Atlanta Out Loud

Politics and rantings and just stuff that catches my attention.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

|| 2:01:19 PM
Creative Loafing's Weekly Scalawag

As always, another gem from Scott Henry at Creative Loafing

C.T. Martin
For being a divider, not a uniter

by Scott Henry, Creative Loafing

In the City Too Busy to Hate, conspiracy theories nonetheless abound, most of them having to do with the ever-present issue of race. Numerous local politicians -- black and white -- have made a point of playing the race card whenever they're unable to prevail through logic or consensus-building.

Then there are guys like Atlanta Councilman C.T. Martin, who uses racial attacks so casually and reflexively that, half the time, it seems like he's doing it just to stay in practice.

Case in point: As a recent council work session on the city's sewer plan was dragging on, white council member Debi Starnes implored her colleagues to abandon their speechifying and return to discussing possible solutions to the crisis. Martin stood up to inform her that, given their respective ethnic heritages, he would not allow her to be his "slave master." Wouldn't it have been easier just to say he'd give a speech if he wanted to?

Last year, during the city's rancorous budget discussions, Martin attacked the mayor's plan to slash the payroll by asking, "Who are you cutting when you cut the work force? The descendants of the slaves." Now there's a conversation stopper.

You might imagine it'd be difficult to turn Atlanta's present sewer woes into a racial issue, but where there's a will, there's a way. Which brings us back to conspiracy theories. One that's surfaced recently holds that the mayor's proposed rate hike is part of a scheme to tax black families out of their homes so that whites can more quickly gentrify intown neighborhoods. (Almost as moronic: Radio agitprop loudmouth Neal Boortz is claiming Franklin's real strategy is to push the sewer rate hike knowing that it will fail. Then the only solution would be to raise property taxes. Since north Fulton (i.e. white) areas have the most high-value homes, Boortz says Franklin's goal is to make whites pay for the sewers.)

It's a shame that politicos like Martin are working to make the already-torturous ordeals of rate hikes and fiscal belt-tightening as ugly and divisive as possible by encouraging racial bickering.

Scott also tells us The Weekly Scalawag is now accepting nominations. E-mail Scott Henry.

|| 9:23:17 PM
Public Meeting on the Beltline & C-Line Projects

Tonight was an Public Open House of "Atlanta's Inner Core Transit Feasibility Study" -- that's a real formal term for the Beltline and C-Line projects. This was #4 of 5 of such meetings and was held at the Ponce de Leon Library Branch. If you want to attend, the next one is at 7pm on Tuesday, December 16 at the Peachtree Library Branch.

For more in-depth information on the Beltline, go to Cathy Woolard's Website. There you'll find maps and a video about the project.

The Beltline is one of the most refreshing new ideas to come along in this city in years! Cathy Woolard has really pushed this idea and she needs to be congratulated for moving it forward. There is virtually no opposition (well, maybe just a little stumbling block from some of the rail companies around town, but not really any opposition per se... they just want to know what they're going to get out of the deal). The only real brick wall to this is the money.

In essence, this idea has been thrown around for years and was the focus of Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel's masters thesis. Ryan was actually at the meeting I attended. The concept is pretty simple... Atlanta has a network of mostly unused/abandoned railways dating back to the Civil War which essentially form a loop around the city. The Beltline project aims to reclaim those areas, improve them, and put some sort of either European-style tram or streetcar or an express bus service (removed from traffic congestion) on those tracks. Plans also include putting bike paths along those rail beds in addition to the transportation.

The C-Line on the other hand is a project that was spearheaded by US Representatives Cynthia McKinney (former US Rep, that is, thank goodness) and John Lewis (current US Rep, thank goodness). It is a project that will connect the Emory area and go west through downtown, over to the Atlanta University Complex, and out east to south DeKalb County. No, the C-Line will not go further south into Decatur. A resident of Decatur naively asked about this at the meeting and was told that any effort to do so had long since been blocked by the homeowners of Druid Hills. As one person representing the ARC put it, "Lots of people there with large checkbooks made some threats and killed it."

Originally these were separate projects. The Atlanta Regional Commission combined two proposals for feasibility studies into one study at $2.5 million. Both of these projects would connect to 5 MARTA stations and 34 bus routes. It would also connect to Cobb Community Transit and Gwinnett Community Transit bus lines, as well as various private shuttles.

There are projects underway to invest $183 million in capacity and operational improvements to Atlanta's roads, including the I-20 West HOV Lanes (which has a low priority and will probably never happen), I-75S and I-85N ramp improvements, Atlantic Station/Williams Street ("The Yellow Bridge"), and other arterial improvements. Despite those projects, travel in congested areas will increase from 58% to 67% in the area served by the Beltline and C-Line by 2030. So, we can't build the roads fast enough and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

As I said earlier, the Beltline project has virtually no detractors. There is a distinct impression that the C-Line project is being thrown in only to appease those in power in Washington. It is duplicitous in many ways. But, for some reason I can't help but think it is too good to be true and that Atlanta will somehow screw it up. Call me a pessimist.

Much of this discussion is academic. Given the Atlanta Regional Commission and Georgia Regional Transit Authority timelines for getting things done, a conservative estimate for actual implementation of these projects is 10-25 years. We should look to Portland, Oregon for some pointers. They built a similar, albeit smaller-scale, project in 18 months using private and local public money. The feds just slow things down and muck up the process.

My experience with MARTA leads to the pessimism. MARTA is often referred to as "an X in the road" and it is said that MARTA "doesn't go anywhere you'd want to go." The other problem is that MARTA is unpredictable and unreliable in terms of schedules and efficiency. The current MARTA rail system was designed to have a train arrive at every station every 90-seconds. Right now a train arrives on average every 8 minutes. I don't know about you, but I've waited a hell of a lot longer than 8 minutes for a MARTA train. I don't have statistics to back it up, but I'm not convinced anyone takes the current MARTA system because they want to... only because they have to... unless they're heading for the airport. There seems to be an assumption that MARTA will run these two projects, which makes me dubious of them. Should they be given to some other management group... perhaps a privatization (oh, what a bad word to the politicians)?!?

We have a lot to learn from Europe and Asia about public transportation. I've spent a fair amount of time in Japan. If the train was to arrive at 3pm, and my watch said 3:05pm, I knew my watch was wrong. Station Managers in Tokyo actually hand out written notes if a train is indeed late for riders to give to their employers. The excuse that the train was late is so far fetched in Tokyo that employers would almost certainly think their employees were lying to them.

Another example is Finland. It's cold as hell in Finland. People in Finland also have some of the highest use of cell phones in the world. Who knew? Finlanders can get real time updates on trains and buses on their cell phones via text messaging. The crazy thing is that it's actually accurate! The cell phone will tell you if that bus is 3 or 13 minutes away. So, the Fins sit in their warm cozy homes and coffee shops until just before the bus arrives. It works like a charm.

I'm not convinced MARTA has the ability or technology to achieve such precision.

We also have to overcome the stigma of public transportation in this city. Let's face it... Atlantans love their cars. That is not meant to be a racial comment, but everything in this city seems to be a racial comment. If the target of this project is to open up mass transportation to the masses, we've got to be careful... about scheduling, public outreach, and making people WANT to use the thing. In my opinion, trams are less stigmatic than buses... put rubber tires on this thing and no will voluntarily ride it. That's why the European-style tram is so intriguing.

Make it fun, attractive, reliable and predictable. Clean and affordable would be good too.

This is a golden opportunity for Atlanta. Let's don't mess it up.


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