The Livable Communities Coalition

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

Category Archives: Multimedia

New year begins amid uncertainty about region’s future, transportation

Anti-transit myth #6: Rail transit only serves cities


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

Myth 6: Rail transit can only serve city centers, but most new jobs are in the suburbs.

This anti-transit myth is a bit different from the others, because the problem itself is not a myth. The myth is that the problem has no solution.

Downtowns remain important centers of employment in most regions, and even Wendell Cox admits that transit serves downtowns well. But it is also true that much job growth is in the suburbs.

There are solutions, and rail transit has an important role to play in them.

One solution stems from the nature of much suburban job development. It is not always spread out evenly across the map. Rather, it often follows certain corridors – corridors that can be served effectively by rail.

Rail transit can do more than serve corridors where job growth is concentrated. It can also help create such corridors.

A major reason why rail transit has difficulty serving suburban growth in many American cities is that there just isn’t enough of it. A single light rail line can only serve a limited area. But if a rail system is large enough, it serves much more than downtown. Washington’s Metrorail is an example: This five-line, 103-mile system serves not only downtown Washington, D.C., but also such major employment centers as Crystal City; the Pentagon; Rosslyn, Virginia; and Bethesda and Silver Spring, Maryland.

Serving suburban job destinations requires not fewer rail lines, but more.

Roundtable completes its task; it’s now up to voters

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

To Fair Share for Transit partners:

We’re pleased to announce that our efforts to create more transit options in the Atlanta area have paid off.

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

As you all probably know, the Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable last week approved a project list allocating 52.4 percent of the anticipated $6.14 billion revenue from a proposed 1-cent sales tax to transit projects.

Last week’s vote was transformative and set a new direction for the region’s transportation priorities.  It signaled that the region’s view of transportation has  shifted from a  focus on roads to a more balanced policy that includes transit as an equally important component.

What does this mean for the region?

It means that the region will see more than four out of every 10 dollars collected  through the proposed tax being spent to develop new rail options in Cobb County, in the Clifton Corridor, and along the Beltline, which are expected to serve in aggregate nearly 65,000 riders a day. That number doesn’t include the 500,000 riders now served by MARTA, which will receive an infusion of $600 million to maintain its lines and equipment.

It means that an estimated 41,300 commuters will find new or enhanced bus routes that will reduce their traveling time and make their rides more efficient.

It means that the region will see a decrease in road congestion as well as enhanced transportation options that will spur development.

But it also means much more beyond those numbers.

To begin, it means that many residents will no longer be stranded in their homes on weekends due to the absence of transit options. It means that it will be easier and quicker to get to work each day. It means that the disparity between the halves with a car and the have-nots without one will shrink.

At its final meeting, Roundtable members pointed to the spirit of regional cooperation that ultimately led to agreement on the final project list.  Metro Atlanta residents can only hope this spirit will continue. It will take increased cooperation to ensure that the 10-county area continues to grow and provide a high quality-of-life.  And, with the approval of this project list, elected officials around the region signaled they are prepared to do just that.

But first we need to pass the referendum, scheduled for July 29, 2012.  While a recent AJC poll found that 51 percent of likely voters would pass the referendum if it were held today, that margin is very thin. The debate is really just beginning, and the issue will face intense scrutiny from voters.

A major campaign will soon be launched by private business leaders to educate voters about the importance of the referendum.  This campaign will need to engage people from all segments of our community if it is to be successful, and the Livable Communities Coalition hopes – with your help – to play an important role in making this effort a success.

In the meantime, I think all transit advocates should feel gratified by the success of the Fair Share for Transit Initiative.  It played a key role in making the case that a majority of citizens in the region want more transit and that investment in public transportation options will generate substantial economic and quality of life benefits.

We look forward to staying in touch.

Regionalism makes a comeback at Oct. 11 roundtable meeting

All 21 members of the RegionalTransportation Roundtable today completed their review of four contentious amendments to their project list, a prerequisite before the 10-county Atlanta region can vote next summer on a penny tax to finance a host of transit and transportation projects.

Today’s meeting addressed last week’s most contentious amendments. As roundtable chairman Bucky Johnson noted near the end of today’s meeting, it is clear many of the roundtable members used the weekend to drive resolution on the amendments that threatened to weaken the final project list.

Norcross Mayor and roundtable chairman Bucky Johnson thanks the 21-member roundtable for its hard work over the last several days, which helped end Tuesday's meeting on a positive note.

“I appreciate folks for working diligently since our last meeting to try to deal with this,” Johnson said. “Let me thank you on behalf of all the citizens and all the roundtable for what you did to get us over this hump.”

Key among the contested amendments was a proposal to siphon money from MARTA’s funding to bankroll continuing service of several key GRTA Xpress bus routes. Today, the board approved its original 10-year $95 million allocation for GRTA, stipulating that the money be used primarily for operations, with some for capital spending. An accompanying resolution suggested that the state should provide capital funding to fill the equipment gap over the next decade.

An amendment to provide funding to study the potential of a commuter rail line in Rockland County was withdrawn, as was an amendment accompanying the request for greater GRTA financing. Another amendment — to fully fund a MARTA light rail line along I-20 — failed to get a second to bring the issue to a vote.

The issues, which seemed so contentious last week, were resolved in a series of meetings between Roundtable members determined to build a consensus around the project list. The list will go before the roundtable Thursday at 9 am at the Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta for a final vote before being delivered to the state by Oct. 15. The issue is scheduled to go before voters July 31.

Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan.

“It shows what counties and cities sitting down together and working together, listening to each other,” Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan added. “It shows what we can accomplish.”

Roundtable prepares for Oct. 11 meeting

The region’s transportation future gained some clarity at Thursday’s Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable.

For one, the full 21-member roundtable appears ready to hedge its bets on the transit vision outlined in the roundtable executive committee’s draft project list, released Aug. 15.

The proposed Cumberland transit line serves as one example of the compromises the roundtable will seek in negotiating a final project list.

On the other hand, there are other issues outside the control of the roundtable that complicate the negotiations. Those issues became so pronounced that the roundtable voted Thursday to table discussion on the most problematic amendments. At stake is a transportation vision that could bring metro Atlanta into the 21st-century.

And at one point, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed felt compelled to question the direction of Thursday’s proceedings when Douglas County Commissioner Tom Worthan expressed his belief more needed to be done to increase funding for GRTA Xpress buses at the expense of MARTA state of good repair.

Reed also warned that this process is the opportunity to get the right list that best serves cities and counties as the local economy recovers.

The recent transportation public meetings held in each of the ten counties proved critical in driving the amendment process, according to several roundtable members.

And while that public input seems to have delivered a message that a change in focus is desired, it may actually be the 11th hour politics driving the final negotiations as the roundtable works towards the Oct. 15 deadline.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the most recent poll shows a near consensus on metro Atlanta’s transportation problem.

According to the poll, 91 percent indicate it is important for the region to address its transportation problem in order to relieve congestion and improve quality of life.

Furthemore, 82 percent of respondents believe it is important to do more to encourage everyone to commute to work by bus or train.

But only 51 percent say they are likely to vote in favor of the referendum today, perhaps indicating the politics of the final list will be a significant factor in helping next year’s referendum pass.

The early talk about regionalism threatens to devolve into a scramble to help local voters determine “What’s in it for me?” Tuesday’s meeting may yet salvage a regional transportation vision for metro Atlanta that answers that question.

Sen. Stoner comments on GRTA Xpress

At Thurday's roundtable meeting, Henry County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis asked State Sen. Doug Stoner to comment on the state of GRTA Xpress. Several roundtable members expressed concern about continuing to provide GRTA Xpress service to suburban commters.

Worthan’s amendment raises concerns about regional vision

Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan outlines the details and reasoning for his motion at the Oct. 6 Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable meeting. Worthan’s proposed amendment evoked a strong response from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who worries that the executive committee’s transportation vision may be unraveling. Worthan proposes to bolster funding for GRTA Xpress at the expense of MARTA state-of-good-repair.

Cumberland light rail line to fund Cobb road improvements, premium bus service

At last week’s roundtable meeting, Cobb County Commission Chairman signaled his intent to introduce an amendment for discussion at the Oct. 6 roundtable meeting. However, prior to the Oct. 6 meeting, Lee and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews offered a revised version of the amendment, which proposes reducing the scope of the proposed Cumberland light rail line and adding premium bus service for Cobb County commuters. Read more in the Marietta Daily Journal.

Mayor Kasim Reed asks, “Really?!”

At this morning’s roundtable meeting, the conversation about GRTA prompted Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to comment on the roundtable’s priorities. Read more in the SaportaReport.

Christman delivers comments to roundtable

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman reminds the roundtable that TIA funds represent only a portion of expected spending on transportation over the next 10 years.

Raymond Christman – Comments to the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, Oct. 6, 2011

Good morning and thank you for this opportunity to make comments on behalf of the Fair Share for Transit Coalition.

As I stated at last week’s meeting, we believe that the Roundtable has done a tremendous job in developing a strong, diverse and well-balance draft project list.  Now we are in the final stages of considering amendments to that list and, understandably, emotions run high as the final opportunity comes about to secure funding for a particular project.

Given the introduction of some nine amendments, we believe, as I’m sure others do, that we have the responsibility to our supporters to make comments and provide input.  Our specific comments are provided in the letter that I sent to you on Tuesday, a copy of which is being distributed today.

There is no need for me to reiterate any of this in my public comments today, but I would like to draw your attention to several core issues which we believe are important for you to consider as you act today:

  1. First, we believe that a number of these amendments, as written, serve to divide rather than unite all of us in support of better transportation for the region. Take Amendment 10, for example.  Do we support more funding to expand GRTA Xpress bus service in the region?  Of course. But do we support achieving that by reducing funding for the Atlanta Beltline, the Clifton Corridor, and the Northwest Corridor.  No, we do not believe that is the way to accomplish that goal.  The same comment could be made of many of the other amendments;
  1. Second, we urge you to keep in mind the total financial requirements — both operating and capital — for these large-scale transit projects.  We urge you not to unduly shave dollars from these projects at the 11th hour to fund other needs, thereby weakening the region’s ability to deliver these projects as proposed;
  1. And, third, please also continue to keep in mind that TIA represents just a portion – a significant portion, but still just a portion — of the total transportation spend for the region over the next ten years.  As Jane Hayse reported to you last week, the region is projected to have $18 billion to spend on transportation over ten years, including the $6.14 the Roundtable is acting on today.  In this context, if faced with a difficult choice between two worthy projects, we again urge you to particularly support the ones that can be funded no other way than through TIA, and allow other local, state, federal funding sources cover some or all of the costs of others.

Thank you for this opportunity to make these comments, and thank you again for your service to the region.

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