Monday, February 13, 2006

Rails to Rails

According to the county website, the Multi-Modal center is scheduled to open just east of downtown in March. However, the most important of the multi-modes will still be glaringly absent for several years to come: the Athens to Atlanta Passenger Rail line. Over 7 million in Federal and State funds were earmarked for the project in FY2005, but the project is still in the planning stages, with rights-of-way still needing to be negotiated on each end of the line with CSX. Several related studies have to completed first as well, each of which is supposed to completed by the end of 2006. According to the DOT page, the line has a startup cost of just under $400 million, and the project could be completed within 2 years of funding being made available.

We've got to get this done, people. The benefits are obvious: a burgeoning professional class spending their Atlanta dollars in Athens, accompanied by a reduction in sprawl and traffic deaths. An honest to God, functioning, efficient passenger rail system combined with smart, mixed-use development, and we might just have a fighting chance in the battle against unbridled growth (read about an adjacent county's current struggles).

But in the meantime, at least we'll be able to figure out how to get in to Dudley Park.


gap said...

The Athens-Atlanta rail is a nice idea but not practical. There is a basic problem that's not addressed; how to move people to their destinations once they are in Atlanta and vice versa. This rail would work for those travelling from one downtown to another but wouldn't work for suburban commuters. MARTA doesn't really go anywhere in Atlanta and the bus system is terrible. Until we have efficient public transportation that the rail line can be linked to in each city, this whole scheme is a waste of time and $400 million.

Dawg Corleone said...

I sadly agree. I'd love to take a train to Hartsfield, but there's no use spending a billion dollars (that's where this would end up) just to accommodate me.

Ned said...

If you build it they will come!

An Athens/Atlanta train would be huge for Athens. Right now Athens is 60+ minutes away from Atlanta and that is never going to change until we have an alternate means of getting to Atlanta outside of driving there. A train system combined with the right kind of development downtown could really help Athens move away from the sprawl crawl it is going through right now.

Driving may be fun, but it isn't going to take America into the 21st century. The more modern our mass transportation is the better off our country is going to be. Especially when we need to evacuate a town or move a bunch of people.

hillary said...

MARTA doesn't really go anywhere in Atlanta and the bus system is terrible.

Yeah. It sucks. Except for the fact that it's about a million times better than the one in Athens.

I managed to get along just fine all through high school taking MARTA (both train and bus), including an entire summer as a temp. It can be done.

Jmac said...

I don't know what to think of the Atlanta-to-Athens rail, primarily because I honestly don't know how much use we can depend on it consistently. There may be a lot of interest early on, but folks drive because they like to drive. Whether that's a good thing or bad thing is besides the point. I just don't see a long-term interest in the populatioin to justify the expense (if we're doing this purely for leisure reasons, not security ones as you speculated Ned).

Also, Ned, do you really believe that driving will fall by the wayside in the 21st century? I think we'll develop new technologies, but the concept of driving will remain ... just in cleaner-burning and more efficient vehicles. It's hard to imagine a mass exodus to mass transportation or reverting to only bicyle use.

Dawg Corleone said...

Agree. I drive because of the freedom. I decide where I go, when I go, who goes with me, and what I listen to along the way.

Build all the buses and trains you want; I don't plan to give it up.

That said, I've lived in and visited large cities and loved their public transit: Boston and DC, among them. And I'll never park at the airport: MARTA takes me there just fine.

Publius said...

I don't know about people spending Atlanta dollars in Athens, seems to me it'd be the other way around.

The problem with mass transit (and, in this case, commuter rail) is that Athens and Atlanta aren't Boston or DC or New York. Southern cities in general are so sprawled out that nothing short of a complete overhaul of Atlanta's (for example) land use would do. Put another way, I'm not going to take a train to Atlanta if it doesn't go anywhere near where I want to be. Similarly, even if my commuter train links up with local public transit that does get me somewhere near where I need to be, I'm not going to take it if it takes longer to take the train plus Marta than it does to drive. Commuter rail is fine. I mean, yay. But, if there's no transportation infrastructure to support the hubs, then it's just a waste of my money.

Hey, I'm all for commuter rail; I think it's part of the future of transportation. But I fall somewhere between Ned and JMac on this one, probably closer to JMac. Like Dawg Corleone, I like to drive places. I get to listen to my music, control my climate, smoke 'em if I got 'em, and if there's a stinky person next to me, then it's my own fault.

Finally, I also agree with Dawg that this is going to be damn expensive, and (I'm betting here's where Dawg and I split) I'd rather see that money go somewhere more useful, like health care, education, or (gasp!) economic development.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

The GDOT is predicting 8,000 trips per day by 2015 and 10,600 per day by 2030. Obviously there's no way to know for sure, but given the amount of time and money that have already gone into these studies, one hopes those numbers aren't merely being pulled out of thin air.

Given the projected times of departure from Athens each day (5:40 a.m. and 6:20 a.m.), I don't think this thing's being designed for leisure travel. It'll be for commuters and business travelers going to Hartsfield.

People do drive because they like to drive, but I don't think they drive two hours in congested traffic to Atlanta at six in the morning because they like it. They do it to get to work. Or more accurately, most of them don't do it; they move closer to Atlanta and contribute to the sprawl and pollution in the metro area.

Of course a passenger rail line will not eliminate car use. But it will eliminate a significant amount of commuter car use daily. GDOT estimates 5,300 auto trips will be removed in each "peak period", which I think is what they're calling rush hour. Of course there's no guarantee of this, but with no rail line we can guarantee that absolutely zero people will use it.

For so many reasons, this makes sense: reduction of sprawl, reduction of pollution, safety, even security as ned mentioned. It's just one of many fronts on which progress must continue; obviously we have to do whatever we can to make cleaner-burning, more efficient vehicles as well, because as you say cars aren't going away.

hillary said...

Damn right. Plus, when it comes to students going to visit their parents or friends or get their drank on, it'll hopefully result in a bit less reckless driving on 316.

Haven't y'all ever wanted to go to a show in Atlanta _and_ be able to drink?

Publius said...

That's part of my point. More people being able to go to the ATL for their adult fun means less people having their adult fun downtown. Great for people like me who adhere to the "There's always one in front if you wait long enough" theory of parking place selection, but potentially not so good for downtown bidness.

I could be wrong - it's happened once or twice in the past - but I think rather than ATL-ers spending their bucks in Athens, more Athenians are going to be spending their disposables in the ATL. Maybe not a significant difference, but who knows?

For me though, I think commuter rail is great. I'd just rather get a chunk of that money for things we need more - including maybe local public transit.

And of course, bike lanes.

andyrusk said...

I'll reckon that if the trains included a few high-dollar, first class dining and club cars, we could make a killing during Dawg Season.

Think about it, all the wealthy alums can ride in style, get dropped off mere blocks from the game, drink themselves stupid, and ride back. No parking, no designated driver, no problem!

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Obviously no one paid attention to the part about the departure times; the train is going to be leaving Athens in the morning and coming back at night. That's it, at least if the projected schedule online is accurate (although there are also supposed to be trains leaving at other times from the Bogart station). This is for commuters, not joy-riding party-goers. My point about Atlanta dollars being spent in Athens assumed that more professionals would live in Athens and work in Atlanta; thus making a higher salary and spending it at home in Athens for things like groceries, rent, dining, etc.

Publius said...

" Obviously no one paid attention to the part about the departure times"

No, I did. At the risk of sounding snarky, I also paid attention in economics class when they talked about supply and demand. There's going to be a demand for more regular train service after the thing gets rolling (no temporal puns intended)

And, while at first blush, I'm all about picking up some of the denizens of the ATL burbs over here, we've also got to consider the fact that, according to some folks, we've already got land use, traffic, and sprawl issues in Athens. Is it a good trade off? Who knows?

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Snarkiness is ok; I'm used to it, and employ it myself regularly.

It just seems funny to me that the whole demand thing is being used to criticize this thing from both ends; Jmac doesn't think it will work because the demand won't be high enough, and Publius think's it'll work too well, so well that it will kill Athens night life. I think the truth, as usual, lies in between. Demand will be high enough to justify the commuter line, but downtown Athens will be just fine. Can I guarantee that? Of course not. But if we're gonna wait for guaranteed, fool-proof policy options before we do anything, we're already screwed.

There is a certain amount of risk that the line will actually increase growth and the associated problems here in Athens. That's why I mentioned the fact that we also need to concentrate on smart development simultaneously. The growth is coming either way; we can plan for it or we can let it happen to us and try to deal with it when it does. I prefer the former.

Publius said...

To clarify, I don't think this will "kill" Athens night life, but I do think there will be some deleterious effects on the downtown area, mostly as far as live music venues, and to a lesser extent shopping, are concerned.

Athens isn't really super-convenient for booking in bands. No interstate really close by (thank God), no huge airport, etc. The upside of that is a pretty darn good local music scene, supported by people who don't have the wherewithal to run up to ATL every weekend. Now, if this thing goes through, you've got an easy, convenient way for Athens music lovers to get up to the big city, so bookers in Atlanta will do a little better, while clubs here in Athens will probably have a little more trouble getting non-local groups in here.

Hillary (with two L's this time) is going to have tons of problems with my analysis of the music scene, but c'est la vie.

Mostly though, I'm all in favor of good environmental solutions, which this is, but it seems like a great project that should be lower down on the priority list.

Speaking of higher priorities, we're waiting for the Mayor (she's a busy lady, so don't think we're giving her any shit here) to get back to us on the results of last Friday's PPA summit, and she'll hopefully have the 411 on how everyone can help out.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Given the amount of time that this thing has taken from start to finish, with finish being at least 3 years in the future, it's hard to say that it's been very high on the priority list, frankly, at least not until very recently. And the money we're getting for the project is primarily Federal highway money, so we either get it for a major project like this or we don't get it at all. What major highway project would you rather see instead?

As far as the effect on the music scene, perhaps you're right. That's too nuanced of an outcome for me to predict with any degree of certainty. You may have a point about the historical development of the music scene here, but I think that it stands on its own two legs these days, and the students (and others) will always come out to see the music here.

If nothing else, this issue shows that the AthPo eds. are not some liberal monolith, and that even we disagree sometimes.

One thing we do agree on is our hope that PPA will succeed; I eagerly await the word from the Mayor.

hillary said...

Yes. I am going to have problems with it. Athens and Atlanta have really different situations when it comes to nightlife. Atlanta books much bigger shows, but when it comes to the indie stuff of a certain size, a) it doesn't get booked in Atlanta as much as it did (no venue for it) or b) if it does, it's going to run you a fine dime more than it would here. What I refer to is those larger shows, which aren't going to get booked here anyway. X wasn't going to play the 40 Watt, no matter how much I wanted them to.

As far as going to get a drink in Buckhead versus downtown Athens, I can't see why anyone would want to. So, no, I don't think it'll kill the Athens music scene even a weensy bit.

As far as whether that money would be better spent on local public transportation, nuh freakin' duh it would, but it's not local money, is it? So it's a more a question of does it get spent in a way that benefits Athens at all and less one of "here's your X dollars; do with it what you will."

Ned said...

The reason my views on trains differ from everybody else here is probably because I lived in Japan for 2 years and never drove at all. Trains and bicycles because the central transportation method for me.

I know many people on here have mentioned the freedom that owning a car provides, but if you can't afford to own a car then you don't really have much freedom at all. There are lots of poor people in Athens who could probably make a decent amount of money working in Atlanta if they had a reliable way of getting there. A $1,000 car isn't going to be reliable and it certainly isn't going to be good for the environment or make everyone else's commute faster when it breaks down on the road. A good train system gets a person where they need to be on time as long as they catch their first train in time.

I think the safety aspect of a train is also important to take into account. A risk averse person would take the train over driving to Atlanta all the time. It is much safer and less stressful. How often do we see articles in the paper about UGA students who have died in car accidents. Wouldn't their parents feel a lot safer if their kids weren't driving to and from Atlanta?

There are also various health aspects that come from living in a society where driving isn't the main form of transportation. The average person ends up walking 3 times as much if they don't drive and that does a lot to combat the problem of obesity.

I agree with Andy about the idea of a first class car. It would make a killing on gamedays and it would be nice to get a drink and use the internet(Free internet on trains!!!) while riding into Atlanta one evening.

Finally, if you look at the path between Atlanta and Athens on Google Maps, you'll see that all the towns we'd go through on the way to Atlanta all grew up around the train stations. Each stop would be potential for that town to start growing like a town again - not like the big box/sprawl system they have right now.

I don't want to take away anyone's cars or our roads, but I do feel like the transportation system we have really screws over the part of our population that can't afford to have a reliable vehicle. A quality train system would do a lot to balance things out in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

My hope would be that the rail line could bring some organization and regional planning to the area. Perhaps the biggest effect the train could have would be in Barrow and Oconnee Counties rather than Athens. Sprawling growth will overwhelm the area between Athens and Atlanta in the coming years. For the time being, Barrow County (like Jackson County) will continued to be flattered that people want to build tract homes and Waffle Houses in their recently rural communities. It will be at least another decade before Barrow County realizes the mistakes it has made in allowing the disorganized development that will eventually choke any remaining quality of life. Then again, I realize its a lot to expect from a rail line...

gap said...

Promoting a culture that values public transportation is great but I still don't see how this rail system will effectively move people around. There are a large amount of people who live in Barrow and Oconee counties who work in Gwinnett for example. Gwinnett is too spread out and car oriented to get these people to work. This reminds me of the Simpsons monorail episode.

hillary said...

High-five, Ned!

I could also make the argument that public transportation promotes literacy. When you're just sitting there, it's easy enough to pull out a book. Yay, books!

Right now, getting to Atlanta if you don't have a car sucks, and I know from experience. You can pay $35 to take the shuttle to the airport or, if you want to save a few bucks, around $20 to take the Greyhound, where you're likely to get hit on by a crackhead. Again, I speak from experience.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

That's the everloving point.

Basically you're saying that the sprawl has occurred, and there's no way to fix it. I respectfully disagree. I think if you put the proper infrastructure in place, individuals will adjust their lives and settlement patterns accordingly. Transportation is a jumbled mess in the metro area precisely because no one had the foresight to do it already.

And although I find the Simpsons reference amusing for an inside joke reason that Publius will appreciate, I also find it a little insulting and patronizing. I don't think I've suggested anywhere that this is some kind of be-all-end-all remedy to all of Athens' ills. And once again (forgive me if I'm analyzing your analogy too much), this is not Athens money being spent, not a dime of it. It's Federal and State money, much greater sums of which have been squandered on much more foolish endeavors.

Anonymous said...

The point regarding Oconee and Barrow was that a rail line could influence future development in a positive way.