Southern Towns: Atlanta, Some Thoughts

Post date: Oct 15, 2012 1:16:41 AM

I’m sure there is very little I can say about Atlanta and transportation that hasn’t been said before, but after spending a few days there (the first in a while), I can’t resist putting a few points on paper:

MARTA – I found the MARTA connection at ATL to be very convenient. Headways were a little longer and service was a little slower than I would have liked, but it delivered me to midtown Atlanta very comfortably. I did notice that most of the stations we passed in the southern part of the city were surrounded by low-density development, with some parking. Why no TOD? MARTA apparently has a pretty low reputation in Atlanta, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. Perhaps the sparse coverage? MARTA’s cousin, the Washington Metro, on the other hand, is choking on its own success.

Atlantic Station – I had heard a lot about this Smart Growth infill development and was eager to see it. The central part of this development was very impressive, with high-quality, well-scaled buildings, streets, and open spaces. Atlantic Station as a whole seems to be a transit-oriented development without the transit! Attractive stairway openings lead down from the surface level, but to a vast underground parking garage, not a light rail station! Unfortunately, the whole development is located at a place that is “not on the way” for transit planning purposes, in JarrettWalker’s language, and so is unlikely to have rapid transit access at any time in the near future.

Georgia State Capitol – Really? A beautiful building facing freeway ramps and parking lots and home to a concentration of homeless people.

Up-and-coming neighborhoods – I was pleased to see some nice development and redevelopment activity in some up-and-coming neighborhoods: West Midtown, Virginia Highlands, Inman Park. A key factor holding these neighborhoods back is that they are overrun with auto traffic. High-speed traffic roars through local high streets, and pedestrians use the rare crosswalks at their own risk. A little basic traffic calming and pedestrianizing would work wonders in promoting sustainable economic development in these places.

Atlanta of the future – At a very brief glance, there appears to be plenty of room in Atlanta for infill urbanizing and upgrading. The necessary transit upgrades will not be complicated, just expensive. In rough terms, I think tripling the mileage of the MARTA network would give a pretty decent transit grid. Georgia remains one of those places where using gas tax money on transit is verboten and where taxes and public expenditure generally are the subject of not-very-enlightened discourse. But there are plenty of smart and energetic people in Atlanta, so one hopes for a bright future.