Tuesday, August 22, 2006

C'mon, ride that train. Or not.

Just to take a break from some campaign politics for the nonce, let's take a look at some actual policy. Got a question on a previous thread about whether I'd ride the choo-choo to the ATL. (I had mentioned that I'm not a supporter of the Brain Train.)

So let's talk about the Brain Train for a second, and I'll tell you why I'm not supporting it. There are basically two reasons, one practical, one fiscal.

The practical reason is that I just don't think the BT is going to go anywhere I need to go in Atlanta, except for the airport. Folks, Atlanta is all sprawled out. (I know, shocking.) To get anywhere, you either need effective public transportation or you need a car. Now, effective public transportation is something I do support, and very strongly. But Atlanta doesn't have it yet, and I don't know if they will even in my lifetime. Try to get the rich folks in North Fulton to let MARTA come in and see how far you get. Gwinnett County is also severely lacking in that department. So, I wouldn't take the choo-choo to Atlanta, because it's easier to drive my car to where I need to go rather than braintrain it to a central hub and take my chances with public transporation which may or may not go where I need it to go.

To a certain extent, then, I think that pushing the Brain Train through right now is really putting the cart ahead of the horse. Regional public transportation is great, but we need the local public transportation to support it in place first. I don't believe that Atlanta is there yet.

Here's a little bit of a sociological sub-reason to this as well. Americans, and especially those who live in the South and West, are ingrained with car culture. Now, that's not necessarily a good thing, but it is what it is. You'll need a sweeping change in the cultural zeitgeist to overcome that, and it won't happen overnight or even over a generation. So, even having the Brain Train in place doesn't guarantee that people will use it, and most people probably won't.

Now my fiscal reason is a little simpler. Friends, I love public transportation, but we cannot afford this right now. Estimates vary on the cost of this project, but it's going to be expensive. Legislators, do me a favor, please. Put that money into health care, into PeachCare, into public education, or helping small businesses stay afloat in the first few years of existence. Hell, put the money into helping local governments fund more and better public transportation on the local level. I'd love to buy the choo-choo, but we've got other more pressing problems to pay for first. The revenue to pay for choo-choos has to come from one or both of only two sources - either cut spending or raise taxes. I'm not a huge fan of the latter, for obvious reasons, and while I favor spending cuts, this legislature tends to pull money out of things like, oh, I don't know, having enough teachers, or making sure your kids can see the doctor.

Friends, I'm convincable on this issue. I'm open to debate, and I'd like to know why I should get behind the choo-choo, but right now...well, not so much.


Adrian said...

I would ride the train on occasion to go to downtown Atlanta. My current preferred way to get downtown is to drive to the Doraville station and ride a train there anyway. If we had the train, then I might consider looking for a job in Atlanta. I know downtown is a popular destination, so I don't know that Atlanta is too sprawled for this train to be at least useful, but maybe it's sprawled enough that a sufficient ridership wouldn't show up.

The research on this needs to be really, really good because we don't really know that the cost is justified. But hey, I wonder if it could help our poverty problem. Athenians could get Atlanta jobs without moving, and then Athens employers would have to be a little more competitive.

Fishplate said...

A regional transportation mindset is long overdue. The Athens rail line, the Lovejoy line, high-speed rail to Chattanooga, Charlotte and Savannah are all parts of this plan.

Yes, you can say that transit doesn't go where you want to go, so you won't use it That view has some merit, but you need an understanding of why that is the case. You could make an equal argument that adding regional rail to the Metro Atlanta transportation mix would put additional pressure on the local transportation authority to extend MARTA to where the jobs are, and would also add additional incentive for businesses to locate on the rail lines.

A rational transit plan isn't going to be developed in a vacuum - someone has to take the first step. And no, that first step is not paving another six lanes on 316...

Anonymous said...

If Georgia is going to do commuter rail, the place that makes the most sense is Athens to Atlanta. You will have students and professionals going both ways. It will take professionals to job centers like Emory, CDC, Gwinnett Medical, Atlantic Station, etc. People from our region are already driving there; lets give them an alternative.

It will also open up tens of thousands of decent-paying service and blue collar jobs in Gwinnett to many Athens citizens who cannot access them now because they don't have reliable transportation or $3 a gallon for gas.

retired_cowboy said...

I personally don't have a lot of reasons to go to Atlanta and don't really like Atlanta very much but a lot of people do so the train would probably be a success.

Will it be a financial success? That depends on how you define it. There was a great LTE in Sunday's AJC that made the point that all those highways are not "financial successes" if you hold them to the same standards to which people seem to want to hold the idea of the trains.

All transportation is potentially a huge but indirect economic development engine. Look at how this country has grown throughout history and you'll see that all the commerce and the cities developed along the transportation corridors of the day. Think about all our cities that began because they were located on navigable rivers. Remember that every time we build a new major road, commercial interests are soon built along them. I think most road projects come with a Waffle House and some gas station/convenience stores already mixed in with the pavement.

It is really short-sighted to say that the train will "fail" because it won't take people where they want to go. The desitinations will be built in conjunction with the transportation corridors.

In short, it's time to stop exempting ideas about more and larger roads from the equation of whether they will be a financial success just because we don't charge people to use most of them. Once you adjust your thinking to level the playing field then the trains, buses, trolleys, etc. all become pretty attractive.

As an aside, remember that Athens is also a desirable destination for Atlantans. It's not just a one-way thing.

Anonymous said...

I drive to the airport at least once a month, and sometimes it's two or three times. I would consider giving up a firstborn child for a reliable way to the airport where I could be reasonably certain about what time I was going to arrive. And given that I rarely will drive into Atlanta because the traffic terrifies me (I would choose LA traffice over Atlanta any day), train service would perhaps be one way to get me into the city more often to shop, eat, & take advantage of events going on there.

Anonymous said...

Making 316 a limited access road is a must. In its current state it is arguably little faster than driving north to jefferson or south to madison then to ATL. And this will only worsen as more traffic lights and more housing projects sprout up along the way. But, in my mind, this should be a separate issue from the train.

Patrick Armstrong said...

First of all, the change in cultural zeitgiest is already underway. Gasoline at $3 a gallon? I just got some pictures developed from last year. I know they were taken the day Rita hit Texas-Louisiana because four of 'em are of the long lines at the pump on Island City.

I'm with Fishplate: someone has to take the first step. I already know plenty of folks who are considering or who already do drive from the Athens area to Atlanta to work. That commute is ridiculous, and will only become moreso as gasoline costs continue to go up.

In addition, you have the airport traffic, which is pretty high volume in and of itself. I mean, how many folks have had to drive from Athens to Hartsfield to drop off/pick up friends from the plane?

This is an amazingly forward thinking plan that will pay for itself sooner rather than later.

Billy Merck said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

FYI: MARTA goes into North Fulton. It does not go into Cobb/Forsyth/Gwinnett

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

If you read the thing on the train on here a while back, then you already know that this is one of those rare areas where I just flat out disagree with my co-editor (respectfully, of course).

It will require something like the commuter rail line to change the zeitgeist (that or running completely bone-dry of oil, or gasoline costing $15.00/gallon). If the parenthetical events are the impetus, we will already be screwed, because it will be too late to make the necessary structurual changes to our society. We need to make them now. The whole zeitgeist thing is kind of a chicken or the egg thing: Did we design a society that requires car transportation because our individualist psyches make us love our cars, or do we love our cars because we've always lived in a car-driven society? I think it's a bit of both, but either way, if we wait for it to disappear of its own volition, it never will.

Second, on the train not going anywhere useful: to the extent that's true, it's the fault of MARTA (and those who oppose MARTA expansion). That's a separate issue, and I certainly agree that the intra-Atlanta area transportation system needs an overhaul. However, the commuter rail lines may likewise provide the impetus for that. And even if they do not, the currently planned system will take you from Athens to Midtown, Downtown, Buckhead, etc. In other words, the prime places that somebody in Athens is likely to have a job or need to do business in Atlanta. Again, if we're waiting for Atlanta to spontaneously fix its transportation problems before we do anything about regional transportation, we'll probably never get there.

Finally, in terms of the budgetary argument: The vast majority of the funding is coming from federal transportation bill money. We have to use this for transportation or not get it at all. So it's not really a valid argument to say we should save our bucks for healthcare, etc. I agree that those things are important, but there's no guarantee, nor is it even likely, that that is where the money would go if not on the train. Instead, it would likely go to some other transportation project in some other state. I'm saying let it come here. Perhaps that is the epitome of the pork-barrel mindset that many say is ruining the country, but I'm sorry; if it's good enough for a bridge to nowhere in Alaska or whatever other ridiculous example you want, then surely it's good enough for a commuter rail in Georgia that, in my view, is the first piece of the puzzle to planning our future transportation infrastructure.

Mike said...

In pre-Nationals Washington, DC, you could purchase a ticket for a relaxing one-hour train ride to a Baltimore Orioles game that dropped you off less than a hundred yards from the turnstiles. If I could catch a train here that let out right in front of Turner Field, I'd go to a helluva lot more Braves games. Ditto for stuff at the Dome/Philips Arena. The interminable Trail of Tears through Gwinnett has taken ballgames off the menu for us unless we set aside the whole day for it and plan it more than a week in advance.

Dawg Corleone said...

Right now, if you take public transportation to Turner Field you get: a Marta ride, a forced march through Underground Atlanta, and a seat on a bus, where you are audibly assaulted by a barbershop quartet (I guess they couldn't fine mimes).

What kind of dead-from-the-neck-up liberal utopian social engineering Birkenstock wearig Volvo driver dreamed up a public transportation system that doesn't go straight to and from the damned ball park?

Publius said...

DC, good to see you back, pal! I'll admit to being somewhat pro-barbershop quartet. I'm anti-mime, though.

I think I can answer your question. It wasn't a "dead-from-the-neck-up liberal utopian social engineering Birkenstock wearig Volvo driver" at all.

It was the Blackberry-toting, capitalism-uber-alles, Armani-wearing marketing guys, who want you to pump a little more money (beyond your tickets, hot dogs, nachos, and expensive beer) into the local economy by buying more crap at Underground. It's a pretty smart move, especially if you're bringing the kids to the game with you.

Publius said...

By the by, lots of you have jumped on me for my first reason, but I've yet to really see someone pop in and say:

1. There's plenty of dough in the state treasury to fully fund this and public education, health care, PeachCare, etc...


2. Ok, we don't have enough money to do that stuff too, but this is more imporant than schools, healthy kids, etc.

hillary said...

Why don't we pull a little money away from road widening? We can take our time to do this, after all.

As far as MARTA not being a workable public transit system, I beg to effing differ. Have you ever ridden it on a regular basis? Because I have, and it will get you damn near everywhere around the inside of the Atlanta perimeter for a pretty reasonable cost. It's not perfect, and many cities have better public transit, but it's not like it won't get you where you need to go. It's considerably better at that than the system in Athens.

Publius said...

Key words here being, "inside...the Atlanta Perimeter."

I got no problem with pulling money out of road-widening. And after you build that 20 miles of track, where will the next 20 miles come from? Knowing this legislature, it will come from schools, PeachCare, maybe HOPE, or any one of the other programs that folks like us support.

I'd love to have the choo-choo, and some of the comments here have convinced me that it might be helpful, after a decade or so to let the other pieces of the puzzle fall into place, and to make the system revenue neutral or positive (if that's possible). But this is a luxury that this state can't afford right now.

hillary said...

Key words here being, "inside...the Atlanta Perimeter."

Oh, I see. We should have MARTA cover the entire state? There's a lot of ground inside the perimeter, dude, and a lot of people live there. Also, Gwinnett County, for example, has its own public transit system, and I'm betting Cobb does too, now.

Does the money all have to come in at once?

Fishplate said...

1. There's plenty of dough in the state treasury to fully fund this and public education, health care, PeachCare, etc...

DiDDY addressed this point. It costs the state little to add transit, since 90% of the money is Federal, and can't be spent on PeachCare, etc. How many gallons of gasoline are sold in north Georgia each year? One or two cents per gallon, along with the money saved from not adding highway lanes, would put the costs on the people who are at the root of the problem.

Adrian said...

I like the question about the financial success of roads -- very good point.

Gwinnett and Cobb do have their own transit systems which connect to MARTA.

The reason that Georgia is so car-happy is that a lot of our growth happened during the country's suburbanization, after the automobile was popular. Older urban areas in the country developed before the automobile, so many of their highways and neighborhoods were established differently.

Anonymous said...

I think this train will help out a whole lot. This will decreased traffic a great dill, hwy 316 has had many accidents that caused many peoples life and not to mention the smog in the air from the automoblies . This train can benefit the people in several ways , with less smog in the air that benefits my health and my health is important. Gas is another issue it is almost at the point its too expensive to even drive. Athens has the largest university in Georgia and half of them are from the metro Atlanta area, with this train it could make it more convient for the students to travel , and save them from getting a DUI or their lifes, because of The University of Georgia's Repitation of Parting and high rates of DUI's . Please save the parents that phone call and the air for the health of the people.

Thank you,
Bryce Martin