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Old film, new bus schedules

28 Apr

From Pattern Cities, a 1908 film shot from a Barcelona streetcar. Either Barcelona’s pedestrians and bicyclists were utterly fearless in their zeal to be in a movie, or the camera was mounted waaay out in the front of the streetcar.

Also, changes to routes and/or schedules for 25 MARTA bus routes went into effect Saturday. Toss out those old schedules. Again.

History of the Future

13 Apr
Atlanta downtown 1919

Image: The Big Map Blog

From the Big Map Blog, an interactive 1919 city map in which Atlanta’s oldest downtown buildings appear in their original context and the city’s core isn’t yet incised by the Connector.

The Flatiron Building, the Imperial Hotel, Candler Building, Hurt Building, the Capital City Club and the Healy Building, now dwarfed by their neighbors, are prominent landmarks in 92-year-old map.

Try the full-screen option, then zoom in for a much better view. H/T to AtlUrbanist.

Also, check out Atlanta’s 1946 “Highway and Transportation Plan” from Georgia Tech’s College of City and Regional Planning.  The plan  (PDF – 97 pages) is divided into sections related to increasing the efficiency of auto traffic,  improvement of parking facilities, enhancing the transit system and even the need for a passenger rail terminal downtown.

In the opening of the plan section titled “Improvement of the Transit System,” the authors wrote that 

Highway and transportation plan cover
Image: Georgia Tech Library and Information Center

“Public transportation improvements were integrated with all other phases of the study so that the large number of Atlantans using this form of travel might enjoy benefits comparable to those envisioned for motorists.”  But just a few paragraphs later comes this: “Substitution of motor or trolley buses for essentially all streetcars in Atlanta was planned by the Georgia Power Company prior to the start of our study. We have checked this policy against probable future traffic and find it wholly sound.”

Buses had proven “particularly popular with the riding public in Atlanta,” the authors wrote, “and are especially appropriate for this city because of low power costs and the hilly terrain encountered.” They also estimated that a transition from streetcars to trolley buses or motor buses would result in a 20 to 25 percent increase in transit ridership, “other factors remaining constant.”

Even with such “modernization” as switching from electric trolleys to electric or gas-powered buses, the authors were certain that “Atlanta and its traffic will grow to such proportions that subways…not only will be desirable but almost imperative.”

But the subways they envisioned weren’t steel-wheeled vehicles traveling on steel rails:  “These subways would be designed to accommodate trolley buses but otherwise would have all the characteristics of urban rapid transit subways … It is probable that by the time these subways are built it will be practicable to accommodate motor buses in them, if necessary, without excessive cost for the control of fumes.”

Finally, the planners discussed the need for a central terminal to serve the high volume of passenger rail traffic Atlanta was then known for. One of the proposed sites for the terminal was approximately where the downtown railroad gulch now lies. The authors had an ambitious vision for the proposed terminal. “The station could have 10 or more tracks,” they wrote, “with capacity for 18 to 20 passenger cars each.”

Cost projections for the terminal illustrate just how much things have changed : “The cost of the property needed for the proposed station would be approximately $150,000. The construction cost including all track work would be about $4,500,000.”  For comparison, the price tag for a proposed new Amtrak station near Atlantic Station is $39 million.

Weekly Reader

5 Apr

Suntrust towers on Peachtree and Peachtree Center Ave.

Ever read so much you nearly forget to write about it?

  • From What Now, Atlanta? : The acres of chainlink and gravel on Clifton Road north of the CDC are scheduled to re-start becoming a mixed-use project in June. “Urbanist,” a frequent WNA commenter suggested that ready-made communities like this one diminish the prospects for development in existing neighborhoods in the city. He’s suggested in the past, for example, that if the concentrated development in Atlantic Station had been spread throughout Midtown, we wouldn’t still be wondering when the vision of the “Midtown Mile” is going to come to fruition.

But putting vacant spaces in already high-density areas into service can be risky because those neighborhoods don’t offer much parking. Or, maybe not. This 2008 post from the Urbanophile suggests that parking is oversold as an obstacle to successful retail development.

  • From the AJC: The Atlanta University Center neighborhood was awarded a $250,000 grant last week by HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative program. The program’s Web site says the grants’ objective is to “transform distressed neighborhoods and public and assisted projects into viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods by linking housing improvements with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation, and access to jobs.”


  • From The Architect’s Newspaper: Qatar plans to deploy robo-clouds to provide shade from the desert country’s brutal summer sun during the 2022 World Cup.


  • Also from the AJC: A couple on Edgewood Avenue are suing graffiti artists who they say have been doing uncommissioned work on their property for years.


“How much longer?” Technology’s role in retaining new transit users

17 Mar

Implementing real-time travel information technology could go a long way toward mitigating the feeling of loss of autonomy that keeps potential riders from trying transit, according to a study by Next American City and Latitude Research:

“The results of the study indicate that, while users value the freedom and control a car provides, mobile information solutions could replicate this sense of autonomy without needing to own a car—primarily by helping users to make informed, in-the-moment decisions about what’s available near them and the best ways to get around. ‘Real-time and personalized transit information has the ability to make public transit a more flexible, equitable, and enjoyable experience, thus minimizing the perceived experience gap between car ownership and other modes of transit typically thought less convenient or accessible by would-be users,’ explains Marina Miloslavsky, study lead and Senior Research Analyst at Latitude.”

One massive advantage DC’s Metro system has over MARTA is the availability of exactly that kind of information. Metro’s bus and train arrival time information saved me untold episodes of wondering how quickly I needed to make it to a station or whether a long wait for a bus meant I’d missed it or it was late. Metro also has mobile versions of its arrival time and trip-planning services.

While it’s possible – by much pressing of buttons – to get automated MARTA schedule information by phone, and Google Maps features schedule and trip-planning service, people care much less about when something is scheduled to happen as when it will happen.

Having that kind of information readily available is certainly helpful for daily transit users, but this study indicates that it’s especially important in shaping the impressions that new users take away from their experiences. Those experiences can leave new riders with a greater appreciation of all the options available for getting around, or as is often the case with less tech-savvy transit agencies, anxious to get back to their cars.

MARTA refunds, MMPT shortlist, and weekend reading

22 Jan

A little local news:

From around the Web:

  • From the New York Times, some explanation of the three new aisles of groceries that suddenly sprouted at the front section of the Target in Buckhead a couple of years ago: “Big retailers fill more aisles with groceries.”

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?

Found: Human Transit

13 Nov

Human Transit is a transit planning and policy blog written by Jarrett Walker, a transit planning consultant in Sydney.

Rather than try to explain what’s so cool about HT, I’ll let the author do it:

“Much of my work has been about analyzing public transit problems to separate the technical question from the question about values.”

For all my fascination with transit, I’m not conversant with many of the technical aspects of it because I came by my interest solely through being a user. Reading HT, it’s easy to become more fluent in the language of the gears and levers that make a transit system work (well or badly).

But along with that, HT acknowledges that transit planning decisions aren’t value-neutral. When planners develop routes or schedules, or reduce or eliminate service, it’s an expression of values – values that inevitably won’t align with those of some users. That conflict – between users’ preferences and what planners see as most efficient and cost-effective – is present in every transit system, from the most modest to the most robust.

The writing at HT can feel a touch jargon-y if you’re not used to it, and it’s often not a quick read, but you’ll always come away knowing something that you didn’t before or thinking about something that you did know in a different way.

YAF exhibition at the Central Library: Come for the photos, stay for the furniture

11 Nov

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I returned some library books on time last week, just to see what it was like. As if that wasn’t enough novelty, the exhibition of selected submissions from the Young Architects Forum‘s  “Envisioning Breuer” photography competition was in the first floor exhibit space. It’s been up since Oct. 14, but it runs until Nov. 28.

The Central Library is not an easy building to photograph, but there were a lot of really creative, surprising images there. Also surprising was the Room and Board furniture that’s been moved in, making the exhibition area it more of a “place” than just a space.

The presence of appealing, modern furniture in that space does a couple of things:

  • In addition to a placemaking function, the furniture suggests that the people who chose it care about the kind of experience that the people using it have at the library – not a feeling that’s conveyed in much of the rest of the building.
  • It makes the rest of the library appear even more shoddily furnished than it already does. Continue reading

Found: Urban Omnibus

29 Oct

Something more substantive is in the oven, but for today, here’s one of the bounty of built-environment-oriented blogs I’ve happened upon in the last year or so.

Urban Omnibus, a project of the Architectural League of New York, is one of those places you can easily lose a couple of hours to without realizing it, even if you (like me) don’t live anywhere near NYC. It’s full of the kind of writing that shows you that the more you look at a city, the more you’ll realize that you haven’t seen.

The site isn’t just well-designed, it’s a media-rich, apparently bottomless well of news and analysis about the creation, usage and evolution of the city. A couple of my favorite posts so far:

Making Policy Public: Vendor Power!” explored the downright astonishing maze of regulations that New York’s more than 10,000 street vendors have to navigate in order to being heavily fined, along with the ways that a not-profit group recruited designers to help the vendors make sense of them.

Urban Topographies: Cuts & Patches is a look at one of the ways that history that can be observed right under your feet in urban areas.

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