Transit that moves people

Right idea, wrong location? (Kent D. Johnson/AJC)

Right idea, wrong location? (Kent D. Johnson/AJC)

Transportation is set for a leading role in what could be a dramatic 2015 legislative session. And we already have a bit of a plot twist.

As legislators’ biennial conference in Athens wound down last month, the transportation industry held its own conclave off-campus. The audience heard from Gov. Nathan Deal, who spoke in muted terms — unsurprising, because Deal continues to devote most of his political capital to education and criminal justice reform.

Then it heard from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who hearkened to the days of “great visionaries” who made “tough decisions regardless of what the consequences might be.” Then he said, “We cannot avoid the issue of transit. … I believe very strongly that we have an infrastructure that exists with MARTA that can be capitalized on.”

For me, Cagle’s words renewed a question: When and how might a conservative-leaning state, with a capital metropolis that’s roughly 50-50 in partisan terms, reconsider its skepticism toward transit?

I’ve written about some thoughts along those lines before. Transit should be a question of using resources efficiently rather than ideology, pro or con. And if we can expand bus transit more cost-effectively — say, by putting express buses on managed toll lanes that guarantee they’ll move quickly even at rush hour — we shouldn’t push rail instead.

Here’s another thought to chew on. We have heard a lot in 2014 about transit-oriented development. This covers everything from MARTA seeking to develop land around existing stations to the notion a downtown streetcar will stimulate growth where trolleys and buses didn’t.

Some conservatives view this approach as a kind of social engineering. Some objections (public subsidies for private developers, distorting the real estate market) are more reasonable than others.

But what if we simply flipped transit-oriented development on its head? Call it development-oriented transit.

In short, look to add transit in places where people are already flocking, especially where the road infrastructure and room for improving it are limited.

Traffic congestion is bad, and resources are scarce — and still will be, even if the Legislature comes up with $1 billion or more in new annual funding. We should all want new infrastructure to solve the problems we face today.

Where might development-oriented transit work? Try 14th Street in Midtown. On one end is the fast-growing Westside Provisions district and surrounding area. The road then runs east past the northern edge of Georgia Tech, high-end hotels and office buildings, eventually dead-ending at Piedmont Park.

A streetcar or rapid bus line in a dedicated lane on 14th, tying into MARTA stations a few blocks north (Arts Center) or south (Midtown), would help people get to and through that corridor. It would also funnel more people into the existing MARTA system, enhancing the agency’s ability to re-invest in itself.

A focus like that — on moving people, rather than enticing people to move — could change the way a lot of skeptics think about transit.

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47 comments
MG10672
MG10672

The reason why transit-oriented development is a thing is because 40 years ago was the last time anyone in Atlanta or the state of Georgia got any big ideas about a transit system. There hasn't been any "development-oriented transit" since the Red line was finished and as a result we have a system that people complain "doesn't go anywhere." I love to see a conservative who thinks we should expand transit -- it's a big tent here and there's room for everyone! -- but I don't think it's because we've been too focused on rail over buses that Atlanta hasn't been a transit success story. As the demise of the MARTA Q bus shows, a faster bus isn't necessarily a "good enough" transit solution.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

I used to ride one of the Xpress busses.  My company provided free bus passes and gas was over $3.50 per gallon.  If I had to buy my own pass, I would not have rode it. 

First of all, it added at least 30 minutes to my commute.  By the time we left one park and ride, stopped at another park and ride, meandered through downtown letting people off, my 22 mile / 30 minute commute became an hour or more.  Going home was often worse.  Once at my stop, I still had a three block hike to get to my job.  PITA during inclement weather.

So, there's the rub with public transportation, it has to be cheaper AND more convenient if it has any hope of getting people out of their cars.

Some people have mentioned the traffic management schemes.  Let me provide an example.  The downtown connector at the Grady curve during the afternoon rush hour.  Three entrance ramps whose drivers now have to traverse across two lanes of traffic of people trying to exit onto I-20.  Then, you have the third lane of traffic backing up because of all the idiots who try to go around the bottleneck and break in line.  Take away another lane for the HOV lane, and you essentially have one lane of throughfare.

The entire interstate system around Atlanta if replete with examples similar to the above.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

These grandiose traffic management schemes come and go but at the end of the day what gets things moving is tending to the obvious low-tech fixes.

Like widening high volume roads, synchronizing traffic signals, repainting road lines, and limiting/eliminating stupid curb cuts (such as the curb cut, complete with traffic light, on a major four lane in Gwinnett that is there to accommodate...an oil change business).

bu2
bu2

We need to focus on moving people, not feeding developers.  "Economic development" projects need to be dumped.  120 year old technology that costs 50 times as much as a comparable speed, more flexible bus needs to be dumped.


Street cars are the biggest waste of transit money out there.  If you walked the Atlanta streetcar route 100 times, your average speed would be the same as waiting for the car and riding it.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Kyle


I have long agreed that transit needs to serve everyone....that being said what is the hold-up with contemplating a commuter rail study for the heavily populated areas north of I-285 and between I-75 and I-85? If this is simply about Atlanta then it will likely fail but why aren't guys like Brandon Beach and Mike Jacobs driving this in their constituent districts? I can accept the perception and biases of people....what is hard to accept is being paralyzed by the tough challenges that face us and that applies to either side of the aisle.... 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius Well, MARTA is smack in the middle of studying an expansion (rail or BRT) up 400. Or did you mean something else?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius There is also an EIS for the north side of I 285 (I75 to I 85) that includes a transit element (lt rail and BRT). Why has GDOT stopped that besides the reason to separate out the I 285/ SR 400 interchange?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar When I looked at the Revive 285 documents on GDOT's site last month, some of the alternatives still include at least leaving space for transit. Personally, I favor some kind of BRT/express bus service in the managed lanes to be added to 285 (top end).

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

@RoadScholar @Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius  I am curious as to the actual attitudes of the constituency living in those areas....I hear what the metro overall thinks of transit but I know from experience that 400 is not fun to sit on going north or south....what would that population which would be choice riders almost exclusively tolerate and support in terms of transit and financing that transit? By definition that constituency usually puts Republicans over the hump in elections so asking the detailed questions to them may be of interest


ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius  I mean a full study of where people commute to and a commuter rail solution outside of MARTA....I suspect most people in that corridor are going to an office in Sandy Springs, Buckhead, or Midtown....it seems to me that MARTA and who controls it are more of the issue....I haven't seen any effort outside of MARTA pitched to the northern counties that held out of MARTA


RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar Understood, but the EIS has been on hold by GDOT, FTA, and FHWA for more than a year. WHY????


I agree with BRT and addl space for Light rail in the future since heavy rail has been dismissed.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

To study traffic congestion is to study human nature, in all of its grand, frustrating imperfection. We tailgate, we speed, and we change lanes without reason. We daydream. We wander. We clog the highway. Yes, we are the problem. And the cure is on its way: the robot car.


Like it or not, the driverless car is the Holy Grail of traffic flow – researchers believe self-driving cars will reduce congestion by as much as 50 per cent.


http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/culture/commuting/how-self-driving-cars-will-ease-traffic-congestion/article15876882/


Poor driving IS part of the problem. And it seems Georgia is way behind on this as well.


http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/no-self-driving-cars-for-georgia-anytime-soon/njg58/

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@HeadleyLamar If those cars and their electronic systems are properly maintained. but what happens when the masses cannot afford a prop mt shift in technology?

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Focus "on moving people" instead of "enticing people to move" is not an either/or proposition. 


If we focus on moving people to try to get rid of gridlock on the north end perimeter and big 3 highways, then it's easy to see MARTA should be expanded into Forsyth, Cobb and Gwinnett, with cross-connecting transit along the Northern Arc area. 


Say that happens. 


People who move (it evidently happens all the time) will look for places to live, and commute times can be a significant factor on where to live.  It helps define how much time is with the family or away from the family.  Living near a transit hub is a natural affect.  Just because some people are talking about it before they build it does not mean it's "social engineering", it's just because IT HAPPENS. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude I would think you'd see the difference between "build transit to heavily populated northern suburbs" and "build transit in underdeveloped section of downtown Atlanta."

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude I guess I need more specific examples of where you see Atlanta putting in transit in the hopes of moving people around/enticing people to move downtown.  

Streetcar?  Beltline? 


My argument is that planners have found people like using transit, and they will move closer to where transit is versus further.  They are planning developments around transit stops, with the learned expectation that people will want to live near transit. 


Otherwise, downtown development doesn't reduce commute times from the suburbs, which is where the major traffic is happening. Sorry if I missed that your article was only meant for downtown Atlanta. I thought it was about Metro Atlanta and state funding of transit. 

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

If you really want to improve traffic, then actually start educating drivers. If I were DOT, I'd have tv commercials with the camera zoomed in focusing on a driver with their car in the left lane that is playing with their cellphone or applying mascara and then zoom the camera out to show all the cars stuck behind them and all the open road in front of them. And then have the announcer ask "Are you a clown like they are?" Saturate the airwaves until clown becomes synonymous with impeding the flow of traffic for no good reason whatsoever.


You'd never have to build another road.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@IReportYouWhine If you really want to improve traffic, then actually start educating drivers.


Strangely I agree with you here. In this country we view driving as a right and licenses are basically given away with little or no training whatsoever. The tests are a joke. 


Compare that with Germany where educating young drivers is taken seriously and they can have things like the autobahn.


Learning to drive in Germany is a rather costly process. For the normal license you have to do a mandatory 14 theoretical lessons, 12 practical lessons (4 motorway, 3 night time, 5 country roads), and then however number of actual lessons are required for the actual driving process. Then come extra costs for the test itself and getting the license. In total the costs for learning and getting a license are €1,400 to €2,000. (US $1820 - $2600) $1.30 equals 1.00 Euro

Note that the lessons as described above really are mandatory. And you must pay an authorized instructor to teach you. Unlike in other countries, such as the UK, it is not legal to take free lessons from a friend or family member.


http://www.examiner.com/article/the-country-with-the-best-drivers-rated-from-experience

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@IReportYouWhine That might work if the people behind them were paying attention and weren't also texting and using their cell! But you do have a point about educating our drivers as to the transportation needs  in this state and the benefits of addressing them. Same for safety benefits...get down and dirty!

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @HeadleyLamar @IReportYouWhine True but if we had better drivers I think traffic would move more efficiently on the roads we do have. 


Eventually cars will drive themselves to a degree so technology may solve this for us.  Some say that is only 30 or so years away. 

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

@stands_for_decibels @Kyle_Wingfield @HeadleyLamar @IReportYouWhine Traffic cameras don't lie. If you are capable of doing it, log into the GDOT website and pick anyone of hundreds. It only takes seconds before you'll see a car with nothing but open road in front of it and a giant pack of cars that can't go anywhere because they are stuck behind the clown. Now multiply this by a thousand. 


People stopped to look at an accident on the other side of the road? You've never seen or heard of this before? 


It's just pure physics, the faster traffic moves, the faster clears out. It's like denying that sun rises in the morning.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@IReportYouWhine Or we can solve the "revenue problem" at the same time and write these fools some hefty traffic tickets when they get caught doing this stuff.  They'll learn.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Funny I figured Kyle would have come back with something about the reports of just how poorly Charter Schools are performing in Georgia.


As to our Transportation woes well we neglected this issue for years and years. And now we wonder why its a problem


Where is Georgia in those unemployment rankings these days ?





JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

I have a problem with state funding of transportation that mostly benefits Atlanta, and the project Kyle references appears to be one.

State tax dollars should fund transportation that benefits commerce and thus the entire state.

You could make a case, even if weak, that projects improving Atlanta benefit the state but the limited dollars demand the most bang for the buck.  

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@JohnnyReb Since 60-70 % of state tax revenues, incl gas tax, are collected in the Atlanta metro area, and since it is the heart and brains of the state, maybe they should improve mobility here in ATL.


Rural Ga has some operational and capacity needs, but some areas only lack money to replace small load limited bridges, thanks to the legislature raising allowable axle weights for trucks. Savannah has needs, esp to address the truck traffic from/to the port and their Interstates.


But keep in mind the need to start replacing Interstate pavements and bridges since some of the system is over 50 years old and the design life of those bridges is 40 years! Interstate pavements likewise esp due to heavy truck volumes and axle loads. Not holding my breath on a Fed bill to fund this either.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JohnnyReb Don't focus on that specific project as much as the concept: Use transit to connect people where they are (and are going) rather than spur development where they aren't.

As for funding that mostly benefits Atlanta: There certainly are projects that are more local in nature. But there are also plenty of "Atlanta" projects that help the rest of the state by facilitating the movement of goods and people. As someone who grew up outside Atlanta in a city that is heavily dependent on moving goods through Atlanta (Dalton), I see benefits for everyone if we can relieve gridlock on 75, 85, 20, 400 and 285.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

The GOP is gutless when it comes to solving the people's problems.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Agree in principle with most of this, given that we're unlikely to see any serious mass transit funding from two more years of all-GOP-all-the-time rule.

That said, when you write:

resources are scarce

I feel I must point out that they really aren't; it's just that Georgians, collectively, seem hell-bent on penny pinching ourselves to some kind of near starvation level, year in/year out, rather than paying for the infrastructure expansion we need and have needed for years.

And capping the income tax rate via referendum made it all the less likely that the status quo would change anytime soon.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@stands_for_decibels We have a middle-of-the-pack gas tax rate. Our problem isn't that we don't tax enough to fund our infrastructure, but that we have siphoned off (pun intended) so much money over the years from what should have been in the DOT budget that we now have a big funding hole for it.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @stands_for_decibels We also have the largest state east of the Mississippi with more miles of state hwys than other states which does not allow us to stretch the revenue collected. Also, the Gov delayed the last gas tax adjustment.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@stands_for_decibels When the Legislature (in the '80s, I think) added the fourth penny of sales tax, it deemed that tax on fuel not to be a "motor fuel tax," which allows it to be spent on things other than transportation. Other than that, you are correct, and those revenues have been spent on transportation.

I don't recall exactly when the fourth penny was added; let's say for the sake of argument it was 25 years ago. In current dollars, the fourth penny is worth about $180M a year. So that's the equivalent of $4.5B over the past 25 years that should have been spent on transportation and wasn't. Would that make up the entire deficit? No -- GDOT says the funding deficit for the next 20 years is about $29B (only including "needs" such as maintenance, rebuilding obsolete interchanges, etc.). But then, smaller changes might have been made 10 years ago that would have meant larger changes were needed 30-40 years from now instead of 10-15. So the impact might have been larger than the dollars would indicate.

And yes, the same thing can be said about the need to enhance infrastructure today instead of waiting another 10 years.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @stands_for_decibels Kyle hasn't the 4th penny been used recently to pay for the bond debt of constructing the GRIP system...the 4 laning of some rural state routes? These routes have daily volumes well below 15,000 veh/day and the thought was that they would supplement the Interstates and spur local growth. Trouble is that they have at grade intersections versus interchanges, causing the heavy trucks to have to start and stop versus traveling unimpeded.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@stands_for_decibels "That said, when you write:  resources are scarce


I feel I must point out that they really aren't"


Well, we have unlimited funding if you consider the liberal "your-money-is-my-money" way of thinking.  Of course, your main problem is that most people here don't embrace that socialist philosophy.  We're more of the "government should spend money wisely and tax only as much as absolutely necessary" type.


Economic freedom translates to personal freedom.  Punitive taxation is an assault on individual rights.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@RoadScholar @Kyle_Wingfield @stands_for_decibels

Thanks for the replies. My short answer would be--surprise!--just raise the dang gas tax a few pennies. and pay for transit stuff we need. 

I don’t buy the argument that there’d be some voter revolt if it were to happen; I think the GOP has a sufficient mandate to govern that they could smooth those ruffled feathers easily enough/

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@stands_for_decibels "A few pennies" won't close the gap we're talking about.

If (VERY rough math and figures; don't cite them anywhere but they illustrate the point closely enough) 1% sales tax on gas at $3/gallon yields $180M/year, that means 1 penny per gallon raises about $60M/year. If the funding gap is something like $1.5B/year, that's a shortfall of about 25 cents/gallon.

But the "fourth penny" is not the only money being raised by the gas tax that isn't going to transportation. So are the so-called fifth, sixth and seventh pennies -- i.e., local sales taxes applies to gas. Now, county and city governments will tell you they spend this money on transportation, but a lot of it goes to flower planters, sidewalks, bike lanes -- nice amenities, but not the kind of basic infrastructure most people think they're getting from their gas taxes. Add that money to the pot, and you're about halfway to the $1.5B just with taxes already being levied.

From there, you might be able to argue for a gradual increase in the gas tax to get at most of the remaining shortfall.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@stands_for_decibels @DontTread The problem is not the extra few cents....it's the extra few cents, then a few more cents, then some more cents, and then some more cents, and...pretty soon it IS punitive.


When was the last time a previously "permanent" tax was permanently rolled back by Democrats?

MANGLER
MANGLER

@stands_for_decibels @RoadScholar @Kyle_Wingfield The problem I have with relying solely on gas taxes is that they are becoming less reliable than they once were.  While today the majority of vehicles still do run on gas, and that won't change for a while, there is the trend towards hybrid and electric, as well as greatly increased fuel efficiency standards.  Some pickups and SUV's today get better mileage than a 5 year old mid size sedan, yet they weigh more, take up more space, and arguably cause more wear and tear.  The funding mechanism needs to shift away from fuel taxes.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

As to your proposal to add bus lanes to 14th Street and extend them west, do you know, when 17th St and 14th Street bridges were rebuilt, that an HOV interchange was contemplated at 15th Street and I85? This would serve Midtown, esp the Arts Center Station. Also the 17th Street bridge has a dedicated area on the north side for a light rail connection to the Arts Center Station with the possibility of extending light rail to the NW?


The problem with your contention to only do BRT is that communities like Roswell, Alpharetta Johns Creek want heavy rail! Numerous public studies and polls have been conducted that show this. Same with East Atl, Clayton Co, etc.

But it is imperative we plan and operate a transit network, not just more radial lines.