Emory Officially Backs Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative

Over the last couple months as the 2012 Transportation Sales Tax project list has grown and shrunk, and many of the projects that might affect Decatur in large and small ways have fallen by the wayside.  However, one remains.  And while proceeds from an approved 2012 transportation sales tax probably won’t bring transit into the Decatur city limits, a transit line connecting the “Clifton Corridor” to the Lindbergh MARTA Station would have a big impact on all area residents.

Today, Emory officially stated its support for the Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative and vocally urged the Emory community via email to contact members of the Transportation Roundtable – “especially those representing DeKalb County—CEO Burrell Ellis and Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd” – and express support for the project, prior to Thursday when the list will be further reduced to match projected revenues from the tax.

During a recent MARTA open house on the potential transit line, some Druid Hills and Va-Hi residents expressed concerns, though since most of the line would travel along the current CSX right-of-way, intrusion is minimal considering its length and the area’s population density.

The Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative’s Facebook page notes that if selected, light rail could be elevated above the CSX right of way or at street level.  There has also been recent talk of tunneling the line, regardless of whether its heavy rail, light rail or rapid bus.

View a larger PDF of the map above HERE.

39 thoughts on “Emory Officially Backs Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative”


  1. I’m glad Emory is voicing their support. With the impact this would have to the campus, I would suspect they need to be ready to put some of their massive endowment behind it eventually. I know they aren’t going to come right out and say that now. The only way this becomes viable is if they’re willing to put up some money and I would love it.

    1. I am also glad they’re off the fence, but…

      I think you’re misreading Emory, the timing of this endorsement, and the long history of the project.

      I also think you’re missing the politics. The capital funding requisite for assuring project delivery would consume a large portion of the tax revenue and force out nearby projects (due to the likely interpretation of regional equity). While Emory could be generous, with ROW perhaps, that wouldn’t be of particular benefit to Emory – or DeKalb and Fulton, and thus it’s not very compelling.

      If there’s anything I would expect it would be that, should the time come to build a station, Emory will have their own ideas and may need to pay the difference (or trade for it) to get what they want.

      (Also, recall that Atlanta endorsed funding the design but not construction. And note that this public endorsement omits the degree of funding.)

      1. I also wonder about the timing of this endorsement. I’m sorta curious whether they’ve heard it’ll be cut (at least partially) come Thursday and are looking to salvage it.

  2. According to the Emory site you linked, “full funding” for this project is $1.1 billion. I assume that would be full funding for rail, as I can’t imagine why busses would cost anywhere near that amount. Then again, anything that so much as touches DeKalb Co government seems to cost about 10x what you’d expect, so who knows.

    I have to ask why is it necessary to even consider spending over a billion on a new rail line when the proposed stations on that line are all within relatively short distances to existing Marta stations? Chesire bridge looks like it would be no more than a few miles from Lindbergh, and North Decatur is practically walking distance from Decatur. Why can’t transit needs here be adequately served by existing MARTA bus lines?

    In terms of serving employees in this corridor, one has to wonder how many will give up their cars. The Emory/CDC workforce is fairly white-collar. How many are really going to give up their cars when the cost of driving is not particularly significant to them? I can tell you from experience that the vast majority of white collar employees in downtown and midtown drive to work despite Marta stations a blaock away from their offices.

    Plus, when Marta is (as always) struggling financially, why would we spend $1.1 billion on a new rail line rather than use that money to shore up the rail line we already have?

    1. Have you been anywhere near Clifton Road and Emory from 4 to 6 PM? I think a lot of people would give up their cars to avoid that.

      1. Yes, and of course there are some very bad jams around there, though some very poorly timed traffic lights have a lot to do with it. Maybe you are right, a lot of people will give up their cars. But again, compare it to midtown, which is also a traffic basket case at rush hour, and I don’t think most of the people there prefer not to drive.

        1. A couple of differences:

          * Some of the Midtown traffic is from folks who live there – of course they want their cars.
          * There are a lot of parallel streets in Midtown so there are alternatives and detours – not so at Emory.

        2. Actually, a lot of Emory people have _already_ given up their cars. Will the trend continue? If past performance is any indication, yes. As transportation alternatives have been developed, people have slowly migrated away from single-occupancy vehicles. The satellite shuttle system in particular seems to be working well.

    2. Any transportation plan that proposes electric streetcars is crazy. Unless they are on dedicated right-of-way, the streetcars are vulnerable to traffic congestion. That is one of the reasons Atlanta abandoned electric street cars between 1936 and 1949 and phased in “electric coaches” and gasoline “motor buses.” It is amazing to consider the apparent support to return to a technology that was abandoned over 75 years ago because it was inflexible, too expensive to put into service for expansion and expensive to maintain. What’s the point of sitting in a streetcar in a traffic jam? Buses are the best solution even if they are on private right-of-way. Eventually, they could be battery powered or even overhead powered like the streetcars. They are more flexible, easier to expand and overall, a more realistic approach.

      The downtown streetcar is just a another tourist attraction. It may move people between Centennial Park and the MLK National Historic Site but it won’t have any impact on solving local or regional transportation problems. A serious misuse of public funds.

      Here we are in 2011 proposing going back to 1925 transportation technology and raising goats in our back yards. Go figure.

      1. The proposed Clifton Corridor Transit Plan is on a dedicated right-of-way.

        And can you provide further evidence to support this: “That is one of the reasons Atlanta abandoned electric street cars between 1936 and 1949 and phased in “electric coaches” and gasoline “motor buses.” It is amazing to consider the apparent support to return to a technology that was abandoned over 75 years ago because it was inflexible, too expensive to put into service for expansion and expensive to maintain.” Because here’s my counter point from the Saporta Report:

        “In 1916, Georgia legislators made a major change of course. Following the federal government’s lead, Georgia created a Department of Highways that could only subsidize travel by car.

        Massive subsidies for cars could not immediately kill private rail companies. But decades of that policy eventually did.

        In the 1940s zoning laws began to force businesses to set aside land for free parking. The costs were passed on to customers whether they owned cars or not. Streets were widened and sidewalks were left unbuilt. While transportation officials made car travel priority number one, the commercial rail system and walkable communities that depended on it withered.

        The federal government began a massive tax subsidized highway interstate building program in the 1950s. This was the nail in the coffin for for-profit transit systems, and the beginning of the end for commercial intercity passenger trains.”

        1. An interest sidelight to the abandonment of streetcars nationwide was the National City Lines case. A consortium of companies including, among others, GM and Goodyear, formed a company that essentially bought up streetcar lines all over the country and converted them to buses. That brought a lawsuit, in which NCL lost, but the other side was awarded no damages and of course there was no going back anyway.
          Here’s a good summary of what happened:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_streetcar_scandal

        2. My opinion was referring to streetcars on public streets, like Clairemont and Scott and N. Decatur. I agree the Clifton Corridor from North Decatur to Lindberg on private ROW is a reasonable route for some form of transit, rail or bus, but I am not aware of the endorsement and cooperation of CSX. If they supported using their ROW, the rail solution probably would have already happened. I remember it being in the very early plans of MARTA dating back to the 60’s. However, if the ROW is made available, rail is not the only financially viable option, especially if tunneling and elevated LRT over the CSX lines are being considered. The cost is important. Natural gas and electric buses make more sense to me, even in the CSX ROW.

          Beginning in the late 20’s there was congestion on the streets of Atlanta resulting from the streetcars and autos sharing the same lanes. Remember that the streetcars experienced their peak ridership around 1925, when there weren’t many cars, and declined steadily until service was ended in 1949. There was plenty of anti-streetcar sentiment by that time. As for evidence, I’ll have to get back to you with that.

          If you are arguing for an end to government funding of roads because it unfairly competes with other forms of transit, we agree. But let’s extend the same argument to rail. If the government subsidy of roads has proven to be inefficient and detrimental to our cities (congestion and sprawl), why would you think the result will be any less efficient with the same government oversight of rail transit. Let’s make them both private and let the markets decide.

          1. Markets decide: why would any company want to get into the roads/transit business when neither can pay for themselves, let alone make a profit?

            I’d like to read more about Atlanta street traffic in the 1920s. That’s sounds like an interesting read if you can dig something up.

            Personally, I prefer ground level transit, so you won’t see me arguing for elevated or underground rail.

            1. The free market solution to transportation is obscured by the history of government subsidy and intervention. You claimed that it was government subsidy of roads that killed the electric trolley system which was private. Private roads are constructed all the time. Look at Disney World. Let’s save that discussion for later.

              The best history of Atlanta public transit is “The Trolley Titans” by E.O. Carson. It’s a bit pricey because it’s a collectible but there is a copy in the Decatur Library in the Special Collections Room. Regarding congestion, below is a quote from that book by Mayor Hartsfield, during the December 20, 1943 City Council Meeting,

              “the complete substitution of trackless trolleys and gasoline motor buses for street railway transportation on all remaining street railway lines in the City of Atlanta, wherever practicable, would be a long step forward in the modernization of Atlanta’s transportation facilities and the solution of it’s congested traffic problems.”

              1. Good thing Mayor Hartsfield found the “solution of (Atlanta’s) congested traffic problems.”

                Talk of the trollies always make me think of my dad when he would reminisce about how great it was to take the trolly from Buckhead all the way down to College Park and the Georgia Military Academy on his own every day — a safe, predictable adventure.

          2. “But let’s extend the same argument to rail. If the government subsidy of roads has proven to be inefficient and detrimental to our cities (congestion and sprawl), why would you think the result will be any less efficient with the same government oversight of rail transit. Let’s make them both private and let the markets decide.”

            Where to start with this mash-up.

            The assumption that government subsidy of roads leads to inefficiencies: Please walk me through this argument.

            From this assumption, which I see no reason to give credence to, you then jump to another assumption, that is, IF government subsidy of one activity leads to a problem, the government _oversight_ in another area will result in the same problem. You’ll have to walk me through that one, too.

            Nestled in there is the additional assumption that somehow a rail-based transit system will be subject to the same challenges as a road-based one. That’s a third thought process you’ll have to give me some help with.

            And finally, in this era of absolute failure of the market system, of big business failing in the presence of increasing DEregulation, you’ll really have to walk me through the assumption that somehow market-based forces will magically avoid problems that you’re projecting onto government involvement in future transit solutions.

    3. Why not stick to existing feeder buses? It’s a long list, but I think capacity and corridor constraints are near the top.

      They’re not poor, so won’t they still drive? The incremental cost is secondary (though Emory may seize an opportunity to ratchet up the cost to park on its campus); it is instead: time, reliability, and stress (quality of life). However, your concern is still valid, since it is the total trip – not half – that matters.

      Why build new? Politics and people (housing options, schools, -isms), right?

      (And let’s not fail to distinguish operating expenses with capital expenditures.)

    4. DEM – ever been to a city where you can hop on a train and go where you want to go? No worries about getting stuck in traffic, finding a place to park. Not to mention no gas to buy, car to maintain. This is what we need to shoot for.

      1. Not to mention that you can read, text, email, nap, flirt, whatever. Whenever I’ve been lucky enough to have a job that allowed me to take convenient mass transit instead of drive, I have just loved it. It’s so freeing that I would actually pay more for it. Ironically, I always saved money by not having the cost of commuting by personal car. The trick is to make it convenient logistically and equipped with A/C. I never minded the rough ride of the NY subway because it was quick and got me where I needed to go. The only time it became a chore is if I got stuck in a car when the air conditioning wasn’t working.

  3. How many are really going to give up their cars when the cost of driving is not particularly significant to them?

    In and around the Emory campus congestion is a nightmare and the expense of parking is very high. With the CDC and a major medical center right in the middle of campus density is very high which is good for public transit. Given a direct connection with Lindbergh, I would think that ridership would be pretty high making it a pretty easy commute from the northern suburbs vs. the hell they must have to endure to get there now. There will always be a certain element of transit haters and people who insist on using their cars, but why should we design public policy around them.

    IMO, this is a must or we may see the CDC pick up and move one day.

    1. Re CDC picking up and moving: excellent point. It would be more logical for it to be in D.C. with most other federal agencies, especially other HHS agencies.

    2. So people who prefer to drive their own car are “transit haters”? Or is it that they just prefer their own car, where they control the climate, radio, phone, etc. Not to mention they can run errands, pull directly into their driveway as opposed to walking/bus transfers/etc. I don’t drive to work very often but I can certainly understand that people do it because it is convenient.

      Does the notion that CDC might leave if not for this project have any basis other than sheer speculation?

      At any rate, no one’s answered the question why this massive expenditure is necessary when CDC and Emory are already a very short bus ride from at least one existing MARTA station. If we had these two major employers off on some isolated part of town, maybe this would make sense. But to spend $1.1 billion to build a rail line directly to an area that can be connected to an existing station through a 5 minute bus ride seems like a huge waste of money. Then again, wasting money we don’t have is en vogue these days.

      1. Without getting into the CDC speculation:

        * It’s not a “5 minute bus ride”. The current shuttle schedule to Decatur is a 20 minute trip.
        * Any type of rail transit is far more efficient than buses. A 4 car MARTA train can pack 400 or so people, roughly the same as 10 buses, with an attendant difference in the amount of energy use and road congestion.

        1. Yes but we could expand the bus service and make it a quick trip for a lot less than $1.1 billion.

          1. You can add more buses but you won’t get as many people to get on them and every one of them will still have to stop on the side of the road blocking a lane of traffic every time they let somebody on or off.

            The average yearly number of riders for MARTA trains is roughly equal to the yearly number of riders for buses, but trains only cover 48 miles while the buses cover 1000 miles per day. There are not going to be any new roads or many new lanes into this area. It is just too dense.

            1. “You can add more buses but you won’t get as many people to get on them…”

              Actually, and surprisingly to me, you are incorrect (if I’m reading your statement correctly). Emory’s shuttles to satellites, including MARTA, are absolutely packed. Every one that they add gets filled.

              As to getting 400 people on a train versus a series of buses, I’m not convinced that that is a useful datum if bus and shuttles run frequently enough. Frequency can be addressed for a fraction of the billion dollar cost for the short train route.

  4. Not to mention with the very close station at North Decatur and Clairemont and the bus rapid transit from the Avondale station, it makes getting to the northside of town on public transit for Decaturites a very viable option. Going downtown on the East/West line and the heading north has never been a very good option for going anywhere north of downtown/midtown because it simply takes too long.

  5. This is sorely needed at Emory! I think most people who drive there on a daily basis have at least considered other options at some point. A line like this would be a great improvement.

    Many employees already have to shuttle and/or walk 5 min from parking garages to their actual work locations, so it’s not like folks are in the habit of parking right outside the door as it is. Not sure about employee pricing, but I know a student annual parking pass is about $650.

  6. Looking at the map, it looks like heavy and light rail is proposed from Lindbergh to Emory but just light rail between Emory and Avondale. Anyone know why the proposed heavy rail line goes to Lindbergh and not Avondale? Avondale looks much closer.

    1. “Anyone know why the proposed heavy rail line goes to Lindbergh and not Avondale?”

      But not Avondale station also? Because HRT can’t play in the streets.

      (That’s a much simpler answer than you’d get for… Decatur station… East Lake station!)

    1. So is First Baptist. I guess it’s a sequential thing.

      BTW, the former DeVry is also and there nothing there but empty building (for zombies?). Again, sequential?

  7. I don’t think there is any question that it has to be rail, not busses, to get a white collar workforce out of their cars.

  8. Speaking as a MARTA commuter who works at Emory, I can tell you that it’s mostly about frequency, because frequency creates convenience. If people have to wait more than 5 minutes for a ride, they’ll go back to driving. I have a coworker who lives in Candler Park who tried MARTA for one day. It took her 45 minutes to get here — not bad for MARTA. It then took her two hours to get home, and she never tried it again. Many of my coworkers will not even take the campus shuttle because it only runs every 20 minutes.

    I live in Midtown, three blocks from the train station. A typical commute is like this: I leave my house at 8:20, and arrive at the Lindbergh station to catch the 8:45 bus. It takes 15-20 minutes to get to my office (1762 Clifton Road), so I arrive just after 9 a.m. That’s a 40 minute commute (driving would be about 15 minutes).

    To get home, it’s best to leave at 4:55 (not on the same days when I arrive at 9!) because after 5 the bus is usually delayed due to traffic downroute at Ponce & Briarcliff. Some days it’s a 5 minute wait. Some days it’s 40. The ride to Lindbergh Center is often a few minutes longer in the evenings (traffic, I guess?) and then there’s a wait for the train southbound. Usually I arrive home at about 5:40, but if it’s a bad day it can be over an hour before I’m home.

    Also note that this only works when arriving and departing at rush hours. MARTA service is reduced after 7 p.m. and buses are scheduled every 40 minutes at that point. It makes it extra-difficult when I try to stay for a late meeting or a yoga class. I can’t imagine what hospital workers and janitorial staff must go through.

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