5/15: Transportation seeks a path

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Author Taras Grescoe writes about the great public transit systems of the world in his new book “Straphanger,” a bullet-train of a read that looks at how the timely integration of subways, buses and rail has put cities on the path to success.

Also, a former Fayette County official adopts the great railroad song “The City of New Orleans” for an anti-T-SPLOST argument: Forget about your father’s magic carpets made of steel; trains don’t pay for themselves and won’t untie Atlanta’s traffic knots, he says.

23 comments Add your comment

Andy Callaway

May 14th, 2012
6:07 pm

well that former fayette county official is down right stupid. it will untie our traffic knots but getting people off the road and from point A to point B without a car. It’s worked where it is now. let expand it and really untie our traffic knots, not continue to build sprawl inducing roads. Transit is the path to success if we want to be a revolutionary 21st century city

SAWB

May 14th, 2012
6:56 pm

While trains may take us from point A to B they won’t take us from A to G or G to 5. Like it or not the Atlanta Metropolitan region is the poster child for sprawl. At the end of the day we need solutions that address the way things are not the way some folks wish they were. Some limited transit projects like maybe the train to Emory might make sense, but the biggest impact will come from roadway improvements.

Dawgfan

May 14th, 2012
9:34 pm

Sad to think that up till the creation of the Interstates, we had as viable rail system the took us all over the country, and streetcars that crisscrossed Atlanta. Amazing that our great-grandparents/grandparents were ahead of their time.

StevenM

May 14th, 2012
11:08 pm

As usual, it will take a good mix of both roads and transit to deal with the population and issues we have with transportation. Therefore it is important that we take the first good step in improving both options in July. People need options depending on where they are going and how they want to get there.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

May 14th, 2012
11:44 pm

StevenM

May 14th, 2012
11:08 pm

I agree with your assertion that we need to invest in a good mix of roads and transit to help deal with our struggles with transportation and mobility.

For instance, MARTA-style heavy rail and local bus service isn’t necessarily the best option for outlying counties with a lower-density of development as is the case with virtually every Metro Atlanta county outside of the urban core of Fulton and DeKalb counties.

In those outlying areas the best transit options will be implementing regional commuter rail service on existing freight lines that parallel the severely-congested freeway spokes that radiate out from the more densely-developed urban core into those outlying lower-density suburbs and exurbs.

Continued targeted expansions of express commuter bus service on major routes into and out of the city to and from the suburbs and exurbs where commuter rail service is not possible along with targeted road improvements is the best transportation improvement option for outlying suburban and exurban counties.

In densely-populated Fulton and DeKalb counties, road expansion is impractical and downright impossible for the most part because of the density of existing development and the lack of additional right-of-way available in which to expand the roads. In these two counties of the urban core, transit access is not only of great importance but is a necessity because of the increased density of development and people and the difficulty and impossibility of road expansion in most, but not all, cases.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

May 14th, 2012
11:59 pm

Though, I somewhat disagree that the T-SPLOST is the most effective way to raise the funds necessary to deal with our transportation issues.

If the state wanted to raise more money for road expansion they could have made this effort a referendum to raise the state’s inadequate gas tax.

If the powers-that-be wanted to raise money for transit upgrades and expansion they could have paid for it with a combination of user fees and privatization, like the kind that the state was originally going to use to build and operate the I-75/575 Northwest Corridor HOT lanes.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

May 15th, 2012
12:52 am

There seems to be a misconception, even amongst so-called conservatives in government, that transit needs heavy public subsidies, subsidies that can only be raised through tax increases, primarily sales tax increases, to be built, maintained and operated.

But it is wholly untrue that transit needs heavy tax subsidies to operate, especially if a transit line is well-placed where it will attract the most riders who will continue to make the line both viable sustainable over the long-term.

Transit is very much capable of paying for itself and even making a profit, many times over, if properly and competently administered.

Rather than exploring often contentious, unpopular and politically unviable tax increases to just minimally expand our already inadequate transit options, we should be funding transit upgrades and expansions much more efficiently and practically through the use of fees (parking fees, fees on traffic fines, sin taxes, adequately-priced fares that actually cover most or all of the cost of providing the service) and public-private partnerships with private investors who cover much of the cost of constructing, operating and maintaining the service.

Along with fees and public-private partnerships, transit upgrades can also be paid for with the use of a method called “Tax Increment Financing” where the property tax revenues from all of the future development built along a transit line line after it is built or upgraded helps to pay the cost of constructing, operating and maintaining it.

There are no excuses. Georgia could have long ago paid for the transit upgrades that is needed for its major metropolitan area to continue to function as a viable economic entity without raising taxes.

[...] post by Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) and sponsored by Moving [...]

zeke

May 15th, 2012
1:36 am

It has worked? What the hell are you smoking?? MARTA is a complete expensive failure! If you want to solve or at least make a large reduction in the Atlanta traffic situation, build the outer loop proposed in the 80’s with very limited interchanges in order to move traffic around not into the city! Build other direct routes to take traffic not destined for downtown away from the city, similar to the direct North/South bypass proposed by Paulding! Then remove all hov, hot lanes in order to improve traffic flow immediately!

Shar

May 15th, 2012
7:52 am

Roads will never be the way forward. Georgians have spent untold billions of dollars, augmented by federal billions, and we are right back where we started. Stuck.

As soon as a new road is announced, developers swarm to buy land in the area that the new road will serve, guaranteeing that it will be snarled as soon as it opens. Land speculators and, yes, former governors corrupt where the roads will go. Graft riddles the process from beginning to end.

Cars are expensive, inefficient, pollutant and keep us dependent on foreign oil. The value they offer in privacy and convenience is offset by these negatives, and the scales far farther out of balance with every traffic jam, price increase and/or inversion.

Every city that has an effective transit system would be paralyzed without it. Atlanta’s system is so utterly inadequate and so poorly laid out that it almost doesn’t count as transit at all. Public transit has to be able to get people where they want to go, and Atlanta’s doesn’t come close.

The TSPLOST project list reflects the stubborn politics of roads where it was supposed to fund new thinking about transportation in the region. Only about 40% of the money will go to transit, and that which is funded fails the first transit test – getting people where they want to go. The Beltline is an old-style political payoff to Mayor Reed’s developer cronies who have bought up land along the right of way for this tourist carousel. If only politicians could feel shame, he ought to be contorted with it.

If this region is so backward in transit thinking that the only thing that was supported by the TSPLOST was to be expanded commuter bus lines, I would still think it worth supporting. The pitiful, meretricious transit list makes passing this initiative less than useless – it simply gives politicians and developers another huge slush fund of tax money to manipulate for their own profit.

As a huge transit supporter, I”m voting no.

sircharles

May 15th, 2012
8:12 am

Don’t know to much about how a person think about how to handle mass transportation. What I do know is many of Atlanta major highways has been like a blood clot. they start and run right back into the major arteries….they go nowhere! All of the billions of funds being used to do nothing and we all know our highways have not yet improved. There is an accident every 15 minutes or sooner and sitting in long hours of traffic that get’s narl near Grady Curve; GA 400, I-85, etc., let us all know that what has been done is not working. None of us can improve the Atlanta traffic but we do know we continue to pay for things that is already paid for just to continue to charge drivers for use of roadways and what that dones in most cases; we all figure out how to go around to keep from paying those high prices for continue use to get from point a to b. Georgia highways will remain a flop regardless because it do not like to share the revenues it make from all drivers. It might be that we have to start using our motorbikes, bikes, skates and rollerblades….we all can exercise on the way to work and our toll roads will not be use; we can merely use the sidewalks!

Don

May 15th, 2012
8:15 am

Transit doesn’t pay for itself. So what! That’s totally missing the point.

You can build a whole lot of rail transit AND pay for the annual operating subsidies for a whole lot less than it would cost to build and maintain the same capacity in highways.

THAT is the point.

Scooter

May 15th, 2012
8:33 am

Freeways have failed in Southern California and they are failing here in Georgia. It is funny how a lot of Georgians refused to look outside of their backyards for answers.

Rock Gaines

May 15th, 2012
9:09 am

Shar – per your comment “The Beltline is an old-style political payoff to Mayor Reed’s developer cronies who have bought up land along the right of way for this tourist carousel.”

The Beltline was originally conceived by Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel in 1999. Development has been going on for quite awhile now, even before Mayor Reed took office. The Beltline is actually a good idea – it just can’t solve the transit woes of this area, but it wasn’t designed to.

The T-SPLOST list doesn’t do enough to address transit in an efficient way. We need commuter rail to move people from the suburbs into the city; more HOV lanes for express buses; the new Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal needs to be built in the gulch between Philips Arena and Five Points Station. MARTA also needs to be able to spend their own money in the way they see fit since the state contributes nothing.

I’ll vote for T-SPLOST even though it’s flawed. I’m afraid if it doesn’t pass, the powers that be will sit on their hands for more years, and things will get worse.

ByteMe

May 15th, 2012
10:14 am

I’ll vote for T-SPLOST even though it’s flawed. I’m afraid if it doesn’t pass, the powers that be will sit on their hands for more years, and things will get worse.

And that, in a nutshell, is the poor choice the legislature is offering us. They have no vision for Georgia’s infrastructure, so they force a bad choice on us and tell us it’s either that or nothing.

Vote no. Then vote for candidates with a realistic vision for the future of Georgia’s infrastructure.

middleground

May 15th, 2012
6:55 pm

Move all government workers out of Atlanta and problem is solved for a lot less money.

middleground

May 15th, 2012
7:00 pm

Go ahead and give those good old boys 6 billion dollars as they laugh all the way to the bank.
History will repeat itself. Graft and corruption in a one party state will prevail and you will still be stuck in traffic only alot less money in your pockets. How stupid are you Georgia?

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

May 15th, 2012
9:49 pm

middleground

May 15th, 2012
6:55 pm

“Move all government workers out of Atlanta and problem is solved for a lot less money.”

I wonder how much it would actually cost to move the state government out of Atlanta to some place more centrally-located geographically in relation to the rest of the state like Macon.

Though I strongly doubt that the idea of moving state government out of Atlanta would ever gain any steam.

For one, the politicians would never want to move the government away from where all of the dirt is that they specifically like to come to Atlanta to get into (dirt like female (and male) escorts, lobbyist-funded outings at five-star hotels, five-star restaurants, sporting events, etc).

Second, the center of political power in the state has shifted to North Georgia along with the much of the population due to continued population declines in South Georgia and explosive population gains in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia over the last decade (the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the State Senate Majority Leader, the House Speaker and much of the state’s legislative leadership all hail from much more heavily-populated North Georgia as opposed to years past when the center of political power resided mostly in agricultural Middle and South Georgia).

There’s no way that the state’s legislative leaders, most of whom hail from the North Georgia suburbs and exurbs of Metro Atlanta, are going to willingly move the State Capital to Middle or South Georgia after years of being dominated by the once-very powerful agricultural interests of South Georgia.

Nor is moving the State Capital out of Atlanta necessarily the best way to deal with Metro Atlanta’s overall transportation and mobility problems as moving the State Capital out of Atlanta would be like moving the Massachusetts State Capital out of the great cities of Boston, which at the very least has dealt with it’s continuing traffic problems by continuing to invest in a multimodal transportation system that tilts heavily towards mass transit (the extensive heavy rail and commuter rail networks of the Masschusetts Bay Transportation Authority) out of geographical necessity due to a very limited surface road network and the physical limitations of Boston Harbor, Masschusetts Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, or moving the Ontario Provincial Capital out of Toronto which, like Boston, has also continued to invest in a multimodal transportation network that tils heavily towards mass transit (heavy rail, light rail and commuter rail) due to the physical limitations of the Lake Ontario shoreline.

Though I will concede that moving the Georgia State Capital to someplace in North Georgia like Rome, Cartersville or Gainesville does not necessarily seem like all that bad of an idea when put into perspective, though there is the potential that other industry would quickly fill in the void that was left behind by the state government leaving Atlanta as is the case in other large, very major American cities where the State Capital is in a much smaller city that is more centrally-located in relation to the rest of the state.

Like the capital of Illinois is in Springfield, nearly 200 miles from Chicago (which hasn’t done much to cut-down on corruption in state government in IL as evidenced by the fact that four of that state’s last seven previous governors have gone to prison), the capital of New York State is in Albany, 150 miles away from NYC and the capitals of Texas, Florida and California are in smaller second-tier or even third-tier cities (as is the case in Florida where the capital is in Tallahassee) far removed from the major urban and population centers of those heavily-populated states.

middleground

May 15th, 2012
10:52 pm

leave the politicans in atlanta, just move all the workers, federal and state to places like Gainesville, Ga or other desperate outlying areas suffering from a bad economy. The employees would enjoy a better quality of life with less stress and lower costs to live. Atlanta would get relief from traffic for a few years at least……………….its a win, win.
Or move Ga Tech or GA State or other colleges out of town……….students wouldn’t have to worry about crime in Rome GA or other smaller cities in GA. It would be way cheaper than 6 billion dollars and would spure the economy in places that need it.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

May 16th, 2012
3:18 am

middleground

May 15th, 2012
10:52 pm

Though I know that it would never happen at anytime in the forseeable future, the more that I think about your idea of moving government workers out of Atlanta, the more intriguing it becomes.

Though as far as I am concerned, you could move out all of the politicians, too (ESPECIALLY the politicians) to some other city in the state that is in severe need of the economic boost which, I guess, might leave someplace like Gainesville out of the mix as Gainesville and Hall County (especially the booming southern part of the county that has become apart of greater metro Atlanta) is doing relatively extremely well at the moment compared to other locales around the state, especially in South Georgia where the population is shrinking at an accelerating rate in many places.

In the extremely unlikely that the State Capital were to improbably move of Atlanta, the most likely place that it would move to, hypothetically, would likely be Macon, which is relatively centrally geographically located in relation to the rest of the state (Milledgeville was the site of the State Capital of Georgia until about 1868 when it moved to Atlanta where it has been ever since).

The only problem is that the balance of population in the state now lies mostly above the Gnat Line in North Georgia due to accelerating population shifts over the last few decades, so any new State Capital site would likely be best located in North Georgia, relatively close to the majority of the state’s population.

I’ve also been of the mind that various places around the state like Macon, Warner Robins, Rome and Gainesville, in particular, would make great state university towns, but Georgia State and Georgia Tech would likely not (but not necessarily completely never) move out of Atlanta unless the crime got really, REALLY bad, even worse than before, which unfortunately is a real possibility with the way that things are going on the public safety side of things at the moment.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

May 16th, 2012
3:57 am

Though as good as it sounds to move all of the government gasbags out of Atlanta, and trust me, it’s an idea that sounds better the more that people think about it, I am pragmatic enough to know that it is not going to happen, meaning that we’ve got to come up with a workable solution to dramatically increase transportation mobility so that the Atlanta region can continue to function as Georgia’s main economic, cultural and government center and a major population center on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. that is the site of the world’s busiest airport.

That means that like other very major population centers on the North American continent, including those like Boston, Phoenix and Toronto that are the sites of the capitals of their respective state/provinces, the Atlanta Region, with the aid of the State of Georgia, has no other choice but to make the long-overdue and necessary investments in a multimodal transportation network.

We can’t move all of our educational and governmental (and according to some, our business institutions) out of town just because we don’t want to pay to make the necessary infrastructural investments that we should have been making all along during the last four decades of explosive population growth.

While I don’t necessarily agree that the T-SPLOST is the best way to start making those long overdue transportation investments, the fact remains that those infrastructural investments in transportation, water and education will have to be made if we are to remain a viable place to live moving forward.

There is just no way around it, we are going to have to spend the money that we’ve should have been spending all along during the past four decades of extreme boom times to build the necessary rails, roads, reservoirs (either big or small, doesn’t matter as long as we build them) and make the necessary investments in education to remain functional.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

May 16th, 2012
4:29 am

What might have been much more effective than the current T-SPLOST is to have made this a referendum to raise the state’s inadequate gas tax to fund road improvements only along with the targeted use of tolls in projects where capacity is added to the road network.

While mass transit upgrades and expansions could be paid for WITHOUT raising sales taxes, through the use of user fees, Tax Increment Financing (where property tax revenues from future development along transit lines pays for the construction, operation and maintenance of the line) and public-private partnerships.

The institutions that generate lots of traffic congestion (institutions like state government, large universities, etc) should be looked at as assets as opposed to liabilities.

In a great city like Boston, no one would likely ever suggest that the Massachusetts State Capital and highly-respected educational institutions like Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University, Harvard University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology move out of the city just to cut down on the traffic that these hollowed institutions generated because they didn’t want to build and operate any roads or rail transit lines.

Despite the traffic that the Georgia State Capital, Federal courts and offices, the Centers for Disease Control, and educational institutions like the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Emory University generate, this city would be in a much worse state if those institutions were not here.

Running them away and moving them out would likely make this city something that is on par with Detroit.

We can’t run our government and educational institutions and major employers out of town because we stubbornly don’t want to invest in our infrastructure and help our assets to better function like every other major metro area does and has on the face of the earth.

Dumb and Dumber

May 16th, 2012
8:53 am

GDOT and our legislature is he!! bent to prove that we can pave our way out of gridlock; we’ll just have to pave our way out of gridlock again when the current effort to pave our way out of gridlock gets gridlocked again, in 5 or 10 years.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is not insanity, its Georgia’s transportation policy.