Who Needs an Atlanta Streetcar? “Most Americans Prefer to Drive”

A recent op-ed in the Washington Examiner by Marc Scribner criticizes the Federal Government’s recent TIGER II grants – which included $47 million awarded Atlanta’s streetcar project – for spending more money on rail and bicycle projects than on roads.  Here’s a snippet to get your dander up…

A debate between Smart Growth and traffic efficiency advocates has raged for decades in the transportation policy community. Since the early 1990s, federal transportation planning has been dominated by the Smart Growth set. They claim they just want to level the playing field for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders.

However, there is one major problem: Most Americans prefer to drive. In essence, Smart Growth advocates are attacking a problem that is greatly overstated—a lack of non-auto infrastructure and access—and making the far more serious congestion problem significantly worse.

Smart Growth proponents have much to be thankful for, as less than a third of TIGER II’s $600 million in grants went to road projects. In fact, more money went to livability – enhancing projects such as rail transit and bicycle trails – than to roads. But grants were not evenly distributed. Five of the least cost effective projects received one-fifth of total funding.

Downtown Atlanta Streetcar $47,667,777

Sugar House Streetcar (Salt Lake City) $26,000,000

New Haven Downtown Crossing $16,000,000

Razorback Regional Greenway (NW Arkansas) $15,000,000

Warehouse District Complete Streets Project (Peoria, Illinois) – $10,000,000

72 thoughts on “Who Needs an Atlanta Streetcar? “Most Americans Prefer to Drive””


  1. Here’s the part he misses about the Atlanta Trolley.

    Most tourists prefer not to drive. One of Atlanta’s leading industries is conventions and tourism. Connecting the various disconnected attractions in a way where tourists can easily access makes sense.

    The problem is people are confusing two problems and two solutions. The trolley is not solving a transportation problem. It is addressing a major chink in our ability to have people come here and spend money.

  2. Personally I wonder where he gets the idea that Smart Growth has dominated federal transportation policy since the early 1990s. Don’t roads eat up 75% of fed transportation funding? Or are a couple rounds of TIGER grants proof enough of decades of favorism?

    Also, I find it interesting that takes the leap and states that most Americans PREFER driving. Preference is influenced by so many things, and many years of intense road subsidies certainly haven’t hurt driving as being the transportation option of choice. This isn’t a one-way street. While funding should follow preference, preference is also influenced by funding.

    1. Wouldn’t some simple studies prove this? In Atlanta, for example, one could measure the number of drivers against MARTA users among populations with easy access to MARTA. Decatur would be one population. And I have to tell you, I seriously doubt the number of people boarding trains at Avondale, Decatur, and East Lake every morning is anywhere near the number of people driving cars from those places.

      I could be wrong, of course, but it would be interesting. My off-the-cuff guess — which is all anyone is really doing about this issue — is that the wealthier tend to drive because it is very convenient. Sure, there is traffic, but there is no waiting at the train station, getting crammed into a rush hour train, walking several blocks, etc. The inconvenicne may balance out. And face it, to many people, walking anything more than 50 feet is, in fact, an inconvenience. They like door-to-door.

      1. Do you disagree that existing infrastructure influences action, if not preference?

        For instance, if 54 years ago the U.S. invested $25 billion (equivalent to a cool $195 billion today) in rail and transit projects, instead of in the Federal Aid Highway Act, do you think people’s preferences would be different today? Door-to-door sure is nice, but so is a few hundred dollars a month thanks to one less car payment.

        1. I lived in London. There is zero reason to drive there (especially since I am not so good at which side of the road I should be on). They invested and it works.

        2. If its and buts were candy and nuts . . .

          The answer is: I have no idea how things would have turned out in that alternate universe. But you make it sound as if the federal money for roads was spent by decree. Something tells me the voters wanted it because they liked driving cars. The whole American love affair with the automobile thing.

          My point is that we have here in Decatur an example of easy access to MARTA, and we would learn a lot about preferences by seeing if people get on the train or drive. My bet is that the wealthier folks who can afford to drive generally drive, even though they could just as easily take the train.

          One less car payment is nice unless the car payment is no big deal to begin with. Many Decaturites could dump the car payment now, walk or bike to most stores, and take MARTA to work. But they drive because they can easily afford the car payment and they prefer to drive. That is my point.

          1. I see tons of Decaturites commuting to downtown every day on MARTA, from the Avondale, Decatur, East Lake, and Candler Park stations. But most Decaturites don’t work downtown–they work all over Atlanta, e.g. Emory, CDC, AJC, etc., places not well-served by MARTA. So they drive. I don’t think I know any Decaturites who regularly commute downtown and park. I’m sure some exist but they aren’t plentiful. In terms of having to get home quickly for that emergency sick kid call or whatever, it’s actually faster and easier to park at East Lake or Avondale and take the train downtown than to park in a lot downtown and then have to walk a few blocks to work. The reduced train schedule has made that equation a little tighter but I still feel confident that I can get to school for that emergency pick-up fastest if I’m travelling by MARTA with no parking lot or traffic lights to deal with. Now, the ideal–walking to the Decatur Station–does not work if one has to get somewhere quickly just because it’s hard for legs to move quickly in work clothes and shoes. However, there’s usually a cab outside the Decatur Station and that’s an option I’ve used in a pinch. Just wish you could count on it.

            1. Make no mistake: I’m not anti-transit. I’m anti-rail transit (in all but a few limited cases, e.g., Manhattan, Tokyo). Bus rapid transit, when implemented correctly, can be incredibly beneficial. Atlanta and its suburbs are nowhere close to being dense enough to justify rail as opposed to bus transit on an efficiency basis. Particularly wasteful are these “rail lines to nowhere” that connect a handful of urban nodes. This almost guarantees that users of these rail transit lines are going to need to take at least one additional mode of transportation in order to complete their trip.

              Planners now at least recognize that the old monocentric city model built around an urban core is out of date. So they sort of recognize the diffuse reality of firm/housing location in metro areas, but their polycentric models usually only account for three or four or five urban centers. The problem here is that firm (and housing) location is far more diffuse. Take a look at Denver’s RTD. Even when (if?) the proposed 150-mile rail transit network is complete, fewer than 1/4 of employers will be located within 1/2 mile of a rail station. As messed up as road planning and financing is (we need more tolls, congestion pricing, PPPs, etc.), at least roads were traditionally built to meet an present or expected demand. In contrast, rail transit supporters often seek to socially engineer demand through comprehensive land-use policies to fit their narrow world views.

              1. So, when it’s roads and highways, it’s “to meet a present or expected demand” but when fixed rail is put down, they “seek to socially engineer demand through comprehensive land-use policies to fit their narrow world views.”

                I don’t suppose it could it be that, in both cases, infrastructure investment presents new opportunities which then influence development, settlement and transportation choices? Nahhhhhhh!

                BRT is one tool in the box, but it’s strength is serving existing bad land use in the most cost effective way. Because of it’s impermanence, it does not encourage new patterns of development that have proven better across a host of metrics, from energy use, to economic diversity, to quality of life, to personal health.

                Part of the puzzle is dealing with the mess we have now and BRT can prove useful in doing so, but another part is preparing for a future where, as many have said, the cheap energy that powers our existing system may not be so plentiful.

              2. “Take a look at Denver’s RTD. Even when (if?) the proposed 150-mile rail transit network is complete, fewer than 1/4 of employers will be located within 1/2 mile of a rail station.”

                I wonder what percentage of metro Atlanta employers are located within 1/2 mile of the existing (and most would agree limited, as in <50 miles) MARTA rail system? Given that it serves the airport, downtown, midtown, buckhead, portions of the perimeter area, and decatur too, I suspect it is a sizeable amount.

  3. Dear Mr. Scribner: I definitely prefer to spend an hour and a half (on a good day), alone in my car to get to and from work. I do not want a stress free commute on public transit. Please build more roads.

  4. “Also, I find it interesting that takes the leap and states that most Americans PREFER driving.”

    People drive because it’s the only choice they have. Where alternatives are offered, people use them. Check out the light rail systems in Phoenix, Denver, Charlotte, and Salt Lake City. They are all exceeding expectations. Look at all the successful commuter rail systems that have begun in the past 15 years – at least 10.

  5. Well, I hate to drive. If I had a way to get to work that didn’t take and hour and half (I live a 15 minute drive from my office in early morning traffic), I’d do it. Who is this guy? A lobbyist from the auto industry?

    1. Oh, wait, this is who he works for:
      The Competitive Enterprise Institute
      CEI, among many other statements denying the seriousness of global warming, has argued that climate change would create a “milder, greener, more prosperous world” and that “Kyoto was a power grab based on deception and fear” (R. Brunet, “It Just Ain’t So, Say These Reputable Scientists” Alberta Report, 10 November, v.24(48) 1997 p20-21). In addition to leading the campaign to convince the public that global warming is uncertain, CEI has weighed in on pesticide risk and endocrine disrupting chemicals – both of which pose no threat to human health, in CEI’s view – and has supported regulatory “takings” measures.

      CEI supports eventual elimination of the Superfund and has advocated the complete privatization of the Endangered Species Act, arguing that species protection would meet the level of “demand,” based on how much citizens are willing to pay for habitat preservation (CLEAR fact sheet). CEI has a long anti-environmental pedigree. CEI is a member of the State Policy Network and the Cooler Heads Coalition. CEI was a sponsor of the first Wise Use conference in 1988 and has had membership in the Get Government Off Our Backs coalition, the wise use umbrella group. CEI is also a network member of The Heritage Foundation, Alliance for America, and the anti-Endangered Species Act group, Grassroots ESA Coalition. CEI was also a co-sponsor of the 1998 NY State Property Rights Conference.

      With more than a $3 million annual budget, CEI is supported by both conservative foundations and corporate funding. Known corporate funders in addition to ExxonMobil include the American Petroleum Institute, Cigna Corporation, Dow Chemical, EBCO Corp, General Motors, and IBM. One of CEI’s prominent funders is conservative Richard Scaife who has provided money through the Carthage and Sara Scaife Foundations. CEI is also heavily supported by the various Koch brother foundations.

        1. Right, because Exxon and GM used to fund CEI years before I worked here, I’m somehow in their pocket? That would also explain why CEI filed an FTC complaint against GM earlier this year over their deceptive advertising related to their alleged repayment of bailout money? It certainly is not possible that we have honest disagreements on public policy…

          1. Absolutely not Marc. I apologize for that. I’m all about discussing the merits of a case, regardless of someone’s background or motives. This got the better of me, it seems. Our arguments should stand for themselves.

            Back to it then! I’d be interested to hear your reply to Scott…

            1. For some reason, the “Reply” option is not available on Scott’s response (maybe the thread is too long?). Scott raises interesting points, which I’ll attempt to respond to here.

              Scott: “I don’t suppose it could it be that, in both cases, infrastructure investment presents new opportunities which then influence development, settlement and transportation choices? Nahhhhhhh!”

              Me: If you look at historical land-use patterns, particularly outside of the Northeast, you’d see that development occurred on large, unzoned, undeveloped land. Following WWI, America saw the first suburban expansion, which coincided with increased wealth and cheaper, mass-produced automobiles. A similar, albeit much more influential, trend occurred following WWII. Most Americans wanted to and *still* want to live in less dense, detached single-family homes. I’m more or less in Joel Kotkin’s camp and believe that the suburbs are still the future, and that telecommuting along with driverless automobiles and a decline in exclusionary zoning (which will allow more mixed-use development, something Americans do want) will make this future great.

              Scott: “BRT is one tool in the box, but it’s strength is serving existing bad land use in the most cost effective way. Because of it’s impermanence, it does not encourage new patterns of development that have proven better across a host of metrics, from energy use, to economic diversity, to quality of life, to personal health.”

              Me: I wholly disagree with the above paragraph. While environmental degradation that results from pollution from energy use is indeed a problem, energy use per se is not. Cleaner energy sources are in development. Just because they are currently not viable without massive government subsidies, it doesn’t mean they won’t be economical in the future. I’m not sure what you mean by “economic diversity.” If you mean a wider array of economic activity taking place within a given geographic location, direct your ire at stringent zoning laws (which I strongly oppose). If you mean more diversity in terms of varying household incomes, I am also strongly opposed to using the blunt tools of transportation and land-use policy to bring about “social justice” or whatever. The same goes for public health.

              Scott: “Part of the puzzle is dealing with the mess we have now and BRT can prove useful in doing so, but another part is preparing for a future where, as many have said, the cheap energy that powers our existing system may not be so plentiful.”

              Me: So you don’t deny that BRT is far cheaper and far more flexible than rail transit? I think I already addressed the energy concerns, but I’ll try to drive home this point: we need not worry too much about declining fossil fuel extraction due to reserves drying up. The price system will address this. Assuming demand for energy is fixed, as supply of fossil fuels falls and price increases, alternative energy sources become relatively cheaper. At some point, these new sources become more economical than traditional sources. Keep in mind also that this won’t happen overnight. It will be spread out over decades, meaning there isn’t going to be some mythical “peak oil” shock. That just isn’t the way it works.

              1. I am not sure that I agree with you that “the first suburban expansion” coincided with mass-produced automobiles,” as you say. When I studied urban history in Graduate School, I read a book called Street Car Suburbs, which documented that early suburban development in Boston (and I would argue Atlanta and other cities) had its focus around the streetcar line. I would also argue that later suburban development was made possible by the massive subsidy of wealthy developers by the federal government (tax policy, interstate highways, etc.), but that situation in now untenable and does not have to continue.

              2. Thanks, Marc. I appreciate your level of thoroughness. A couple points…

                You assert “Most Americans wanted to and *still* want to live in less dense, detached single-family homes.” Let’s say, for argument sake, that that’s a fact. I’d counter that it’s a conditional fact and should really read, “Given the choices available at the time and the various incentives provided to encourage certain behaviors, most Americans wanted to and *still* want to live in less dense, detached single-family homes.”

                You’re advocating for a particular path, as am I. Each takes the available facts and combines them with our respective observations, personal experiences and whatever sense of faith we have in a particular future that may or may not await us. As I mentioned, I see BRT as a potentially valuable tool but, despite its cost-efficiencies (which can serve as a full debate of its own), I don’t see it as the optimum tool for the path I think we need to go down to best position ourselves for the future (as I expect it to unfold).

                Fixed rail encourages greater investment in compact nodes of development, which I believe are an important part of our future development patterns, better than BRT does. Not at the expense of less dense choices but in addition to them. I don’t believe this is in conflict with Kotkin’s view which, if I’m summarizing correctly, envisions denser, more cohesive centers developing in the midst of currently dispersed suburban areas.

                If energy need not be a worry then I guess I’m wrong. But I’m betting otherwise. See you back here in two or three decades and we’ll see who won!

              3. > “[When Smart Growth advocates say ‘livability’ they] mean separating people from their cars.”

                Not quite; a car is not a limb (nor does it return your love). Auto-centric development is overwhelmingly favored, and the result limits alternatives, often severely. (We can agree that zoning has problems.)

                Regarding telecommuting, point taken. Atlantans should remember this whenever talk of adding new lanes, of any kind, to existing highways rears up.

                Note: I’m not arguing the merits of the Atlanta Streetcar. (We’d probably agree that any fixed-track streetcar should be proceeded by a trackless one.)

            2. Inherent in an argument is motive and background. This editorial was written by someone working for an organization that promotes principals & values that are very different than mine. Just because the author pops up doesn’t mean we should apologize for questioning why this piece appeared and the author’s motivation. In fact, at the bottom of the article, it clearly states “Marc Scribner is a land-use and transportation policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.” I don’t apologize for putting the origin of the article up front so all can judge it based on their own values.

              1. D’accord, Nell. I don’t think Mr. Scribner should be surprised that, however genuine his beliefs & pure his intent, anyone knowing where he works might look at his points in a different light. It’s not slamming him to point out where he works, nor that the policies he advocates are certainly worthy of scrutiny in light of it.

              2. I think this is truer when you’re having a one-way conversation with someone, like in a book. With no way to follow up or retort, your at the mercy of that individual. That’s when bios are most important, IMO.

                But as soon as it becomes a back and forth, where peers are willing to debate openly and can go back and forth debating points, it’s a lot less important. In fact, in some cases like this, it becomes distracting.

                Perhaps why I said what I said originally and then retracted when Marc weighed in. Originally, I assumed he wouldn’t weigh in and the piece would have to speak for itself. In that case, his bio was a bit more important. But as soon as he engaged, it changed for me. If he’s willing to go head to head with others, debating point for point, bio isn’t nearly as important to me. Because a bio can be wrong or as skewed as the author’s piece itself, and again easily allows us to remain tied comfortably to our own viewpoints.

                Only with discomfort comes salvation! Or at least…better understanding.

              3. I have been trying to stalk him for 2 years now, but he is so darn elusive! But all those late night hang up calls he is getting just bring me one step closer….. I do know he wants, needs, craves greener transportation solutions and a good light rail. So I know enough about him to know something about his ideas on this issue. I also think we are enough of a community to know that for karass, it always comes back to parapros and CSD, Walrus is a dog-loving, Element-driving libertarian, DEM will argue until he turns blue :), Scott is ultimate smart growth guy in the truest definition of the word, smalltowngirl is a traditional granola Decatur girl, too,. I could go on. There is so much information out there these days I think we have to vet our sources carefully in order to think critically. But good on Mr. Scribner for stopping by regardless.

                1. My dad still likes to remind me of this quote from cuba…

                  “How disappointing it would be to see him in person & learn that he’s a back-hairy, wife-beater-wearing, cigar-chomping, bulldog-faced beefo wearing huge brogans…”

                  The only reason I found it is because no one else has ever used the word “beefo” in a comment, before or since.

                2. P.S. Funny thing is, I really didn’t have all that much of an interest in transportation issues before I started this darn site. It’s all yous peoples fault!

              4. Whoah, blast from the past! You ain’t tryin’ to tell us somethin’, are you, DM? Don’t kill my illusions– I’m still picturing you as our little golden-haired cherub!!!

              5. I would like to stand up for myself and say that I also care about bagels. I would care about social justice, the world economy, and global warming too except that the rest of you all have that pretty well covered.

            3. And closer to home, the city of Oakhurst, Georgia was built along a street car line… and some little community called Inman Park. Both arguments about suburbs are valid and both point to the need for strong urban and transportation planning and the interdependence of the two. I actually think that Eric is right in the sense that suburbs exploded to epic proportions with the coming of the auto and road planning, but you are right that rail transportation cultivated the initial development of the modern concept of suburb.

        1. And Walrus, dear, I am not saying “it figures” ’cause it’s conservative, but because it is funded by the oil and auto industries!

            1. Okay Walrus, hold on to your hat, here.

              We have diminishing oil reserves, we need to fund programs and we don’t like income taxes.
              We need something to convince people to walk more, drive less.

              Why not increase taxes on gasoline? Heck, go ahead and cut income taxes.
              If people had to pay a LOT more to drive, they’d be riding transit more.
              They would live closer to their jobs. They would car pool.
              Less pollution.

              To offset the cost to businesses, we’d rebate the taxes for businesses who must drive…

              Before you call me a tax and spend liberal, go ahead and tell me which programs you’d like to cut. Keep in mind we spend something like 48 percent of the budget on military expenses. Never hear anybody proposing to cut that spending.

              1. Keep in mind we spend something like 48 percent of the budget on military expenses

                ____________

                This is the myth that never seems to die. I am sure there are other sources, but here is a NYT chart showing where the money goes. In a $3.62 trillion budget, just over 700 billion is military spending. That is nowhere near 48%. It is not even a third.

                http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/01/us/budget.html

                That said, it is still a lot of money, and I am all for cutting it, and quite substantially at that. Alas, defense spending is a dropin the bucket in our fiscal problems. Social security (also over 700 billion) and Medicare are the two programs that are flat-out bankrupting us. We have a combined $37 trillion unfunded liability in those programs alone.

                Note the number for interest payments — already $250 billion/year. And that number is going way, way up due to our massive deficits, which now exceed 1 trillion annually. Before long interest will consume the vast majority of tax revenue, leaving us to finance almost all other spending by borrowing.

                You may be right, at present, you don’t hear a whole lot of specifics about cutting government spending. Politically, it is easier to steer the country into a crisis, which we are inevitably heading towards. This is not a partisan issue — both parties are to blame. But we are in deep trouble, and not enough people recognize the sheer depth of it. It will hit home when we’re forced into “austerity” like some of Europe is now experiencing. Eventually, the bond market will force discipline upon us, whether we like it or not.

              2. DEM, I believe that you and NY Times are “obfuscating”.

                The Dept of Defense Budgeted $721.3 Billion for 2011 but that is a fraction of our defense spending.

                All publicly disclosed defense costs for 2011 are budgeted to land between 1 and 1.3 Trillion.
                2010 Defense spending came in between 38-44% of tax revenues. That doesn’t include black programs with top secret budgeting.

                IMO the most telling graph is at the top of this page…
                http://www.militarybudget.info/

              3. Oh boy, where to begin…..I’m a big fan of dogs; I have three of them. I have trained them since I was a kid. I am also a big fan of positive reinforcement. This training philosophy focuses more on rewarding the behavior you want than punishing the behavior you don’t want. Now, I don’t believe taxes should ever be used to manipulate behavior. Taxes should only be used to raise revenue. Having said that, I believe you get much more benefit out of rewarding the behavior you want than punishing bad behavior. In your scenerio, instead of increasing taxes on gas (which would certainly affect the poor tremendously), maybe we should provide more incentives to companies to develop and/or sell alternative products. Maybe a policy that provides that for every clean burning diesel vehicle sold, the company does not have to pay the tax on the profit of the sale of that vehicle. That’s just one example.

                Here’s the thing with military spending: IT IS SPENDING THAT IS AUTHORIZED BY THE CONSTITUTION! Now I am not saying that I wouldn’t like to see this amount lowered, but this spending is authorized by the constitution. What would I cut? How about terminating, privitizing or transferring to state governments many Fed. agencies, including those involving agriculture, housing, education and transportation? How about drastically reforming S.S., Medicare and Medicaid. How about ending agriculture subsidies, Federal grants, Federal involvement in welfare? How about creating a tax code that would make is so we could do away with the IRS?

              4. I took one look at your link and it proves you wrong.

                The first graph says nothing about miliatry spending as a % of the budget. It shows our military spending as a % of all worldwide military spending. So it has nothing to do with this conversation.

                The second graph is the one that is relevant. Click on the “continue” link in that section. Everything classified in that graph as non-defense spending is 76% of the budget. So I subtracted 76 from 100 to see if I got anywhere near 48%. Turns out that it is only 24%. So if you zero out defense, we are still running a massive deficit.

                By the way, that graph shows DoD spending as 16% of the budget. To get defense spending to 24%, they have to make some very questionable classifications. For example, they lump state dept. and “international assitance programs” into defense spending. Among the state department expenditures they count as defense: narcotics controls and humanitarian assistance. And then you have “defense related activities” whatever that is. Also included: spending by the department of energy, including an occupational ilness compensation fund for energy employees. Did you even look at this thing?

                But those assumptions are a minor point to this conversation because, even if you assume they really are defense spending, they still account for only 24% of the budgetq. So zero out all of that — including international humanitarian assistance, income assistance to energy workers, etc. — and we are still deep in hock.

                So who is obfuscating again?

              5. Budget Breakdown for 2011 (wikipedia)
                Defense-related expenditure 2011 Budget request & Mandatory spending[1][14] Calculation[6][15]
                DOD spending $721.3 billion Base budget + “Overseas Contingency Operations”
                FBI counter-terrorism $2.7 billion At least one-third FBI budget.
                International Affairs $10.1–$54.2 billion At minimum, foreign arms sales. At most, entire State budget
                Energy Department, defense-related $20.9 billion
                Veterans Affairs $66.2 billion
                Homeland Security $54.7 billion
                NASA, satellites $3.4–$8.5 billion Between 20% and 50% of NASA’s total budget
                Veterans pensions $58.4 billion
                Other defense-related mandatory spending $7.5 billion
                Interest on debt incurred in past wars $57.7–$228.1 billion Between 23% and 91% of total interest
                Total Spending $1.003–$1.223 trillion

              6. This is interesting to me because you just refuse to admit you are wrong. I pasted evidence from the NYT, you said that I and the NYT were obfuscating. Not wrong, not mistaken, but obfuscating.

                You then pasted another link that obviously doesn’t support your point at all. I pointed that out in detail, so now you’ve given up on link #1 and moved on to another source. I suppose we’d keep going on this until you reached the end of the internet in the search for supporting sources. I therefore see no point in exposing some of the very glaring flaws in your Wikipedia quote.

                We could have agreed that defense spending is high, bloated, and needs to be cut. But that’s not enough; you have to defend a data point that is clearly false. And to what end, I have no idea. I am reminded of the classic quote, “we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.”

  6. Just because some people consider MARTA a flop doesn’t mean tight, neighborhood transit systems won’t attract users.

    Walk from CNN Center to Peachtree Center and you will see why a trolley will be very attractive. It’s an uphill hike. Same from Old Fourth Ward to Five Points.

    Me, I’ll continue to ride my bike. The streets of Atlanta are scary. (JK)

  7. I’m not sure he’s wrong. If you asked the majority of people who live in the suburbs if they’d rather walk or drive to do x, y, or z, they’d probably say drive because they can’t even fathom walking from place to place within their live/work/shop context. Then there’s the people who love cars, and just love driving (mazda calls it zoom zoom). What we have in Decatur is very special, and for many people totally unattainable from a financial standpoint. However, I still think walkability is the right goal for building sustainable communities.

    1. You bring up a good point about Decatur being unattainable from a financial standpoint for some. I do think it can be cheaper than we think, if you’re willing to sacrifice size and your car, though I’m not blind enough to recognize it’s no longer inexpensive to live here.

      But back to your point about the expense of living here. I’ve thought a bit on this in the past and have come to the conclusion that Decatur’s expensive because it’s a rarity. (Thank you Captain Obvious) Part of that rarity has to do with the rarity of thriving downtowns. If we could rebuild a lot of downtowns that have been abandoned/destroyed over the last 100 years, Decatur would be a bit less rare and we would begin to see a greater economic scale of “walkable” communities. We’re probably already seeing some of that around the country as New Urbanist project pop-up where you don’t have to be rich to be able to walk to a local coffee shop.

      However, Decatur benefits not just from being walkable, but being located in the heart of a larger metro region AND close to major universities, so it will probably always be expensive as long as those two influences remain in effect.

      1. Decatur was much more affordable when I bought my house 19 years ago. And the walkability has definitely helped.

        But we still struggle with what to do with cars.

      2. The main reason Decatur is expensive (and somewhat exclusive) its school system. Which is a tremendous benefit. It has very little to do with it being walkable.

        However, I believe, the current direction we are taking towards being a “walkable community” will become an increasing factor in the growing expense and exclusivity of Decatur.

        1. Well, as someone who moved here for the schools, the walkability really enhances that.
          My kids can walk to school. Children without driving privileges can walk to places to get ice cream, sodas, coffee shops, the library, the post office. And we feel safe having them do it. It fosters an independence.

    2. However, this goes back to my original point, that I believe Scribner, possibly intentionally is obfuscating.

      The trolley is not about moving people from the suburbs. It’s about moving people with fanny packs around down time.

      Two separate problems with two separate solutions. There’s intentional conflation of the two here in order to make one of these solutions seem doomed to failure.

      1. Following that logic, the administration obfuscated first by granting transportation dollars to a tourism gimmick.

        1. Um. It’s still transportation. And needed transportation infrastructure. I don’t think anyone was positing that a trolley down Edgewood Ave is going to relieve congestion on Haynes Br Rd.

          1. The bigger problem will come when it’s time for this trolley to pay for itself. Then, it will likely become another albatross for Atlanta residents.

            It appears to me that Atlanta has much more pressing issues facing them. Forty-seven million dollars spent on a trolley seems like a huge waste.

            If the feds truly desire to help Atlanta, let them use the 47 million for their most urgent needs.

            1. Well actually, since it will create or save construction jobs, and enhance our tourist business, it is really an economic development project. Looked at that way, it was a great funding decision by the Obama administration. I am so glad they are funding transportation project with have multiple objectives rather than simply subsidizing the suburbs. After all, it was the in-town areas, like us, that elected him and should support him, if we do not want the clock turned back.

        2. Um. It’s still transportation. I doubt anyone ever posited a downtown trolley was going to relieve congestion on Haynes Bridge Rd.

      2. I disagree with the assertion that this project is for moving tourists. I wouldn’t naively buy into that marketing. I believe it’s about boosting property values with “Phase 2.” Please take a slightly deeper look.

  8. I fricking love to drive. Just love it. Tried mass transit to my job. Took me 2 1/2 hours to do what I drive in 25 minutes.
    However, I still want more trains, more light rail, more biking, walking, etc. I do not see why cars and other transit have to be mutually exclusive.

    1. I agree. I tried, but it just wasn’t worth it. Having said that, if we had the public transit rail that was envisioned at the start, things may be very different today.

  9. “Also, I find it interesting that takes the leap and states that most Americans PREFER driving.”

    How is this statement measured? Survey? Why am I never part of these surveys? I HATE driving.

  10. The major advantage of mass transit for me is that I get to READ on MARTA or a bus or a plane or train. The only other time I get to read lately is when I am in the bathroom with the door locked shut!

    I don’t get to read when I walk, but seeing people and things and the fresh air is almost as much fun.

  11. I don’t think light rail, biking, or walking will ever replace driving as the major mode of transportation. It seems logical that transportation funding will favor road construction and efficiently moving cars from place to place.

    That doesn’t mean these other modes aren’t viable and, in some instances, the best alternative. However the vast majority of the time, I believe they should take a back seat to cars.

    Decatur is unique in that it’s a small residential city. That in itself makes it very walkable and livable. It is also (and purposely) a little isolated. That requires a delicate balance between making sure that residents are save walking and biking and that they can also travel outside the city limits.

    1. Residential? Isolated? To some extent.

      Decatur is also the county seat. Many government and court workers commute to the city every day.

  12. I wonder if most people would “prefer” to drive if gas cost $8-10/gallon? Or, would they prefer a more cost effective alternative?

    The only way our current over stretched (and underfunded) highway system works is through the availability of cheap fuel. Once that goes away, and at some point it will, life will get very interesting.

    1. One very good reason to “re”develop effective transportation is peak oil.

      The world will never be able to produce and export as much oil as it did in 2005. Right now we are in a worldwide shrinkage of economic possibilities heading straight back to 1920 where only a handful of multimillionaires owned cars.

      We can get serious about preparing our built environment for this reality or we can ignore it and let the invisible hand of the “free market” slam our children’s children into abject poverty.

  13. Viewed in the context of Atlanta’s Concept 3 long-range transportation plan, this is a drop in the bucket. To improve mobility around this city even a little bit will cost billions. Hard to imagine that happening in a state with such a strong anti-tax sentiment. Oh well. Maybe we can deal with the water problem instead.

  14. What if the streetcar was expanded from the “loop to nowhere” and included a stop at Westchester? Then could we stop all this fussing and just get along?

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