Major MARTA Expansion Could Transform the Atlanta Region

MARTA officials have proposed new, high-capacity service into North Fulton County and east into DeKalb County that could link important job centers by rail for the first time. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it could “change the face of Atlanta.”MARTARailMapPropExpansionProjects_071715-01

The new rail service would finally connect residential areas to the rapidly growing area encompassing Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control, just east of the city limits. It would also extend all the way north to Alpharetta, a booming business center 25 miles north of Atlanta in Fulton County.

Officials from Cobb County, just west of Fulton, have long resisted and even ridiculed the idea of bringing transit access there, and Gwinnett County to the east is too low-slung and suburban to consider rail service at this point. But Fulton’s charge ahead into a more urban future could cause its neighbors to reconsider their ways.

MARTA Board Chair Robbie Ashe says the transit expansion could propel a new model of growth in the region. “Corporations are increasingly demanding immediate proximity to transit stations,” Ashe told the AJC. “State Farm did it when they came here. Mercedes did it. Worldpay did it when it relocated. Kaiser is going to be located two blocks from here because of the Arts Center Station.”

Best of all, according to Darin Givens who blogs at ATL Urbanist, these new stations, even the ones far out in the suburbs, are likely to be surrounded by transit-oriented development rather than park-n-rides.

“MARTA has now accepted that it’s time to undo its park-n-rides,” Givens said. “They’re trying to turn all these park-n-ride lots around MARTA stations — around a lot of them — into transit-oriented development.”
The agency hasn’t released any proposals for developing the areas near the new stations, but Givens is hopeful that they’ll be surrounded by walkable, mixed-use development. “MARTA leadership understands that the way of the future for MARTA, and for Atlanta, is to build in a new way around these MARTA stations that allows people to walk to them,” he said.

The agency would need Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties to agree to a half-penny sales tax to fund the expansion. The counties already have state permission to ask residents to tax themselves, but only for five years. MARTA is petitioning the state to allow a much longer sunset of 42 years. They’ll also need special permission for the revenues to be directed to the transit agency.

It’s unclear why Clayton would be taxed. The county doesn’t get any new service in the most recent proposal and it just approved a full-penny sales tax last fall to be included in the MARTA network for the first time.

City of Atlanta Must Carefully Weigh its Future Transit and Streetcar Options

By Heather Alhadeff

The reaction to Maria Saporta’s recent streetcar/BeltLine articles produced an unusually hot-tempered string of comments. From my perspective as a transportation planner, what seems to be muddying the waters of this debate is a natural misunderstanding of the long-term, multipurpose benefits of a variety of transit routes.

Commenters tended to lump all trip purposes and transportation technologies together. A more nuanced understanding could help the dialogue become more productive.

Additionally, comments narrowly defined benefits and costs when in actuality there are seemingly unrelated outcomes and impacts that a city must balance. In many economic debates, it’s not uncommon to recognize ancillary benefits.

For example, solving the City of Atlanta’s pension problem didn’t affect anyone in my family, but it right-sized a significant budgetary weakness and improved the city’s bond rating, which will continue to directly impact my life via other projects and programs.

Providing transportation options to a citizenry is one of the most essential and effective ways a government can ensure the highest level of opportunities and quality of life. But life and progress are nit static. Cities deliver transportation systems in segments or phases and at the same time people are moving and economic conditions shift. However, one thing is certain. A segment passes though areas of different types of land uses and land value and is used by both the rich and poor for different types of trips, at different times of day.

Sometimes I use I-85 to get to my soccer games, sometimes to a meeting. When I was younger, I used I-75 to get to my job, now it’s used to visit some friends. My family drives a sedan to dinner, but at one time we needed a 15-passenger van for a longer trip. A van was lower and certainly cost more in gas, but it was the most appropriate option for that trip. I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed a flight on a small private plane to go a state or two away. I have also used a larger jet to fly all the way to Washington State.

Similar to needing different cars and planes, a MARTA bus varies from MARTA rail, and I use and need both for different destinations and trip types. Sometimes I will travel on the train from Midtown to downtown, but sometimes I will take the Midtown-downtown bus if I need to speed up to a meeting nearby or if heavy packages prevent me from walking to the station. The upcoming streetcar service will help me too, although buses have been serving the area and the train station is nearby. The bottom line is that a true transportation system requires different types of technologies for different trip purposes and for different times of the day.

Some people will not ride a MARTA bus, but they will ride a MARTA train. Some people will not fly, but they will drive. If a city wants to offer its residents the most opportunity to succeed (thereby reducing resource demands) then it is the city’s responsibility to consider and plan for as many people and trip types as it can.

The general idea of connecting the traditional BeltLine transit loop to more destinations and riders in the city has been in the heads of planners for years. In the City of Atlanta’s case, a couple of years ago the Transportation Improvement Act (or TSPLOST) was absorbing an inordinate amount of time from elected officials, policy makers and an already overburdened staff. The City’s Transportation Planning staff and the Atlanta BeltLine Inc’s transportation staff were both asked to assess and organize their projects to compete with the new regional TIA criteria.

Fatefully, around the same time the Atlanta Regional Commission was also updating its long-range plan. So, with city and ABI staff goals overlapping, the city staff was also busy organizing the rest of the City’s project needs.

The city leadership and ABI staff determined it was the appropriate time to look at additional routes linking to the BeltLine, specifically calling for Streetcar service and the type trips that technology offers.

Thus ABI staff launched a prioritization process for BeltLine-related routes that will be used by citizens “off” of the BeltLine. To be fair to ABI, they took the lead on planning for those BeltLine-connecting routes because they had more staff and planning funds than were available to the city’s staff at that time.

So it’s no wonder there is public confusion and pressure from City Council to better understand the staffing roles and the lens with which the different entities prioritize projects.

The on-going transit debate can be a healthy one if we can at least begin to differentiate between the benefits and attributes of the Atlanta Streetcar, the BeltLine-related projects as well as MARTA’s bus and rail.

Any one transit segment is likely to serve existing congestion demand, while on some parcels, it will enable future growth — development likely to be less dependent on cars. Any one segment can be expected to serve rich and poor, workers and retirees. The difference is some segments will serve varying proportions of those parcels and people, yet each project will benefit everyone more than any “ridership or economic estimate” could hope to calculate or predict.

As we look to the future, we need recognize multiple stages of growth and needs that does indeed mean pursuing funds for projects requiring existing ridership as well as serving citizens and businesses regardless of the amount and value of development surrounding them. Such wise variety in transit investments ensures that we are creating the Atlanta we want to become.

MARTA Present Route To Avondale Station

MARTA has scheduled two meetings in early December to enable the public tolearn about, and comment on, plans to advance the proposed light rail line that’s to stretch from the Lindbergh Station, through the Clifton Road corridor, to the Avondale Station.

Lihgt rail

The proposed light rail line that would serve the Emory University area has been discussed for nearly 20 years.

The general concept is to create a transit option for commuters from the Lindbergh Station to the Avondale Station. One of two options includes a tunnel and above-ground structure. The other does not include the tunnel.

The route was to have been funded with proceeds of the transportation sales tax that was on the ballot in 2012. Although voters rejected the proposed 1 percent sales tax, advocates of the “Clifton Road corridor” transit route have continued to foster the project.

The state Legislature is expected to revisit in the transportation funding issue during the 2015 session. Any measure is likely to take two years to win approval, which means a funding mechanism could be in place with the environmental impact study of the Clifton Road route is complete, in 2015 or 2016.light rail

Some lawmakers are discussing an increase in the statewide motor fuel tax. Another proposal would enable a few counties to unite to propose a transportation referendum, rather than the 10 counties that were involved in the 2012 referendum.

Meeting details:
Dec. 4: Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1438 Sheridan Rd. NE., Atlanta, GA 30324
Dec. 9: Emory University Student Activity and Academic Center (SAAC), Room 316,1946 Starvine Way, Decatur, GA 30033.

– See full aritcle By David Pendered here.

MARTA and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises

read original article here.

Beginning of April, Lara Hodgson, CEO and Founder of NOWaccount came by and brought experts from Atlanta’s mass transit authority and a WBE who’s worked with them to talk about MARTA and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. Ferdinand Risco is the Executive Director for Marta’s Diversity and Equal Opportunity platform. This arm of MARTA focuses on engaging Atlanta’s disadvantaged business enterprises to provide them with opportunities to vie for contracts and sub-contracts to work with federally-funded projects around the community.

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Ferdinand shared that their goal for DBE participation is 30% of contracts awarded to this demographic of Atlanta’s business community. He talked about the fact that there are business opportunities on a broad spectrum of needs from basic office supplies to construction, planning, and other services. We talked about the online resources MARTA makes available to allow local business owners to easily review current and upcoming projects they could potentially participate in.

We also talked about the fact that business owners need to go through the effort to establish credit and corporate structuring to position themselves to be able to meet certification requirements for DBE status. Through partnerships with GMSDC and SBA, MARTA helps business owners have access to these often-free education and mentoring resources, as well as access to necessary resources such as working capital.

Lara shared information about NOWaccount’s recent partnering with MARTA to make their innovative capital solution available to the B2B community. This solution gives business owners access to their AR capital within 5 days or less for 2.5% of the total AR sold. In this way, NOWaccount gives B2B’s quick access to the capital they’ve already earned so they can add new staff, take larger orders, or purchase in bulk on discounts they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.

Lara also introduced us to Heather Alhadeff, President of Center Forward, a transportation and land use planning firm based in Atlanta. Heather is so committed to the value of mass transit, she hasn’t owned a car in years. In addition to avoiding headaches associated with driving with Atlanta traffic, she also has gained first-hand experience of what users of our mass transit system experience. This affords her with insight to be able to recommend options that would improve on the experience and/or allows her to effectively engage community residents when discussing developments (growth or retraction) of mass transit, road systems, or urban land development.

We talked about why transportation is such a key element of urban or city planning, discussing examples of how mass transit availability can have unexpected impacts on such facets of our lives as healthcare delivery and other important functions.

Special Guests:

Ferdinand Risco, Executive Director of Diversity and Equal Opportunity,

MARTA Official Right About Limited Options

By April Hunt ahunt@ajc.com

MARTA General Manager, Keith Parker, wrote on twitter, “18 percent of jobs are accessible by transit for metro Atlanta residents, 33 percent for those living in the city.”

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The statement came with the hashtag OpportunityATL, days after yet another major business, Mercedes-Benz USA, announced a corporate relocation that puts it next to both highways and MARTA rail.

Is there something to the claim that stretches beyond the miles of snarled traffic on four highways last week? We decided to check it out.

First, as the hashtag indicates, the statement did not come out of the ether. Parker posted the figures as he live-tweeted presentations at a forum sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Author Rebecca Burns was the keynote at the Building Opportunity event focused on poverty and transportation. She cited The Brookings Institution for those statistics on a slide during her presentation.

To find out if those stats are accurate, we reached out to Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. That’s the unit that conducts research for cities and their surrounding suburbs and exurbs.

A 2011 report, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America ,” found that the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metro area was among the worst in the nation for residents trying to reach work via transit.

The study, the most recent available, looked at how many people can reach work in 90 minutes between 6 and 9 a.m. on a Monday.

Typical residents in the nation’s largest 100 metro areas can reach about 30 percent of jobs by transit in 90 minutes, the study found.

In Atlanta, the transit studied included MAR-TA, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and regional bus services in Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Yet workers here reached just 22 percent of jobs that way.

That ranked Atlanta 91st out of the 100 largest metro areas studied. The numbers are, as Parker’s tweet suggested, even worse for the region’s suburbanites.

The study found that 33 percent of the region’s jobs are accessible for city residents by public transportation and just 17 percent for suburbanites.

“In some ways, it’s not surprising, given the age the cities developed in,” said Adie Tomer, a research fellow at Brookings who co-authored the study. “Atlanta was really built in the era of the car, and so it’s built out in a suburban style.”

So the numbers are pretty on target and somewhat expected. More than the exact numbers, though, is the overarching point.

Tomer said cities with more transit access are effectively providing more options for workers. They can drive to work, ride a train, ride a bike, or even walk.

Meanwhile, the traffic jam last week showed the “virus” effect a backup can have on highways as well as surface streets when those options are limited. That ripple effect is prompting more suburban counties to gear up for serious talks about transportation options and has even put “public transit” in the mix of the state Legislature’s debate this year about transportation improvements.

The challenges are clear. An exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll recently found that almost 70 percent of Georgians support new bus and rail lines. But only 36 percent said they’d pay higher taxes to pay for transportation improvements.

Yet the benefits are just as clear. Mercedes-Benz USA’s CEO recently cited easy access for workers as a factor in its planned to move to Sandy Springs

— suburban but adjacent to rail lines. Other major firms, from State Farm to PulteGroup, have made similar statements about their relocations.

MARTA and other public transit projects have likewise had a run of good headlines. Clayton County residents voted in November for their county to become the third to join MARTA — the first in 40 years.

The Atlanta Streetcar’s launch in December, the first expansion of a new rail line in years, drew attention nationally.

To that end, Parker said, he posted that tweet because the statistics startled him. Looking at them another way, at least six out of every 10 metro workers lack access by public transportation to jobs.

Like Tomer, Parker hopes the existing collaboration between MAR-TA and bus lines in outlying counties will be seen by policymakers as an option — one to further investigate and expand.

“We want people to look at us as a real alternative to get them to work, to school, to recreation,” Parker said. “You can know with a sense of certainty that 95 percent we are on time with train service. I dare say we don’t have that level of certainty on the highway system right now. We want people to see this is a viable option.”

So as state and local leaders hash out ideas to discuss those options, can they count on the statistics reflecting workers’ access to jobs by public transit today?

Parker posted a tweet from a forum, claiming 33 percent of people in the city and 18 percent elsewhere have that access. An independent analysis confirmed the point, if not the precise number for suburbanites.

We rate the claim True.

This article was edited for length. See a complete version and its sources here.

MARTA Aims To Expand Paid Parking At Rail Stations

Land that is set aside for parking is very costly and frequently is passed along in “hidden” costs to everyone (sometimes even to non-drivers). Employers, malls, restaurants, etc. absorb such costs through their leases. Most then pass along as indirect costs to employee/customer.

This approach appears acceptable in the suburbs or where land is cheap. Rather than absorbing that loss, MARTA is making those costs transparent to drivers. Even when gas is low, paying to park is still cheaper than driving. And of course, transit still helps lower congestion and air emissions, offers nap or reading time, etc.

— AtlBizChron (@AtlBizChron) December 29, 2014

MARTA Ridership and Revenue Are Up

Read full article by Katie Leslie here.

MARTA ridership and revenue are up, signs the transportation system is at long last rebounding from a steady five-year decline.

MARTA CEO Keith Parker said the system is now operating in the black, with $422.8 million in revenue during the last fiscal year, up from $332.9 million in 2009.
And while ridership figures are still far below the 156 million annual trips MARTA saw five years ago, the system has recently seen an uptick, adding a million new trips in the first quarter of this fiscal year, a 6 to 7 percent increase from a ysmart bathroomear ago.
Much of that gain, Parker said, is seen in Buckhead, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody.

Parker, who joined the once-troubled agency two years ago, said the growth stems from improving perception and services, such as on-time performance. At the same time, the agency is working to appeal to an influx of millennials flocking to the city with technological advances, like tracking trains with smartphones.

On Thursday Parker announced the system plans to convert some of its station bathrooms to “smart restrooms,” a high-tech facility that uses motion sensors and software to track users and maintenance needs.
MARTA’s pilot restroom is now open at its Lindbergh rail station, with the next to open in East Point by late summer. The high-tech toilets alleviate the need for around-the-clock restroom staffing, and the agency hopes to ultimately re-open the facilities that were closed during the recession.

Parker said MARTA is now working on additional technological improvements to appeal to modern passengers, such as adding Wifi to buses and trains. The agency is also exploring smartphone apps that would allow passengers to make mobile payments and use their phones to access MARTA .

“We want to do everything we can do to keep our customers connected, that’s what the young folks tell us,” he said. “…Bottom line is you won’t need a Breeze card. You will just need your phone.”