Build streets, link transit

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Metro Atlanta needs more super streets, says a local transportation policy advocate. These arterial roads, aided by Bus Rapid Transit and managed toll lanes, would provide much-need alternatives to interstate highways and Ga. 400. Also today, a state senator looks at the difficulty of getting around on our disconnected transit systems. He tried it and documented his trip on YouTube.

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Network of streets to connect us all

Atlanta’s mobility and congestion problems are well known. It has the seventh-worst congestion in the country. The area’s residents waste 51 hours a year sitting in traffic, and those delays cost the region $3.1 billion a year.

Metro Atlanta agencies plan to spend $84 billion over the next 30 years on transportation. Unfortunately, the transportation plans treat far too many projects as stand-alone ventures intended to address single-problem spots.

Atlanta needs a connected transportation network to fix today’s congestion and handle the demands of looming population growth. Right now, Atlanta, with 7,500 lane miles, has one of the most underdeveloped surface street networks of any major U.S. area. With a similar population, Dallas has 10,000 lane miles. Detroit has a smaller population, but more lane miles — 8,600.

Surface streets, or arterials, are key to traveling within cities and also provide alternatives to congested freeways. Today, an accident on I-285 creates major congestion in part because there is no alternate route.

A new Reason Foundation plan, “Practical Strategies for Increasing Mobility in Atlanta” (http://reason.org/news/show/1013512.html), would build 11 primary arterials throughout the metro area. One would connect Marietta with Norcross, creating a quality alternative to I-285 on the Northside. Another would connect Union City with Smyrna, forming a north-south route to complement I-285 on the Westside. A third would connect Doraville with Johns Creek.

The surface streets, combined with managed lanes on the area’s highways, would form the basis of a network connecting key parts of the city and region.

A tunnel would run from the intersection of I-675 and I-285 to the intersection of Ga. 400 and I-85. Managed lanes, variably-priced toll lanes like those on I-85 in Gwinnett County, would be built on most Atlanta freeways including all of I-285, I-20 east and west of downtown, and Ga. 400 from Atlanta to McFarland Road. This would give the area’s drivers and buses congestion-free trips 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

With a beefed-up network of connected streets and managed freeway lanes, metro Atlanta could build a comprehensive Bus Rapid Transit and express bus network at a fraction of the cost of proposed light rail lines.

But how does Atlanta pay for these transportation improvements? The Reason Foundation report finds that public-private partnerships could be used to build and operate the toll lanes. The private sector would deliver more than $7 billion to help build the lanes in metro Atlanta.

Atlanta also should look at the transportation funding it is spending on non-transportation projects. The region could get nearly all the money it needs by no longer diverting the portion of the gasoline sales tax to the general fund; making sure all the local special purpose sales taxes paid on gasoline similarly go to transportation, and eliminating gas tax exemptions.

Focus transportation funding on building a comprehensive network to increase mobility and economic activity, making metro Atlanta a better place to live.

Baruch Feigenbaum is an Atlanta-based transportation policy analyst at the Reason Foundation and author of “Practical Strategies for Increasing Mobility in Atlanta.

Fragmented transit systems slow region

By Brandon Beach

In the last week of the last legislative session, the state Senate passed a resolution calling for the formation of a study committee to examine regional transit in metro Atlanta.

The committee comprises three Republicans and two Democrats whose main task is to assess current transit assets in the region, and to recommend solutions to bring them together to work seamlessly for customers.

We are specifically examining MARTA, GRTA Express, Cobb Transit and Gwinnett Transit. We believe if we can get the big four transit entities to come together, we can begin to work on transportation solutions.

Currently, we have a very fragmented transit system that is confusing and inefficient. To prove this point, I recently rode public transit from Kennesaw State University to the Gwinnett Arena.

To plan my ride, I had to visit three websites to review schedules and organize my trip. I then rode two buses on the Cobb Transit system to the MARTA Arts Center Station, then boarded a train to the Lindbergh Station. There, I changed trains to the Doraville line, then boarded a Gwinnett bus that took me two blocks from the Gwinnett Arena.

The 32-mile trip took 3 hours 35 minutes. You can fly to New York City faster. (View my journey at www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLzKJtMBwl).

I also had to pay three different times, with exact change. No debit cards were accepted.

This journey taught me that, individually, all three transit groups were on time, clean, friendly and safe, but that there was no coordination or collaboration among the agencies.

We are not looking to create more infrastructure or more agencies; what we are looking to do is take our current assets and have them collaborate to form a harmonious journey for the customer.

Customers who get on a bus at Kennesaw State to get to their jobs in downtown Atlanta don’t care what the bus is named, who is on its board of directors, or how federal transit money flows to an agency; they want to know that the bus arrives on time and they can depend on a reliable, clean and safe ride that will get them to work on time.

I am convinced that if we provide a transit system that is easy to navigate and reliable, clean and — most importantly — safe, ridership will increase.

If we want the Atlanta area to be a world-class region, we cannot continue with a fragmented transit system; we must come together as one unified transit entity.

Brandon Beach is a Republican state senator who represents North Fulton and Cherokee counties. He is also president and CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.

21 comments Add your comment

All_Doomed

September 17th, 2013
1:12 pm

Why do we keep studying and studying and not fixing? I know for a fact that the tax payers in North Fulton who have no choice but to take the hour long commute down GA 400 everyday are sick and tired. Fix it so that Marta can get you anywhere you want to go. And make it safe, fast and affordable.

I bet I won’t see this happen in my lifetime.