Debunking the Transportation Myths - Part 1

The $7 billion tax increase for T-SPLOST is being promoting as a "solution" based on a number of myths. This is the first of three articles examining those myths.

The myth: building rail transit will take cars off the road and relieve congestion.

This is the oft-quoted rationale for building rail transit. It sounds good. Anyone who is stuck in the logjam of Ga. 400, I-75 or I-85 hears this myth with great anticipation. Getting everyone else off of the road so that I can travel freely is a desirable outcome.

The problem is that everyone else feels the same way. Someone else is supposed to stop driving and take rail transit to work.

The fact is that less than 5 percent of commuters are using transit and MARTA ridership has been declining. Even the proponents of rail transit in Atlanta Regional Commission take their private cars to every meeting. (See chart of MARTA boardings above)

Other facts:

1. MARTA takes more time, even in rush hour. By the time a passenger makes the 10 stops from downtown to the North Springs station, perhaps waiting to change trains at Lindbergh, the trip normally takes more time than driving.

2. The overwhelming number of people who work out of the few offices reachable by rail transit do not stay in their offices all day. The company resident in an average high-rise office in metro Atlanta has 33 people (Source: Cypress Communications, 2000). Of those, many more do business outside their own office than inside. Atlanta is primarily a sales and distribution city.

3. The metro Atlanta area is 60 miles wide and 70 miles long. We are not bounded by any geographic limits. Our population density therefore is not nearly the same as other cities that make more effective use of transit. The charts above show clearly why rail transit in metro Atlanta won’t work. These charts show the density per square mile as you move away from city centers. Jakarta, Beijing, Bangkok and Paris have very high densities close to their city centers. 

(See chart of city densities above)

Atlanta, relatively speaking, has virtually no density in the city center. Unless we wish to transition the entire metro region into Beijing-like high density offices and housing, rail transit will never take many cars off of the road. While Cousins, Dewberry and the other high-rise developers might like us all to live in their projects, most Atlanta residents treasure their suburban lifestyle and would move elsewhere rather than live in high-density housing. 

Atlanta ceased to be a hub-and-spoke city 30 years ago. We have become a region of clusters, with travel patterns between the clusters. People want to go from Marietta to Alpharetta and from Roswell to Duluth. We should be finding ways to analyze the entire region on an origin-destination basis and improve the arteries that will help get us to where we want to go, and stop dumping money into rail transit.

Atlanta has the nicest suburbs of any city in America. We should promote them and make them work better, not try to “fix” them.

4. The current T-SPLOST project list completely ignores the massive movement of truck freight into, through and around Atlanta. With the deepening of the Savannah port and the new generation of container ships coming in the next several years, this traffic will continue to increase. Speaking at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation Legislative Policy Briefing on Sept. 30, 2011, Ed Crowell of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association was asked his opinion of the T-SPLOST projects. His response: “Looking at the most recent project list, we don’t find anything that will reduce congestion.”

The entire HB277-specified approach to transportation planning is deeply flawed.  It imposes an enormous tax increase, it fails to yield professional transportation planning, and creates political mayhem across the region, with every mayor grabbing for the honey pot of new revenue for their pet projects. The Georgia General Assembly should repeal the entire bill and start over by fixing the original problem: a dysfunctional Georgia Department of Transportation. We should elect our DOT representatives, we should mandate that all projects be designed to reduce congestion and we should establish and fund an entire department to do nothing but identify and evaluate innovations in transportation design and traffic management. If they don’t, we strongly urge everyone to vote against the T-SPLOST.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Andrea Haff October 27, 2011 at 02:27 PM
No Name October 27, 2011 at 09:30 PM
Finally, another voice of reason who works from the facts. I like your suggestion of electing DOT reps. Looking forward to the followup articles. I hope you speak about ARC's Plan 2040 that they are trying to force upon our region. We want our sovereignty thank you very much. We can work regionally by coordinating with other municipalities on our own instead of top-down dictates from unelected people.
Jason C October 28, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Interesting article and I agree but could Marta ridership decreases be linked to rising unemployment and the cutting of bus routes and stops the past 3-4 years as well?
Michael Hadden October 28, 2011 at 04:03 AM
You make some valid points Mike. What most people don't realize is that this bill isn't only about fixing our current problems. It's about anticipating our future problems and addressing them as well. MARTA fails because of a failure to anticipate and a failure to locate stops in true neighborhoods. Let's pretend to anticipate: Future problem #1. Gas is going to remain expensive... #2. car travel is going to get more expensive. #3. Our population is aging and will require more livable town and city centers. #4. Older people's driving skills do deteriorate. #5. What do old people who can't drive do to get around? #6. The 2nd largest generation in American history largely rejects the idea of suburban living. #7. They want to live in more urban locations. #8. Atlanta doesn't have enough of those types of locations to meet the current or expected demand (why do you think Midtown, Ma Highlands, Inman Park are so expensive? Supply/Demand) That's not all of the problems that our suburban experiment is up against but knowing that, we may want to consider a different path than roads. TSPLOST enables more roads which are what made this mess in the first place. What we really need is more places that don't require getting into a car to complete every task, where job centers are walkable. If we could spend $6.14B on revitalizing our city and suburban town centers, we would be much better off. Building more roads will continue the insanity.
Lee at rootsinalpharetta.com October 28, 2011 at 01:39 PM
Nice article, Mr Lowry. It reminds me a lot of this spoof put out by The Onion many years ago... 98% favor transit for others. http://www.theonion.com/articles/report-98-percent-of-us-commuters-favor-public-tra,1434/
No Name October 29, 2011 at 02:54 AM
#1 Drill here. Drill now. Pay less. #2 Yes, because of the unreasonable EPA standards being forced on manufacturers. #3 Why? #4 True. But that doesn't equate to them wanting to take transit. The people I see on MARTA, or anywhere for that matter, are too selfish and rude to give up their seats to older people. #5 Family? Church? Charities?
Michael Hadden October 30, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Thank you No Name... I'm glad you have all the answers. You should run for political office and solve all of our woes.
No Name November 01, 2011 at 01:52 AM
No, not all the answers, just a different perspective.
Mike Lowry November 01, 2011 at 08:36 PM
Mr. Hadden, I'm afraid we have very different views on what has made the "mess". Atlanta's growth has been driven by the best suburban lifestyle in the country. I don't believe for a second that it is being rejected by anyone. Generation X is now moving out of city centers to the suburbs as they have children to educate. Generation Y will start doing so in another 5-6 years. If we work on solving the region's transportation problems systemically, using real data, Atlanta can continue to grow while maintaining a healthy center. If we don't, it will continue to grow, but away from the city center. Rail transit doesn't help either process. It only absorbs obscene amounts of money while not solving any congestion problems.
No Name November 02, 2011 at 01:34 AM
"It only absorbs obscene amounts of money while not solving any congestion problems." Absolutely.


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