What would Atlanta look like if MARTA tax passes? Well …

One of the remarkable things about this election year is that a referendum on expanding MARTA has drawn so few remarks.

You would think a bid to raise taxes by $2.5 billion over the next four decades would prompt some debate, or at least some raised eyebrows. Yet the absence of any organized opposition is noticeable. It’d surely be different if the issue were on ballots outside Atlanta. But even if in-towners agree to being taxed, you might expect some squabbling about how the money should be spent. Not a peep that I’ve heard.

AJC Photo / Bob Andres

AJC Photo / Bob Andres

Maybe that’s because Atlantans think the city has so many mass-transit needs that $2.5 billion is just a start. Maybe that’s because they look at all the things that might be built — there’s more on the list than the money could buy — and assume their pet project(s) will eventually make the cut. Maybe they’re just too busy listening to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Whatever my fellow city residents have thought about this question, I invite them to think about the implications of this referendum. Given the silence surrounding the issue, everyone should know what’s coming.

This referendum is best understood as a big bet on a population boom in Atlanta. Yes, there are transit additions that make sense for Atlanta as it is today; the Clifton Corridor line is one. But probably not $2.5 billion worth (a number that could grow substantially with federal matching funds).

Atlanta has one of the smallest shares of its broader region’s population of any major metro area in the country: less than 10 percent. Our region is forecast to add 2.5 million people by 2040. If, say, 1 in 5 of them move to Atlanta proper, the city’s headcount will more than double.

What would that look like? Take the fairly large influx of people we’ve seen over the past five years … more than double it … and then extend that trend unabated for the next two and a half decades.

Such a change would bring much more density to a place that famously lacks it. Atlanta’s population still wouldn’t be as dense as Chicago, but no longer would it be more sparse than Norfolk, Va. That would be a very different city than the one we live in now.

It might also be a city that could justify a whole lot more transit. But what kind?

There isn’t a hard-and-fast list of projects to which MARTA must adhere, as in SPLOST votes, just a more exhaustive list of projects that may be built. That makes some sense, as there are many unknowns (whether neighboring jurisdictions also raise more transit funding, whether the feds kick in some money, and so on). But it also means we’re relying on MARTA and city planners to choose wisely after the tax is created.

For example, does a network of streetcars really make sense as ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft expand to serve the proverbial last mile? Might buses make more sense even on the Beltline, where they don’t appear to be under consideration even though the usual complaints about rubber-wheeled transit (gets stuck in traffic, serves routes that are harder to understand/aren’t permanent) don’t apply? Will the “off the shelf” plans discussed for years continue to make sense two decades from now?

I anticipate voters will pass the tax in spite of all these questions. But they ought to recognize the answers are TBD.

Reader Comments 0

68 comments
IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

The FBI is probing new emails related to Hillary Clinton, FBI Director James Comey said in a Friday letter.



"In previous congressional testimony, I referred to the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had completed its investigation of former Secretary Clinton's personal email server. Due to recent developments, I am writing to supplement my previous testimony," Comey wrote.



There is no reason for the FBI to reopen this investigation unless they have evidence showing that they were lied to. What is the penalty for perjury these days? Why are there not calls for the resignation of this felon from the campaign? 

JaperJones1918
JaperJones1918

It boggles my mind how many well-educated people KEEP buying houses in sprawling developments when statistics more than clearly show what a poor standard for development it is. You spend a month of your year in your car because you want to live in a neighborhood with one way in and out, have a tiny yard and thus use a parkway to get to work and buy goods? All the while forests are being clear cut to make way for more sprawl, the air gets dirtier, wildlife dies, your health deteriorates and you're still stuck in a line of cars a mile long to go a few miles. And our officials keep allowing it!

Under-educated White Guy
Under-educated White Guy

Well, what does it look like now?  Six lanes wide bumper-to-bumper traffic 25 miles from downtown every work day, for the past 25 years?  The only solution enacted by our legislators to date is a $1B program of express toll lanes?


I'm willing to take a chance on what MARTA has to offer.  It certainly cannot get any worse than it is right now.  Maybe we wouldn't be in this mess if outlying counties had passed MARTA expansion referendums 25 years ago.  Unfortunately, their racism got in the way of prudent decision making.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Under-educated White Guy "The only solution enacted by our legislators to date is a $1B program of express toll lanes?"

You say that as if it's insignificant. The latest data show weekday usage of the I-85 HOT lanes this year has averaged more than 27,500 vehicles. Given that 15% of these trips were non-tolled -- meaning they have at least 3 people in the vehicle, and likely many more considering some of these are buses -- the number of people using these lanes is well over 35,000 each weekday.

By comparison, the Clifton Corridor's projected ridership is more like 24,000 per day.

bu2
bu2

@Under-educated White Guy Yes it can get worse.  Atlanta could use all its money on streetcars that move as slow as buses, costs many times more and have no flexibility.  Since they have limited stops, they provide worse service.  In addition, they will clog our limited existing arterial streets, slowing car traffic as well.  LA has actually built a system better than the streetcar system Atlanta is proposing and has had decreased ridership even while the population has grown.

Matthew Pociask
Matthew Pociask

Don't expand MARTA because city of Atlanta is only ten percent of the metro population? This joker realizes MARTA serves three counties, not just CoA, right? Improvements to the core of the system benefit everyone that uses the system. And would also make Atlanta a more desirable place to live, raise tax revenues, reduce traffic, etc. etc.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The daily drip of documentation showing the corruption that exists in the Clinton's way of life is beginning to take its toll on Hillary's campaign. Only the pathetic grubers that we see on the AJC blogs and low information voters blinded to this corruption are standing in Hillary's corner. The side that has the most energy to vote will determine the outcome.

Under-educated White Guy
Under-educated White Guy

@SGTGrit Pray tell,Hillary has been convicted of committing what crimes?  She's corrupt how, exactly? Can you share with the rest of us some examples of this "daily drip"?


That's what I thought.  You're another under-educated, middle-class, pissed-off-because-of-his-own-failures-in-life, older white male Trump supporter, I presume?  


Donald Trump - your hero - who took money donated to his Trump Foundation charity and commissioned 2 ea 6-ft portraits of himself?  The guy who ordered $100,000 worth of pianos from a music store in NJ and then told the vendor he would only pay him $70,000? The guy who was caught lying 16 times during the 1st presidential debate?


BTW, it's "grubber", Einstein.  You two deserve each other.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Kyle is more comfortable commenting on local civic issues, while his far left AJC colleagues spew their political propaganda trying in their limited readership way to help Hillary Clinton.

Pickle7
Pickle7

@SGTGrit Flipside:  Kyle is embarrassed by his political party this cycle and would understandably rather talk about anything else.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Pickle7 @SGTGrit Flip-flipside: Everything I've written in the past month, with the exception of my biweekly print columns reproduced here, has been about national politics.

bu2
bu2

@Pickle7 @SGTGrit The AJC would serve its public better if it actually focused more on local issues.  There are lots of sources for national issues.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Having lived in cities that had all three systems (heavy rail, light rail and buses) as well as those that had heavy rail and buses only, I would say that buses can carry as many people as light rail/streetcars, but light rail/streetcars has the advantage of lower pollution now and in the near future. I believe that light rail/street cars and buses are not mutually exclusive, each having its place in different parts of a city and for different routes. Even when non-polluting buses will replace the pollution ones, there are good reasons for all three systems to coexist.

NightWatcher
NightWatcher

Kasim Reed's TV ads mention something about bringing new rail to southwest Atlanta, but he doesn't say what he means.  


MARTA has no plans shelved or otherwise for any sort of rail expansion in the southwest.  They have long had very rough expansion plans for a rail line across Hapeville and down into Clayton county -but those places are not IN Atlanta, or even in Fulton county in some cases.  And those projects are 20-30 years out.  If ever.


The main issue with MARTA is that they used to have a magnificent bus network. People who have been here since before there was rail may even remember how easy it was to get across town in all directions, quickly and cheaply.  Bus fares were a dime when I started riding it, then a quarter, and so forth.  You got a LOT for the money.


But then the rail came in and suddenly fares when up to pay for it, and at the same time, MARTA began culling their wonderful bus lines.  First every bus line HAD to connect to the train. NO exceptions even if it didn't make sense.  Then they proceeded to cut route after route after route until it is now at least very impractical to take a cross-town bus, even if the routes still exist, because it probably doesn't run very often and takes a meandering path to compensate for cutting all the other routes. In short, they have wrecked all the things that worked beautifully about the bus routes and then of course people look at the buses now and shake their heads and skip over it to talk about rail again.


Rail IS an answer to longer hauls.  It works feeding people to and from the airport and downtown.  But it cannot possibly be the way to connect neighborhoods the way the old buses did.  There is just no way.   And by demanding rail rail rail, the costs soar and the timelines get pushed out decades.


Buses are inexpensive and perfect for lower tier routes especially for cross-towning or loops around an area like the beltline.  And yes there are clean buses nowadays that run on natural gas or electric.  The best thing is you don't have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and years to put in a street car line to find out if people even want to go that way.   You can setup and stop bus routes instantly.   It's totally flexible.


I am not sure if anyone realizes, the entire route of the streetcar used to be served by bus routes.  The 17 ran down Edgewood from Five Points, and the 4 Auburn Ave ran on Auburn.  It was quick and easy and simple.   And they replaced that brilliant idea with a Streetcar that is stuck and can't change routes or anything without hundreds of millions of dollars more.   It's crazy. 


Some say run it down Peachtree.  We used to HAVE a bus that ran down Peachtree.  The number 10, Five Points to Arts Center mirroring the rail line below.  And from there you could catch the 23 the rest of the way out Peachtree into Buckhead.  But even before that, the 23 USED to come all the way down to Woodruff Park!  Long before the rail existed, you could ride the 23 all the way up Peachtree to Oglethorpe.  In other words, we HAD 100% coverage for ALL of Peachtree.   And they killed it because the rail came in.  Perhaps that made sense at the time but here we are now with people clamoring for what we had in hand 40 years ago.






Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@NightWatcher "And by demanding rail rail rail, the costs soar and the timelines get pushed out decades."

That is such an important point.

David Taylor
David Taylor

The same. If they have a car they are not going to ride the bus

joeintucker
joeintucker

Yes, because being stacked one on top of each other like cord wood and rats running thru rat holes is a way to live; if one wanted NY or Shtikago - move there! ..and oh yeah, the best thing to happen in urban Atl. for the last 30yrs is the Beltline, so let's screw that up by putting rail or buses on it! ... don't want to give the fat lards an excuse not to exercise or give folks an alternative to cars or public transit!!

Pickle7
Pickle7

@joeintucker If you don't want to live near population density, then don't.  A lot of people do though, and the tide is definitely moving in the direction of more density.


Once you realize giving up a little space and privacy means you can avoid getting in your car over the weekends, it all becomes worth it.  This is going to be increasingly true as Atlanta's population keeps expanding with limited expansion opportunities in our street grid.

Gabriel_ATL
Gabriel_ATL

Write more about this before the election.  The rest of the county voted it down.  We already pay a penny.  That is a 50% increase for what?  The street car is already a $100 million burden that was brought to us by the same people pushing this and the TSPLOST.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

@Gabriel_ATL Actually your reps led by Jan Jones cut a deal to vote on a roads only deal while the city got to vote on transit

RidgecrestDawg
RidgecrestDawg

Sorry for the length here. 


I've taken the train into Five Points from the East on the Blue Line every work day for the past ten years. I walk to "my" station from the house and into the office from Five Points. It's a great commute. I wish more people could do something similar, but alas. 


Trains are definitely a big investment and require a great deal of planning - and MARTA itself is a management challenge. But the bottom line is that buses simply cannot move the volume of people that trains can as efficiently as trains can. Nor can Uber. 


As an example, each morning on the Blue line, there are about two hours of what I'd call "rush" hour. There are 6 trains an hour, 6 cars each, for a total of 72 cars. These cars have a similar capacity to a bus; let's call it 60. My experience is that at any given time during this interval, each car has every seat full and some standing, with some cars in the middle being very crowded. Point being, they're being used. 


The Hamilton Holmes train from Indian Creek gets to Five Points in 23 minutes making 10 stops along the way. That's about 400 people getting from point A to point B in 23 minutes or less every day, rain or shine, 12 times during those two hours, both morning and evening. 


That represents 4300 individuals being served at ten different locations in 120 minutes, twice a day, on just one line. 


There is no feasible way to replicate that with buses:  It would take one bus over an hour to make ten stops along that line, and it would only be carrying 60 people. And assuming it could be done in one hour, 432 buses would be needed to replicate the same amount of capacity. 


The issue we have now is the result of tribal politics and a lack of leadership and planning that plagued Atlanta in the 70's and 80's. But what's done is done.


The question then, is whether or not we will try to make things better for future generations by making the necessary investments now. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RidgecrestDawg I'm not talking about replacing today's high-capacity trains with buses. I'm talking about whether future routes should have the proposed light rail -- the "light" means "light capacity," so not the high volumes you're talking about -- or buses. Having lived in a place (Brussels) that had all three, and personally used all three on a near-daily basis, I would agree buses are not a replacement for heavy rail in most cases. But I would argue they easily can be expected to carry as many people as light rail/streetcars.

RidgecrestDawg
RidgecrestDawg

@Kyle_Wingfield @RidgecrestDawg Right. But to the extent that we are restricted to making a transit decision that is limited to Atlanta/Fulton County, it's because of the fear and loathing that has been instilled into the region about funding heavy mass transit. 


Kyle, you are a part of that system of Doubt propagation that has prevented the region from developing a functional mass transit system. 


A light rail system will not get someone from Snellville to Marietta, or from Suntrust Park to Decatur. Buses can't do that either. 


The street car & or light rail can be a nice point solution for moving folks around intown tourist/bar/restaurant districts, but that is not a solution for real commuters. 

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Kyle


Do you support the referendum at all? I ask because while the final list could have been more defined the heart of the question remains about supporting MARTA and its expansion. Regarding Clifton Corridor I thought it was quite interesting that Emory felt the need to be annexed into Atlanta to actually get that project built since Dekalb County at large can't draft concise language on the HOST tax thus delaying the vote on Marta there. Clearly they also feel that Atlanta is the more ascendant of the two. 

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius If they implement the streetcar expansion like the current route in service I would agree and I'm surprised the Legislature cut the deal they did to allow the vote...honestly I think the Beltline has created a scenario where they can modernize the fleet and stations while building out light rail on the Beltline and Clifton....the cost to live anywhere in those areas will skyrocket....I'm personally interested to see what the potential rail situation in Clayton County will look like as I think commuter rail is probably the regional solution while any heavy rail extensions or infill stations will be used for economic development

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius Agree on commuter rail. It's the most logical way to extend service into Cobb or Gwinnett (assuming they want it).

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius I'm curious to know why you think it needs to be light rail on the Beltline. Buses could be implemented faster and cheaper, with more flexibility to add routes that go both on and off the loop.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius I think light rail has been baked into that cake since the first renderings....while buses could be used ultimately I think they will do everything they can to use light rail because its sexier....I do like the bus rapid transit ideas laid out for Northside Dr for instance 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius Yeah, it seems more about the aesthetic to me. Too much, for my taste. As someone who'd actually take Beltline transit to PCM or Krog Street -- and would prefer not to have to wait 15 years or so until a light rail line can be fully built out -- I'd rather see them start much sooner with buses. If it made sense later to "upgrade" to light rail, they could do that. (And buses can be made to look an awful lot like trains these days, to suit the aesthetes among us: http://insideofknoxville.com/2014/11/road-network-and-transit-pt-2-what-a-transit-system-needs/)

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius That could be an interesting start...in fact I think they have a few of the stretch buses on certain routes for a short time...I think once the referendum passes then the sausage making will start to be front and center in 2017 and the Beltline with its visibility will be the most discussed

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ATLAquarius I'm honestly caught in the middle. I do think there are good projects to be built, but I can't get fully on board with a tax that will fund unknown projects. My biggest hang-up is the tax seems likely to fund a streetcar network that will be obsolete before it's even finished.

bu2
bu2

@ATLAquarius The Clifton Corridor proposal is horrible.  It will strangle the neighborhood and kill it.  Those streets cannot handle light rail taking up space.  With the massive cost from all the tunneling, they should figure out a way to make that HRT.  They could at the very least do a stub from Lindberg to the VA Hospital even if they can't make it work all the way to Avondale.

bu2
bu2

@Kyle_Wingfield @ATLAquarius Buses on the Beltline don't fit their vision thing.  It could really be a much bigger aid to transit if they did.  You would have grade separated lanes for buses that could speed a number of bus routes through the city.

TicTacs
TicTacs

Something worthwhile is worth spending money on.  Can't go shopping without a budget

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

To be determined?

Determinedly Discussed?

TBDD?

Thus spoke FIGMO!

Pickle7
Pickle7

We can't have improvements without the funding and we can't have the funding without passing the referendum.  And I think it's impossible to argue that we don't need the improvements.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Pickle7 Yes, but the question is *which* improvements. And that question won't be answered until after the referendum.

Pickle7
Pickle7

@Kyle_Wingfield @Pickle7 Honestly, determining which specific plans they're going to implement isn't my biggest concern.  Although there are items on the agenda that I'd prefer more than others (namely the light rail / beltline loop), I'm of the opinion that I'd benefit indirectly from any further expansion of MARTA.  More people on MARTA = less people on the road.


Not to mention, from all accounts, Keith Parker has done a fantastic job turning around MARTA, and he has my full faith and confidence to deploy my tax money as needed.  



Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Pickle7 Not sure I agree that absolutely any expansion of MARTA necessarily means a significant decrease in the number of people on the road. The current Atlanta Streetcar certainly undermines your case.

As for Parker: I agree, he's been fantastic. But neither he nor MARTA will be fully in charge of deciding what gets built. The city and the feds will have at least as big a voice in that debate. And suffice it to say I have substantially less faith they will get it right (see, again, the streetcar).

Pickle7
Pickle7

@Kyle_Wingfield @Pickle7 I guess I'm just not as sold on the Streetcar being a complete failure (yet).  If they could connect it Eastward to the Beltline at Krog St. Market, then I think you'd have a whole host of new riders, in both directions.  For now though, it's kind of a loop to nowhere.


We're at a weird point with the Streetcar.  Do we call it a failure and cut our losses, or do we make another incremental investment to try to tap into the perceived potential.  I vote we move forward and see where it can go.  It might be the right decision, maybe not, but there's only one way to find out.

Jonathan Banes
Jonathan Banes

Sensible people are starting to realize that Atlanta needs to drastically expand its mass transit assets beyond building more highways or lanes on existing ones. MARTA under the leadership of CEO Parker and Board Chairman Ashe, the agency has turned around dramatically in the last 3-4 years, with new expansion initiatives, new routes, and new heavy rail and bus fleets. It'll take time, money, and political will, but the Atlanta Metro region needs more MARTA if wants to remain a global city.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

I'm voting for it. I'm close to the beltline and have been having a harder and harder time taking the kids to school every morning. There is also a lot of condos and apartments going up with parking garages of course.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@JeffreyEav If you look at the experience of other cities which have grown to capacity, the traffic future of Atlanta looks bleak, MARTA expansion or not.