Regional Transit Hopes Turn to Local Expansion Options
By Alex Trachtenberg, Project Manager, Community Sustainability Services, Southface
Southface and the other contributors to the Sustainable Communities Thought Leaders Column, ANDP and ULI, are members of the TransFormation Alliance (TFA). The TFA is a broad partnership of organizations from the private, public and nonprofit sectors dedicated to creating thriving mixed-income communities anchored by transit and linked to all the opportunities and amenities that make Atlanta great. Over the next few months, Southface and other partners in the TFA will focus coverage on developments in transit planning, specifically an upcoming ballot referendum. If approved by the City Council to be included on the ballot November 8th, Atlantans will have the opportunity to vote on a half-penny sales tax increase to fund transit projects.
Until that time the TFA will provide information about public engagement opportunities, recommendations on the project list and more. Last week, two events kicked off important conversations that will shape the development of the project list and priorities for this important funding opportunity. Southface and TFA were well represented and worked to encourage regional transit leaders to consider equity in the development of these plans.
On May 10th, the Atlanta Press Club featured a distinguished panel of regional transit experts that addressed a range of topics related to regional transit projects and programs. The panel included Heather Alhadeff, President of Center Forward; Becky Katz, Chief Bicycle Officer for the City of Atlanta; Paul Morris, CEO of the BeltLine; Keith Parker, CEO of MARTA; and Chris Thomlinson, Executive Director, Georgia Regional Transit Authority and State Road and Tollway Authority. The discussion was moderated by Maria Saporta.
The conversation focused more on history and context and less on specifics of implementation or metrics for success. Rarely did panelists dive into the specific, pervasive challenges of transit in Atlanta other than to point to historical examples. Keith Parker, however, made an important point about equity as transit develops, saying that mass transit can be a great engine of opportunity for the region. Specifically, Parker mentioned that MARTA hopes to make extensive improvements to its bus service operations, to ensure that each ride is dignified, attractive and contributes to the notion of Atlanta as a world class city.
The November 8th ballot referendum could provide the opportunity to expand rail and bus service like Parker recommends, and give transit-dependent communities in our region an important leg-up in mobility and access to economic opportunity. The proposed sales tax increase is projected to add $2.5 billion in funding for transit-related projects. Over the coming months, the Atlanta City Council will review and approve a project list with MARTA and vote to place the referendum on a November 8th ballot.
On May 11th at the MARTA Board meeting, MARTA Planning staff presented its preliminary City of Atlanta transit referendum project list to the board, which the board adopted unanimously. Prior to the board vote, Keith Parker reiterated his priority to revamp the bus system, noting that, “this is a game-changing opportunity for us,” and “while the rail projects will get a lot of attention, the things we’re talking about doing with the bus service will be among the most innovative you’ll see anywhere in the country.” MARTA Board meeting presentation slides on proposed projects are included below.
The pedestrian project improvements outlined in the MARTA Board presentation demonstrate the importance of connectivity, accessibility and equity beyond high capacity rail projects. In 2015, the TransFormation Alliance commissioned one of its member organizations, Georgia Stand-Up, to complete a survey analysis of recommended pedestrian/ADA/bicycle improvements to enhance access to/from MARTA station areas on the east (Blue/Green), west (Blue/Green) and south (Red/Gold) rail lines.
MARTA stations analyzed by Georgia Stand-Up:
- Edgewood-Candler Park
- E. Holmes
- King Memorial
- Oakland City
- Vine City
- West End
All of the MARTA station areas analyzed by Georgia Stand-Up have been included in the preliminary project list approved by the MARTA Board, with the exception of Vine City station which will receive a full rehabilitation and accessibility improvements, and the addition of West Lake station by MARTA staff.
Near the H. E. Holmes station, flooding and nonexistent sidewalks contribute to safety and accessibility issues for pedestrians. Improving walkable areas around transit stations is a priority of the MARTA Board, based on the project list approved last week.
Leading up to the city approval of a project list, the public will have four opportunities to weigh-in on proposed projects via city organized public meetings, one in each of the four geographic quadrants of Atlanta—May 25th in Southwest Atlanta, May 26th in Northeast Atlanta, June 1st in Southeast Atlanta and June 2nd in Northwest Atlanta. Be on the lookout for specific times and locations from the City of Atlanta.
Marisa Ghani, staff person to the TFA and senior planner at the Atlanta Regional Commission, commented that “[TFA] thinks the project list is very balanced and provides the residents that need access to transit good opportunities.” In addition to the rail expansions, infill stations, station rehabilitations and pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure, the bus service improvements will be critical to expanding access to the existing system to people who really need it. The TFA will be working with the city and MARTA to engage and inform the public in this dialogue over the coming months around transit and transportation system improvements that would be funded via voter approval of the sales tax referendums.
Follow Southface and the TFA as we continue to convene discussions around this important issue, including the June 3rd Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable.