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.

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