MARTA’s bunker-busting plans for developing air rights over rail stations

The top image above is of MARTA’s current bunker-like Midtown Station. Atlanta has a few stations like this, where the area above the underground platforms is occupied by a layer of concrete walls and little else. They’re not the most attractive things, and they certainly aren’t the most efficient way to use land above a rail stop that was built for high-capacity service.

That bottom image shows a brighter future that could be in store for four bunker stations — Creative Loafing has the story:

Some MARTA rail stations in the middle of Atlanta’s most dense areas might finally see developments built on top of them. Transit officials today officially announced that MARTA was gauging interest in developing above the Arts Center, Lenox, Midtown, and North Avenue stations

I can’t help but think of Thomas Wheatley’s call for a city design director given all the recent proposals for TODs at MARTA stations — we do need to make sure we champion excellence in the built environment and best practices for livability in the face of all this new construction that could be coming our way.

But in the meantime, I’m super excited about the possibilities of seeing greater density around Atlanta’s rail stations. Consider: this city was built on freight rail and has significant history of passenger rail and streetcars as well. Building the city up around rail lines is part of our heritage. After a decades-long break, wherein development was centered around cars, even intown, it’s nice to see history repeating itself in a good way.

The Atlanta Transit Agency’s Big Plan to Convert Parking Lots into Housing
The following is a re-post from thisiscitylab - Darin 
Like many U.S. transit agencies, MARTA has long struggled to secure reliable funding. The agency doesn’t receive money from the state, instead relying on sales tax income from participating counties, making it vulnerable to big economic swings. After the Great Recession, MARTA reduced staff and service while increasing fares, and when an effort to expand the revenue base failed in a 2012 referendum, the agency found itself facing a $33 million deficit.
So MARTA got creative. Keith Parker, who took over the agency in late 2012, implemented a transformation initiative that involved, among other things, a new planning strategy emphasizing TOD. In spring of 2013, Parker announced that MARTA would have five station-area projects underway within two years; to date the agency has identified developers for three projects, targeted several stations for the final two projects, and expects groundbreaking on some of the buildings as early as next year.
Enabling the projects is MARTA’s recognition that certain stations have devoted too much space to parking—an insight that several transit agencies around the world now share. At King Memorial Station, an urban station that Rhein says doesn’t make sense to reach by car, the agency owned four acres of parking lots adjacent to the station that it didn’t even use. Instead, the space had been subleased to a nearby hospital.
READ MORE…
[Image: Tim Adams/Flickr]

The Atlanta Transit Agency’s Big Plan to Convert Parking Lots into Housing

The following is a re-post from thisiscitylab - Darin

Like many U.S. transit agencies, MARTA has long struggled to secure reliable funding. The agency doesn’t receive money from the state, instead relying on sales tax income from participating counties, making it vulnerable to big economic swings. After the Great Recession, MARTA reduced staff and service while increasing fares, and when an effort to expand the revenue base failed in a 2012 referendum, the agency found itself facing a $33 million deficit.

So MARTA got creative. Keith Parker, who took over the agency in late 2012, implemented a transformation initiative that involved, among other things, a new planning strategy emphasizing TOD. In spring of 2013, Parker announced that MARTA would have five station-area projects underway within two years; to date the agency has identified developers for three projects, targeted several stations for the final two projects, and expects groundbreaking on some of the buildings as early as next year.

Enabling the projects is MARTA’s recognition that certain stations have devoted too much space to parking—an insight that several transit agencies around the world now share. At King Memorial Station, an urban station that Rhein says doesn’t make sense to reach by car, the agency owned four acres of parking lots adjacent to the station that it didn’t even use. Instead, the space had been subleased to a nearby hospital.

READ MORE…

[Image: Tim Adams/Flickr]

Shifting commerce from sprawling corridors to walkable centers

I traveled to Warner Robins, GA this week for work. My trip started with an 18-minute MARTA ride from Five Points to the airport, where I got a rental car and drove to the middle-Georgia town (there is a shuttle bus that goes from the airport to Warner Robins, but good luck getting around after you’ve been dropped off, since sidewalks are scarce).

The main drag there, Watson Blvd, is an ugly, car-only corridor of crap, lined for miles with shopping malls and parking lots and no sidewalks. It’s the epitome of what Charles Marohn calls a “stroad" — a car-scale, inefficient corridor that’s dangerous for pedestrians. But the stores in the newer malls (the malls next door to the older, emptier ones) seemed to be thriving. For now, at least. 

Coming home, I was relieved to get out of the rental car and back on the train. I took these photos above on the train ride. The photos, from top to bottom, are: 1.) a dude walking on freight rail tracks near East Point station; 2.) abandoned, boarded-up homes near Oakland City station; 3.) one of many old warehouse buildings (most of them empty) on Murphy Ave., south of West End station.

There are many areas on the south side that are not nearly as economically vibrant as some of the commercial stroads of car-centric sprawl, but that have the potential to be well-used, transit-connected spaces with vibrant, walkable neighborhoods. 

I’m eager to see the promised TOD (transit-oriented developments) projects for some MARTA stations come to fruition and to serve as templates for additional ones. Even beyond the TOD’s being orchestrated by MARTA, there are exciting things happening elsewhere with the enormous State Farm facility currently breaking ground at the Dunwoody station, and a series of proposed new residential towers next to the Arts Center station, such as this one.

The many unused, abandoned spaces near the southern stations such as West End, Oakland City, East Point show that those areas could use some attention, helping them to take advantage of transit connections to grow economically. If a drive-only mess like Watson Blvd can attract constant new business and customers (amid its abandoned strip malls and traffic), surely the same can be activated near MARTA’s southern stations.

MARTA station gets closer to losing a parking lot, gaining mixed-use development

As announced last year, MARTA is following through with plans to find a developer to turn a parking lot at its King Memorial rail station into a mixed-use development of apartments and retail. The rendering above is from Walton Communities, which hopes to build almost 400 apartment units here.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a good story on the project this week, reporting that the deal still requires a vote from the MARTA board and further negotiations on property leasing. Here’s a quote:

MARTA is making plans to transform the unsightly tunnel and a large parking lot adjacent to the King Memorial station into the first in a series of pedestrian-friendly villages next to its transit stations. The King Memorial project is furthest along in the planning process, but similar developments are expected to be launched over the next two years.

To me, this effort on MARTA’s part is one of the most exciting developments of “good urbanism” currently happening in Atlanta. It’s something that I’ve hoped for over a lifetime of living here and riding MARTA: that some day we’d make better use of the potential for these rail stations with surface parking lots — that we would help them to be the transportation centerpieces of walkable, compact neighborhoods instead of drive-to locations for riders. 

Politico looks at the makings of Atlanta’s Snow Jam 2014

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Your must-read article for the week is Politico’s The Day We Lost Atlanta How 2 lousy inches of snow paralyzed a metro area of 6 million. Local writer Rebecca Burns takes a look at the dysfunctions of Metro Atlanta that led to people being stranded on highways, in schools and in stores by the snow and ice over the last two days.

The highlight of the piece, for me, is her exploration of the regional peculiarities that laid ground for a situation wherein one million motorists were on the interstates at the same time, headed home to the suburbs in the snow.

Here’s a quote that answers the question of why the suburbs are so much more populated with residents than the center city:

In the 1970s…the city of Atlanta witnessed an exodus of 160,000 people. The white flight of the 1960s and 1970s, triggered by integration of schools and housing, was followed by reverse migration as blacks from the Northeast and Midwest returned to the Atlanta region but opted to move into the suburbs of DeKalb, Fulton and Clayton counties[*]. Atlanta the city, became—and despite a slow uptick in population, remains—the commercial district to which people commute from Atlanta, the suburbs.

[* For the reasons why so many new residents “opted” for the suburbs in the last couple of decades, look to the drive-until-you-qualify affordability of housing built along interstates, and the mortgage assistance offered in the 90s that enabled ownership of suburban homes. Add in the City of Atlanta’s inability to encourage transit-connected, affordable housing in it’s limits — as well as the corruption of public schools driving away families — and you’ve got a perfect storm of car-centric sprawl for the metro area.]

She also looks at the lack of transit connectivity in the metro and the failed attempt to correct that situation with the recent TSPLOST vote. It’s a great article.

Incidentally, I spotted Rebecca walking down Broad Street on Tuesday after the snow had fallen and I was coming back inside with my son after playing in the snow in the park. I almost introduced myself but she was walking with a sense of purpose that made me suspicious. It wasn’t until I got inside and saw the news that I realized the horrible things that were taking place on the roads, forcing her and others to abandon their cars.

My urbanist’s prayer: please let the silver lining of this experience be a strengthened resolve to, 1.) put affordable housing near MARTA rail stations; 2.) improve city schools so they families aren’t tempted away from the city when kids reach school age; 3.) build infill housing and mixed-use developments in the suburbs that reduce the number of car commuters in our region.

In my highly-biased opinion, the source of the problem is our sprawling, car-focused environment. It will continue to cause problems for us with or without icy roads. The best thing we can do for future generations in our region is to build (and re-build) in a way that lets alternative-transportation options thrive.

Photo by Flickr user James Bursa

"Atlanta was the poster child for sprawl…The metro area grew from 50 miles north to south in 1970 to over 120 miles today, sprawling farther and faster than any city in human history. Now Atlanta is witnessing the end of sprawl…If it’s happening in Atlanta, this is a significant national real estate trend. The market is saying no more sprawl."

— Chris Leinberger, Research Professor at George Washington University School of Business, as quoted in:
Metro Detroit Gets Ready to Grow with Transit-Oriented Development | 1/16/2014, Metromode

Atlanta’s great urbanism success of 2013: alternative transportation

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I was recently asked by Atlantic Cities to name what I considered to be the “best thing my city did this year.” As I thought about the coolest things happening around Atlanta, the answer came to me immediately. 2013 has been the year when this city really began to harness the power of alternative transportation in a post- ‘peak car use’ world.

That the nation’s driving habits have changed is not news anymore. Many articles have shown us that we’re driving less and that young people are waiting longer to become drivers. But for a place that has been particularly car-focused for the past few decades, its big news to read that Atlanta’s per-person driving miles are down nearly 12% since 2005.

Which makes it all the sweeter to see the city embracing a future with expanded alternative transportation options. It’s the right thing to do because it builds better cities, spurring new walkable development and connecting areas of density in a more sustainable way than can be done with car-dependency.

Here are some examples of what we’re doing right:

Atlanta Beltline

So far, the Beltline’s multi-use path and adjacent parks have brought in $1billion of new investment; and they’ve done so not by expanding road lanes but by offering a new way to move through our neighborhoods: human-powered transportation.

What a relief it is to see that alternative-transportation infrastructure can bring in so much development in a place that was, for a long time, considered a “car town” by many.

Atlanta Streetcar & adjacent bike lanes

The city is working to tweak zoning regulations in the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic district and the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, both of which are destinations for the in-construction streetcar line. This will allow (much needed) new development here while honoring the existing historic structures.

Hopefully, the streetcar project will be the thing that finally brings Sweet Auburn out of a decades-long slump. If so, it will happen alongside new streetcar tracks and also new bike lanes that will follow the route.

Turning MARTA parking lots into new development

In the recent State of MARTA address, CEO Keith Parker teased that some news may be coming in the near future regarding the agency’s effort to draw transit-oriented developments at stations like King Memorial, where surface parking lots now sit.

It’s way past time that these MARTA stations were converted from park-and-ride status to mixed-use projects with buildings that fit in with surrounding neighborhoods. My fingers are crossed that it happens sooner rather than later.

Bike lanes

Apart from the Beltline, we’ve also got a new two-way cycle track on 10th Street and new bike lanes on Ponce de Leon Avenue. And more is on the way as part of the city’s effort to invest $2.5 million into new bicycle infrastructure.

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With all of these projects underway, we’re setting Atlanta on a better course and giving it a chance to succeed in a world where transportation habits are changing and the ways we interact with our urban environment are evolving.

Photo of Atlanta bike lane by Flickr user Manuel Beers