The Livable Communities Coalition

Working to improve Atlanta's quality of life through smart growth

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Anti-transit myth #4: Transit does not relieve congestion

Myth 4: Transit does not relieve congestion.

Excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

Transit can and often does relieve congestion. St. Louis’s MetroLink light rail line provides a good example. MetroLink’s singe 18-mile [line] carried 14.2 million passengers in 1999. According to a 1997 riders’ survey, 69 percent were commuting to work. Most were doing so in rush hours, when highway congestion is at its worst. And only 27 percent of MetroLink’s riders either did not drive of had no car available.

The fact of the matter is that some kinds of transit have a strong effect on highway congestion, but other kinds do not. In general, buses running on city streets have little effect on congestion, because they do not prove a better level of service than the autos that impede their flow.

One study after another shows that high-quality transit, especially rail transit, can reduce congestion.

And what about the myth that a rail transit line has less capacity than a single lane of freeway or even a major arterial road? The facts are clear enough:

The basic problem with urban/suburban freeways is that they take a up so much space for the capacity they deliver. At 1500 cars per lane per hour, a six-lane freeway’s maximum capacity is about 11,000 people per hour…within a 300 foot right of way. Urban rail systems can deliver as much more capacity in 100 foot or less [right of way]. The Dallas light rail line when completed to Garland and Richardson will be able to deliver at least 20% more hourly capacity than a six lane freeway (13,760 people per hour) at 14% less capital cost per mile. Heavy rail systems like the Washington Metrorail have five times the capacity of a six lane freeway in about one third the space and cost about the same per mile as the Century Freeway in Los Angeles.

Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable sets schedule to avert gridlock

Roundtable members wrestled with the written intent of the Transportation Investment Act at the Sep. 16 roundtable meeting. Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson successfully established consensus on the procedural matter of introducing amendments and set a schedule to develop a final project list by the Oct. 15 deadline.

ATLANTA - The full 21-member Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable attended to administrative and procedural issues at Friday’s meeting.

Considering what is at stake for the region – a $6.14 billion shot in the arm to mitigate traffic and make strategic investments in transportation infrastructure – a procedural matter loomed large over the meeting.

The roundtable sought clarification on their next steps for negotiating and approving the final project list by the Oct. 15 deadline.

As roundtable chairman Bucky Johnson explained, “There’s a little bit of a quirk in the bill that basically says you have to reject the draft list in order to have amendments.”

While the roundtable’s executive committee has already approved a draft project list, which the full roundtable could simply adopt without any changes, many expect
the list to change.

To simplify matters and support the work that went into the draft project list, Johnson proposed “we talk about the amendments and get consensus on the amendments, and
then [Oct. 6] in one motion say we reject the list in favor of this amended list.

What we’re talking about today is a schedule and a process.”

Friday’s meeting established that the roundtable will use the Sep. 25 and Oct. 6 meetings to introduce and reach consensus on amendments.

And for all the talk about a regional transportation network leading up to the Aug. 15 meeting, there remains a question about being able to fulfill that vision
without the proposed Griffin commuter rail line, which did not make the executive committee’s draft project list.

According to Georgians for Passenger Rail chief executive officer Gordon Kenna, the roundtable should reconsider the Griffin commuter rail line because it will bring critical development to south metro Atlanta and there is already $30 million in available federal funding available to jumpstart the proposed line.

The Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club also hopes the roundtable will reconsider its position not only on the Griffin commuter line but also a road project in Gwinnett County that would resurrect a portion of the failed Northern Arc. The Gwinnett leg is projected to cost an estimated $296 million.

“This is a good list, but we’re looking a great list,” Sierra Club Georgia chapter director Colleen Kiernan said. “We’re very disappointed by [inclusion of] the Sugarloaf Pkwy extension in the Gwinnett project list.

We think that if that money could be transferred to transit up I-85 that may be something that voters will be inspired by.”

It also remains to be seen whether the full $602 million proposed allocation for the Atlanta Beltline will survive the negotiations. Already, mayors from Johns
Creek, Roswell and Sandy Springs have expressed their opposition to funding the BeltLine project at that level, a condition that has raised the ire of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Amid the lingering questions regarding the projects, a handful of roundtable members expressed their anxiety about the proposed schedule, the roundtable’s ability to make further amendments beyond Oct. 6 and the possibility of missing the Oct. 15 deadline.

Notably, Cobb County Commission chairman Tim Lee raised that concern, perhaps anticipating some political pressure regarding the proposed Cumberland light rail line, which has raised some controversy in Cobb County.

“Basically, what you are saying here is that we need to be done by the 6th,” Lee said.

“Do you or do you not have the right to call a special meeting in order for us to discuss that at a date that allows staff enough time?” Lee inquired further.

Jane Hayse, division chief of transportation planning at the Atlanta Regional Commission, clarified the roundtable’s obligation to deliver 4 items by the Oct. 15th
deadline. Those deliverables are:

  1. A final project list;
  2. The project schedule;
  3. A revenue forecast;
  4. And, the total cost for the projects included on the final project list.

While acknowledging the roundtable’s difficult task, Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman reminded the roundtable about the significance of this effort – and the place transit ought to occupy.

“This is truly a big deal; the question between now and next July is whether we will push this across the goal line or fumble away the opportunity,” Christman said.
“Just as any football team that’s any good needs to be able to both run and pass the ball, any modern successful metropolitan region needs to be able to move people by both roads and transit.

Any retreat from [transit] portions of the existing draft list would be met by serious disappointment by tens of thousands of voters that polls and surveys have showed are looking for an expanded transit vision for this region.”

Anti-transit myth #3: Cars are faster than trains or buses

Excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

Myth 3: Commuting by rail is slower than commuting by car or bus.

If rail transit is slower than driving, why do so many people drive their cards to rail transit parking lots and take the train into town?

Both speed and commuting time comparisons used by transit critics tend to be misleading, because they compare apples and oranges. Cars are faster if they are on freeways away from city centers at rush hours, where traffic congestion is relatively low. Once the cars are in or near city centers during rush hours, highway speed drops drastically. That is the logic behind park-and-ride: the train bypasses the clogged highways in or near the central business district.

In comparing car vs. rail commuting times, the critics introduce another spurious factor. Many of the commuting journeys represented in their “average commuting time by car” figures are short, suburb-to-suburb trips, not trips from the suburb into the city. The latter usually takes more time because they run into the congested traffic in the city center, and because the journey itself is usually longer.

On the train, your time is not wasted. You can read, think, perhaps even write on your laptop. Behind the wheel, the most you can hope to do in the way of useful work is talk on your cell phone, usually to tell someone you are caught in traffic and will be late. And if you walk to and from the train station, on either or both ends of your journey, you get to add some exercise to an otherwise sedentary day without taking time to go to a gym or health club.

The train is fast. But it is also civilized, far more than a traffic jam. There is a reason so many people who have cars and could drive are taking trains to work instead. And it’s not because they can’t read a watch.

Guest blog: TIA is about a better Georgia – for all Georgians

Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities director Eric Jacobson.

While speaking on behalf of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) and the Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia, the organizations’ TIA goals are not limited to just those who need “human services transportation,” but instead speak to the transportation needs of ALL Georgians!

We don’t seek “special treatment” for the disability community. We simply seek more transportation options which will serve all of our region’s residents and visitors – which also includes the disability community.

We ask that the Atlanta Regional Roundtable support three concepts and projects:

  1. More transit options, and overall TIA funding for transit at the recommended 55% funding level for transit projects as called for in the Recommended Final Constrained Project List;
  2. The ability to get to and use existing and new transit service when it is in place. This would be done through TIA projects that provide better access to fixed-route transit stops and stations – sidewalks and accessible bus and rail transit stops. By doing these projects, too, we would also allow the region to potentially reduce the need for more costly on-demand Paratransit trips by allowing riders to get to and use regular fixed route transit service; and
  3. A one-stop Mobility Management Call Center which ties together all of the region’s transportation options, public and private, so that all folks (not just seniors and the disabled) can quickly get regional travel information at one location through one phone call! Specifically, Project TIA-AR-044.

IN SUMMARY: Fund transit projects overall at the 55% of total TIA funding level; fund projects that allow people to use transit more easily through accessible transit stops and shelters; and provide the information resource needed (Call Center) to tie all the region’s mobility options together!

Roundtable’s road show stops in Henry County

Henry County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis welcomes the crowd at Tuesday's roundtable public meeting.

MCDONOUGH – Unlike the town halls recently held in Cobb County by Cobb’s conservative legislative delegation, Tuesday’s official public meeting in Henry County was far less dramatic. Public comments indicated support for a good project list that leads to a positive vote in next year’s referendum.

Henry County’s Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable members, Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey and County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis, welcomed Henry County residents and business owners to learn the details of the draft project list approved Aug. 15 by the roundtable’s executive committee.

“The purpose of the meeting tonight is to answer your questions and to have input from you on your thoughts regarding the list,” Henry County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis said. “Tonight is just simply information that we need to receive back from you, and we’re on a very short timetable.”

The full 21-member roundtable must approve a final project list by Oct. 15.

Not much has changed for Henry County since the executive committee’s vote. South metro business interests continue to push the roundtable to include the Griffin commuter rail line on the final list.

According to Henry County Chamber of Commerce president Kay Pippin, Georgia can no longer afford to perpetuate the existence of two Georgias, the Georgia that exists north of Interstate 20 and the Georgia that spills past Macon into south Georgia.

“Cities south of Atlanta are perishing,” Pippin noted. “This is a chance to connect the two Georgias, to possibly connect Macon, McDonough, Hampton, Griffin – struggling places – and on to Savannah.”

While north metro Atlanta quibbles over the best ways to relieve congestion, south metro Atlanta worries about the economic consequences of a divided region that could threaten passage of a 1-cent sales tax in next year’s referendum. Transit –specifically commuter rail – seems key to Henry County’s economic interests.

Georgians for Passenger Rail chief executive officer Gordon Kenna directs his comments to the panel, urging the roundtable to reconsider the proposed Griffin commuter rail line.

Georgians for Passenger Rail chief executive officer Gordon Kenna still hopes his organization can build a case for the project. Kenna reminded the roundtable that other regions in the state have committed to the commuter rail line, even though metro Atlanta has thus far failed to do so.

“My question is: Does it matter to Atlanta that an adjacent region has invested in this line but can’t do so, if Atlanta does not pursue the developmental line?”

The roundtable has thus far collected input from more than 200,000 metro Atlanta residents over the course of the last 6 months in an unprecedented effort to get citizen input for a final project list that will shape the region’s transportation future.

And, according to Norcross Mayor and roundtable chairman Bucky Johnson, the 12 public meetings present an opportunity for the roundtable “to hear from our neighbors one more time and make sure we’re putting list on the ballot that voters can support.”

Roads: Every Thug’s Partner in Crime

Citizens for Progressive Transit president Ashley Robbins.

I always hear people complaining about the crime that transit brings to their neighborhood.  In making arguments against transit it’s often stated as a fact that MARTA brings crime. There seems to be this need to instill fear in the hearts of the good citizens of our region that if we allow transit into our neighborhood that the world as we know it will go up in flames as those transit riding people come into our homes and steal our stuff.

Well I just don’t get it.  I ride trains and buses including MARTA, CCT, and GRTA all the time and do you know what I never see? Shady men in ski masks carrying around flat screen televisions and grandmother’s silver.  But I want to talk to you about roads.

If you want to point the blame of crime on something, I nominate our roads. Roads are what get criminals to your house to steal your heirloom china and jewelry, be it on that bus, or more often, on in a car.

Think about it.  You always hear about get-a-way cars, not a get-a-way train.  It goes without saying that there was still crime when we didn’t have roads and cars and criminals rode horses, but it’s a proven fact that the instances of crime have skyrocketed since cars were introduced into society.  If someone robbed a house or a bank and got on a train we’d know exactly where they were going and we’d be able to just catch up with them at the next station but a car affords criminals the ability to go where ever they want! How can we keep track of them when roads are EVERYWHERE?

If we want to make sure our communities and our families are safe then we should lobby against the expansion of roads which bring crime right to our front door. Roads pave the way for criminals into our homes.

Myth-busters: Transit is no longer relevant.

Conservative transit advocate Bill Lind outlines 12 anti-transit myths at the Atlanta Sustainable Roundtable in June. Lind maintains that transit is not only relevant but also experiencing a renaissance in the U.S. with cities such as Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City and St. Louis establishing successful light rail service in recent years.

Excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

Anti-transit myth 2: Transit is a declining industry.

In general, the facts are these. From the advent of the Model T until quite recently, transit was a declining industry. This is not surprising, because government offered massive subsidies to cars and highways. Most transit systems were privately owned and operated and, far from receiving subsidies, had to pay taxes. As is usually the case, government intervention caused massive market distortions, to the point of almost wiping out public transit.

But recent years have seen a change. Beginning in 1996, transit’s total ridership has risen every year. In 1999 and 2000, the growth in trips on transit actually increased more than the growth in trips by automobile travel.

A new pattern is emerging, in one city after another. Once the first light rail line opens and people experience the high-quality service it offers, they want more. Referenda to expand the light rail system or speed up construction usually pass, often by large margins.

Dallas offers a good example. There, the people faced a ballot referendum on speeding up the construction of light rail. Despite the usual descent on the city by the anti-transit troubadors, the referendum passed by 77 percent.

Myth-busters: The poetry and politics of anti-transit rhetoric

Excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

Anti-transit myth #1: Light rail has been a failure everywhere. The estimated costs always prove too low and the ridership projections are too high.

If transit was a declining industry for decades, it isn’t any more. One of the most important reasons for the turnaround is the spread of high-quality rail transit to more and more cities.

Most new light systems are built on or under budget and carry more riders than projected.

The first 11 miles of Dallas’s 20-mile DART light rail system opened on June 14, 1996, on time and within budget. Initial ridership was projected at 15,000; actual ridership in July 1996 averaged more than 18,000. Current DART weekday ridership, with all 20 miles in service, is 42,000.

Why do the anti-transit troubadours keep repeating charges from a flawed 1989 report and ignoring more recent evidence? Perhaps because, as entertainers, they are more interested in Dichtung [poetry] than in Wahrheit [truth].

The United States General Accounting Office released a report in 1999 evaluating the performance of transit projects in terms of meeting budget and deliverability guidelines. The report found that most transit projects were completed on time and on-budget – or, slightly over-budget. While some projects did experience significant cost overruns, the report concludes those cost overruns can be attributed to other factors, such as (1) higher-than-anticipated contract costs, (2) schedule delays, and (3) project scope changes and system enhancements.

Another study by University of Florida finds that highway projects are subject to cost overruns for similar reasons.

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