I’ve been commuting through the city of Atlanta nearly daily all of my adult life. In a way I feel it’s made me a better person, in fact. Every day, another jaunt through the crucible of some of the first world’s worst drivers: you’d think they’d use this place to train Formula 1 drivers, even if it is, by nature, very low-speed. But as a result of all of this, I’m keenly aware of the transportation issues around the city, and as a result of that one of my hot button topics in the realm of regional politics is transit policy.
Now I’m not stupid: I know it takes a lot of cash for real transit change to get off the ground, and certainly the city of Atlanta doesn’t have it. But when the federal stimulus came about looking for cities who had ‘shovel ready’ projects lined up just needing funding, my heart sang. “Yes,” I thought naively, “certainly GDOT has several such items ready to go. I know they have to be frustrated over some of the same things I am.”
You know what they chose? This. A streetcar setup through a small tourist-focused area downtown. Obviously there are some conflicting priorities here.
Ok. Alright. There’s been a community organization around since about 2003 trying to bring streetcars back to Atlanta, and relatively speaking the money available wasn’t sufficient for some of the really large problems that absolutely need to be addressed (the I-20 interchange that causes miles of backups on the Connector every. Fucking. Day. Just to start, that is). Plus as they point out, one of the focuses here is to add jobs. And to an extent, that may happen.
But I can’t believe how shockingly short-sighted this is, nor some of the same sorts of things coming out of the Governor’s office. The HOT lanes that were added to the north end of I-85, for instance, that are seeing extremely little use and therefore adding massively to the traffic up there, not to mention the plans to add them to two other very congested areas of the city. And now funding goes to this instead of to something that should damn well pay long term dividends for the RESIDENTS instead of the TOURISTS.
And worse, there have been several studies in recent years to survey businesses about the pros and cons of moving to Atlanta. One of the major things that was cited in all of them (which I’m quite aggravated to be unable to find right now but they did happen) is the traffic issues. The shitty transit problems we have are keeping other jobs, long term jobs, away from the city already. The piddly little stack of road crew jobs the streetcar will create is nothing next to the benefit of attracting business to the city. This shit is covered in the SimCity tutorials, guys. Come on. Kindergarten stuff.
Which leads me to wonder who, exactly, is in charge of the regional transit policy? It caused quite a stir when Gov. Nathan Deal announced that public funding for the next leg of the HOT lanes was canceled and that it’d be going on with private funding. By whom? The company managing the toll equipment? Hm. And I imagine there’s a lot of give and take with a certain street car manufacturer going on about now. Can’t you just throw the money at MARTA? Extend the lines to encourage more folks on the south end to ride it instead of driving ancient rusty old beaters in. It has to help somewhat, aside from the fact that you’re giving money to MARTA… but then, that’d still be a vast improvement over a streetcar for tourists.
Beyond the high probability of cronyism, frankly, it’s a slap in the face. Their reasoning is faulty, the effects so far have been negative, the benefits have been non-existent, the lack of action is strangling economic development in the region, and my commute time is going up.