Archive | December, 2010

Transit construction costs, MARTA Guide, and transit with poor self-esteem

22 Dec
  • No matter how well-thought out or how badly needed transit projects are, cost is always an issue. For some people it’s a cause for concern that needs to be carefully monitored, for others it’s an all-purpose reason not to undertake a project – any project – at all. (Would anyone else be really happy to never hear the word “boondoggle” again?) Construction and operation costs for the newly-funded downtown streetcar project are a prime, local, recent example.

There’s a really cool discussion of why transit costs are so much higher in the U.S. than the rest of the world going on at Human Transit. It’s really cool in that ideas are flying and the list of possibilities keeps growing, but no one claims to know The Reason.

  • Am I the only person who didn’t know about MARTA Guide? In case you were in the dark with me, MARTA Guide gives quick, clear bus and rail directions to shopping, arts venues and festivals, universities, tourist attractions and a lot of other places. You can search by destination type or by transit station. It’s so through that I might rarely need to tangle with MARTA’s trip planner (which functions as if someone got halfway through building it and said “Pffft. That’s good enough.”) again.
  • Also via Human Transit, take a look at Green Idea Factory’s set of “self-harming” ads found in, on or near transit stations, vehicles or bus stops.

    Flickr photo by Green Idea Factory

    Those “Quick, easy financing!” car lot ads on MARTA’s trains always seemed awfully incongruous, but it turns out that even transit-savvy cities like Prague have the same strange practice going on. Does any other entity accept money to allow a direct competitor to advertise to its clientele?

More MARTA service changes. Yes, really.

18 Dec

A new set of service changes go into effect at MARTA today.

Flickr photo by Lance McCord

Affected bus routes are:

2 – Ponce de Leon Avenue / Moreland Avenue

4 – Thomasville / Moreland Avenue Route

58 – Atlanta Industrial / Hollywood Road

66 – Lynhurst Drive / Barge Road Park & Ride

84 – East Point / Camp Creek

99 – Boulevard / Monroe Drive

120 – East Ponce de Leon Avenue /  Tucker
The announcement also says that early morning trips on the Red Line will be “adjusted to provide a consistent frequency” on weekdays. Has anyone ever even looked at a rail schedule?

Why so fancy, Zipcar?

16 Dec

I drove an Audi A3 last week. Under normal circumstances, that’s not a sentence I would have anticipated ever writing. But the Civic and Mini convertible that used to reside in my closest Zipcar spaces have been replaced by the A3 and a Mazda 3.

While I appreciate the novelty of the experience, getting to Spa Sydell to retrieve my forgotten umbrella wasn’t any faster or easier than it would have been in the $7/hour Civic. The A3 cost $4.25 more per hour to rent, and had I been in an accident, would have certainly cost more to fix.

What’s with the luxury encroachment at so many Zipcar spots lately? It’s hard to imagine that people are complaining that the cars aren’t “nice” enough. Of course it’s possible, likely even, that there’s some marketing effort afoot here. What could be better than having people paying by the hour to drive your company’s car around a large city, especially one in which your brand’s popularity has taken off? Have you noticed how many more Audis are on the streets here now than there used to be? That can’t be a coincidence.

At MARTA, lost service = lost revenue = lost service…

15 Dec

From the AJC: A little more than two months after the fare increases and service reductions were put in place, MARTA reported that the changes have caused  loss of ridership.

Well, yeah.

“Although ridership can vary seasonally, that doesn’t appear to be the problem. Comparing October of this year with October of last year brings the same result, a decline. MARTA passengers took 670,000 fewer bus trips this October than last October, and 131,000 fewer train trips. That’s a decline of 11 percent of bus ridership and 1.9 percent of train ridership”

The difference between the ridership loss on the buses and on the trains is pretty interesting. In MARTA’s service area people who use the buses are less likely to be “choice riders” than those who ride the trains. Of course, many people do both, which complicates the matter further. But something happened to those 670,000 trips. Either they didn’t get made or those riders found (or created) another way to make them.

I have to admit to being the source of a few of those missing train trips. I rarely leave work before six, so by the time I walk to the station rush hour service is over and the trains are back to at least 15-minute headways. If I get there and find that I’m going to be waiting at least ten minutes for a train, I’ll usually just walk the rest of the way home.

The walk from Five Points to my apartment is about 25 minutes, which is often less than the combined total of train-wait time, the ride from Five Points to Civic Center and the 11-minute walk from Civic Center to my apartment.  I’m now walking home from work at least three days every week whereas I was riding the train at least four days per week during the spring and summer. But I buy a monthly pass, so it’s not as if my decision to walk is depriving MARTA of any revenue. My reduced use of their escalators and fare gates could even be thought of as saving them money.

Now if only those unused trips would “roll over” like unused cellphone minutes.

Well, this ought to be interesting.

8 Dec

The new owners of the building now occupied by the men’s shelter at Peachtree and Pine are scheduled to have a hearing on their motion to evict the shelter from the space Thursday, according to the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance.

Thursday’s docket isn’t posted online at Fulton Superior Court’s site yet, but should be there Wednesday evening. As of right now, the hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 9 in courtroom 5E, according to MPSA’s announcement.

Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless appears to be carrying on as normal in the space, though, even opening a coffee shop on the Peachtree Street side of the building late last week.

Again, I’ll believe it when I see it. Evicting homeless people from a shelter in December is not going to play well politically. The shelter’s management isn’t likely to go quietly and  another NPR story won’t be far behind if the eviction goes forward. The wheels are turning, but it’s anyone’s guess how far they move right now.

Grand Plans, Iffy Execution

7 Dec

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I made it to the afternoon sessions of the Grand Plans, Everyday Life symposium at Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture Saturday.

For someone completely unfamiliar with the Atlanta Beltline or who hasn’t been following its progress, it would have been a highly informative afternoon. Just about anyone else would have been contending with a raging case of Powerpoint fatigue and hoping to not hear the word “Beltline” again for a long time.

The streetcar projects, which are finally getting off the ground, warranted scarcely a mention the whole afternoon, perhaps because they’re municipal projects and the Beltline is more of a bottom-up undertaking. The streetcar is also lacking a  “face” like Ryan Gravel, who originally conceived the project, and evangelists like Angel Poventud. That’s not a complaint, just an observation.

Jennifer Clark moderates the panel discussion at Grand Plans, Everyday life. From left: Jennifer Clark, Fred Yalouris, Albert Churella, Angel Poventud, Ryan Gravel, Brian Leary

Albert Churella’s presentation – “Race, Railroads and Federalism” – just about made the trip worth it, though. Churella, who holds a doctorate in business history, is an assistant professor of social and international studies at Southern Polytechnic State University. He discussed (as thoroughly as one can in about 30 minutes) the effects of race, class and politics on transit planning in the Atlanta metro area, which is a topic that could easily be a day-long symposium of its own.

Maybe all the speakers were talked out by 6:15 p.m., when the time for the panel discussion rolled around. It was a bit lethargic, although it did briefly address concerns that the Beltline will be Atlanta’s version of a “Starbucks urbanism” project by and for upper middle-class people. That’s another topic that could easily warrant a long discussion on its own.

Strangely, the Q&A portion of the panel discussion was cut off after about three questions from the audience because of time constraints. Just from where I was sitting, I could see three more people with their hands raised to ask questions when the moderator said that they absolutely had to end. If you schedule an event in such a way that only allows for 10 minutes of questions from the people who sat there and listened all day, maybe your planning needs some work. But, the event was free, so I supposed one can only expect so much.

It was drizzling a little when I left, but I walked back to Midtown Station. It was a much quicker walk than I expected, and thanks to the many improvements to the campus and 5th Street, vastly more pleasant than it was eight years ago.

The trip to the campus is another story.  I’d planned to try the Tech Trolley, but the online weekend schedule simply says that it starts running from Midtown Station at 10:00 a.m. and runs “every 36 minutes.” Why 36? Couldn’t they just have it wait the extra four minutes to make the arrival time easier for riders to calculate? Or, better yet, actually list the times?

The long wait between Trolley runs put me off that idea, so instead I rode the #12 MARTA route for the first time. I caught the #110 about two blocks from my building, got off at Peachtree and 10th at 1:05, and scurried down to the station just barely – I thought – making it in time to catch the #12 that was scheduled to leave at 1:10. The bus was sitting there when I arrived and I got one of the few remaining seats. The driver, however, didn’t appear until at least 1:16. Is that normal?

Many’s the time I’ve sat on the #110 at Arts Center for several minutes past the scheduled departure time. I understand leaving late after arriving late, but what’s the reason for buses arriving at a station on time or early, then leaving several minutes late?

It seems like a little thing, but being kept waiting, for no reason that’s apparent, is something that riders really resent, especially those who don’t have another option to get where they’re going. It’s also one of the things that will keep choice riders off the buses forever. MARTA really can’t afford that.

France-Atlanta, Peachtree-Pine, and the Q

2 Dec

Sorry for falling off the face of the earth for so long. But, rather than bore you with the reasons, I’ll tell you about a few of the things that I should have been writing about the last couple of weeks:

  • According to the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance, the homeless men’s shelter at Peachtree and Pine won’t exist much longer in its current manifestation. MPSA doesn’t cite a source for the info, so it’s hard to tell how legitimate it is.  As with any change this big, I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • MARTA’s first BRT projects are up and running on Memorial Drive. Although they’re lacking dedicated lanes, the new “Q” route buses do have signal priority technology, queue-jump lanes at two intersections, and limited stops. I have absolutely nowhere to go on Memorial Drive, but I want to ride it just to see how quick the trip from one end of the route to the other is. Have you tried it?
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