Archive | June, 2011

Transit tax might fall back to November

27 Jun

From Creative Loafing:

Georgia Department of Transportation Planning Director Todd Long told the Augusta Chronicle last week that the state is considering re-scheduling next year’s vote on the transportation tax from July to November.

If held in November, the tax would be on the ballot for the general election, whereas in July the vote would occur during the state’s Republican primary.

While voter turnout for the general election will be higher than for the Republican primary, the later date will also require an additional four months’ worth of privately-funded marketing expenses, Long said. There’s also the chance that, with more candidates and issues on a general election ballot, voters won’t give the transportation tax the attention and consideration that its backers hope for.

Telephone Town Hall Tonight

22 Jun

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s regional roundtable is holding a “Telephone Town Hall” meeting forFulton County residents at 6 p.m. today.

The meetings are a chance for residents to talk to the officials who make up the roundtable about what projects they want to see on the region’s transportation project list. The roundtable will work to finalize the project list over the next several months and the one percent sales tax to fund the projects will be put to a vote next year.

The number to call in for the meeting is 1-888-886-6603 and the PIN is 16727.

Light Up Atlanta: Lindbergh

19 Jun

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Another piece from the “Light Up Atlanta” sculpture exhibition that’s on display at seven MARTA rail stations.

The artwork was produced by local architects and designers, and will remain through June 30.

TIA revenue estimates trimmed

17 Jun

Georgia’s fiscal economist announced this week that the Atlanta region should expect the Transportation Investment Act to generate less revenue than originally estimated for regional projects.

The one-percent sales tax that the TIA would put in place was previously expected to generate about $8 billion over the ten years for which it’s authorized, if voters approve it next year.

But Kenneth Heaghney, who prepared the estimates for the state, said that the calculations had to be adjusted to account for “a slightly worse outlook for the economy, as well as having time to do more exact work for this year’s projections,” the AJC reported.

The figure released this week was $8.5 billion – in 2011 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the value is expected be reduced to about $7.2 billion. But only 85 percent of TIA-generated revenue will be available to spend on projects described as “regionally significant.”  The rest is allocated for local projects in the cities and counties in which it was raised. Shaving off that 15 percent leaves $6.14 billion for funding regional projects.

 Original and adjusted revenue estimates for all 12 Georgia regions are here (PDF).

This news means even more re-calibration and re-calculation for the Atlanta Regional Roundtable tasked with putting together a list of useful, affordable transit projects to go before the voters next year.

The “unconstrained list,” or “wish list” already far exceeds the original, more optimistic estimates that the one percent tax was expected to generate. The roundtable’s job is to reduce that list to one consisting of projects that the projected revenues can pay for. Now another $235 million worth of projects will have to be jettisoned.

But public officials have had to get used to getting more mileage out of less money lately.  Asked whether having less money to divvy up among projects would make the new tax a tougher sell, Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who heads the roundtable for the Atlanta region told the AJC “I don’t think so. I mean it’s going to be hard enough,” and said, laughing “What’s a billion dollars among friends?”

Taxis and transit: Competitive or complementary?

15 Jun

Diving headlong into an unfamiliar transit system in a new city is some people’s idea of a good time. Boarding the wrong bus or getting off at the wrong station, perhaps ending up miles from the intended destination, are part of the fun of exploration for them.

But most people in the U.S. aren’t regular transit users and probably don’t share that particular sense of adventure. They prefer to get where they’re going with as little deviation and distress as possible.

Most of us have seen cars tentatively scooting down one of the city’s major arteries, hesitating at every intersection, turn signal going on, then off, back on, then off again, the occupants peering at street signs, trying to figure out whether this is the way back to the hotel and why there are no turning lanes.

Somewhere between braving strange streets in a rental car, and deciphering a bus schedule when you’ve never used one before, is the taxi. But are taxis part of public transit or part of car culture? Or both? Or neither?

Line of taxis on Baker street, downtown Atlanta

Taxis line up along Baker street in the early evening, waiting for customers from downtown hotels.

Drew Austin of Where, writing at The Urbanophile, says that taxis are not only part of public transit, they’re the only transit in places where other modes don’t reach. Their flexibility, Austin says, makes them a vital part of the transportation machine:

“It’s easy to forget, but the taxi has always been a critical form of public transportation. In cities without good transit, the taxi is often the only public transportation available. More importantly, mass transit cannot efficiently serve every type of travel that passengers demand, and the taxi is better suited to do so in many cases (think of the bus that never has more than a handful of passengers on board). Low-income city dwellers as well as the affluent rely on taxis where buses and trains don’t suffice. In the United States, where everything is seemingly built for the private car, modes of transportation that improve mobility for the carless are allies, not competitors.”

This topic came to mind yesterday when I had to use a taxi as a bridge between Five Points and Inman Park station after missing a Green Line train to Indian Creek. The next train would only go as far as King Memorial and it would be 15 minutes before service past there. The long headway plus the time to travel to Inman Park would have meant missing the route 6 bus at 12:40 that I needed to get to Emory.

Getting a cab was easy enough. But what it trip it was.

The driver first insisted that Decatur Street ends just past Grady hospital, then didn’t understand that I couldn’t go to just any MARTA station, so I couldn’t get out at King Memorial, which was the first one we passed.

He also gave the impression of not quite believing that there’s any such place as Inman Park Station. Even though I said that Inman Park is at least a mile past King Memorial, he slowed down every block, asking “Is it here?” or “Where is it?” Only after the GPS confirmed that such a place indeed exists was I able to go a full minute without saying “Please just keep going. It’s on this street, on the left. I’ve been there dozens of times.”

Although we did manage to make it to the station just before the 12:40 bus pulled into the bay, that’s one bridge I’m not looking to cross again any time soon.

Light Up Atlanta: Arts Center

15 Jun
Tae Jun Park's "Seating Bench 01"

"Seating Bench 01" by Tae Jun Park sits just inside the east fare gates at Arts Center Station

Light Up Atlanta” opened last week, dotting MARTA’s rail system with white Corian sculptures that lend some brightness to the stations.

Members of the local architecture and design community produced the six pieces, which will be on display through June 30.

New bus service changes go into effect next Saturday

7 Jun

Ready the recycling bins, MARTA will implement coverage and/or schedule changes on 13 bus routes beginning June 18.

Affected routes are:

2 Ponce de Leon Avenue/Moreland Avenue (Yes, again.)

8 North Druid Hills Road

49 McDonough Boulevard

56 Adamsville/Collier Heights

75 Tucker (This is only a chage to the location of the bus bay at Avondale station that the bus will service.)

86 Fairington Road/McAfee Road

87 Roswell Road/Morgan Falls

93 East Poin/Delowe Drive

95 Metropolitan Parkway / Hapeville

99 Boulevard/Monroe

117 Rockbridge Road/Panola Road

124 Pleasantdale Road

181 Buffington Road/South Fulton Park & Ride

Peachtree-Pine Shelter: The Big Picture

6 Jun

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To catch up on the protracted legal tussle over the Peachtree and Pine Street shelter run by Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, read this piece published in last month’s ABA Journal.

It’s long, but it’s light on legal jargon and free of the axe-grinding that tends to creep into anything written about the facility and its management.

Whittling Down the Wish List

4 Jun

Georgia DOT issued the latest version of the regional transportation wish list Thursday. The roster of prospective projects will be funded by the one-cent sales tax that comes up for a vote next summer.

State Transportation Planning Director Todd Long had the task of adding and subtracting projects from the original list, compiled in April. The new version will now go before the 21-member regional roundtable, whose members have to slice approximately $15 billion worth of projects from the list’s current total of $22.9 billion – a reduction of about 65 percent. The reductions will bring the projects’ price tag in line with the $8 billion that the transit tax is expected to generate in its 10-year lifespan.

Here’s a searchable database of the new wish list as well as an interactive map for locating projects in your area. Fact sheets for the projects on the updated list will be available here on June 9.

What’s on, what’s off ?

Afternoon commuters pass through the plaza at Five Points Station. The transportation tax would fund improvements like removing the non-functioning sign from the ceiling.

So far bus rapid transit for the portion of Piedmont Road between Roswell Road and Lindbergh Station is still on the list, as are funds for improvements to Five Points Station. Those improvements will include removing the mammoth yellow contraption – once a sign – hanging from the ceiling in the plaza, as well as fixing the skylights.

A circulator bus system for Fulton and DeKalb counties, on-board security cameras for all of MARTA’s bus, rail and paratransit vehicles, and and set-up of a distance-based rail fare system are also still included.

An extension of the Silver Comet Trail from Cobb County to Centennial Olympic Park and an ad system for MARTA’s rail tunnels were both axed.

What’s next?

An Atlanta Regional Commission informational meeting will be held June 9, followed by a meeting of the executive committee for Atlanta’s regional roundtable. The executive committee meeting will be open for public input on the first round of changes to the wish list.

A “telephone town hall meeting” for Fulton County residents is scheduled or June 22.

Details are on the roundtable’s meeting page.

City Council works out the streetcar’s NSF

3 Jun

This is the week during which the City of Atlanta was to conduct an internal audit to track down the $5.6 million it needs to cover its portion of the first segment of the downtown streetcar project.

According to a story in Saturday’s AJC, the City Council might have based its December 2010 decision to allocate funds for the project on faulty information provided by Chief Financial Officer Joya De Foor. De Foor became the city’s CFO in June 2010.

C.T. Martin, one of two council members who voted against the resolution, told the AJC that he believes De Foor herself wasn’t aware of the budgetary hole. “I know that the first action that happened on this happened before she got there and she was operating off information she was told,” Martin said. “Somebody told her that the money was there.”

The $5.6 million is part of Atlanta’s share of the streetcar project’s $56 million cost. The bulk of the project will be paid for by a $47.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the remaining $2.8 million coming from funds originally designated for other transportation projects along the same corridor the streetcar will serve.

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