Archive | October, 2011

Well, you don’t see that every day

31 Oct

I got on a southbound train at Civic Center Station Friday morning, followed by a MARTA police officer who emerged from one of the unmarked doors opposite the fare gates just as the train was pulling in.

He got on and walked immediately to one of the seats at the end of the car where a guy was sitting, apparently asleep, with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head. The police officer knocked loudly on the hollow plastic of the seat, startling the sleeping man (along with everyone else in the car).

“How you doin’, sir?” the officer boomed jovially. The man said something inaudible.

“What station you goin’ to?” the officer asked.  No answer.

“What station you goin’ to, sir?” the officer asked again. “Five Points,”  the man answered

“How ’bout you, sir?” the officer asked, moving on to a man who was sitting in front of the sweatshirted sleeper and wearing an ill-fitting coat. “What station you goin’ to?”

The man’s answer couldn’t be heard from where I was sitting.

“Oh, well, you’re going the wrong way. You need a North Springs train,” the officer responded. He went on to explain that the man needed to get off at Peachtree Center station, go to the opposite side of the platform and catch a train going in the other direction. The officer stood over the two men as the train pulled into Peachtree Center Station and watched as the man in the coat gathered up his bags and shuffled out to the platform.

 Two men in suits, sitting next to wheeled suitcases, were across the aisle from me. “Why’s he doing that?” one of them said. “I don’t know. Never seen that before.” the other replied.

“Here ya go, this is Five Points,” the officer said to the man in the hoodie, who apparently had dozed off again. “Here ya go!” he said again, when the man didn’t move. Finally, the man stood up and walked slowly off the train, muttering.

In what must be a few thousand times riding MARTA, I’ve never before seen a police officer effectively throw someone off of a train. Without funds to immediately improve or expand service, maybe the agency is trying out new security strategies.

Is this going on a lot? Has anyone else seen anything like this happen?

Megabus Atlanta debut set for November

26 Oct

A high-speed passenger rail network for the Southeast remains a “maybe” for the distant future, but low-cost express bus service will be here in time for the holiday travel season.

Megabus double decker

Photo courtesy of Megabus

Chicago-based Megabus, which offers amenities like Wi-Fi and electrical outlets on its coaches, will begin daily trips from Atlanta to 11 major cities in the Southeast on November 16. Buses will depart daily from a stop at Civic Center Station on West Peachtree Street.

The five-year-old Megabus service which operates an online-only reservation system with fares beginning at just $1, is popular with travelers in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.

To promote the launch of service to Atlanta, Megabus is giving away 10,000 seats on buses on the new routes for travel between Nov. 16 and Dec 16.

H/T to the AJC.

The End? Eviction order for Peachtree-Pine shelter (Updated)

21 Oct

Order (PDF)Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall Sr. issued an order this week allowing the owners of the building that houses the men’s shelter at Peachtree and Pine Streets to begin eviction of the shelter’s residents and management as early as next Thursday.

“The record is replete with evidence that the Property is in deplorable physical condition and cannot offer adequate benefit to the less fortunate members of society,the very persons whom the property is mandated to serve,” Schwall wrote in the order signed Monday.

“The Court is not assured that Plaintiffs have the best interests of these community members in mind,” the judge continued, and added in a footnote that “given Plaintiffs allegations and conduct, one could determine that Plaintffs are less concerned about the plight of their community and more concerned with embarrassing Defendants and tarnishing reputations.”

Stephen Hall, an attorney for Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, which mananges the shelter told Creative Loafing that he intends to appeal. But Schwall’s order states that it “shall not be stayed pending appeal,” meaning that an appeal won’t keep the eviction from going forward.

Even if an appeal could stall the eviction, a federal judge ruled in September that the City of Atlanta can demand payment of at least $147,000 that the shelter’s management owes for overdue water bills. If the bill isn’t paid, the city is authorized to cut off the shelter’s water service. With the shelter’s water cut off, it would probably be swiftly shut down by Fulton County’s health department.

The order was welcome news for the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance, which has long regarded the shelter as a nuisance. “It is with great hope that we will soon be writing the final debriefing for this dreadful phenomenon that has afflicted our community for many years…,” MPSA wrote in an online bulletin.

But the shelter’s management hasn’t given any indication that they intend to go quietly. Jim Beaty, who is married to Anity Beaty, the executive director of Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, wrote Thursday that the “angry [o]rder will be appealed, but no one knows what might happen.” Beaty also said in the post that some people plan to “occupy” the building and force the city to physically remove them.

Even with the Peachtree-Pine shelter open, people are already sleeping and stashing their belongings in every imaginable place in the neighborhood around it. Someone has recently even started sleeping standing up in a doorway outside my apartment building. (We’ve already nearly given each other a heart attack several times.) If that facility is shut down,  a lot of questions remain about where the people who sleep there each night will go.

But Vince Smith, executive director of Atlanta’s Gateway Center said that preparations are being made to provide shelter for people who need it. When or if the shelter is shut down, Gateway and other organizations in the city are working together to establish a safety net for people who would otherwise find themselves back on the street at night, Smith said.

Update: The AJC reported that Judge Schwall vacated the dispossession order late Friday afternoon. According to the AJC story, the Task Force filed a motion to recuse, which somehow slipped through the cracks and has yet to be addressed by the court.

But even if Schwall’s order isn’t reinstated soon, there still remains the issue of the well over $100,000 that the shelter’s management owes for overdue water bills. That amount is due by the end of the month, the AJC reported, now just eight days away.

Monday* Salmagundi

18 Oct

Stairwell, parking deck on Oak Valley Way

  • From the New York Times’ Lens blog, a collection of photos of the city’s high-rise window washers
  • The Stockholm Transport Museum added 100-plus years of transportation photography to The Commons at Flickr
  • At TEDx, Chuck Marohn discusses the difference between a road and a street. A road, Marohn said, connects two places, usually accommodating only one type of transportation – the car. A street is a network that allows people to get around within a place, with or without a car. In the last fifty years, Marohn said, more and more of our streets have taken on the characteristics of roads. In the 15-minute video he describes the ways in which that change has affected land use patterns, public space and how people interact. H/T to The Transportationist.
  • With the Braves’ season over, Turner Field will go into hibernation until March. The Atlantic Cities looks at efforts that some cities are making to keep their professional baseball stadia – and the neighborhoods around them – active in the off-season.
  • The New South China Mall, the largest in the world by floor space, is at 2 percent occupancy. The 660,000-square meter shopping center opened in 2006 in Dongguan, China with 2,350 retail spaces, only 47 of which are in use now. H/T to The Infrastructurist

*This post was started Monday night, so it narrowly qualifies. Besides, “Tuesday” and “salmagundi” don’t rhyme.

Roundtable approves final TIA project list

13 Oct

ARC's final report At their final meeting, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable today approved the final list of  155 regional transportation projects to be funded by revenue from the proposed 1-percent sales tax that comes up for a vote next year. 

The project list in the roundtable’s report includes only projects to be paid for by the 85 percent of the funding that’s allocated for regional projects. The other 15 percent of the revenue generated by the TIA tax will be distributed to cities and counties within the region to fund local transportation projects.

The Atlanta Regional Commission estimates that the TIA tax will generate about $7.2 billion during the ten years it will be in effect. The regional share of  that funding will come to about $6.1 billion. (Both estimates are in 2011 dollars.)

The report includes not only the project list, but also fact sheets and schedules for each project, so it’ll come in handy if you’re tired of having to fish around on the roundtable’s site to find that information a piece at a time.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

13 Oct


“The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces” was produced in 1979 as a companion film to William H. Whyte’s book by the same name.

The book was undertaken as a guide to assist New York City’s Planning Commission in improving the city’s public spaces after changes in city zoning regulations managed to increase their quantity without having the same effect on quality.

In a little less than one hour, the film details the sometimes little-noticed attributes that make the difference between public spaces that people are drawn to and the ones they’re indifferent to.

“The most important thing about a place is its relationship to the street.”

In a successful urban space, Whyte said, “The number one activity is people watching other people.”

People-watching requires people to watch and a place to sit while watching them. But Whyte observed how often those rudimentary requirements go overlooked. Office building plazas are frequently sunk into the the ground, hidden behind something or propped several feet above the street. No matter how appealing those spaces might be to look at, their isolation will keep them underused, Whyte said, because “the most important thing about a place is its relationship to the street.”

But even an unobstructed view of the street won’t be enough to make people linger if they can’t sit down, Whyte said, as “people tend to sit where there are places to sit.” Not just any places, though. Whyte was an advocate of low steps, ledges and moveable chairs, but he had no use for most benches. Benches, he said, are often poorly placed and poorly proportioned. They also tell people “you sit here,” rather than letting them configure themselves however they’re most comfortable.

Other attributes Whyte found to be vital to successful urban public space are sunlight, food, water, trees and a feature he calls “triangulation,” or something that draws strangers together.

Whyte also observed the way that high-quality public spaces contribute to pedestrian propulsion. Pedestrians’ “visual enjoyment” of a space – as they walk by and watch people watching other people – is a type of passive, secondary use, he said.

After watching “The Social Life of Small Urban Places,” walking past spaces that you’ve seen dozens of times before can become interesting again as you mentally check their attributes (or shortcomings) against Whyte’s list. It might also explain why no one ever sits on those expensive-looking benches facing the ivy-covered wall at the back of your building.

Vimeo link, in case the embed doesn’t work.

The Price of Progress: Buses to be rerouted for streetcar construction

6 Oct

Love it or hate it, the first stage of construction of the Atlanta Streetcar will soon be underway. To make room for the construction, parts of bus routes that pass through the streetcar’s route are being shifted out of the way, beginning this Saturday, Oct. 8. The reroutes are scheduled to be in effect until at least mid-2013.

MARTA bus reroute notice sign

This bus stop at the intersection of Peachtree and Marietta Streets, currently served by routes 3, 16 and 110, will be out of service when construction on the streetcar project begins

Affected routes are:

  • 1 – Centennial Olympic Park / Coronet Way
  • 3 – Martin Luther King, Jr Drive / Auburn Avenue
  • 16 – Noble
  • 99 – Boulevard / Monroe Drive
  • 110 – Peachtree Street “The Peach”
  • 155 – Windsor Street / Lakewood Avenue
  • 186 – Rainbow Drive / South DeKalb

The reroutes will leave some stretches of downtown streets – Peachtree Street between Ellis Street and Five Points Station,  Auburn Avenue between Courtland and Peachtree Streets, and Edgewood Avenue between Courtland and Peachtree Streets, for example – without bus service for the better part of two years.

It will be interesting to see how the new detours, combined with last year’s service reductions, last month’s alignment and schedule changes, and last week’s fare increase go over with riders.

New maps, schedules and other details on the route modifications are at MARTA’s site.

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