|Atlanta traffic sucks.|
That said, I am also a proponent of effective and efficient mass transit. I live and work in one of the most-populous and geographically-dispersed metropolitan areas in the country - Atlanta, Georgia. With the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) coming in at 8,376 sq mi (21,694 sq km), Atlanta is larger than Rhode Island (1,213 sq mi), Delaware (2,026 sq mi), Connecticut (5,006 sq mi), Hawaii (6,459 sq mi), New Jersey (7,790 sq mi), and Massachusetts (8,262 sq mi). If one considers the Combined Statistical Area (CSA) at 10,494.03 sq mi (27,179.4 sq km) - the Atlanta MSA plus a few adjacent MSAs - we're also larger than New Hampshire (9,283 sq mi), Vermont, (9,615 sq mi), and Maryland (10,455 sq mi). Yet we have one of the worst mass-transit systems in the world, which contributes to some of the worst traffic in the US.
|Atlanta skyline as seen from the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport|
All this seems rather odd considering Atlanta's history revolves around being a transportation hub. Ever heard the old adage "All roads lead to Rome."? In modern aviation, it could almost be said "All flights lead to Atlanta." Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) is the busiest airport in the world...and one of the largest. Tens of thousands of people connect through ATL on a daily basis. On top of that, three major Interstates - I-75, I-85, and I-20 - connect in Atlanta. Lastly, Atlanta is also a major rail hub for the eastern US. If Atlanta is such a hotbed of transportation, why does its mass transit fail so badly?
What's the cause?
As with most things, there is no one single answer. Georgia is an odd state - we have more counties than any other state besides Texas. Georgia's counties have historically taken a relatively insular attitude when it comes to cooperation with their neighbors, which often leads to little-to-no cooperation on projects that might be mutually beneficial. Counties take a "go it alone" tack (with help from state and federal sources, of course), with any benefit ending at the county line.
Secondly, Atlanta is growing rapidly. So many people are moving to the area that it's difficult (if not impossible) to keep up with the pace of growth. The county in which I live is attracting so many people (due to its proximity to the mountains, large lake, and exceptional school system) that the school system is adding approximately 1,700 new students EVERY YEAR. This growth isn't centralized. There are no real population cores in the MSA/CSA any longer - everything is spread out.
This lack of centralized growth leads to an impracticality in using mass transit. As I've said, I live in the Atlanta MSA...but I'm in the northern suburbs. The closest rail station is nearly 25 miles away. If I have to go to Atlanta for anything...and if I'm going to have to drive 25 miles to get to the subway...why not just drive the rest of the way? Sure, the traffic is going to suck...but I have to sit in it anyway just to get to the rail station.
Thirdly, no one wants to pay for transportation. A recent survey from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicated that a large majority of people feel strongly about the need for transportation improvements, yet fewer than a third of respondents wanted to pay for them. I find that astonishing and more than a little maddening.
Last, and by no means least, is the specter of bigotry. (Note: I refuse to call it 'racism', because it's not. Look up the definition of 'racism' and you'll see that just about everyone is using it incorrectly, in my opinion.) During the 80s and 90s and into the 2000s, white professionals moved out to the suburbs and exurbs, leaving the inner-city areas predominately populated with a heavy minority contingent. The suburban counties didn't want to make it easy for the minorities to come out to the suburbs, so any initiative that would have expanded mass transit to the 'burbs was resoundingly defeated. Traffic continued (and continues) to worsen while Atlanta's mass transit remains moribund, at best.
While we're on the subject of how the suburban counties have handled transit, I must admit that I've felt less-than comfortable riding MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) at times. Even though law prevents it, and MARTA has their own law enforcement, there are still significant numbers of panhandlers riding the train, and they frequently harass people for handouts. Additionally, there are people that ignore the signs - WHICH ARE POSTED EVERYWHERE - that indicate it's against the rules to play music without headphones. I've had instances like this EVERY time I ride MARTA. I can understand why ridership is down...no one wants to be harassed on their ride. This needs to be fixed if anyone wants rapid transit to expand.
To be sure, there are many other problems afflicting transportation in the region - laws stipulating how MARTA spends its money, environmental concerns, NIMBYs, etc. - but those are the biggies as I see them.
Can it be fixed?
|Did I just invoke 'Hot Fuzz'?|
I don't like taxes any more than any other fiscal conservative...but I also understand the need to address these problems might require me to pay my share...and for others to pay their share. That goes for you, too, EV owners. Your cars tear up the road just as much as the rest of us with our internal combustion vehicles, so it's really not quite fair that you bypass the gas tax (which pays for road improvement/construction).
I also hope that any solution isn't Atlanta-centric, with Georgia's smaller cities (Augusta, Columbus, Savannah, Macon, etc.) "forgotten" while still helping to pay the tab for Atlanta's improvement. If we're all going to have skin in the game, there should be a payoff for all. There has long been talk of an interstate (I-14) linking Augusta, Macon, and Columbus...heading further west to Mississippi or Louisiana. This would allow east/west traffic to bypass Atlanta altogether, which could only help traffic in the Atlanta region.
I know that it's a problem that won't get fixed on its own - it'll only get worse as time goes by. If not us, who? If not now, when? Fix it.