MARTA’s Connect 400 survey is paltry, irresponsible

Today MARTA’s board will hear findings from the Connect 400 initiative. The study will present what they call the “Locally Preferred Alternative” for transit along the GA-400 corridor.

MARTA trainThe recommendation is for heavy rail. They want it built up the GA-400 right of way to Windward Parkway at an estimated capital cost of $2.6 billion.

I really wish I could be at the meeting today. No, I don’t want to speak out against heavy rail. I just want to see if these guys can make this suggestion and keep a straight face.

The study is making this recommendation after hearing from only 136 respondents. Somehow this miniscule sample size is enough to determine a local preference.

Let’s look at a few other recent public surveys to put this into perspective. Over 500 residents responded to the Highway 9 LCI study in Alpharetta and Milton. Approximately 400 responded to the survey for the Envision Main Street project.

Making changes to a few miles of Main Street is slightly less involved than bringing heavy rail to Windward. It’s probably on the magnitude of one one-thousandth the size actually. Yet Alpharetta managed to get more than double the number of respondents to their little study.

It’s laughable. MARTA representatives are willing to claim their have found the preference of north Fulton by talking to 136 people? Or was the decision preordained?

The study will hold only one additional public meeting before asking MARTA’s board for final approval. I’ll bet you a fist full of MARTA tokens that this meeting is scheduled during a weekday when typical working stiffs can’t come. Maybe it’ll be in the friendly confines of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. That’s where the only Connect 400 meeting in Alpharetta was held.

I’ve not seen an independent, scientific poll on heavy rail preferences in north Fulton. My guess is that support for the project would be pretty evenly split. It’s a polarizing issue. It’s also an important one. That’s why it’s irresponsible to present such a poorly executed study like Connect 400. MARTA’s board should reject the study and insist on a deeper and more exhaustive survey.

And regardless of your opinion of heavy rail in north Fulton, be sure to ask your local city and county officials what they think. Municipal elections are coming. Candidates squirm when asked about MARTA heavy rail. It’s fun to watch.

25 Responses to “MARTA’s Connect 400 survey is paltry, irresponsible”

  1. David August 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Just what the 400/Windward Parkway intersection needs…more traffic.

  2. Kim August 13, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    A survey on the Comprehensive Plan done by a local resident generated nearly 600 responses. In that survey, the responses are about evenly split. BUT when re-asked the question considering the consequences of heavy rail necessary to support it (much increased high density apartments and condos), support goes way down to 10-15%.

    Another interesting followup question to those who want MARTA is “would you regularly use it?” More often than not the answer is NO. A lot of people are hoping OTHERS will ride MARTA so their personal driving commute will be better. They also don’t consider the added traffic by all the added high density. See Dunwoody for reference. Compare/contrast before/after MARTA.

    Choose wisely.

  3. Em August 13, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    What’s your beef with bringing MARTA to Alpharetta? As someone who lives in Alpharetta works in Dunwoody, I would be *thrilled* if I had MARTA as an option to get to and from work every day. I know you’ve spoken against bringing MARTA to the northern suburbs for awhile, but I’ve never quite understood where you’re coming from.

  4. S Lee Guy August 13, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    I don’t have a problem with MARTA coming here. I have a problem with heavy/light rail expansion. It’s terribly expensive, especially to bring it here. There are no legacy rail tracks in north Fulton in which to leverage. The project would have to span the Chattahoochee River and Big Creek.

    Rail cannot support itself without tremendous subsidies from other taxpayers. And I don’t trust MARTA’s current leadership nor that of the alphabet soup of transportation agencies in metro Atlanta.

    And for heavy rail to be successful land use plans would have to change to urbanize the GA-400 corridor in order to provide very high office and residential densities. I don’t wish for this to happen to Alpharetta.

    Expansion of bus service would be a much better alternative.

  5. Em August 13, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    Thanks for the clarification. I am not opposed to more urbanization of the GA-400 corridor, but I also don’t know that it would be necessary to do so to support heavy rail. I don’t think that an expansion of bus service would accomplish what heavy rail would, and so I don’t view it as a viable alternative.

  6. Greg August 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    I’ve taken the MARTA bus from Windward to get on the train at North Springs, and it really isn’t a good solution. The problem is that you wait for the bus at Windward, then you wait again for the train at North Springs. If the “bus lanes” on 400 gave you a sizable speed benefit, it would be worth it, but they don’t. In the end, it took me 30 minutes longer to take the MARTA bus/train downtown than it takes me to drive the route.

  7. Kim August 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    Em,
    Yes higher densities would be needed. This is common practice. I just pulled up the first two entries in a google search.

    http://www.uctc.net/access/40/access40_transitanddensity.shtml

    http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/01/24/199726/if-you-want-heavy-rail-you-need-density/

    As someone who would never use it, I oppose my money going to subsidize other people’s rides. Charge the people who want to ride it the actual cost.

  8. Patricia H. August 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    …as a disclaimer, I’m a market researcher by trade and have no affiliation with MARTA. This is the first I’ve heard about the Heavy Rail plan actually…

    But from a research perspective, if you read through the Heavy Rail research plan (link below) the results of the survey are not being used to recommend whether or not heavy rail is installed or not. The survey was only used to cull down the number of potential route/station alternative, and the sample size is adequate for the objective of the study.

    There is another research phase to follow that will further investigate the short list of route alternatives that made it through this round of research. I’d assume that would be a broader, more robust survey.

    Heavy Rail Screening Plan: (http://itsmarta.com/uploadedFiles/About_MARTA/Planning/Northline_Ga_400_Corr/GA%20400%20Electronic%20Media%20Presentation%20-%20Winter%202012%20-%202013.pdf)

  9. Tom Miller August 13, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    To the average person who sits in traffic every day, the knee-jerk reaction is that a train will help traffic. A free train from the government is good, right? Well, not really, because of the strings attached.

    How much will the train reduce traffic? Not much. Mass transit advocates admit that only 5 to 8% of trips will use mass transit. That means 90%+ will still use cars. Why? The train may not go where you are going. Maybe the timing doesn’t match your needs or you are carrying materials. Only 5% to 8% live and work and have circumstances that allow mass transit.

    Then there is the cost. The Federal government does not give away free trains. The construction cost of an 11-mile rail line and train cars is $3 to 6 billion, and the cost has been rising much faster than inflation. Years ago the federal government paid 80% of the cost, but with the costs skyrocketing, the Feds want to see more “local commitment”, so Georgia would have to raises taxes to pay 50% to 80% of the capital cost. Should all state residents subsidize North Fulton’s 11-mile train line that only 5 to 8% of us will use? If not, who should pay the cost? The riders? Who should pay the annual subsidy, which is about 70% of the cost of the ride? The riders only pay 30% of the operating cost. Who will step up and say they want to pay for our train? I’ve not seen an advocate who wants to pay the bill.

    Finally, mass transit advocates say that the housing and job densities in North Fulton would have to be 10 times our current densities to have a well utilized train. Why such high densities? Since very few people will use the train, we have to have alot of people nearby so that 5% to 8% will fill a train every 10-15 minutes. Trains carry alot of people, and for such a huge expense, we need the densities that will fill the train.

    The North Fulton Comprehensive Transportation Plan is a good resource for anyone who wants to understand the issue better. The answer is that for North Fulton, new and wider roads will be much cheaper and help more people. It’s the right solution for where we live.

  10. Jim Gilvin August 14, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Patricia – I appreciate you taking the time to read that report but it is not the presentation that was given to the MARTA planning committee on Monday. I was at that meeting and the staffer actually claimed that 30 interviews with unidentified stakeholders along with 136 self selected responses to an online survey which was emailed to “business interests, elected officials and organized interest groups” during the Christmas holidays showed that the local community “overwhelmingly supports heavy rail”. And when pressed on the validity of that feedback she vigorously defended it.

    If MARTA wants to have an open public discussion about the need and desire for heavy rail stations in Alpharetta then I have no problem with that. But as far as I can tell not a single elected official in Alpharetta was contacted with the survey nor were we aware that they planned to recommend four heavy rail stations here until I saw it on twitter. For MARTA staff to claim that their pathetic outreach efforts are somehow legitimate and “everyone up here is aware” of a process that somehow managed to exclude the mayor and city council is farcical and close to being fraudulent.

  11. Patricia H. August 14, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Jim – Yikes! So much for defending the research… If they had done an actual random, representative sample then maybe, but either way they are using it/reporting it incorrectly. Shame on MARTA.

  12. Parker August 15, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    MARTA continues to demonstrate that they “just don’t get it”. They’re stuck in the same government bureaucracy mindset also seen at GDOT, as if they are beyond accountability. A recent audit showed that MARTA was paying bus drivers more in overtime than base salary. No management team in the private sector would last long with that type of performance. What is needed is to separate the concepts of mass transit from the reputation of MARTA.
    The answers you’ll get from northside residents are not the same for these two questions:
    Ask, “Do you want to see MARTA expand rail service to Alpharetta?” and you’ll get a lot of loud objections. Ask, “Would a well=designed and professionally operated mass transit system be beneficial to the area?” and you’ll get more support.

  13. Kim August 17, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Parker,
    It still begs the question, as Tom Miller pointed out, of who is stepping up to pay for it. Even if it is well-designed and professionally operated, it still costs big bucks for initial capital outlay and ongoing operational costs. I’m not willing to pay for something that I’ll never use or something that accommodates only 5-8% of the commuters, especially if it means densifying our area and creating more traffic. Doesn’t sound like a fiscally or morally responsible option to me.

  14. Parker August 18, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    @Kim – Let’s be realistic. We all pay for things that we don’t use. I’ve lived in north Fulton for almost 20 years and I have never called 911. Some of my taxes go to Grady hospital, but I have never been a patient there.
    ‘Public’ transportation serves those who don’t use because of who does. Most of the people who work in low wage service jobs around here cannot afford to live here. Many of them rely on public transportation to get to work. They clean the hotel rooms, cook in in the restaurants, and do thousands of other jobs that impact you and me every day.

  15. Kim August 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Yep, that’s pretty much the problem. Government is involved in all kinds of endeavors that it shouldn’t be involved in. And that is why we are in the fix we are in today with massive debt. Where do the goodies end? Basic economics says this is unsustainable.

    You should read Frederic Bastiat’s The Law sometime. It’s an old book that doesn’t get read in public schools anymore.

  16. Yong August 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    The cost of building heavy rail to Windward or Northpoint is high, but what’s the alternative? spending 40 minutes sitting in the traffic on 400 during rush hour which is getting longer every day? Why can’t I park my car at the train station? I would be happy to walk long distance to work. This is crippling the city and the economy around it. Tell me where I can do the survey.

  17. Yong August 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    I don’t know if this post will make it or not.

    “Mass transit advocates admit that only 5 to 8% of trips will use mass transit. ” Apparently they or you aren’t among the people who commute on 400. It took 30 mins to go from Mansel to North Spring. There are people standing on the train at 7:30 – it is pretty full. Why would you spend longer time in your car alone while not moving at all and burning non-renewable fuel? public transportation may not take you exactly to where you want to go. Some walking is good for your health and environment.

  18. Kim August 20, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    Portland’s Transit Halcyon Days
    http://www.newgeography.com/content/003849-portland-s-transit-halcyon-days

    See second comment and link regarding cost analysis.

    Yong, I am curious why you or anyone would move to Alpharetta if you found the transportation options did not suit you?

  19. Yong August 21, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Kim, when I first moved to Alpharetta it wasn’t this bad and it gets worse every day. I failed to understand the logic behind developing public transportation when you can. It is crime we are talking about? or property value? NYC is the example for the country.

  20. Yong August 21, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    btw, I would not move to Alpharetta today or would move out of Alpharetta if I have $ to do so.

  21. Yong August 22, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Georgia (I guess metro Atlanta) is the most expensive state to own a car:

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/100978251

  22. Yong August 22, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Georgia (I guess metro Atlanta) is the most expensive state to own a car if that helps the argument for more public transportation:

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/100978251

  23. Tom Miller August 25, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Yong,

    I appreciate your opinions that you’ll walk far to use mass transit and that a train would relieve traffic.

    The standard rule of thumb in mass transit is that riders will walk up to 0.5 mile to get to a bus stop or train station. The potential riders are within that zone. Therefore mass transit riders must live AND work within 0.5 miles of a node, and very few do. Maybe you are the exception that you will walk 2 or 3 miles to a bus stop.

    Yes, we pay taxes for things we don’t use. The problem here is the size of the subsidy: In rough numbers, a $30,000 per household cost to build the train and $350 per household every year to operate the train. That is the cost for every household in Fulton north of the river, not just the ones who use it. Would you pay that? Would you personally be able to use the train to commute to your job? That is do you live and work within 0.5 miles, and don’t have trips during the day?

    A few other points… the best chance of expanding MARTA in North Fulton is to pressure MARTA to use their existing revenues to cut bus service in Atlanta in order to expand bus and train in North Fulton. There are only four bus routes that go north of the river, so try to get our fair share of the subsidy dollars which now run buses and trains in Atlanta. With the high densities in Atlanta, those buses that are cut will displace more riders, but if the concern is our fair share of the subsidy, we do not get it now.

    If folks want mass transit for the environment, I have seen articles that driving a Prius is better than riding in a bus or train because the buses and trains run below capacity most of the time. Also trains are one of the highest cost per mile of any transportation.

    Given our densities in North Fulton, expanded buses and company van pools make sense, interconnected roads make sense, widening major roads makes sense. All of that could be done for much less money. Isn’t that what we all want, the most cost effective way to solve traffic?

  24. Kyle September 13, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Tom,
    The vast majority of Marta stations currently in the suburbs are served by commuters who drive their cars to the Marta station. North Springs, Chamblee, and other outlining Marta stations in Atlanta are good examples. I don’t think there would be any reasonable expectation that only people using the train would have to live within 0.5 miles from a station at Windward or Haynes Bridge.
    I would look to D.C. as a good example of how it could work here. The red line into Maryland (Silver Springs) serves the suburbs well, and in the 35 years the line has been there, high density commercial and residential has filled in around the stations, with the outlining areas retaining their suburban feel. The land around the stations became much more valuable because of the vicinity to the rail station, spurring the high density development. Schools in Silver Springs are some of the best in the country (unlike downtown D.C.).
    I know many people who live downtown Atlanta who would never drive to Alpharetta for a job, and I also know quite a few people who live in Alpharetta who would never drive downtown for a job. Employers look for large labor pools when considering where they will locate their offices, and I think heavy rail will benefit both the Alpharetta and downtown job markets because employers in both areas would instantly expand their labor pools.
    Yes, for people who don’t work downtown or buckhead, Marta is one hell of an expensive park and ride to the airport. Yes, if the Marta board works harder to privatize more of their operations (they are currently doing this for their para-transit service) and starts to shake their reputation as being a jobs program for the poor, they will get more credibility. They are implementing some of the recommendations from the KPMG audit performed on their operations a few years ago.

    I grew up in Alpharetta in the 80′s when it was a peaceful, leafy suburb, and driving across town was a breeze. It’s a completely different story now. People want more options to get around Atlanta, and buses are not it. Driving is stressful and unpleasant. I would rather get hassled by bums on the train than drive for 30+ minutes to get only 10 miles on GA 400. Buses are slower than cars but have the added disadvantage of having to compete with them in traffic to get anywhere. No wonder no one likes to ride buses. I think a rail line to windward would be a great amenity to those in Alpharetta and Roswell who want to take the train in to town, and would also make it a more marketable job center, which would in turn provide more jobs for all of Alpharetta residents.

    More growth is coming to Alpharetta whether we like it or not. It’s best to be prepared for it.

  25. Kyle September 13, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    A few more points-
    If you ever look to buy a home near a rail line around the country, you will notice that the home listing usually mentions it’s proximity to the rail line as a selling feature because it appeals to a wider spectrum of buyers. I would argue that home and land values within several miles of the potential rail stations would increase in value due to the desirability of being near a transit station (‘desirability’ being relative since not everyone would find it desirable). Even for people not wanting to sell their home and who currently drive to a local Alpharetta job, it adds Downtown Atlanta, Dunwoody, and Buckhead as potential job centers in the event they wanted to change jobs.

    As for crime being an issue, it’s very hard to get around in Alpharetta on foot so I don’t think criminals are going to ride the train up to Alpharetta and walk to our neighborhoods. Even if they break into our homes, they would need to carry their loot, and it would be difficult to get away from the crime scene and allude police without a car.

    I also don’t see the bums hanging out in Alpharetta either because there are no support systems up here for them and there is nowhere for them to go without a car. The suburban churches fund the soup kitchens and shelters down in the city, so that’s probably where the bums will stay. If Marta implements a variable fee schedule like DC and San Fransisco where the fare is based on how far you travel, it would be cost prohibitive for them to travel to the suburbs anyway.

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