may never know how many companies or entrepreneurs or young creative professionals were negatively influenced by Snow Jam 2014 — discouraged from coming to Atlanta after seeing how poorly we function as a region in a time of crisis.

So what can we do to control the damage?

Ideally, starting today, we would begin to think, plan and act like a region. And we could try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. JohnAdcox February 3, 2014 12:08 pm

    Amen and amen.Report

  2. RobAugustine February 3, 2014 12:29 pm

    Continuing on a county by county basis will not work. It is what got us to where we are now ….. the counties run everything significant. Or else they opt out completely and do not participate in needed projects. Any major work always seems to devolve onto the County Governments – and it’s not getting accomplished. The big counties really have too much say in what goes on here. We need a Regional Transportation Authority that cuts across the counties. An Authority that regionalizes planning for the betterment of the entire Metro Area. In my view the formation of the new cities and the reduction of County power will continue to be a good thing. We are inevitably headed to more local control by these smaller cities in many matters, diminished influence of the big counties in most everything, and the necessary formation of a Regional transportation authority, with actual power and funding, to start the major work of getting a world class transit system running throughout Metro Atlanta once and for all.Report

  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia February 3, 2014 2:21 pm

    It’s not just necessarily that Metro Atlanta does not and will not act and think like a region.
    The key missing ingredient during last week’s Snow Jam debacle and during past regional transportation initiatives has been a total lack of leadership by the State of Georgia.
    It is the State of Georgia that is responsible for the maintenance of the freeways and Interstates and it is the State of Georgia that is responsible for inter-county and inter-jurisdictional management of the regional transportation network, as well as during regional and statewide weather emergencies.
    Without the required leadership and management of inter-jurisdictional issues from the State of Georgia, the City of Atlanta nor the larger surrounding greater Atlanta region is going nowhere anytime soon as demonstrated during Snow Jam 2014, which is only the latest in an increasingly worse long line of embarrassing region traffic management disasters during the post-Olympic era.
    Sure, someone like Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed can be a spokesperson for the entire Atlanta region, and sure maybe Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed can act as a figurehead of sorts with a little bit of a bully pulpit attempt to influence public policy (but only to a very-limited extent) for the very-large and expansive part of Metro Atlanta that he does not govern outside of his jurisdiction, but it was the Governor of the State of Georgia, Nathan Deal, who seemed to not even be keeping up closely with the weather forecast for the entire Atlanta region.
    Mayors govern cities and Governors govern states.
    No matter what kind of lipstick and makeup Kasim Reed could attempt to use try and dress up the ugly pig that are the State of Georgia’s transportation and emergency management policies, the fact still remains that the State of Georgia’s transportation and emergency management policies are still one hideously ugly pig that no amount of makeup and lipstick can hide or make pretty.
    It is the State of Georgia that has failed the Atlanta region time and time again.
    The 60-plus mayors and county commissioners of the 10-county area of Metro Atlanta have a lot of blame to share in for the Snow Jam 2014 traffic disaster and international embarrassment, but those 60-plus or more mayors and county commissioners cannot do the state’s job of properly and adequately managing and coordinating the region’s and the state’s transportation network and they cannot do the state’s job of governing and managing the region and the state during a STATEWIDE weather emergency. 
    Only the State of Georgia can fix Interstate freeway interchanges, only the State of Georgia can keep the freeways and state routes clear and passable during snow and ice storms, only the State of Georgia can facilitate the coordination of transit through the multiple counties of the 10, 20, 30 county-plus Atlanta region and only the State of Georgia (by way of the Governor) can declare a regionwide and/or statewide state of emergency.
    If the State of Georgia doesn’t do it (or just simply doesn’t care to do it), it ain’t getting done, it’s just that simple.
    Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed doesn’t run the State of Georgia.  Kasim Reed WANTS to run the State of Georgia, but Kasim Reed does not run the State of Georgia…a fact that the residents outside of the City of Atlanta will be all-too-happy to remind him of.
    Governor Nathan Reed runs the State of Georgia, something that it does not appear he did too well on the morning of Tuesday, January 28, 2014 by not even keeping close track of the weather forecast after a Winter Storm Watch, then Advisory, then Warning had been issued.Report

  4. Simon February 3, 2014 4:00 pm

    starting today, we would begin to think, plan and act like a region”
    What does “like a region” mean? It sounds like you’re implying that there is a better regional way to act; that there are less dysfunctional and divided regions in the US that can serve as a template. Where are they? 
    What metropolitan area consisting of multiple counties and dozens of municipalities is behaving more “like a region” than metro Atlanta?
    If you’re calling for a new regional governmental body that has the power to implement plans across smaller existing governments, then please say so and define it clearly. Because instead of “like a region,” I believe you mean “as a region.” And that will indeed require a new body of government.

    The only other option is to allow ARC to continue functioning (badly) as a type of regional United Nations, bringing representatives together to decide upon action items that have no teeth when it comes to enforcement and implementation.Report

  5. mariasaporta February 3, 2014 5:43 pm

    The Last Democrat in Georgia  You make a really valid point, and yes, Mayor Reed’s powers are limited when it comes to the regional playing field.  But both Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal have gotten much political mileage out of their bi-partisan relationship and willingness to work together. I have seen how that has been helpful for the Port of Savannah. I have not yet seen any visible evidence of how that relationship has benefited the City of Atlanta or the Atlanta region. I do believe the governor is the only political official in Georgia who has the gravitas to bring all the regional leaders in Atlanta together. Then he could move the needle by offering state incentives to get them to work collaboratively on regional solutions. But first there would have to be a sincere belief and appreciation that metro Atlanta’s economic health was vital to Georgia’s future.Report

  6. The Last Democrat in Georgia February 4, 2014 7:30 am

    mariasaporta The Last Democrat in Georgia You make some excellent points, Ms. Saporta as I agree that the benefits from the relationship between Mayor Reed and Governor Deal appear to have been minimal for both the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta region.
    Though one should not discount the importance of the Port of Savannah to the economic health of the Atlanta region.
    …But even the gains that the bi-partisan relationship between Mayor Reed and Governor Deal may have secured from the Feds in terms of federal funding also illustrate one of the failures of Georgia’s state government to lead on transportation infrastructure issues as the State of Georgia has basically had to use the Mayor of Atlanta to beg for money from the Feds that the state very-likely could have gotten on its own by privatizing the state’s very-valuable seaport infrastructure as has successfully been done with many of the world’s major international seaports.
    I also agree that the governor is the only political official in Georgia who has the “gravitas” to bring all of the regional leaders in the Atlanta region together.
    But it isn’t necessarily the governor’s job to bring the Atlanta region’s leaders together as much as it is his job to LEAD those regional leaders in finding necessary solutions to regional and state challenges (like transportation, education, water, etc) that are not going to go away just because the state thinks that it is easier for it to ignore those problems than it is to deal with them.
    It also isn’t the job of the governor and the state to offer incentives to get regional leaders to work together on regional solutions as much as it is the job of the governor and the state to take the lead on actively solving those problems which are not just regional problems, but are state problems because they involve so many multiple local government jurisdictions throughout large swaths of the state.
    (…Depending on one’s viewpoint, some definitions define the greater Atlanta region as being an area that covers as few as 10 counties at its smallest and as many as up to 39 counties throughout North Georgia at its largest.)
    When it comes to regional transportation solutions like roads and transit, just like Atlanta’s regional road issues are supposed to be handled by the State of Georgia (by way of such state agencies as the Georgia Department of Transportation and the State Road and Tollway Authority), Atlanta’s regional transit issues are supposed to handled and coordinated by the State of Georgia by way of state agencies like the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority which already provides a very-modest amount of regional commuter bus transit service throughout selected parts of the Atlanta region.
    In every major Northeastern metro area with extensive regional transit infrastructure, it is the state government that facilitates, coordinates and oversees (if not outright manages and operates large parts of) that regional transit infrastructure, NOT the hundreds of different local governments that make up those large major metro regions.
    Heck, in addition to city and county government, large major metro areas in the Northeast have another layer of government in the form of townships, which are a very-local form of government that is like a ‘city-lite’ form of government that is like a subdivisional of a county that is equal to a city or town.
    If you think trying to get the Atlanta region’s hundreds of city and county governments to work together as a region is a problem, just think of what it would be like if you also had tens-of-dozens, if not hundreds of additional government jurisdictions in the form of township governments to deal with in addition to those hundreds of city and county governments.
    It is not necessarily up to those hundreds of local governments alone to get together on their own and coordinate responses and solutions to regional and state problems that may affect anywhere from between 10 and 40 or more county jurisdictions.
    It is the job of state government to facilitate, coordinate (and even dictate, if necessary) responses and solutions to large multi-jurisdictional challenges and problems like transportation (regional road and transit networks), education, water, weather emergencies, etc.Report

  7. Mark B Rinder February 4, 2014 9:54 am

    Maria, excellent commentary.  It’s interesting to me the story of two cities: Atlanta circa 1975 and Washington DC circa 1975 – each began construction of a mass transit system at about the same time.  Each built out their system and Atlanta largely stopped once it ‘burned the proverbial cross’ across the city.  Washington kept going, drawing billions and billions of federal dollars to pay for nearly all of it.  Today, Washington is building an extension “spur” on the Metro system, going further out into Virgina (all the way to Dulles Airport) and spending nearly as much we spent here in Atlanta on our ENTIRE system.  They have a fully functional mass transit system that largely obviates the need for a car.  We have a cross.  Building spurs into Cobb and Gwinnett Counties as well as a cross-city spur from Lindbergh Center to the CDC/Emory area would do a world of good.  Needless to say, building out the Beltline (which is already setting off significant amounts of development) has the potential to create tremendous value and make Atlanta a much more livable city.  When decision-making is thwarted by worries about race and “the others getting something they don’t deserve”, we all suffer.  Thanks for writing such an insightful article.Report

  8. Moray February 4, 2014 9:56 am

    Absolutely on target.  Time to think as a metro area in terms of governance.  This also shows how wrong headed the  efforts to create more new cities in Dekalb and elsewhere are nonsense.  We need a metro governance structure to address our problems and to wake up to the fact that we are not just a small town anymore.Report

  9. JohnAdcox February 4, 2014 9:56 am

    Something like this? http://imgur.com/r/Atlanta/K3rEmy1Report

  10. Jim Stanton February 4, 2014 9:58 am

    Good point Maria. Act and think like a region, especially  when it comes to emergency transportation management. Your article only focuses on one mayor and one city. How did Roswell, Alpharetta, Kennesaw, Marietta and Gwinnett fare through this? How did we do county by county? Yes, we are all interdependent and there are multiple opportunities for improvement at levels that report to mayors and governors. Neither were elected for their abilities to respond to severe weather warnings. They need experts and those in such positions of authority were caught miserably unprepared. We got hit in the mouth and people have every right to be upset. Let’s get leverage on the outrage and put a plan in place and for the next time, let’s get caught being over-prepared.Report

  11. Mark B Rinder February 4, 2014 9:59 am

    That would, of course, be awesome and similar to what the City of Washington, DC and the surrounding counties did over the past four decades.  Frankly, I don’t see the political heroism in our political officials to support that map, as much as I’d like to see it happen.Report

  12. Diogenes Cracker February 4, 2014 10:18 am

    Agree that the Governor could have done better. But what about the Atlanta Regional Commission? That circle jerk has been going on for decades. The state legislature ought to pass a law giving a significant tax incentive to companies for each worker they allow to telecommute. A lot of those people stranded on the interstate stare at computer screens all day, anyway. More telecommuting would also reduce overhead costs to the the companies.Report

  13. Nick_ATL February 4, 2014 10:21 am

    Your articles on the subject have been spot on!  I don’t know who handles Mayor Reed’s PR, but he needs a new team and I hope he reads this article.  Same thing for Govenor Deal.Report

  14. atlman February 4, 2014 10:21 am

    @Diogenes Cracker  Will people quit talking about the telecommuting pipe dream. Worker productivity goes down with telecommuting. Corporate culture fragments, and it makes collaboration much harder. The technology to telecommute has existed for 25 years. There’s a reason why not even technology companies allow telecommuting. Yahoo is actually cutting back on the telecommuting now. Quit asking the business community to sacrifice because you don’t want to pay for highways and rail.Report

  15. RobAugustine February 4, 2014 10:28 am

    The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority operates across three separate states and the cities, counties, and other governmental entities encompassed within its operational territory.
    The Atlanta Metro Region has one state and a similiar number of multiple small governments over which a REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY must operate.
    What we have now with several counties being the lead and doing what they want as well as people running arouind saying we don’t need more cities, etc. etc. .is really the problem. The fact of these local governments does not matter. No one or several of them will ever establish an acceptable METRO system for transit or transportation. 
    What we must have is a REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY that cuts across all these smaller jurisdictions. No county, no city will ever be able to make this Metro area work for transit and transportation.
    It is, I think, inevitable that such a Regional Authority will be created. It is the only way to solve the problem and have things work just as they do in major Metro areas around the country. I thought that GRTA many years ago would be the entity to finally get this process started. Obviously that was not the case. There must be a regional entity with funds and power to establish a world class transit and transportation system. Certainly the State must be the leader in such an effort. And certainly we need to get started.Report

  16. MelindaATL February 4, 2014 10:30 am

    Great points, Maria.  All of my friends who live outside of Atlanta have been asking me these questions.  The Mayor’s response was pathetic at best. He just wanted to make sure everyone knew that the “City of Atlanta” had cleared “their” streets. No collaboration and no cooperation.  So disappointing.Report

  17. Eric Seidel February 4, 2014 10:39 am

    Hey, Governor Deal, how many of those thousands of stranded
    drivers last week do you think were watching TV in their cars?
    Yet, you’ve ignored radio for your Snow Task Force.  And only chose to include television weather
    personalities. Why?
    Radio is many times your first…and exclusive…voice in an
    emergency. And you’ve either chosen, or didn’t even think of including someone
    from that medium. Again, why?
    Radio shares some fault here, to be fair. Those of us who
    either were, or are, in it have allowed it to become such a basic utility that
    users only notice when it’s not there when they turn it on. Just like
    Yet, radio’s reach is superior to TV when disaster hits,
    especially when electricity is lost, or TV is not available (to people in their
    cars, for example), thanks to its portability.
    The radio executives in Georgia should be banging on the
    governor’s door for a seat at the table. In Atlanta you have one of the best
    news and information stations in the country. I can say that from the
    experience of having competed against WSB for many years. It’s one of the few
    radio stations to have invested in its own professional meteorologist. And, he’s
    a good one. In fact, he nailed the storm and the difficulty any forecaster had
    of predicting where it would finally land. He clearly said, over and over
    again, that its path could change.
    Were you listening, Governor? Tens of thousands of your
    constituents were. Why isn’t Kirk Mellish on your task force?
    The irony is that while you’ve ignored radio, it’s usually
    the first place authorities go to get the word out to the masses.
    Pull another chair up to the task force table, Governor, for

  18. atlman February 4, 2014 10:44 am

    @Simon  The Atlanta metro area is kind of unique. No other place in the country has such a tiny urban core and huge suburban area that spreads over so far. Also, the other large metro areas in the country are older and have more mature infrastructure and political systems where Atlanta exploded during the last 20 years. And while suburban/urban divisions exist in other areas, nowhere but Atlanta are they so vehement and intense, where each side roots for the other to fail (or succeed illegitimately) to validate their own beliefs, choices and experiences. Also, in other areas there is leadership from the state that is sadly lacking. And as much as I hate to say it, but Georgia going GOP made things worse. Previously, the city and the suburbs were forced to coexist to a degree because all the leaders were in the same party. Now the suburban/urban divide is partisan gamesmanship, which legitimizes it somewhat, and makes nonsense like voting against suburban transportation money in order to deny funds to the Beltline and what the Fulton county legislative delegation did to Fulton County government (but to no other counties in the state, including some that have far worse problems) that make absolutely no sense policywise make perfect political sense. 
    We don’t need a regional governmental body, but we do need the region’s political and civic leaders to stop acting like children. Honestly, the state legislature needs to take the lead. But with Ed Lindsey, Jan Jones and company filing a resolution to mock Atlanta and south Fulton with their proposal to name the proposed city in South Fulton after Martin Luther King, the very people that we need to lead on stuff like this are the worst offenders. We still haven’t progressed from the nonsense that convicted felon Mitch Skandalakis was pulling 20 years ago.Report

  19. Atiba February 4, 2014 10:52 am

    As expected, Maria’s analysis of the Atlanta snowjam experience was on point! 
    The only missing elements in her analysis were visual diagrams to illustrate what a public mass transit region would look like with an extensive subway system (more than the MARTA cross of a north-south and east-west line) and a commuter rail system that stretches to Athens in the north east, Rome in the north west, Macon in the south east and Columbus in the south west (beyond the ARC defined region to get Georgia legislators to invest in this train infrastructure to the capitol).  
    Imagine what options would have existed if folks did what my fellow ABC (Atlanta Bicycle Coalition) board member Glenn Kurtz did with his colleague as they left a meeting near Perimeter Mall on January 28th – when they realized the access points to the highways were backed up they turned off the main road and traveled five minutes to the MARTA train station, parked the car and took the train back to their office and home.
    Atlanta and Georgia were formed by trains and leveraging this historic infrastructure for the 21st century is the sustainable and sane way forward.Report

  20. atlman February 4, 2014 10:59 am

    @MelindaATL  Ummm, Reed is the mayor of Atlanta. The city of Atlanta did clear their streets. North Fulton, Cobb County and the other suburbs didn’t. A fact that Reed had absolutely no power over. What collaboration and cooperation was possible? Especially since the sort of folks who want to split off and form Milton County don’t want that sort of cooperation? Reed is trying to be spokesperson for the metro region because he wants moderate and independent suburban voters outside the city to back him when he runs for governor in 2012, so his campaign won’t be a debacle like it was for Andrew Young in 1990. But he has no real influence outside the city, precisely because those outside the city don’t want his influence.Report

  21. JohnAdcox February 4, 2014 11:05 am

    Mark B Rinder  Agreed, alas. But hope springs eternal and all that.Report

  22. JohnAdcox February 4, 2014 11:07 am

    This is the original source, in the interest of giving credit where credit is so richly deserved.

  23. Al Bartell February 4, 2014 11:12 am

    Starting today the metro media could consider that the humpty dumpty they gave exclusive bias coverage to in the Atlanta Mayoral race is not the model for elections in the future.Report

  24. JCEP February 4, 2014 11:38 am

    Mark B Rinder  It’s time to elect some political heroes for a change.Report

  25. Kevin Woods February 4, 2014 12:07 pm

    I am a glass is half full kind of person and believe this was a good thing for the city Atlanta. The majority of people who work in the city don’t live in the city. I believe this will push more people to live in the city, which will provide more revenue and resources to make Atlanta better. If Cobb and Gwinnet wont provide the mass transit resources, to help in situations like this, then people will move to areas that do. I am tired of City of Atlanta residents complaining about other counties. Atlanta will out shine these counties if we keep building better infrastructure for our residents. If you build it they will come!
    Lets quite worrying so much about the media and realize that most of the media is trying to entice viewers to provide profits for their company. No one watched the coverage and said I don’t want to move to Atlanta now, I will stay in Chicago and keep pushing my snow blower every winter. This was a great day for the city and terrible for counties who don’t provide mass transit.Report

  26. atlman February 4, 2014 12:23 pm

    RobAugustine  Such a regional authority already exists. It is called MARTA. The problem is that the only people in the region who have bought in are Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb. (Cobb and Gwinnett strangely have representation on the MARTA board even though they don’t have MARTA service or pay a dime.) GRTA was created in the hopes that it would pave the way for the state to eventually take over MARTA and resolve the political issues, but that would take more money and political capital than anyone is willing to expend at the moment.Report

  27. Dowager February 4, 2014 1:05 pm

    Eric Seidel I listened to WSB off and on during the whole debacle–even at night because I couldn’t sleep.  I thought the same thing.  The announcers kept people’s spirits up by keeping the chatter going.  I agree that Kirk Mellish should be on the governor’s team, but so should someone representing rapid transit.  Keith Parker is the obvious choice.  MARTA is the first line of defense during a weather crisis. 

    Too bad WSB’s daytime talk shows don’t measure up to the quality of their performance during the snow jam.Report

  28. Guest February 4, 2014 2:28 pm

    It amazes me how many people are latching onto this once-in-30-years event to justify spending billions of dollars a year on transportation options that will only benefit a small subset of the region’s population.  Yes, Snowpocalypse was extremely inconvenient.  I had to sleep on the floor of my office.  But it was only one day!  And even on that one day, the mass transit utopia people fantasize about would have benefited only those who live within walking distance of a station. 
    Believe it or not, not everyone aspires to live in vertically-stacked high density housing.  I don’t look down on those who do, and I don’t think I should be looked down on because I would rather live in a detached house with a private garage and a bit of personal green space.  I think it’s a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, and many others in the Atlanta region seem to agree with me.

    I have the same live-and-let-live attitude about different parts of the country.  I wouldn’t move to New York or California if you paid me, and I could care less about what people there think of Atlanta.  It doesn’t bother me if John Stewart makes fun of us.  That’s what he does for a living.  And I’m not concerned about regional “branding”.  Cobb County really is different from Atlanta, even if they’re both in the same region.  
    There may well be economic justification for additional transportation options in our region.  But people like me are never going to fund them voluntarily if they appear to be targeted primarily at people who don’t want or can’t afford cars.Report

  29. tom Houck February 4, 2014 11:32 pm

    As always Maria, you were on spot!Report

  30. SteveBrown February 5, 2014 8:03 pm

    Nice column, Maria.  You are correct about a number of dividing lines the public does not see.
    On the new “fragmented approach to transportation” idea, that was actually the original version of the Transportation Investment Act (TSPLOST).  That particular method is much better in that it allows the core urban counties to build a rail system if they desire and are willing to pay for it.  There is no intelligent way rail can be justified, for any reason, in the much less dense outer suburban counties (Cherokee, Douglas, Fayette, Henry, Rockdale).
    As a participant in the process, I can tell you that there are some regional figures who would easily watch Clayton County die on the vine without lifting a finger.  This is due to the massive special interests who only care about their own profitability.
    Things can change and I think they will eventually.Report

  31. Sam Wallace February 5, 2014 10:33 pm

    Much of what is mentioned in this article is why I am from Georgia. I went to college there, went away to grad school, and then came back for a job… and left when better opportunities presented themselves elsewhere. I now live in an area where there are multiple mass transit choices and that’s truly great! What I think so many people miss is that Georgia’s approach to the issue has been as a way to bring money into the state directly, rather than as an investment that will grow over time. Consider the way HOV lanes were created simply by changing the lines on the road rather than adding meaningful infrastructure. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have an HOV interchange between 20 and 75/85? Why does the state think that essentially creating a toll road system out of HOV lanes is a good idea? As for a commuter rail system, how many times do you think anyone can listen to the BS about increasing crime accompanying its spread before voters actually believe it? The problem is not the transportation system in the state. No, that is merely a symptom of a longstanding issue. I will leave it to someone else to work out what to do about it… or not. In the mean time, I will continue to be from Georgia – as in “no longer there.”Report

  32. The Last Democrat in Georgia February 6, 2014 8:53 am

    SteveBrown I completely agree that there is no intelligent way that publicly-funded and publicly-operated passenger rail transit (along the lines of today’s long-mismanaged Marta rail model) can be justified for any reason in less-dense outer-suburban counties.
    But I can think of several reasons that PRIVATELY-FUNDED, PRIVATELY-OPERATED, FOR-PROFIT passenger rail transit (NOT Marta) can not only be justified, but could be sorely used and is an absolutely necessity (along with some long-overdue road improvements at critical locations) in outlying suburban counties like Cherokee, Douglas, Henry and Rockdale…
    (…Passenger rail transit is not needed in Fayette County as Peachtree City and Fayetteville can be easily linked to Atlanta with park & ride express commuter bus service as part of an effort to lessen the severity of rush hour congestion between P’tree City and Atlanta, and between Fayetteville and Atlanta.)
    …The most major of the reasons that PRIVATELY-FUNDED, PRIVATELY-OPERATED, FOR-PROFIT passenger rail transit (NOT Marta) is needed in those outlying suburban counties is the extremely-heavy peak-hour traffic that the aforementioned outlying suburban counties contribute directly to during morning and evening rush hours on Interstates 75 North, 575 North, 20 West, 75 South, and 20 East…all heavily-congested major roadways which run through fast-growing, increasingly heavily-developed and  increasingly heavily-populated outlying areas where there seems to be a rapidly-diminishing ability (if not outright refusal) to expand the road network to keep up with the continued growth in development and population.
    Interstates 75 North, 575 North, 75 South, and 20 West in particular are all prone to lengthy traffic delays even at times outside of normal rush hours because of extremely-heavy truck traffic (on I-75 NW OTP, on I-20 W OTP, and on I-75 S OTP), very-heavy tourist traffic (on I-75 N OTP and on I-75 S through Henry County below the I-675 interchange), and very-heavy regional shopping traffic (on I-575 N and on I-75 S through Henry County).Report

  33. writes_of_weigh February 6, 2014 8:08 pm

    The Brain Train in a Blue Georgia….2014…….it’s a NO BRAINER!Report

  34. jb February 7, 2014 7:33 pm

    @Guest You are not “live and let live” if you require an affinity for economic ability to own a car as a qualifier for deserving tax dollars. What about handicapped people? Blind people? Young adults and people too old to drive? Are they not a part of society too, even if they don’t want to live the way you live? And why are you ok with tax dollars going to one form of transportation – the highways don’t build and maintain themselves, you know – but not another? (Note that Cobb doesn’t send tax money to Atlanta to help pay for all of ATLANTA’S infrastructure – roads, sewers, police, etc.) that thousands of Cobb residents use everyday when they commute in for their jobs.)  What a strange stance to have.
    “But people like me are never going to fund them voluntarily if they appear to be targeted primarily at people who don’t want or can’t afford cars. ”  Soooo, basically, you’re never going to fund additional transportation options in the region because THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF TRANSIT…!!!!

    The whole point of transit/sidewalks is to give people OPTIONS – if you want to own a car, fine, but if not you could choose to live another way…or if you can drive home in snow, fine, but if not you can take a train or walk – everyone benefits because it better meets the needs of a diverse population that live many different lifestyles and have many different needs. But your position denies anyone that choice – and is one of the reasons young professionals like me chose to move out of ATL to a “real” city up north that lives in the 21st century.Report

  35. RobertGrunwald February 9, 2014 1:33 pm

    I am Reading all reply to Maria Article. Here is the main point i have lived in Metro Atlanta Area for the last  18 years. Nothing has has been done. The Snowjam is all of faults. We had the opportunity in 1996 to change things yet we failed. The state had the plans on website for the 10 years for rain system form Chattanooga to Atlanta for rail. All the ground work was done. There was even town meeting on the routes. Yet the web site is gone now  for some reason.
    What is the worst  thing my home town of Miami is surpassing Atlanta every day on Rail and Roads.The  have Tri Rail which is run by the state and funded by three counties which jammed every day from West Palm Beach to Miami it not perfect but it handles lot people  every day. 
    This region need to stop acting like kids in sandbox  ” I am taking  my toy home”.  I am one the people who travles 37.5 miles to work through three counties  Bartow, Cobb. Cherokee, Fulton., Atlanta every day to work. I would in heart beat take  mass transit if the would not  get home at 23:00 at night.  The reason is i know what it takes to get  home from the Airport to Acworth it is not fun.Report

  36. Dowager February 9, 2014 5:14 pm

    Robert, you are right.  Miami, a quintessential sprawling city, has seen the light about rapid transit.  They also have an effective bus system.  The structure of their metropolitan government is interesting.  From Wikipedia:

    “Unlike a consolidated city-county, where the city and county
    governments merge into a single entity, these two entities remain
    separate. Instead there are two “tiers”, or levels, of government: city
    and county. There are 35 municipalities in the county, the City of Miami
    being the largest.
    Cities are the “lower tier” of local government, providing police and
    fire protection, zoning and code enforcement, and other typical city
    services within their jurisdiction. These services are paid for by city
    taxes. The County is the “upper tier”, and it provides services of a
    metropolitan nature, such as emergency management, airport and seaport
    operations, public housing and health care services, transportation,
    environmental services, solid waste disposal etc. These are funded by
    county taxes, which are assessed on all incorporated and unincorporated

  37. writes_of_weigh February 11, 2014 4:19 pm

    Lest we forget……Miami and Orlando are currently a-linking higher speed rail astride H.M. Flagler’s, Speedway to America’s Playground, the Florida East Coast Railway. FEC Industries, in concert with FECR, and presumably, with a former Florida Governors(BUSH??) blessing(as he has/recently had a seat on FECI’s board) is flying the corporate banner as All Aboard Florida. Barring NIMBYs or other inane obstructionists, intrastate passenger trains will likely ply the route in 2016, possibly late 2015. The state of Virginia, in concert with Norfolk Southern/Amtrak, is eyeing  recently expanded(and highly successful) D.C./Lynchburg service, to connect that to Roanoke(an NS operating “hub”, similar to Atlanta). GDOT and Gov. Deal, and would-be Gov. Carter should debate these developments as Georgia sits squarely betwixt and between these developments. Will Georgians and Atlanta’s logistics empire languish with nary a whimper from the pols?Report


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