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Just Say No to TSPLOST - Spaghetti Junction Here I Come

"People here generally like to hop in their over-sized vehicles and drive where they want to go when they want to go, even if it means there's a strong possibility of sitting in traffic for hours."

Area voters spoke loud and clear in Tuesday's election, with over 70 percent of the voters soundly voting NO on the penny sales tax increase to support area public transportation initiatives.

Whether you were on the yes or no side of the issue, what we can all agree on is that Atlanta area traffic is nightmarish, one of the worst in the nation, and is unacceptable to the vast majority of drivers.

However, the bottom line is that building new infrastructure doesn't necessarily guarantee people would choose to use public transportation as a means to get from point A to point B anyway. 

We're in the South after all, in a city deep seeded in tradition and in general, with a population resistance to change.  And unfortunately, people here generally like to hop in their over-sized vehicles and drive where they want to go when they want to go, even if it means there's a strong possibility of sitting in traffic for hours.

Atlanta didn't "grow-up" with a seamless public transportation system as let's say, New York, Chicago or Washington D.C.  In those cities, taking the subway, rail or train is simply a way of life, and for many, requires much less effort than driving or taking a bus to a MARTA station. 

In reviewing the proposed changes, I'm not convinced the updates would've really relieved that much congestion in the worst sections of Atlanta traffic anyway, especially considering that many residents, in general, don't seem to be all that interested in hopping on public transportation with the masses. 

A huge shift in perception and behavior would need to occur for any significant traffic improvements to feel noticeable.

So, I support a campaign to rename Spaghetti Junction to Cluster F Clover.

However, if you are simply over Atlanta traffic, you don't need to wait for a TSPLOST type OF miracle to take action to improve its impact on you.

Some suggestions include:

-Telecommute or work remotely.  I can personally recommend this approach after surviving 10 years of daily commutes through Spaghetti Junction that covered I-285, I-85 and  GA. 400. 

When looking for a new job, I purposely chose to work for a company that supported the concept of telecommuting and embraced a remote workfoce.

I cannot begin to describe the improvements in my quality of life now that I'm no longer spending 10 or more hours a week simply getting to and from the office, on top of spending 40+ hours doing a job I could easily do from the comfort from my own home office.

I'm spending more time with my family, eating healthier (since I'm at home and easily able to fix meals vs. going out to eat), make time for exercise and am spending far less money on gas and clothing.

-Focus your life around the area where you live.  Dine and shop at local restaurants.  Choose medical and service professionals within five miles of your house.  In an area like Peachtree Corners, we really have nearly everything we need within arm's reach.

-Carpool.  When driving anywhere out of your community, whether it is to work or for play, carpool when you are able.  I play in a once a month bunko group with friends that stretch from Decatur up to Duluth, down to Brookhaven and over to Acworth and Marietta.  The five of us that live in the Peachtree Corners area always pile into one car to make the trip out of our neck of the woods.

-Take MARTA when you can- for me, this means to/from the airport.  Other than that, sadly, Atlanta's dominant means of public transportation fails my needs.  MARTA just doesn't have convenient stops to locations I'm going to.  Driving my car 20 minutes to a station to take a train to take a cab or a bus to my final destination just ain't gonna happen.

And, if someone like me, someone who is very concerned about air quality, someone who dislikes driving, someone who actually enjoys public transportation, doesn't find our system easy and acceptable, not many will.

Yes, I would like to see vast improvements in our public transportation system.  However I, like many, believe there are other sources where the money could and should come from (not an across-the-board sales tax).

John C. Cook August 02, 2012 at 12:26 PM
I can't believe you wanted this. You say you use MARTA to get to & from the airport, but other than that, it fails your needs. Why can't we fix that. What if light rail came out to Peachtree Corners? Up & down 85? Along Buford Hwy. I work in Midtown & I'd ride every day if light rail came to the Forum. We need to stop pouring concrete & start laying steel. Monorail, light rail, both have been proven. I'll pay a 2 cent tax for that!
Robert J. Nebel August 02, 2012 at 01:48 PM
I wish light rail would go straight up PIB, P'tree Pkwy, Buford Hwy and many other thoroughfares. Instead, the plans were to lay more blacktop and add lanes to P'tree Pkwy. Where would those lanes exist? I agree with Robin that the mentality needs to change, but how would that be accomplished? Until then, expect more gas-guzzling Hummers, SUVs and minivans clogging up our roads. That's great that Robin has a choice to telecommute and keep all activities within a few miles of her home, but just wait until the kids get into activities that will force her to drive. Of course, Robin could carpool in those situations, but still, when its her turn to drive the kids, that means more time on the road. Again, Robin is right: attitudes need to change first.
Darin August 02, 2012 at 02:32 PM
RE: "Other than that, sadly, Atlanta's dominant means of public transportation fails my needs." Funny you should say that. Because last night on I-85 as it took me 20 minute to drive 5 miles on my way home, I thought about how Atlanta's dominant system of car-commuting travel was failing my needs and proving pretty darn inconvenient. RE: "And, if someone like me...doesn't find our system easy and acceptable, not many will." Except, of course, for the over 200k weekday riders of MARTA rail. A number that is almost equal to half the population of the City of Atlanta.
Robin Montri August 02, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Thanks for the comments guys! I think the headline created was misleading as to the point of my article...I would LOVE a quality public transportation system that effectively & efficiently got folks from place to place in Atlanta. And I despise Spag Junction (did anyone catch the Cluster F joke!?!). I'm from the north and love the cities I mentioned (DC, Chi, NYC) where people don't even need to own a car. My point was, based on the plans I saw for future development of MARTA using the new tax dollars, was that the system would still fall short of the needs of the average citizen here in our neck of the woods. And Darin, I meant not many in our area will (remember this is hyper-local news, meant for readers within a small radius of P'tree Corners). I'm sure the vast majority of the 200K riders live near the downtown/mid-town areas & not commuting from P'tree Corners. Driving in Atlanta in general fails our needs (as stated in the 2nd paragraph of my article), which is why I choose to telecommute, etc. I know not everyone has that option though. I think Robert got the point of the article- with the current MARTA system & even if improvements were made, the general attitude of folks in the ATL isn't to hop on public transit. Believe me, I wish that were the case (yes, I'm a tree kissin' total green girl).
Robin Montri August 02, 2012 at 07:18 PM
And one more idea... The way you motivate people to use public transpo? Have a killer tax % on gas (therefore, the bigger the vehicle & the more you drive, the more you pay). Use that $$ to improve mass transit vs. making all pay for it.
Burton Martin August 04, 2012 at 05:09 AM
Thank you for offering to pay any taxes I might have to pay. You are a great guy!! Not many people would say they would be happy to pay the tax so, Thank you for paying any tax like this for me!!!!!!!!!!!!
Burton Martin August 04, 2012 at 05:17 AM
Another way is to make people use public transportation is to put a gun to their head, so to speak, or better yet just shoot the 1st ten who refuse. I am not sure aggressive persuasion is the best way to handle issues such as this!!!
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 08:20 AM
Nah, a gas tax increase will never happen and is a complete non-starter in a very-conservative state where anti-tax and anti-government sentiment and anti-transit rhetoric are overwhelmingly dominant features of the political landscape. Any politician at the state level who dares openly back a tax increase for any reason, but particularly to finance transit, and especially in the Republican Party that dominates Georgia politics, does so at his or her own peril and at great risk to his or her political career. Transit is not necessarily a concept that plays all that well with the very-conservative base of the Georgia GOP that decides statewide elections in the Republican Primary, though transit is a concept does play much better with the much of rest of the public in the Atlanta Region, including moderate Republicans, Independents and, of course, Democrats and Liberals, just as long as it is not MARTA, which with a long-term operating deficit that is nearly $3 billion and growing, is likely in a terminal state of severe and irreversible decline, a death spiral which will likely end in a financial collapse within a decade.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 08:34 AM
The only way that people will likely be motivated to use public transportation and the only way that a state government dominated by conservatives will ever be motivated to invest in public transportation around these parts is federally-imposed congestion pricing on Interstates and freeways throughout the Atlanta Region, which is likely to happen within a decade if no effort is made to make significant expansions to a freeway system which has not been expanded in two decades while the region has doubled in population from 2.9 million in 1990 to 5.8 million today, which means the Atlanta Region that is home to nearly 6 million people is basically overdependent upon a freeway and surface road network that is ill-equipped to handle the transportation needs of more than 3 million people.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 08:48 AM
And the best, and likely ONLY, way to finance transit around these parts in a political, social and cultural climate that is often extremely hostile to the concept of transit of any kind, especially in some of the ultraconservative suburban and exurban enclaves outside of I-285, is through the use of distance-based user fees (an increased distance-based fare structure that charges riders by the mile combined with a zone-based fare structure that varies according to the importance of the station to the system) that pays most, if not all, of the cost of operations of maintenance (MARTA's $2.50 flat fare structure only covers between 17-32% of the cost of O&M while BART in the Bay Area of Northern California covers 78% of the cost of O&M with their increased distance-based fare structure that charges up to $11.05 for a one-way ride)...Private financing through public-private partnerships and Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development that pops up along transit lines) would finance the remaining 20% of O&M that is not covered by fares as tax increases of any kind to finance transit are a huge political no-no in Georgia.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 10:07 AM
{{"And I despise Spag Junction (did anyone catch the Cluster F joke!?!)."}} How ironic that you and hundreds-of-thousands of Metro Atlanta motorists now speak ill of that once-famous but now-infamous stack interchange at I-85 & I-285 Northeast as Spaghetti Junction was once considered a technological and logistical marvel when it first became operational back about 25 years ago back in the late 1980's after the completion of the then-massive "Freeing-the-Freeways" project to widen severely-constrained and extremely-congested Metro Atlanta freeways. http://www.concreteconstruction.net/images/Tom%20Moreland%20Interchange%20Cures%20Atlanta%20Traffic%20Woes_tcm45-342292.pdf http://www.gribblenation.com/hfotw/exit_14.html But then again, when Spaghetti Junction (a.k.a the Tom Moreland Interchange) and the "Freeing-the-Freeways" project were completed in the late 1980's, Gwinnett had less than half the population that it has today as did the Atlanta Region as a whole. The major problem with the massive expansion and reconstruction of the I-85/I-285 NE junction was that there was never a real mass transit option developed to attempt to relieve the severity of traffic stress on those roads in a period of explosive growth, not to mention to serve as a viable alternative to having very little choice than to traverse the gridlock that has become a reality of life in the I-85 NE Corridor.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 10:27 AM
{{"Driving in Atlanta in general fails our needs"}} I agree, as for a town that is so infamously and notoriously overdependent on the automobile, driving anywhere, Atlanta sure has made it difficult to get around by car, which is largely due to a unique increasingly severe public aversion to anything that is perceived to be massive roadbuilding after decades of roads being built only as traffic generators for new real estate development, sometimes under the blatantly false pretenses of improving traffic ("This new mega-mall will relieve traffic by taking cars off the road, blah, blah, blah..."). That means that just as there is a strong political, social and cultural aversion to public transportation that keeps must-needed transit from being implemented, there is also a very strong reactionary aversion to expanding the severely-congested road network, which means that right now it is darned near politically-impossible to expand either the severely-congested road network or the wholly-inadequate and severely-undersized transit network. That means that there is likely to be no new roads or transit built in a severely transportation mobility-challenged region that is in severe need of both for a very long term, if ever, at this point.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Expanding the current almost non-existent transit options is a very good idea, but increased park & ride express bus service that feeds into and from rail transit might the best idea for most of those roadways that you mention as rail transit is only viable sustainable over the long-term within very select corridors and right-of-ways. The State of Georgia actually has plans (unfunded and inactive plans) for highly-sustainable rail transit through the Norcross/Peachtree Corners area in the form of proposed regional commuter rail service between Atlanta and Gainesville within the existing Norfolk Southern/Amtrak railroad right-of-way that runs parallels to the west of busy I-85 and runs directly through historic Downtown Norcross. http://www.dot.state.ga.us/travelingingeorgia/rail/Documents/CommuterRailMap.pdf http://www.dot.state.ga.us/maps/Documents/railroad/nga_passenger.pdf
Bob Martell August 04, 2012 at 03:19 PM
For many people in NYC, transit is a ‘way of life’ out of necessity. Last time I was in the Big Apple, one-way tolls for the bridges and tunnels started around $8 and went up from there depending on time of day and what you were driving. And if you could afford that, and managed to dodge the crazy cab drivers, you still have to park it somewhere. If you could find a parking deck open to the public, plan to spend $30/day to park. Unlike NY and Chicago, Atlanta has no geographic features limiting or directing its development. In NYC, you either build ‘up’, or you go to New Jersey. In Atlanta, you just go a couple miles further down the road and there is open land. Hence, we do not have the kind of density needed to support transit. There are twice as many people living just on Manhattan Island as there are in all of Gwinnett County. It would be great if there were a rail line running in a ‘U’ shape from Lawrenceville to Marietta and basically following 316/85/285/75 but it would require huge subsidies to build, and even bigger subsidies to maintain over time.
Bob Martell August 04, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Wash DC is similar in many ways to Atlanta. Both have a city core with a population approx 500,000 people and surrounded by a perimeter highway and suburban business and residential centers. Washington’s Metro started running rail just a few years before MARTA did. In the 35 years hence they have managed to lay almost three times as much track as MARTA has. And it actually goes where the people are! But they have been heavily subsidized with federal money. The Georgia legislature wrote MARTA’s charter and restricted their funding mechanisms. Also by law, gas taxes can’t be used for transit projects. Until the legislature changes MARTA’s funding scheme, and changes the gas tax usage laws, nothing will change. MARTA will continue on the death spiral SEC Booster outlined earlier…Also, if MARTA is ever really going to be metropolitan as it’s name suggests, it will need to be put under control of a regional authority.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 06:32 PM
A rail line from Gwinnett to Cobb by way of the Top End of I-285 is something that I keep hearing people say they want and need in both the I-85 NE Corridor and the I-75 NW Corridor as there are a lot people that keep saying what you are saying over and over again, because of the crippling traffic congestion that one may face when commuting between Gwinnett and Cobb by way of Interstates 85, 285 & 75. The state actually has partial plans to do what you are suggesting with unfunded and inactive plans to run a light rail transit line across the Top End of I-285 roughly from Doraville west along the I-285 Top End Corridor to the Cumberland Mall area. IMHO, that proposed rail line could easily be modified to run from let's say Acworth in the I-75 NW Corridor to about Dacula in the Hwy 316 Corridor by way of the CSX/"Brain Train" rail line that parallels Hwys 29 & 316 and from Acworth to about Buford by way of the Norfolk Southern/Amtrak rail line that runs parallel to the west of I-85. While the I-285 Top End rail transit line is currently proposed to be a light rail line, I suspect that by the time the line actually becomes operational, that it will be something that is more akin to that of a heavy rail line that performs the function of a regional commuter rail service, which will be sometime within the next three decades at this point with the total lack of funding or priority to the state government.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Here's link to the unfunded and inactive proposed plans to expand the I-285 Top End between I-75 NW and I-85 NE with the addition of four elevated HOT Lanes and a light rail line between Cumberland Mall and Doraville- http://www.revive285.com/index.html The HOT Lane portion of those plans are currently out-of-vogue after the ill-advised I-85 HOT Lane debacle last year and the angry public backlash against it.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Atlanta may be the most sprawlingest metro area in the world, but people in Metro Atlanta are finding out the very hard way just how much of a necessity some kind of dependable transit is as metro areas of 5-6 million or more people just don't function all that well by being totally dependent on a single mode of transportation in the SOV (single-occupant vehicle). Being dependent on the SOV possibly would not be such a problem if the freeway and surface road network could be expanded to accommodate the automobile-dependency that is a dominant function of life in the Atlanta Region. The problem is that we have reached a point in the Atlanta Region where a massive expansion of the road network has become almost politically impossible after the defeat of two roadbuilding-heavy initiatives in the Northern Arc and the T-SPLOST and the abuse of the lack of transportation planning by developers who only built new roads to generate traffic to their new commercial developments.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Another problem is that the Georgia Legislature, which has been dominated traditionally by rural, suburban and exurban conservatives who have an extreme cultural aversion to transit, which means that we should not expect to see any proposals that involve a massive expansion of transit coming anytime soon from state government no matter how actually needed it may be. That also means that this notoriously-congested region is stuck in a very precarious place where neither the roads or the rails can be expanded despite the seemingly pressing need to substantially do both because of our severely-limited road network.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 07:38 PM
The huge subsidies that a rail line from Gwinnett to Cobb would need to be built and maintained could be easily raised without raising taxes through the use of an increased combination distance-based and zone-based fare structure, private financing and Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development that pops up along transit lines).
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 07:42 PM
You raise a very good point about Atlanta being similar to D.C. in many ways as both cities are extremely diverse and have very-large black middle class populations with DC having the highest average black per-capita income and Atlanta having the highest number of black millionaires of any city in the U.S.
ACC-SEC Booster August 04, 2012 at 08:05 PM
You also pointed the restrictions placed on MARTA's sales tax revenues by the Georgia Legislature which requires MARTA to set aside 50% of their sales tax revenues for capital improvements, which is a big problem for MARTA. Though one might point out that despite being required to put aside 50% of their sales tax revenues for capital improvements, MARTA is still seemingly unable to fund those capital improvements, which really points a lack of revenue being taken in at the farebox as during its existence, MARTA has chosen to attempt to keep their fares as low as possible while utilizing a flat fare structure and only raising their fares when they must to keep operating instead of utilizing a distance-based and/or zone-based fare structure and raising their fares with inflation to help keep the service viable and solvent in a hostile political climate where no financial help from the state was ever going to come. The simple fact seems to be that MARTA's business model is highly, if not fatally, flawed as their fares were likely too low to begin with and were never pegged to rise with inflation so that most of their revenues would be collected from the farebox instead of just simply being dependent upon the revenues from the 1% sales tax that is collected in Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Burton Martin August 07, 2012 at 03:19 AM
so the citizen of dekalb & fulton are subsidizing 200K rider per week and the system still runs at a deficit? What do you think the real cost per ride is, I would guess roundtrip say $12-$15, I maybe on the low end.
ACC-SEC Booster August 07, 2012 at 05:57 AM
Burton Martin 11:19 pm on Monday, August 6, 2012 Interesting that you mention that the real cost per ride on MARTA is $12-$15 (actually I think that the real cost is closer to $11.00-11.50 per ride) as it costs as much as $11.05 (up from $10.90 last month, $4.10 discounted fare for kids, students and seniors) to ride one-way on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains and buses. http://www.bart.gov/tickets/calculator/index.aspx It also costs as much as $31.00 one-way to ride from one end of the train line to the other on the Long Island Railroad regional commuter rail service. http://lirr42.mta.info/fares.php With a nearly $3 billion long-term operating deficit, it is more than likely too late for MARTA which will probably be out-of-service within a decade, but any possible successor to MARTA will have to utilize a combination distance-based and zone-based fare structure in which riders pay a base zone fare that varies according to the importance of the station and a distance-based fare in which passengers pay an additional amount to travel by the mile so that the further one travels in the transit network, the more one pays.
ACC-SEC Booster August 07, 2012 at 06:04 AM
Burton Martin 11:19 pm on Monday, August 6, 2012 Distance-based and zone-based fares will absolutely have to be part of the equation to pay for expanded and adequate rail and bus transit service as the means of paying for the bulk of the cost of operations and maintenance (preferably more than half of the cost of O&M). While the rest of the cost of operations and maintenance will have to be subsidized with private financing and investment and Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development that pops up along transit lines).
Darin August 10, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Robin: despite my snarrky comment, I do get your point. The transportation infrastructure of the metro fails commuters on all ends -- both drivers and transit riders. In my opinion, it's a product of the sprawling built environment, low connectivity of roads and the lack of logical planning for development and transportation together (but that's another conversation). As a downtown Atlantan and MARTA user, I was just trying to stand up for my transit system, which tends to take a beating in the press and from commenters on metro forums. I found this post on a Google news search and couldn't help but get defensive. Regardless of your intended readership, your post is out there for the general public to read and so are the comments on it. I just wanted to make sure my family's mode of transit didn't go undefended in the public forum. Nonetheless, it's always good to read opinions from people outside my intown Atlanta bubble -- I appreciate yours and those of the commenters even if mine is on the opposite side of the spectrum.


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