When recent news reports told of a general rise in transit ridership in US cities for 2012, I knew to be cautious with my enthusiasm. The last time this happened, Atlanta was the odd city out, with a decline in rides that bucked the trend.
And that is, unfortunately, what has happened again. During 2012, while most cities saw encouraging gains in transit rides, Atlanta lost out, as Atlantic Cities reports.
The article offers a potential reason for the loss:
…there’s a close connection between metro areas that declined to pass funding measures tied specifically to transit last year and ridership declines. In Atlanta, which rejected a penny sales tax last summer, subway figures fell 5 percent and total transit 4 percent from 2011. In Memphis, which rejected a penny gas tax increase in November, general transit dropped more than a point and bus ridership slipped five points.
The funding-woes theory makes sense, but I wonder if there’s a common denominator fueling both a decline in rides AND a low level of support for transit funding. Could it be our stubborn car-dependent development style, lingering even in many MARTA-served areas? And maybe the lack of attractive, walkable, compact (meaning moderately-dense) neighborhoods near train stations?
I have no stats to back it up, but that’s my guess.
Which is why I’m excited to read in the Atlanta Business Chronicle that MARTA is making tracks (see what I did there?) with their effort to convert parking lots around train stations into transit-connected neighborhoods. Importantly, most of these projects have the ability to blend in with other compact urban neighborhoods in areas surrounding the stations — creating a connective urban fabric that is much needed in the Atlanta transit network.
MARTA’s “Safety Slide” video made the rounds online a couple of weeks ago. It’s OK. I get easily embarrassed for people who look silly in videos like these (it’s a whole thing with me — I call it Vicarious Embarrassment Syndrome) so I have a little trouble appreciating the choreography.
In case you’re wondering what a truly awesome transit safety video looks like, take a gander at this beauty from the folks at the Metro in Melbourne, Australia.
Now that’s what I’m talkin bout.
h/t to my wife, who is also what I’m talkin bout, for the video
Apparently the writer was late to last weekend’s game because the train was off schedule and late to arrive at the Sandy Springs station. MARTA is doing track repair and single tracking during weekends in October.
You can’t call an entire transit system mismanaged just because of a late train on a Sunday. From my experience, the trains largely run on time during the weekday commuter rush when they are most heavily used.
Yeah, MARTA could do a better job of getting the word out about service interruptions on game days. But the info is on the website.
I know it’s crappy to be stuck waiting for a train when you’re in a hurry and there’s track work slowing the arrivals. I’ve been in that situation on the weekends. However unfair it is, it’s tempting to make generalizations about MARTA when you have a bad experience like this.
I wonder how many suburbanites have been similarly turned off of MARTA by bad weekend-service experiences like this. On a PR level, it may be worth it for the agency to make an exception on Falcons game days when it comes to doing track work.
The Planning Atlanta website, which shows planning documents from the city’s past, brings us a bittersweet look at the proposed reach of MARTA heavy rail in this 1961 map, above. The map was originally published in a Atlanta Region Metropolitan Planning Commission document.
A quote from the post:
In this publication are numerous early MARTA maps that far exceed our current transit options, reaching up to Norcross and Marietta, and even extending a transit line to Emory University. In the face of our current traffic woes, it’s painful to see these early plans were never realized.
As the story goes (and you can read about it in this great piece from Atlanta Magazine), Cobb and Gwinnett counties decided against joining the transit system, leaving its reach stunted and establishing car commuting as the too-dominant transportation force in the metro.
It’s equally sad to see that train line going out to Emory University that was never built.
Praising transit and dissing sprawl: it must be Wednesday
NPR has a nice graphic on commuting patterns in US cities. The image above shows the rate of mass-transit commuting, with the larger circles representing larger numbers of riders. It’s nice to see that Atlanta is the leader in the deep south region when it comes to commuting by mass transit.
I’d like to see a graphic like this that shows commuters who walk or cycle to work. Let me know if you’ve seen one.
One reason I’m posting this is that, in the wake of the TSPLOST failure, I’m staying positive by appreciating the transit we have rather than mourning the new transit we aren’t going to get (at least not any time soon). And I’m also mindful of the silver lining I always saw in the failure of the proposed tax: traffic-frazzled commuters will have an extra impetus to stop embracing car-dependent sprawl.
When sprawling new development happens, it’s easy to mistake that for prosperity. New buildings and wide roads look great when they first meet the eye. But over time, distant development costs more, gradually bleeding taxpayers and putting the hurt on municipal budgets.
I’d like to see the Tea Party hop on that fiscal burden.
Cool Infographic on Public Transportation Benefits
Kaid Benfield at National Resources Defense Council posts about a great new infographic that explores the many benefits of public transportation compared to driving, from personal savings to environmental positives.
I’ve excerpted a piece here that mentions MARTA as one of the top 5 most heavily used heavy rail lines in the US. Take a look at the rest of the infographic on the NRDC blog post.