Cobb’s rapid transit bust

The Big Chicken watches over commuters on Cobb Parkway, July 2015. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

The Big Chicken watches over commuters on Cobb Parkway, July 2015. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

You’re doing it wrong, Cobb.

A proposed $500 million bus rapid transit line from Kennesaw to Cumberland would, by the county’s own admission, leave traffic congestion as bad or worse a quarter century from now than if it weren’t built. The acknowledgment came in an environmental study prepared for a federal grant application and reported last week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Dan Klepal.

Folks in Cobb were already skeptical about the project plan when they thought it was only expensive. Now that it’s projected to be expensive and ineffective, don’t expect attitudes toward it to soften.

Nor are taxpayers likely to buy the argument more traffic congestion is good because it would boost BRT ridership by making it even more miserable to commute by car. The point, remember, is not to create a successful bus line but to improve mobility.

But just you try to convince Cobb’s top leaders of that point. For years, I have heard (and Klepal’s story underscored) that the goal they and some of their predecessors have set for a transit line on Cobb Parkway is not alleviating traffic, but spurring redevelopment along a major thoroughfare that isn’t exactly a picture-perfect Main Street U.S.A.

Not that Cobb doesn’t have those kinds of places. The downtowns of Smyrna, Marietta and Kennesaw have charm as well as commerce. Smyrna and Marietta in particular are ahead of other metro Atlanta suburbs only now trying to turn their downtowns into live-work-play destinations.

But Cobb’s BRT line wouldn’t link those places; it’d essentially hope to duplicate their efforts along a long, parallel corridor already choked with traffic.

(You know what does link those places, and other spots from Chattanooga to downtown Atlanta? The railroad tracks CSX leases from the state of Georgia, in an arrangement due for renegotiation within the next few years …)

It is an unfortunate, but apparently near-universal, impulse among elected officials and planners to use transportation dollars to steer development where they want it to be, rather than facilitating travel between places people already want to go.

You might think leaders in bright-red Cobb, of all places, would be more inclined to let infrastructure decisions follow and support the decisions residents and businesses — a.k.a. “the market” — have made about where they’d prefer to be.

You might think they’d recognize that Cobb’s suburban landscape will always be overwhelmingly car-dependent, and that transit alternatives probably won’t be a net gain for the county if they make it even harder to get around by car.

And you’d better hope that leaders in other parts of the region, those places with downtown dreams, are paying attention. That they’re looking for ways to create local versions of the Beltline, which connects neighborhoods without interfering with cars. That they recognize the best infrastructure we have, at least in the northern part of metro Atlanta, is for north-south trips toward the urban core, even as commuters increasingly need to go east-west between faster-growing suburbs.

That’s where opportunity lies for transit to be a true complement to car travel rather than an unnecessary competitor. But to seize it, we have to be more focused on mobility than obsessed with the mode.

Reader Comments 0

63 comments
Sam_Hill
Sam_Hill

Cobb wants to silo itself off from the rest of metro area; the Cobb County GOP Chairman made a point of saying that after the Braves move to Cobb there will be no transit connection with Atlanta to serve the stadium.  You would think that Cobb's transportation director who used to work with the federal DOT would understand that connectivity is the key to a successful transit system.  A BRT line up 41 that only serves areas already served by Cobb buses seems like a monumental waste of money, time and effort. Kyle's criticisms of the project are spot on.  This is a project to spur development,, not serve existing needs. Maybe that's OK, maybe not; but don't cloud the issue with congestion relief nonsense.


I understand that Cobb doesn't want a transit connection with Atlanta (except for its limited commuter bus service) but why not at least explore an east/west connection?  I think Cobb is being short-sighted about that; but that's their call. Maybe Cobb doesn't want an east/west connection because it would have to connect with North Fulton County and the inevitable discussion on a connection with MARTA?


When the Braves said they were moving to Cobb they complained that Turner Field lacked a viable transit connection; perhaps Tim Lee's enthusiasm for this project is based on providing that transit connection (albeit a useless and Cobb-centric connection) to the Braves new stadium.  I think the Braves were just flat lying about that; the mere fact that Reed, Franklin and the felonious Bill Campbell ignored the Turner Field area for almost 20 years was justification enough to flee the city.  The claimed "transit" issue by the Braves looked hypocritical then and even more so now.


There are plenty of nice neighborhoods in Cobb, unique restaurants and stores -- but unless you own a car -- you not going to ever know that.  MARTA should waste no effort in trying to get Cobb to join the system; the proposed line up Georgia 400 will bring in large job centers and provide North Fulton a transit connection to midtown, downtown and the airport; the folks in North Fulton deserve that (as do the folks in SW DeKalb).


The BRT is a waste of money and the feds won't provide funding for such a project that will have no dedicated funding source for operations and have little to zero impact on congestion. MARTA should focus on its proposed northern extension, serving SW DeKalb and now Clayton.  If it expands anywhere, Gwinnet County is the likely choice where at least some residents are not quite so knee-jerky-negative to all things transit.


In the meantime, enjoy your car because traffic congestion relief is NOT on the way.



LogicalDude
LogicalDude

"The railroad tracks CSX leases from the state of Georgia, in an arrangement due for renegotiation within the next few years "


A while ago, I was at a Gwinnett Transit proposal for the HOT lanes, and other future transit solutions. Rail was mentioned as an option, but someone pointed out that "you don't want to share the rail lines, it creates unneeded headaches" - or similar observation.  (could have been "you don't want to lease someone else's rail lines. . . ") 


If Georgia actually owns these lines, then it would hasten the adoption of rail transit because building more dedicated rail is such a huge cost.  Some might see this as Georgia assisting MARTA, or ALT, or whatever you want to call metro transit; so that would take State support in a particular region.  It should be doable, but the current feel is that most of the state dislikes metro Atlanta and providing any support is seen as "supporting those damn liberals in the city." 


But it would be a great place to start since the infrastructure is already there (for this line anyway).  Could there be other lines crossing the northern arc area? How about Gwinnett (since there is a train already that is right next to Doraville station and goes through downtown Norcross, Duluth, and Suwanee)?  If not a shared right of way, could MARTA build elevated rail along those lines like it does from Brookhaven to Doraville? 

Christopher Condon
Christopher Condon

Who ever wrote this piece should be fired for being inept and out of touch with reality.  Come on!  Who ever thought that public transit would be a competitor to private car travel?  What an idiotic statement!  The current bus service running up and down Highway 41 between Marietta and Atlanta serves thousands daily.  That means there are thousands less vehicles running that route?  Maybe, but it also means that there are folks riding that route that would not be able to report to the same work locations without that route.  This is a public service, it is not a competitive service!  People drive to Marietta and other locales to board and ride the bus to and from work.  Augment such a service with more park and rides and offer more frequent service along these lines and that will mean less traffic in the end.  In this day and age where anybody can publish their opinions, this one is just about the most idiotic I've ever read!

skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

I love the secret MARTA plan for Braves games- run MARTA buses from Dunwoody along emergency lane on 285.

That should be fun to watch at rush hour. I guess they will screen passengers to keep out the riff-raff. 

mnt
mnt

Great article. Sometimes suburban politicians seem to fixate on the fixed costs of rail, preferring bus transit even when it has glaring problems like the ones illuminated in this story. Commuter rail could carry far more people, far more quickly, without hurting automobile traffic.

hodad
hodad

Lots of opinions out there regarding the BRT concept.


The bottom line is that it makes little sense to spend $500 million (which as we all know will end up being twice or three times that before it is finished; case in point the infamous Atlanta Trolley). and then an ongoing operating and maintenance expense of multi-millions of taxpayer dollars each and every year ad infinitum.


If you are going build a true transit system it has to be a high capacity train (light rail or heavy rail) that operates outside of the vehicular ROW and reduces travel times to major employment and retail/entertainment centers.


BRT is at best a feeder system to the train not a mass transit solution. It works sometimes in situations where a high density environment already exists in a short corridor. It is not a way to create high density development along a very long corridor (Cumberland to Kennesaw).


Unfortunately the geniuses that are proposing this BRT "solution" have misled the leaders of Cobb County and put the county behind the curve and at the end of the line for any type of rail funding. If they had someone who actually knew what they were doing at Cobb DOT calling the shots they would have been aggressively pursuing a permanent solution (rail) rather than a Band-Aid (BRT) for the last ten or so years.


It may be to late to rectify our ill advised trip down the wrong path.

.

Jackie Nealey
Jackie Nealey

Serious question: Why should Dekalb, Fulton, Clayton agree to anything? There is nothing in this deal for us. Let all the Companies and Corporations that decided to cram up top pay for whatever is needed to help with congestion. We haven't benefited. No disrespect to anyone but for Dekalb, Fulton & Clayton this idea that Keith and MARTA has of thinking we'll agree to another penny is DOA.

DebbieDoRight
DebbieDoRight

@CharlesMartel --  "that kind of bus service (door-to-door) would be expensive. Would you be willing to pay $40+ a day not to drive?"


How does Miami or Orlando or New York or Houston or Philly or San Jose or LA or etc. etc., etc. do it?  I've lived in three of those cities and it has never cost me $40 a day to get from home to work....


==============


@straker -- "Overpopulation in the root cause of this problem as it is for so many others."


Over population maybe. Lack of foresight and planning?  Definitely.


===============


@LogicalDude -- "And some people who do not have a car would really like to have access to true mass transit, not the cobbled together current situation. "


Agreed.  When my sister and aunt moved here from Brazil, they had to depend upon CCT to get them from point "A" to point "B" while I was at work.  Once, when I had to out of town, my sister called me asked me why wasn't her bus coming it was like 2 hours late and she wanted to go to the Parish that day.  Made a few calls but found out since it was on a Sunday, CCT doesn't run on Sundays.  How is that a "realistic" service for a metropolitan area?  If we want to attract global companies to come here and exploit our cheap labor, then we need to a least upgrade our transit systems.


CharlesMartel
CharlesMartel

@DebbieDoRight 


It would be that expensive to deliver that service to everyone here because Metro Atlanta is one of the least densely populated urbanized areas in the world. Those other places could do it because you lived in areas with higher densities of people and their jobs. If you want that kind of service in Atlanta, then move to where it is, and get a job where it goes.

CraigKootsillas
CraigKootsillas

The public was really abused during the evolution of this project. It can't be said that this even was intended to be anything other than a way by which the CIDs could build themselves out further when it was first developed by them in 2001.

No alternatives were given serious consideration, the plan was marketed to well-meaning but misinformed transit groups.  There was brief talk about CSX, but it was not fully explored.

What's a shame is that other areas in Cobb (such as South Cobb and Franklin) never had the opportunity to shape the design.  This has shaped the development of Cobb with those involved in the CIDs sitting on the board of the Development Authority of Cobb County granting tax breaks, fee abatements and lump sum payments to induce companies to build exclusively in the two CIDs.  

It's pretty much a done deal now, and the money spent cannot be redirected.  Hopefully, as the story unfolds, tricks will be revealed and others will be inspired to watch for them.

Those opposed to this plan in Cobb are being unfairly demonized as racist when nothing could be further from the truth.  Everybody got hosed on this deal. It never has been about race, it's been solely about how close you are to the two CIDs and how likely you will be to spend money there.

Using transportation funding for development?  Maybe that's ok  AS LONG as everyone has a shot at the feedbag.  That didn't happen here in Cobb.

M H Smith
M H Smith

The railroads connect every county and city in this state. Even if the rial road corporations - Norfolk Southern CSX - don't want to get involved in passenger rail service those "rial road rights of way" - expanded where needed - are the most logical least expensive least disruptive of all means to provide mass rail transit statewide, under a public-private State passenger rail service corporation - Not under MARTA control. 

But "YOU" said Kyle - as most all of us have said:


It is an unfortunate, but apparently near-universal, impulse among elected officials and planners to use transportation dollars to steer development where they want it to be, rather than facilitating travel between places people already want to go....


 And you’d better hope that leaders in other parts of the region, those places with downtown dreams, are paying attention. That they’re looking for ways to create local versions of the Beltline, which connects neighborhoods without interfering with cars. That they recognize the best infrastructure we have, at least in the northern part of metro Atlanta, is for north-south trips toward the urban core, even as commuters increasingly need to go east-west between faster-growing suburbs.

The Georgia Passenger Rail Service that has been DE-RAILED for years lies in the corrupt laps of politicians and businesses. If we could ever have leaders interested in the best option out of the transportation mess a the statewide Georgia Passenger Rail Service solution would already be providing mass traffic relief and a tremendous boost to the States economy.     

skruorangeclown
skruorangeclown

How long would a rail trip from Kennesaw to downtown  Atlanta be compared toa car ride at rush hour? Of course you may have to sit next to ne of those thugs with their loot and big screens  from all those robberies that occur along MARTA lines.

Bigger question is could Cobb and Gwinnett be linked by an East west line  supplementing Jimmy Carter/ Holcomb Bridge/ Roswell Road as an east west route and same around Perimeter to supplement 285 or is that too much planning for the local goobers?

M H Smith
M H Smith

@lvg 

I can tell you the time it takes the MARTA train to take you to the Airport during rush hour on a Friday: 35 mins. the costs one way is only $3.50. IMHO $3.50 is dirt cheap too cheap it should be $5.00 and compared to all other means that is still dirt cheap.

SR_in_ATL
SR_in_ATL

@Kyle_Wingfield, I don't often agree with you, but this is a really wonderful analysis -- very thoughtful and prudent suggestions too.  You hit the nail on the head with the Cobb Parkway BRT -- it's aspirational rather than practical.  The CSX-tracks already connect county mixed-use hot-spots, and would make a great, practical public transportation option for the county.  These tracks also swing near the new Braves Stadium development and downtown Vinings, right?  And if continued into the city, they also go by the red-hot Westside developments, if I'm not mistaken.


I have a question for you though: are the tracks that run through the downtowns of South Cobb (Norfolk Southern tracks?) also owned by the state, and is the right-of-way also up for renegotiation soon?  I know that Mableton, Austell, and Powder Springs haven't had the same kind of mixed-use development as their northern neighbors.  Still, if existing rail infrastructure is being used to give North Cobb a transit link, might this also be a viable mobility option for South Cobb? 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@SR_in_ATL "These tracks also swing near the new Braves Stadium development and downtown Vinings, right?"

Kind of: They are down the hill from the existing Cobb bus terminal at Cumberland. That should be an easy enough connection to the stadium, but it would take a connection.

As far as I know, the only state-owned tracks in this area are the ones CSX leases. The N-S tracks are privately owned. Of course, MARTA is negotiating with N-S right now for use of its tracks in Clayton, so if that goes well there may be a template for future negotiations in South Cobb as well as Gwinnett.

Archangel
Archangel

Some of you people would relieve a lot of frustration if you would stop listening to and believing in prejudice comments toward Cobb. Believe it or not, there are people who like the freedom of being able to make a stop, got to the store, or run an errand on the way home rather being stuck on a bus/train to get home.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Archangel And some people who do not have a car would really like to have access to true mass transit, not the cobbled together current situation. 

mnt
mnt

@Archangel People who don't own cars would like to have that same freedom to get to the store or run an errand on their way home from work. Can't you see that's the entire point?

JohnInMableton
JohnInMableton

I lived in Montgomery Village and Gaithersburg Maryland for years. Cute little buses taking us to the Metro for the 20 minute ride to downtown DC. Before that, Amtrak and B&O railroad taking us to Union Station, again, pretty quickly and cheaply. That was grand. Versus the multi-hour commute by car either way.

I've lived in Cobb for many years now and understand what scares these folks. But a little planning and touch of common sense will see things through. Just look at two stations, White Flint and Gaithersburg. White Flint, bad people coming from downtown right into a mall. All the bad things you think could happen, happened. 


Gaithersburg on the other hand, great big parking lot with small buses serving the area, no troubles at all to speak of. 

 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

People say that if they had a train from Kennesaw to downtown everyday their life would be improved.   Having lived in Cobb and worked the streets of Cobb County for 35 years, I doubt that is true for most.  People speak as if Kennesaw or Acworth or Powder Springs was a one square mile area.  People have a Kennesaw address and often live 15-20 miles from downtown Kennesaw.  These "cities" are huge areas with only suburban highways, which presents a problem of how do you get to the station.  Can you imagine everyone in West Cobb or North Cobb heading for the train tracks and a railroad station at Barrett Parkway, downtown Marietta, Hwy 92, or Windy Hill Rd.  The traffic from your subdivision to that station would be as bad or worse than your current commute.  When you get there you pay to park and hop on headed to some station in downtown where, you will inevitably have to walk three or four blocks in 95 degree heat.  Would it be better for those folks who live near the stations and work near the drop-off, absolutely.  For most of the others, it is doubtful that this would be that much of an improvement. 


This would be one small step but many more would be needed to address this congestion. Every solution has to be weighed against how many commuters it helps and the money allocated accordingly.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister All the more reason to use the existing infrastructure (RR tracks and I-75) to the fullest extent possible, then focus the available funds for new infrastructure on east-west connectivity to those stations -- and, eventually, to North Fulton and maybe even Paulding.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

"Nor are taxpayers likely to buy the argument more traffic congestion is good because it would boost BRT ridership by making it even more miserable to commute by car."


Kyle, you are incredibly naive.  The Cobb taxpayers voted to tax themselves to the tune of $750 million for "infrastructure improvements" after the county stole $400 million for the Braves.  Thinking that they're going to wise up now means you're living in fantasy land.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

@RichardKPE The Cobb taxpayers didn't vote for that. It was done without a referendum. I wouldn't expect those commissioners to be in place after the next general election.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RichardKPE I assume you are referring to the SPLOST vote -- the one that was purposely designed to leave BRT out of it because the commissioners failed that would sink the entire referendum.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

@RichardKPE Except in my District where Birrell ran unopposed last November. We're stuck with her brand of Grandmotherly corruption for another 4 years.

"It would cost too much to hold a referendum on the stadium. That wouldn't be fiscally responsible."


Tough to vote someone out when no one else runs.

straker
straker

Overpopulation in the root cause of this problem as it is for so many others.

cw1960
cw1960

Nobody deserves sitting in traffic for hours every day than the people of Cobb County. I have absolutely no sympathy for them.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

@cw1960 I feel the same way about Clayton County....oh wait....not I don't. Cause I'm not a bigot.


mnt
mnt

@Archangel @jarvis1975 @cw1960 The fact that you immediately bring up Clayton when someone insults Cobb makes it so obvious that you think it's about race, when it's really about incompetence.

OldBlueEyes46
OldBlueEyes46

Thanks, Kyle.  You're right.  I talk to local leaders who tell me that "light rail won't work," but no one says precisely why not.  I commute downtown from Kennesaw everyday. If they ran a train down the center of I-75 and motorists who were sitting in traffic saw the train whiz by, they'd be on it.  Right now, the buses sit there right along with those of us in cars.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@OldBlueEyes46 I think commuter rail (i.e. a form of "heavy rail") in the existing RR right of way is where Cobb should be looking. No reason to do anything more than express bus on 75 once the express lanes are built.

DebbieDoRight
DebbieDoRight

I live in Cobb and voted for Mass Transit.  I'm sick of sitting in my car for 35 minutes each workday just trying to get on 75S to get to work; and it makes no sense to drive 45 minutes to the nearest "CTC Depot" to catch a bus! It makes more sense IMO just to have a bus that goes right by where you live and can take you all the way to downtown, where you work.  


CharlesMartel
CharlesMartel

@DebbieDoRight , that kind of bus service (door-to-door) would be expensive. Would you be willing to pay $40+ a day not to drive?

PJ25
PJ25

@DebbieDoRight Sounds like you need to change where you live or where you work because this concerns none of us. 

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Cobb has a pretty good track record of getting things right.  Living in Cobb, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They know Cobb a lot better than you know Cobb.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara Maybe. Of course, you have to ask yourself if the county's current leadership is on the same level as its past leadership.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara  , We've had the same county manager since 1993 and most of the board has been in place for a long time. From what I can tell, they do a good job with SPLOST and are trying to grow/revitalize with the Braves. 


Could me a mistake, but they have more insight than I do.  I tend to leave people who do a good job alone.  They have done a good job so far, and we need to let them make it better.  We don't need a bunch of half educated people who are unaware of the long term plans making their lives difficult.

mnt
mnt

@JFMcNamara @Kyle_Wingfield There's no way to be intellectually honest and say that the commissioners who approved funding the Braves stadium are insightful or worthy of the benefit of the doubt.

PJ25
PJ25

They goodness some of us can soon fly over this cesspool of a county.