All Hands on Deck

It’s not that MARTA doesn’t go anywhere, it’s that we haven’t built anywhere worth going to around MARTA.

Published on Oct. 28, 2016 by Matthew Garbett

There’s a good piece in StreetsBlog about the benefits to transit in Atlanta if the MARTA expansion tax passes. These include doubling bus frequencies, 30 miles of light rail, Bus Rapid Transit, infill stations and more.

It’s an important step for Atlanta’s future as a city who’s population is expected to double or triple in the next 35 years, and critical for our attempts to be a more walkable, transit oriented city.

But it’s only an important first step. As Sam Newburg of Joe Urban puts it:

“Rail miles, lines and stations are important, but equally if not more so is the fabric of the city once people step off the platform. That is where we must set ourselves apart, and that requires something much more robust than station area planning. All hands must be on deck to create a competitive transit system with excellent urbanism around it […] People aren’t moving here just for the train. The connectivity provided by new transit systems [is] valuable, but we leave half the value on the table if we don’t create a truly walkable environment once riders step off the platform. We must not just connect dots on a map but weave a fine web of urbanism that everyone can share and enjoy.” 

After this passes, all hands must be on deck. Our next mayor, our next council, Invest Atlanta, MARTA, everyone must work together to encourage, require, fund, beg, borrow, and steal to ensure that this investment in transit does not mirror the last.

Because this is a MARTA rail station in Atlanta:

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Garnett Station.

And so is this:

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Lakewood/Ft. McPherson

And so is this (what the Atlanta Housing Authority considers a Transit Oriented Development, I suppose):

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King Memorial Station (there’s even more parking just south of the station).

This project is breaking ground across the street from the Oakland City MARTA entrance:

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This questionably”walkable” addition to the city is about to open across the street from Lindbergh Station: lindbergh-park-750xx1307-737-241-0

And, sadly, I could go on. This is how we treat transit in our city. Past and present tense.

As a result, the overwhelming majority of MARTA stations are unwalkable, desolate landscapes of parking with minimal activity, or developments more at home in suburbia than in a city, much less adjacent to rail. It’s not that MARTA doesn’t go anywhere, it’s that we haven’t built anywhere worth going to around MARTA. Certainly few places that are walkable and transit oriented.

This didn’t just happen. It’s the result of decades of policies that not only allow but most often require developments to be this way.

It’s the result of an attitude that starts with the car not only as the preferred form of transportation, but the privileged form of transportation that the city must build vast amounts of parking to accommodate.

It’s the result of a perception of mass transit as a service to the poor “captive riders,” a nice amenity transportation option for the “choice riders,” and a dash of wishful thinking that transit reduces traffic for everyone else.

And if we want different results from our future MARTA investment, if we want to begin, finally, to truly capitalize on and utilize our previous MARTA investments, if we want a MARTA station that we can exit and walk to something besides the surrounding parking lot, we must recognize that what we build around our transit is as important as the station itself and bring all hands on deck to build not just more transit, but a better city around it.