Riding the rails this morning in Atlanta.

Tips for new MARTA riders

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The MidtownATL.com website has a nice post from someone who “broke up with her car” to become a transit commuter in Atlanta. She includes a good list of tips for new MARTA riders:

Use the OneBusAway app to see when your next bus or train is coming: I now ride a combo of the bus and train and completely leave my car at home. Knowing when the next bus will be at my stop is helpful as I’m deciding whether to make that last cup of coffee at home. 
Pack a bag: I packed one and store it in my office. I have a few pairs of heels at my desk since I wear comfy flats on the way in, an umbrella, and a spare magazine just in case I forget my reading material.
Stay occupied: You just freed up so much time by taking transit; use it! My ride is short, so I can read a bit of my book before I get to work. I also love to listen to the PRX Remix app to get my NPR fix. 
If you don’t know, ask: Transit riders are very friendly and usually know the system well. If you’re not sure where to get off, how to use the fare gates, etc., ask someone around you. This is Atlanta, and Southern hospitality is real and thriving!

I second all these tips and I’ll also add that, in addition to the excellent One Bus Away app, you can also get full rail and bus schedules, as well as real-time arrival times, on the MARTA On the Go app. I use both.

Also: if you experience any problems on MARTA that you want to report, just use either the See and Say app or else the custserv@itsmarta.com email. I’ve found them to be responsive.

The effect of the single-occupant car

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No matter what kind of technology you use to power those single-occupant vehicles, the problem still remains: it’s an inefficient means of transportation on a large scale, and one that requires more road infrastructure than more efficient means such as public transportation.

Just look at what kind of mess that infrastructure has made of the center of Midtown Atlanta:

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Imagine how many fewer lanes, on ramps and parking spaces we’ll need as the years go by — as Atlanta grows in a way that favors alternative transportation over single-occupancy cars. I think it’s bound to happen as we continue to undo the unnatural 20th-century practice of building places primarily for cars.

Environments that are designed too much at a car-scale instead of a human-scale are more difficult to walk and bike than they should be. Think about that the next time you complain about traffic or about how hard it is to find free parking somewhere. The easier it is to drive in a place, the harder it is to get around any other way.

Source of top image

Better connecting people to places in the face of car dependency

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While reading an article about the way cheap parking encourages driving, “Low parking costs may encourage automobile use,” I saw this quote; I think it nails the relationship between sprawl development and limited transportation options:

During the past 25 years, the number of miles Americans drive has grown three times faster than the U.S. population. The predominant form of development, low-density sprawl, has encouraged automobile use and has worsened the challenges of providing convenient and low-cost public transportation.

Put this together with Rebecca Burns’ article this year that explores the way Metro Atlanta’s car-sprawl caused so many people to be stranded in a snow storm, and you’ve got a clear answer to the question of why the metro doesn’t have better transit options.

As long as we continue to build and maintain car-scaled developments and cheap parking — and surround that with car-focused infrastructure that hinders walkability and safe, convenient cycling — the metro as a whole will be stuck in a rut of car dependency. And it affects us all, even the ones who live in little bubbles of walkable, urban spaces, because it prevents those bubbles from being connected well. (Example: Downtown Woodstock, in the northern part of Metro Atlanta, is a decently-walkable pocket of human-scaled density. But try getting there without a car; and try operating a business there without cheap parking.)

This shouldn’t be a politicized issue of big-city urbanites versus suburbanites. This should be an issue of smart moves that allow people the freedom to connect to their needs in multiple ways without being forced into car ownership. And it should be about the freedom to build businesses that don’t require heavy expenditures for car storage via parking minimums — something that limits commercial construction to moneyed, big developers and big projects (think: sprawlburbs littered with big-box stores) instead of allowing for small-scale, incremental growth.

Can leaders region-wide accept the challenge of connecting roads now disconnected by cul-de-sacs, rezoning for mixed uses and increased density, and sacrificing some car lanes to make way for pedestrian & cycling infrastructure? I hope so. Because that’s part of what it will take to allow for a reversal of car dependency on a large scale — and not only in bubbles here and there.

Photo by Flickr user BoringPostcards

Creative Placemaking & Tactical Urbanism Sought for Downtown MARTA Stations

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Approaching Atlanta’s Five Points MARTA station, above, from the west or south is not an enjoyable experience. I enter on this side to catch the train to my office and I tend to walk with my head down to avoid seeing the bleak surroundings (the Google Street View image doesn’t do justice to the bleakness) first thing in the morning. 

In fact, the entire stretch of south Downtown, from this station to Garnett MARTA station, has long been in need of some extra TLC, a subject that was covered well by Thomas Wheatley in this 2011 article. Below is an aerial view of the stark, asphalt wasteland surrounding Garnett.

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Encouragingly, there is now an effort to improve the experience of entering both of these stations. Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District are requesting proposals from consultant firms to develop ideas for “creative placemaking and ‘tactical urbanism’ enhancements” to them. Read more here.

According to the RFP document available on the page linked above, the organizations want to find “innovative, cost-effective solutions to activate the area around and improve accessibility to the Five Points and Garnett stations.”

This comes on the heels of Midtown Alliance’s proposed enhancements to the Midtown Atlanta MARTA stations, as well as the soon-to-open pedestrian bridge for connecting to Buckhead MARTA rail and the new TOD projects elsewhere. It’s great to see city groups and the transit agency focus on improving the experience of riding and also investing in the full potential of these resources. 

The term “Tactical Urbanism” usually describes temporary improvements such as those implemented by Better Block programs — where you fix up a blighted block of commercial buildings temporarily to show what could be done with investment. See our own Brighten Up Broad Street for a good local example of tactical urbanism in action.

That could be useful at these stations, I’m sure, but I’ll assume that the main focus here is on permanent improvements, which would fall under the “Placemaking” umbrella. A combination of permanent and temporary improvements could be a big boost for the stations and the overall area.

Preach it, unknown creator of this cool graphic I found on the Webnet! Let’s turn Atlanta from “snowjam” to “nojam” by reducing solo commuting.
Also: I fully support transparent bus technology.

Preach it, unknown creator of this cool graphic I found on the Webnet! Let’s turn Atlanta from “snowjam” to “nojam” by reducing solo commuting.

Also: I fully support transparent bus technology.