To be a transit-enthusiast in metro Atlanta is a position often fraught with disappointment and frustration. It is certainly not for the faint of heart, nor those who are not prepared for a constant, uphill battle. However, from the point of view of this eternal optimist, the tide seems to be turning (as I continue to hold my breath, and furiously “knock on wood”).
As a Sandy Springs native, MARTA trains and buses were constants in my childhood, yet only viewed from the window of a car. It was only after four years in Washington, DC that I realized cities were meant to be experienced on foot, bike, bus, or train, and not, as had been my singular experience, behind the wheel of a car from parking lot A to parking lot B. After returning to Atlanta for graduate school in 2011, residing in Midtown was the logical choice in order to maintain the newfound transportation independence and quality of life to which I had grown accustomed. Just take one look at the Atlanta Business Chronicle, or the cranes that dot the skyline, and clearly the business community agrees.
Heartbreak after TSPLOST’s defeat in 2012 ultimately led to my involvement with Advance Atlanta, and the 12 other like-minded individuals who comprise our Board of Directors. Our traction with metro Atlanta residents, the business community, civic leaders, and elected officials has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my adult life, ultimately leading to the passage of SB 369 a mere 3 hours prior to the close of the 2016 Georgia General Assembly session (this is complicated work for those of us prone to anxiety).
For those unfamiliar, SB 369 offers the City of Atlanta the opportunity to ask its residents for a ½-penny tax increase this November for the purpose of funding a massive expansion of transit within the City limits unlike any this region has seen since MARTA’s inception in the 1970s. Advance Atlanta supported the initial vision of Senator Brandon Beach, SB 313, which would have allowed all of Fulton and DeKalb counties to vote on an even more extensive $8 billion expansion. However, due to obstructionism by an extreme minority of elected officials from North Fulton county (against the evidence of current polling), only the 450,000 residents of the City of Atlanta (as opposed to the approximately 2 million residents of Fulton and DeKalb) will get the historic opportunity for the additional transit we so desperately need and want.
Make no mistake, transit expansion inside the city limits will be a complete game changer for what is consistently described as one of most sprawling and poorly designed cities in America. While the project list will not be completely finalized until this summer, it will likely include some combination of light-rail on the BeltLine (which many of us thought was decades away from becoming a reality), the expansion of the Streetcar outside of Downtown, and infill stations on current MARTA lines.
Ultimately, the success of this expansion will not only benefit the City of Atlanta, but will strengthen the case for growth into Cobb and Gwinnett counties as density builds and demand increases. Currently, the voices calling for transit outside of the urban core have been drowned out by the naysayers. For the opposition to change their tune, they’ll have to feel the prolonged pain of businesses and residents leaving those communities for a more transit-rich environment (which is already occurring, just not to the degree needed for a complete change in attitude).
If you have walked the streets of Midtown and seen the numerous cranes in the sky, driven through Central Perimeter and noticed the Fortune 1000 businesses within a half-mile of MARTA stations, or walked the BeltLine through previously forgotten neighborhoods (which now boast townhomes that cost in the mid- to high six figures), then you understand how connectivity can transform a region. Now, think about what happens to our City when $2.5 billion is invested in the largest expansion of transit since MARTA’s establishment. For those of you who lament that Atlanta is not as easily traversed as cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, or Boston, now is your chance to make a difference.
Even if you are not a regular MARTA rider, or even a resident of the City, you have a stake in this. Proximity to transit increases property values, attracts businesses, and injects culture and walkability into a City’s fabric. One of the reasons that I love Atlanta so much is that we do not have a fully formed identity. Unlike the more established Northeastern cities in this country, we are experiencing growing pains, and still coming into our own. To me, that is extremely exciting, and allows residents to have a much more active role in shaping what we will become. This City is a very different place than during my childhood. On all fronts – culture, business, vibrancy, food, music, and art – we are firing on all cylinders like we never have before. The last piece of the puzzle is a more easily navigable community. Mark my words – the best and the brightest will only put up with mediocrity on that front for so long before leaving for greener pastures. We have put up with extreme traffic for so long that we have collective Stockholm Syndrome. This is a wake-up call – easy and healthy transportation options are not a privilege of a select few Northeast and West Coast metropolises – they are human rights, and we need to expect nothing less from our own beloved City.
Oh, right, those numbers I mentioned: 62 percent of metro Atlanta views MARTA favorably, 66 percent of Fulton and DeKalb county residents favor dealing with traffic congestion by improving transit, not roads, and a whopping 73 percent would vote for a tax increase to fund transit expansion.
In 1957, our airport became the busiest in the world; 1996 is when Atlanta hosted the Centennial Olympic Games; and 2016 is the year that Atlanta takes its next giant leap onto the world’s stage by voting to expand transit this November. If you love this City, and support its continued progress, join the Advance Atlanta movement.
Joey Kline is the Treasurer and a Board Member with Advance Atlanta and he is a Commercial Real Estate Broker with Jones Lang LaSalle.