The Livable Communities Coalition

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

Category Archives: Videos

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.

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.

Moving Minds: 12 anti-transit myths

(Above) Lind delivers the conservative case for transit at the June Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable. Along with 12 anti-transit myths, Lind outlines 3 common conservative misconceptions about transit.

During his presentation to metro Atlanta transit advocates earlier in the year, conservative transit advocate Bill Lind predicted the “anti-transit troubadours” would come and lend a voice to the political forces determined to see the transportation tax referendum fail.

Now that the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable executive committee has released the draft project list, the anti-transit whispers have become more strident, according to Atlanta-Journal columnist Jay Bookman.

Lind, and his former colleague and Republican political strategist Paul Weyrich,wrote Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation  with the idea that the transit movement could use some conservative voices. In fact, as Lind asserts in his book and in speeches, transit is fundamentally a conservative issue.

“All we [conservative transit advocates] want is what we once had,” Lind said at the June Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable. “We had it all and threw it away.

What our society once had was a great deal better than what it’s got now. And, one of those things was our wonderful streetcar system.”

The Livable Communities Coalition invited Lind to Atlanta to help transit advocates make the conservative case for transit as the region prepares to vote on the transportation sales in a referendum scheduled for next summer.

The Livable Communities Coalition launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative in March to develop broad support for enhancing and expanding transit in Atlanta through the proposed 10-year sales tax. The draft project list proposes reserving 55 percent of the $6.1 billion the tax is expected to raise over its lifetime for transit projects.

“This is transit’s best shot at significant new funding, according to Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman says. “We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.

Polls, surveys, focus groups and town hall meetings have all shown our region’s appetite for more transit.  Tired commuters know that we can’t change traffic congestion in metro Atlanta if we don’t change what we’re doing to address it.  We have to do something fresh and different if we hope to make a difference.  The time to expand rail transit is now.”

The Transportation Investment Act requires the full 21-member roundtable to deliver a final project list by Oct. 15. There will be 12 public meetings, allowing roundtable members to get additonal public input. The first will be held in Douglas County on Sep. 7.

Twelve anti-transit myths, excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation

  1. Light rail has been a failure everywhere. The estimated costs always prove too low and the ridership projections are too high.
  2. Transit is a declining industry. Despite massive increases in transit funding since 1980, transit ridership has declined. Rail transit has a very high subsidy per passenger, and transit use has declined as much in cities that have built light rail as in those that haven’t.
  3. Commuting by rail is slower than commuting by car or express bus.
  4. Transit does not relieve congestion. Congestion has actually increased in cities that have built light rail, and building more highways will relieve congestion better than building rail systems. A rail line has less capacity than a single lane of freeway or even a major arterial.
  5. Where transit is needed, buses are better than rail. Buses cost less and provide the same or better service.
  6. Most new jobs are in the suburbs, but rail transit can only serve urban cores.
  7. Rail transit does not spur economic development.
  8. Transit brings crime into a community.
  9. Most light rail riders are former bus riders.
  10. Transit is a blight on the economy, while highways are a net public benefit.
  11. On average, most of the seats on a bus or train are empty.
  12. It would be cheaper to buy or lease a new car for every rider thant to build a new light rail system.

Over the next two weeks, the Livable Communities Coalition will post Lind’s deconstruction of these myths.

Draft project list is out; ball’s in full roundtable’s court

Deal-making has long characterized politics. Deal-making also came to characterize the task of identifying the region’s transportation priorities by Monday’s deadline.

Monday, the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable unanimously approved a draft final transportation project list.

The list will now be scrutinized by the full roundtable in preparation for approving a final project list by Oct. 15, as mandated by 2010’s Transportation Investment Act.

Monday’s draft list sets aside 55 percent of the $6.14 billion for transit projects, leaving 45 percent for regionally significant road projects.

As Mayor Kasim Reed said in an interview with Creative Loafing, “this is the end of the beginning.”

The next two months will test the strength of deals struck during Monday’s roundtable meeting.

The next two months will also determine whether a vision emerges from the draft project list. The roundtable will now take the list on the road and hold a series of meetings in each of 10 counties represented on the full roundtable. Effectively communicating a transportation vision will be critical to building support for next year’s tax referendum.

Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and Mayor Reed proved critical to advancing Monday’s conversation to a vote.

Mayor Reed clearly came to the table ready to deal – to a point. When the conversation turned to gutting MARTA state of good repair and expansion of transit into south DeKalb County, the mayor drew a firm line in the sand, challenging other executive committee members to find different projects to cut.

“Basically, the major projects for Atlanta and DeKalb are taking the most significant cuts and there are other projects out here that can take equal cuts,” Reed argued. “I would just urge our team to try to resolve the last $130 million collaboratively rather than balancing it on the backs of Atlanta and DeKalb.”

Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd concurred with Mayor Reed, delivering an impassioned reminder to the roundtable about their obligation to ensure regional transportation solutions that make the local economy stronger and help get residents to jobs.

“This is not about spreading dollars in the right place; this is about getting people to work, “ Floyd said. “And I think that’s where we are losing sight of that for the sake of building roads.”

It was Mayor Mathews’ original motion that permitted the deal-making to begin, and it was his amended motion that finally carried the day.

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to offer up, just in an effort to get this thing closed out today, to take that $7.5 million from the northwest Cobb transit project,” Mathews said.

After 4 hours of conversation, questions about regionalism and old-fashioned horse trading, metro Atlanta finally got its draft final project list.

For the first time in more than 30 years, there may be a significant regional commitment to transit, possibly resulting in shoring up existing transit assets and expanding into new suburban territory. All that needs to be done is to refine and sell the promise of this resurgent transit vision.

Draft list looms; region awaits transportation vision

Out of context, the numbers seem staggering.

$47 million.

$173 million.

$658 million.

$879 million.

On and on it goes.

However, within context of the expected transportation spending over the next 15, 25 or 30 years, $6.1 billion begins to sound like a bargain. The Atlanta Regional Commission recently reported that the region expects to spend $61 billion on road projects through 2040.

The politics of determing which projects will benefit from this relatively paltry sum of $6.1 billion have exacted a large toll on the elected officials and their staffs up to this point.

Thursday, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable executive committee postponed a vote on the draft list, opting to use the weekend to review the projects in more detail for the difficult task of project selection.

The Transportation Investment Act, as State Senator Doug Stoner reminded the roundtable Tuesday, intends to jump-start transportation projects that are regionally significant, mitigate traffic and promote economic development.

According to Ray Christman, Livable Communities Coalition executive director, the roundtable needs to fulfill the intent of the legislation by selecting special projects that promise special results. For the smart growth organization, which launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative in March, that means transit.

The organization’s own poll – as well as others – indicate residents in metro Atlanta want special projects and likewise believe that those projects should be transit projects.

Until Monday, when the roundtable executive committee must deliver its draft list, no one can be certain whether the intent of the legislation and the reams of data will sway the executive committee members and, later, the full roundtable. It all depends on politics.

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