Will the T-SPLOST Reduce Commute Times?

I guess when you’re message is “Untie Atlanta”, you invite questions about whether your $6 billion proposal will notably reduce traffic and commute times around Atlanta.

The AJC this morning has summarized the Atlanta Regional Commission’s findings from a 10-year traffic simulation program and shown that the figures overall are either impressive or underwhelming depend on what area you look at and/or which expert/non-expert you speak with.  Atlanta’s infrastructure is a big ol’ expensive mistress, and though $6 billion may sound big compared to, say, our annual salaries, it’s a drop in the bucket for the metro area’s connection of road and rail. Or Mark Zuckerberg for that matter. But some figures seem heartening…

On average, the number of metro Atlantans able to reach job centers in under 45 minutes would rise just 6 percent by car, and about 20 percent by bus or train, if the projects are built. The new transit projects expect perhaps 75,000 or more daily boardings.

Regional planners insist that in the world of transportation design, a 6 percent or 20 percent jump in good commutes is a big deal.

And Emory would get the biggest boost of all…

A $700 million rail line along the Clifton Corridor would take mass transit access there from miserable to some of the region’s best. If the rail line is built, 220,000 additional metro residents could reach jobs there by transit within a manageable 45-minute commute, a 729 percent increase. Realistically, planners expect daily ridership of about 10,000 boardings, slightly less than what’s expected for the Beltline.

But even if its the major selling point, should any conversation about T-SPLOST be solely focused on congestion relief?

65 thoughts on “Will the T-SPLOST Reduce Commute Times?”

  1. (So my tween daughter is right… I AM profoundly out of touch).

    I can’t quite get over a 45-minute commute — I assume each way — being considered “manageable.”

    I’d be curious as to how long the commutes are in the households of other DMers.

    We have one 10-minute commute each way and one non-commuter.

    1. My wife and I live over off of Midway/Oldfield on the southside, and carpool daily to 10th and 75/85. Our average one way is 30 minutes (either via 20 or via DeKalb Ave). On light days, it is 20 minutes door to door.

      We used to live up in Marietta off of exit 265, and interestingly enough the commute times are about the same. But…not being on 15 lanes with 18 wheelers all around is a *big* improvement. Also, times are much more consistent. You’re pretty much guaranteed a 30-35 minute drive, but travelling 75, times could *easily* swing towards 45 minutes to an hour. To go 20 miles.

    2. Our commutes are around 35 mins in the morning and 45 mins in the evening. This is all ITP, by the way.

    3. About 30 minutes each way, either biking downtown or biking to the East Lake station and taking MARTA downtown. My last 2 years of high school, my dad had a 2 1/2 hour commute each way every day (mostly on bus, but some on subway) from suburban NJ to midtown Manhattan. Made me vow never ever to subject myself to anything remotely resembling that.

    4. It’s a 15 minute drive for me, no real traffic, free parking – it’s a no brainer.

      Today I rode my bike in for the exercise, and now it’s pouring rain. Notch another win for the automobile.

  2. Well, my commute from OakhurstGA to Scottish rite is crazier. 35 mins in am, but 50-80 mins pm. Bought the house when I worked at shepherd w/ better commute. Would take the train but the 20 mins between trains makes it too unpredictable for someone who sees multiple patients scheduled on the hour, often starting at 8am. Would welcome better rail options!

    1. Check out the MARTA rail schedules, e.g., for East Lake. I wish the trains ran more often, but they’re pretty reliable about coming on the scheduled time (or a minute or 2 later), so it’s not too hard to time it so that you’re not sitting around for a long time.

    2. Timewise, I’ve found the trains to be infinitely more reliable than driving in and subjecting myself to the whims of traffic. I finally reached my limit one day last year when my 8-mile commute to Buckhead took me 2 hours…I’ve been taking the train ever since, and I love having the time to just sit and read.

      I go from downtown Decatur to Buckhead, just south of Lenox Mall, so the Buckhead MARTA stop is just a 5-minute walk to my office. I leave the house at 7:45am, catch the first train around 8am, and arrive at Buckhead in 8:41. As TOK said, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve been significantly delayed in the last year, which is MUCH more than I can say for driving. My morning drive used to be at least 45 minutes, my evening drive anywhere from 35min (if I checked Google Traffic before leaving and saw that I could zip down 400/85 without delays) to 90 minutes or more if there was an accident, rain, etc. The traffic on N Druid Hills between Buckhead and the I-85 interchange alone can be brutal. I’ve tried all sorts of alternate routes with no luck.

      I’m convinced that more/better rail, with more people having access to a station within walking distance and the ensuing increased ridership, is the best (but not only) answer to Atlanta’s traffic woes.

      1. depends where you go for sure…I work downtown, driving it takes 20 minutes on dekalb ave from door to rear end in work chair at 7 am, if I go in at 830 after dropping the kids off at school its closer to 30 minutes.

        I live within walking distance of downtown Decatur coming from the nelson ferry/ponce area…
        10 minute walk to the train.
        8+/- wait for train
        20 minute train ride to downtown
        10 minute walk to ass in chair at work (I can take the train north one stop on the north bound, but time wise its about the same and might as well get exorcise)

        Its consistent regardless of time and traffic, but consistently long. Even driving to East lake where the trains come more often is not much of a time saving really (after they cut service, I used to go from east lake all the time)

        For me time is of the essence with kids etc…I used to take the train but as soon as they increased the cost and cut service i dropped out of taking the train. Hopefully it works for others!

        1. I get the gist of your point, but the train from Decatur to Five Points is only 14 minutes.

          1. Intowners are almost never going to save time using MARTA (suburbanites avoiding I-85 or 400 might, though). But for me–and I don’t have kids–the time in the car is worse than the longer time on MARTA because I can’t use it to check email, read, etc., not to mention the stress of dealing with the horrible drivers on the road these days. There is also the cost of parking that, for my wife and I, would be greater than the cost of monthly MARTA passes.

            1. And in my case, it allows us to get by as a one-car family rather than a 2-car one, which is big savings.

              1. Us too. Indeed, sticking to one car allows us to afford Decatur. By that I mean not only the costs of housing, but also the ability to enjoy the restaurants, pubs, etc.

                1. + 1. AAA pegs the average overall yearly cost of owning a car at $9,000 (car cost, fuel, insurance, maintenance, etc.). Losing one has definitely made a big difference in how we exercise our own budget.

              2. would love to have the option to not need the car…but with kids and a two working parent family it is not possible (at least our situation).

                What I do like, is having the easy freedom to choose to take the train if needed. While not time efficient enough for me on a daily basis it is nice!

            1. Hmm…I’ve taken train from Decatur to Five Points for years and it’s never taken longer than 15 minutes (time on train, not waiting for train), unless there were delays for emergenices, etc.

            2. Actually, East Lake to Five Points is only 11 minutes.

              And I ride the train enough to know that while the schedule times might be off sometimes, the actual time in train is very consistent, unless they are doing single tracking or something (and that’s usually only occurs on the weekends).

            3. East Lake to 5 Points is 11 minutes; Decatur to Five Points is 13. I could rely on that timing when I used MARTA except if there was an event causing a delay. Delays were never that frequent on the East-West line, especially if one went in real early and left early, but I hear that North-South has more frequent delays. When I worked in Downtown Atlanta, there was no question that MARTA was the fastest and cheapest transport. However, to be sure I could reach the kids quickly if the school called for sick or pickup or other crises, I had to park at East Point vs. walk to the Decatur Station which I preferred. The walk from my house added on time plus was hard if I was carrying a lot. But I loved the walk the days that I could……….

  3. I will vote for T-SPLOST. Even though the mornings I drive through chick-fil-a for breakfast, I spend more time in line then I do commuting. The best solution is to live near where you work.

  4. I loved it when I worked downtown and could take MARTA–that was heaven from Decatur. But now I’ve got 35 minutes one way and 45 minutes the other, all ITP, shorter if before 7 AM or after 7 PM.

  5. I’m convinced all T-SPLOST will reduce is the size of my savings account. I have zero belief that a fraction of what they say will be done, will ever happen and even less belief that this isn’t just another chance for dollars to disappear through corruption and mismanagement. Until government can show me they understand even a little bit how to streamline their spending, I’ll never believe they’ll streamline our commutes with anything close to a reasonable price tag.

      1. Sometimes I wonder and sometimes I believe it’s in spite of themselves. As they become more and more fat and lazy with their economics they do things like tax people who make candy and soda because they say it’s evil and for the good of society, but really it’s because the government is to damn lazy to become more efficient. I would like to see us not become Chicago which is now at 10.5% sales tax and even more on certain things.

      2. I think Atlanta is one of the toughest cities to really make transit WORK. Even ITP much of Atlanta is single family homes on .5 or more acres. Unlike Chicago, ny, San Fran or even LA we are really very spread out. Even Decatur, as walkable as it is compared to much of Atlanta, its still not truly walkable imo….bikeable..yes, scooterable…yes….walkable…eh (sure, once you drive downtown its walkable, but so is Northlake mall). I’m luckly to live within walking distance of transit, but its still not something I walk to unless I’m going to the airport because its just not time “wise”. I’ll still get in my car and drive to a transit stop or my destination.

        I fully support transit in Atlanta, and do actually think it can work in time, but I think it will be an interesting typology compared to other cities….

        I can understand the lack in confidence in our government running transit. Is there a way to privatize it?

        1. Transit could be privatized, but given that it cannot be expected to operate in the black, there would still be a need for a “subsidy”.

        2. Isn’t this a chicken or egg problem? Aren’t we spread out because the city was built around a massive infrastructure of highways, whereas older cities weren’t? And don’t you think it likely the city will change if we have a new rail system to build around?

          1. No, the chicken came first. The metro area has a long history of lax land use planning which allowed the sprawl to progress, unlike some more enlightened places that controlled growth on a regional basis. A lot of it goes back to the extreme parochialism that exists in the region where local governments still have the same narrow point of view that they did 50 years ago and regional cooperation on anything is outside their willingness to compromise.

            1. I’m sure you’re right to a point, but I think development tends to follows transportation options. I don’t think you’d see the heavy development around 400 and 285 if those highways weren’t there.

  6. After 9 am also shortens my commute from 30 min to 25-20 minutes. I tend to start and end on a later schedule in order to avoid more time in the car- and feel fortunate I have that flexibility most days.
    I’m supporting the new transit investment- there has been far too long a gap in investment, and we are falling behind both nationally and regionally in transit options. I would also support a constitutional amendment that would permit mass transit investment from the current gas tax. Right now those funds are restricted to road only.

  7. 40 minutes by bike, train (with walk to station), or drive(in rush hour) to mid-town.
    So I telecommute most days. and bike the rest.

  8. I have a 25 min walk each way and my husband has a 40 min bike ride each way….. Bike is working out to be the quickest option for him! When I drive it takes 15 mins with parking etc, so it is worth it to walk..

    1. The Regional T-SPLOST legislation explicitly says 10 years or $6 Billion whichever comes first. Also, there is a citizens review panel that is tasked with keeping the whole thing transparent and on schedule and on budget. That’s how.

  9. From Winnona Park to Ashford Dunwoody was 30-40 minutes in the morning and 50-60 minutes in the afternoon. Loved Decatur and city schools but had to move closer to work. Not worth sacrificing family time. Measuring quality education and quality family time is a big delima in this town. Now I can get home at 5:15 versus 6:45 but have to put some sort of faith in the Dekalb County school system.

  10. Does anyone know what the benefit for Decatur will be if TSPLOST is passed? I can see that if I lived in Gwinnett or Cobb my commute time will be reduced. But how will WE benefit?

    Does anyone else think that having traffic/ long commute times for OTPers is a good thing for ITP? I mean, it is a big reason for the urban renewal of the last 10 years, isn’t it?

    Am I thinking about this too simply?

    1. Ben, If it passes, I understand that there’s a good chance that a light rail system will be built from the Avondale MARTA station to Emory and all the way through to Lindbergh. I think there will be stops at North Dekalb Medical, the new WalMart, on Scott street and at the intersection of N Decatur and Clairmont. Although all the stops aren’t in the city currently, they will likely provide some growth to the city and areas we all visit, and they’ll provide commuting options for a lot of residents. Also, a lot of money will be used to provide needed repairs to MARTA, which benefits all of us, at least indirectly.
      But aside from all that, I agree with your point that long commute times for OTP’ers make intown neighborhoods more attractive.

      1. The T-SPLOST only funds light rail to Emory. Any extension would be dependent upon future funding and grants.

        1. that’s what I thought- light rail from Lindbergh to Emory, but the extension to Avondale is pie-in-the-sky. Even if TSPLOST passes, the Emory line won’t get built for 10 years, so what does that say for the Avondale extension?

          I am not directly against TSPLOST by any measure, btw, just trying to figure it out.

        2. Maybe I’m too optimistic in saying there’s a good chance that extension will be built to Decatur, but I wouldn’t call it pie in the sky either.

      1. btw, I work at Emory and live in Decatur city

        What I like are all of my options.

        car commute = ~10 min

        bike commute =~15 min

        walk commute = ~35 min (my preferred option for mind and body)

        CCTMA/Emory bus = ~20 min

  11. For folks who have never commuted by mass transit on a regular basis, one of the best parts is not having to drive yourself and being able to zone out, read, doze, phone, or text/email. It really adds free time to your day. It’s subtle but real. That’s why, if I have a mass transit option that doesn’t add much length to my commute, I take it. It’s cheaper in the long run in terms of gas and car wear and tear and is a lot more fun. I’ve met so many people on mass transit over the years. Either you see someone you recognize, sit next them, and then get to know them better, or you see the same friendly face at the same time every day and then eventually start talking.

  12. This is a really great thread. It is interesting to read others’ commuting experiences. I remember before the Olympics when traffic was largely the problem of those commuting OTP into the city. Now it is everywhere. It really is frustrating to me that what is really needed is a direct infusion of cash to MARTA, the ability for them to spend their money as they see fit and a smart marketing campaign to make taking transit hipper. Every one says no one will ride buses here but on a recent trip to San Francisco (where we got around the city for a week on a bus pass) you would see everyone on public transit. I totally agree with At Home in Decatur — you feel totally a part of the city when you take mass transit.

    1. I always take the bus in San Francisco too, but that’s partly because driving and parking there is such a miserable, costly chore– worse than Atlanta even. Bus routes here are longer because of the lack of density, so it’s hard for buses to compete with cars on a personal efficiency basis.

  13. If you still have questions about the transportation referendum, please sign up for a Wireside Chat. From June 4 – 14, ARC and local officials from each of the Atlanta region’s jurisdictions will take part in a series of unique community conversations about this important vote. Learn more and register at: http://bit.ly/JjUjXO

  14. My view is that traffic will not get better, unless the metro economy completely tanks. If people want shorter commute times, they should move to Detroit.

    Say’s Law is magical when it comes to transportation infrastructure. It has spawned The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion – http://ideas.repec.org/p/cep/sercdp/0030.html.

    A summary of the above study’s findings is here: http://economicsintelligence.com/2011/10/24/why-new-roads-do-not-alleviate-congestion/

    1. “My view is that traffic will not get better, unless the metro economy completely tanks”
      Actually, the opposite can also be true. Several significant employers and facilities have considered Atlanta and then located elsewhere because of transportation issues. Atlanta is losing to places like Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham, among others.

      1. That doesn’t really negate my point. We may be up against the upper limit of the size of economy that our local infrastructure can support, which will restrain growth going forward, but that’s not the same as a declining economy that reduces the demand for transportation.

        Which brings me to another point, which is that adding transportation infrastructure is more of a band-aid on the huge problem of single use development that dominates metro ATL. It’s possible that rejecting additional infrastructure investment may spur investment in multi-use development, which is the better longterm solution to traffic issues, and would eventually bring about more popular demand for transit options.

      2. I’ve read this before in various places. Do you, or does anyone know specifically which companies have looked at Atlanta and chosen someplace else specificially because of traffic congestion? I know of companies who have chosen Atlanta because of the airport but I haven’t seen anyone actually say, “Company XYZ chose Charlotte over Atlanta because of traffic issues.” I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just wondering who used this one negative as THE tipping point to choose another location.

  15. I’m happy to say that my commute is a 10-minute bike ride and my spouse’s is a 5-minute bike ride or a 20-minute walk. Love living and working in Decatur! I count my lucky stars every day.

  16. I truly believe that if this does not pass, it will send a strong signal to companies nationwide that Atlantans are incapable of solving their infrastructure problems and that our city is too risky of an investment. It will also result in even less federal infrastructure support because we’ll have indicated an unwillingness to kick in locally. Young, eductate workers will choose instead to move to places like DC or Denver that seem to have their act together.

    While the solution is certainly flawed, our region suffers higher unemployment and lower property values as a result of inaction on infrastructure. If you are concerned about oversight of the money and how it’s spent, then I encourage you to ask those legitimate questions until you are comfortable. However if you are using this as an opportunity for a protest vote because there’s not enough transit money in the bill, then I hope you are happy when we’re even worse off 10 years from now.

    1. I think that signal has already been sent long ago and loud enough that even if T-SPLOST passes, many companies won’t believe Atlanta will be able to use the money wisely. For those who think T-SPLOST is some magic bullet that will all of a sudden have people flocking towards the city with new businesses, I think you’ll be disappointed. Good business people are not going to respect Atlanta or Georgia more just because they throw money at a problem, because that’s not what good businesses do. Good businesses respect when governments do smart things, and T-SPLOST is not smart.

      1. You’re right. Passage won’t cause businesses to flock here. But good execution of the project list very well could. Your argument assumes at the outset that we will fail in that regard, but I believe the legislation is pretty tight in terms of timing and allocation of funds.

        Perhaps I should be more cynical, but if you feel that we will simply never be able to fix these problems because of the inherent incompetence of government, then I have to question why you, me, or anyone would continue to live here?

    2. Not that I am disagreeing with you, but the argument about the signals we will be sending cuts both ways (or more accurately, can be spun to favor both sides of the argument). If we were to approve the T-Splost despite legitimate conerns about the allocation of the funds and and about whether this particular proposal will improve the infrastructure, we will be viewed negatively b/c we are simply trying to solve the problem by throwing money at it and unnecessarily increasing our tax burden. High taxes are not only a huge detriment when trying to recruit new businesses, but they actually cause people to leave (see California, Illinois, NY, etc). We have to weigh the increased benefits vs. the costs of higher taxes. Increasing our taxes without receiving a real benefit could do as much, if not more, harm than not passing the T-Splost. We can’t support this proposal solely because there is no better idea or because it is better than nothing. But, if the benefits of this proposal exceed its costs, we would be fools not to pass it.

      1. Fair point. The same logic applies to my willingness to pay Decatur’s high taxes. It’s all about what you get for your money. Having spent a lot of time reviewing the project list and hearing arguments on both sides of the t-splost issue, I believe the benefits will exceed the costs.

  17. According to peachpundit.com, Clark Howard endorsed the T-SPLOST today. I’m with Clark on this one. I don’t think implementation of the T-SPLOST will realistically improve my family’s commute (which isn’t bad anyway), but I do hope it will increase my property value. We live over near the Decatur YMCA, and my hope is that the Clifton Corridor project will make the Emory/Decatur even more desirable.

    I’m certainly not holding my breath on the property value thing, but when I weigh the positives (which other posters here have enumerated) against the negatives, I think T-SPLOST is a net win for my family. Bring it on.

    1. I’ve had good luck with Clark Howard’s recommendations and I trust him more than I trust most politicians and bloggers. So this may have helped me decide………..

    2. The T-Splost doesn’t include light rail through Decatur or near the Y. It only includes connecting Lindbergh to Emory, and there is no money to extend the rail to Avondale. Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t think that connecting Lindbergh to Emory will have any effect on property values in Decatur.

      1. I’m hoping that closer access to rail will make the Emory side of Decatur more desireable. I’m no transit wonk, but my general understanding is that reasonably close mass transit options increase property values though construction of transit in one’s backyard is be bad for property values.

  18. I will vote yes if and only if they remove the toll on 400 as per what we were told would happen lo these many moons ago. Until they can do even this one little thing no deal. Once they get the money that’s it, forget getting them to use it for what they said it was for originally.

    1. I get your point about broken promises regarding the 400 toll, but I don’t think they should eliminate it; if anything, they should raise it, and add more tolls on other interstates.

  19. For those who cry that transit receives considerably more funding per user than cars and is therefore an unacceptable use of government dollars, what about this (from that pinko liberal rag, “Forbes”)?

    “Though biking and walking account for 12 percent of all trips in the U.S., these transportation modes receive only 1.6 percent of federal transportation spending.”

    Interesting stuff on the economics of bikes over cars:

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