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A “Conspiracy” to Bring MARTA to Alpharetta?

Bust out your tinfoil hats and call Fox Mulder. There’s talk of a conspiracy and I’m not about to let this one get away without an article or two.

And I use the word “conspiracy” in quotes because it isn’t my choice of words. These are the words former Alpharetta councilman John Monson used in a comment over on The Patch. Monson says…

I do wish to say the reference to some “conspiracy” for the City to “bring MARTA to Alpharetta” by approving the MetLife project is completely unfounded.

Do I believe the MetLife/Peridot mixed use project was part of a conspiracy to bring MARTA to Alpharetta? No. On the contrary. I believe Peridot is part of a larger game plan to bring us MARTA high speed rail. It is not a conspiracy because it is being conducted out in the open for all to see. The problem is that not many are paying attention. Follow me on the story, as I see it.

MARTA’s North Line Study

Blogger Jimmy Gilvin leads a wild and crazy life. Nothing excites him more than wallowing in the appendices of MARTA documents; what might be the cure to insomnia for most. Jimmy, you need to get out more often my friend.

Nevertheless, Jimmy found a gem and reported on it back in February. MARTA has been interested in extending the north rail line past its current end at the North Springs station. That interest goes way back to 2000. Several years later they formed the North Line Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Study. Jimmy referenced the appendix A document which contains minutes from meetings held in and around Alpharetta in the latter half of 2006. In the meetings they talk of several “TOD” sites, all along the major exits of GA-400. The crown jewel TOD site would be at North Point Mall.

The minutes suggest that “developers should be incentivised to concentrate development and create higher densities.” They call for the TOD study areas to become LCI’s (a GRTA term for “livable centers initiative”), stating that “GRTA has experience with getting land use in place before land use will support transit options.”

The minutes also say that projects “need a local champion.” That one puzzled me a bit. I don’t see elected officials in Alpharetta wearing the hat of MARTA champion. Diane Wheeler of the City of Alpharetta was in on some of the meetings, but I don’t think she’s the official champion. No, the MARTA champion came in the form of…

The North Fulton CID

If you’re not familiar with the North Fulton CID (Community Improvement District), let me explain. This is a self-funded group of property owners in north Fulton. Most of them are large office and retail real estate owners. For example, MetLife’s Paul Folger is on the board. More on Mr. Folger later. Some of the CID’s more visible projects include the pretty landscaping currently being installed at Windward and GA-400.

But… not many months following MARTA’s completion of the North Line TOD Study, the North Fulton CID released their Blueprint North Fulton Document. In it they call for three nodes or “activity centers” along GA-400 at Haynes Bridge, Old Milton and Windward. Humm, sounds a lot like the TOD areas. These areas are there to “encourage developers” and city planners. There is talk of creating “mixed-use village centers” to “support an extension of transit from the North Springs MARTA station.” This blueprint document leads to the creation of…

The North Point Activity Center LCI

In April 2008 the Alpharetta City Council unanimously approved plans for this LCI. Its model is nearly identical to that proposed by the CID. The diagram used by the city is almost a straight copy/paste from the CID’s document. The only major difference I can find is that the city actually draws in the MARTA line and its station near Center Bridge Road and GA-400.

So if you’re scoring at home… we go from MARTA’s transit orientated development (TOD) area to the CID’s “Activity Center” concept to an LCI plan incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan. That brings us all the way back to…

MetLife/Peridot

Was the Peridot project a conspiracy? No. It was just another piece of a puzzle that’s been building for five years. Now that the MetLife puzzle piece is in place, the picture is starting to emerge.

What about this conspiracy-sounding quote from Mark McKean in the AJC?

Alpharetta is probably the only city in the country where a developer walks into the Community Development Department requesting a simple stream variance, and he leaves with the promise to push through zoning for a high density, mixed-use project.

Remember that Paul Folger of MetLife sits on the board of the North Fulton CID. I seriously doubt he’s so naive as to not understand the long-laid plans that effected his property. Perhaps I am wrong.

Nevertheless, I believe it is in the best political interest of the Alpharetta City Council to let these plans continue to fly under the radar. As Jimmy put it … “Alpharettans are too busy raising their families and struggling to keep their heads above water to notice.” With campaigns about to gear up in Alpharetta this year, will voters make this an issue? I’d imagine a few local bloggers will.

Photo Credit: Drvec

The GA 400 Groundhog and Temporary Government Programs

The closest thing to eternal life on earth is a temporary government program.

-Ronald Reagan

I posted this quote as a comment to a blog post by Jim Gilvin. If you’re not familiar with Jim, you should be. I like his blog and twitter posts. And I may not have that Reagan quote exactly right, but you get the idea.

In case you haven’t heard… the GA-400 groundhog woke up today after a long hibernation. He most certainly did see his shadow. Ten more years of tolls on GA-400. Thanks Sonny Perdue. Now I don’t feel so bad about voting for your Libertarian opponent in 2006.

Getting back to the quote… There is no such thing as temporary in government. Red state, blue state, it doesn’t matter. We’re in the reddest part of this very red state and it still doesn’t matter.

I think in reality residents in the northern burbs had already resigned to this fact. The toll wasn’t going to go away. And in the big scheme of things, it isn’t huge. I probably toss my two quarters in there once a month on average. But to residents up here, it is the principle of the matter.

The GA 400 toll reminds me of SPLOST taxes. They are billed as temporary or something the voters have to renew through the ballot box. They pay for important stuff like roads and schools but in reality they often don’t. They can pay for debt on bonds, and those bonds pay for the stuff we want. In the case of GA 400, sure we paid off the bonds, but past governors (Roy Barnes in particular) raided these funds for other projects. Voters can demand that a tax revenue stream cease, but the money for debt servicing still has to come from somewhere. There is no temporary. Cha ching!

The Four-Way Stop, Merging onto GA-400 and Courtesy in Traffic

Something that has always puzzled me about Atlanta traffic is how we are courteous when we shouldn’t be and rude when we should be courteous. Here is how I see this paradox manifest itself.

The Four Way Stop

“It is your turn to drive to lunch,” I say to my co-worker as we leave our cubicles and head toward the parking lot. “Nope. There are four way stops on the way to that restaurant. You’re driving.”

Yeah, I have co-workers who are deliberate in avoiding four way stops. I can sorta understand this. The four way stop is perhaps the worst traffic control device ever. The idea is simple; first to the intersection is the first to go through. Ties go to the person on the right. The problem with four way stops is that people are too damn nice! Often I find that the first person will kindly wave another driver through, out of turn. This creates confusion because that driver is following the rules and is waiting. There is a hesitation. Eventually the friendly driver starts to timidly enter the intersection at the same time the other driver races into it. They both stop and say four letter words to themselves. Meanwhile traffic is backing up behind them.

Merging onto GA-400

Contrast this to merging onto the highway during a busy time. There is no room for courtesy here. If traffic is moving at all, people will speed up to close gaps so you can’t merge. Other times a merge lane is hopelessly crowded such that traffic is backing up onto surface streets.

In traffic there is a time for courtesy and there is a time for being expeditious. Know when to do each! Four way stops are simple. Keep alert for other drivers, knowing when they stop. Look out for hidden Milton PD as well (they love to prowl four way stops). If none are present and you’re first, then Cali stop and take off! Also keep in mind that two drivers can be in the intersection at the same time if they are not crossing paths. Don’t hesitate, be confident and clear your car through these fast! Save your kind deeds for the merging madness.

Beating Atlanta Traffic

I wish I had a silver bullet I could share, or some unheard of trick to beating traffic. I don’t. So the subject of this post is a little of a misnomer I guess. Maybe these are just general observations I’ve made after living here for a dozen years.

GA-400

I used to commute down 400 in a previous life/job. I believe the traffic situation here is a lot better than it used to be. That’s probably not a comfort to those fighting it these days. The widening effort of a few years ago has helped, but I think it just moved the bottleneck from Haynes Bridge north to McFarland.  In cases of major backup, GA-9 can be an alternative for limited distances.

Traffic Reports on the Radio

Practically worthless. Unless there is a traffic catastrophe, you’re better off tuning out Captain Herb et al. I’d suggest checking the Georgia Navigator website before you hit the interstates. Leave the radio off or put on something soothing to calm your road-raged nerves.

MARTA

More worthless than the traffic reports. Suburbanites know how much of a time killer MARTA truly is. And on top of that, we would never go sans auto for the entire day!

The most ridiculous part of MARTA is these park and ride lots. What a waste of real estate. So I’m supposed to get in my car, fight traffic to the Windward lot, get out and wait, hop a bus to North Springs, wait, then get on a train which will only take me most of the way to work? I don’t think so. MARTA ain’t smarta, its just plain stupid.

Surface Streets

Do not underestimate the amount of traffic you’ll face once leaving GA-400. I find this particularly true in Forsyth County where the number of four lane roads is very small. Forsyth is probably fifteen years behind north Fulton on road building and widening efforts.

Surface streets always broke up the monotony for me. It was like a game trying to find the quickest path from home to GA-400. My tip here is to look for “No Thru Trucks” signs. These signs should really say “hidden two lane road that leads somewhere else”.

Schools

Everyone knows traffic lets up in the summertime once school gets out. That first Monday of the summer break is beautiful. It is like Moses parting the GA-400 traffic. Speed limit drives in the morning! Hallelujah!

Watch the schools on the surface streets. You don’t want to be driving through active school zones. This is especially true on rainy days when every SUV in the county is waiting to turn left into the one school on your commute. If necessary, adjust your commute times to avoid schools.

East/West Commutes

I’m amazed at how many people commute east/west across the northern burbs. I work with a lot of people who live in Gwinnett or Cherokee and commute to Alpharetta. My best advice here is to watch the river! There are a limited number of places to cross the Chattahoochee River, many of which are still two lane roads. The “No Thru Trucks” trick ain’t gonna help you here! My advice… cross the river as far to the south as you can.

Best Way to Win is Not to Play

Beating Atlanta’s traffic is a myth. The best you can really hope for is to break up the monotony. My advice it to simply reduce or eliminate your commute all together. Easier said than done? Not really. I mentioned in a previous post that we choose where we live and we choose where we work. Don’t choose to have those far apart! If you think you’ve found the ideal location for work, then move closer. I live five miles from my Windward office and I love it! On the other hand, my father-in-law has worked for the same company in Lawrenceville for twenty years. He has commuted from Conyers, on surface roads, that entire time. This takes a tremendous toll after a while and I don’t know why we continue with it.

If you think you’ll be switching jobs every few years but will remain in Atlanta, you should live in Dunwoody or Sandy Springs. I believe this is the ideal spot for commuting. You’re within easy reach of downtown, midtown, Cobb, Gwinnett or North Fulton.

If you’re gonna move based on commute, do your homework! My wife and I once considered a neighborhood on McGinnis Ferry road. On the weekend we were house hunting, it seemed like a great location. Then I thought about 5:00 traffic. Turning left out of this neighborhood was impossible at rush hour. Before you get any house under contract, go visit the neighborhood during the morning commute!

Move Your Commute Times

Most companies that are even mildly progressive with their employee relations will let you adjust work hours. If you cannot move your job or home, this is your best alternative. Hitting GA-400 before sunrise, and again at 3:00 or so will all but insure you a speed limit drive. If this gets to be too much, then fall back to a more normal 8-to-5 commute once school lets out. Combine this with a semi-regular work-from-home regiment for maximum traffic busting!

I Can’t Drive 85

The new year marks the start of the Super Speeder Law. If you’re like me, you didn’t know anything about this until Governor Sonny Perdue appeared on the radio. In his Gomer Pyle-like voice, Perdue outlined the terms of the new law. Going 85 mph will tack on an additional $200 fine. This is on top of whatever fine the local municipality hits you with. The bill will come in the mail from the state at some point after the ticket.

The Alpharetta Autobahn

This law is of particular interest to those of us traveling on GA-400 everyday. Finding drivers going 85 mph on 400 is commonplace. This is especially true in Sandy Springs and Roswell, between exits 5 and 7. I welcome the new deterrence to driving this fast.

“He’s in Pieces”

If you need an example of why this law is needed, check out this gruesome example. A little more than a year ago, someone managed to get their Hyundai Sante Fe up to about 120 mph on GA-400. Fortunately he missed everyone else, taking only himself out of the gene pool in dramatic fashion.

Okay, I shouldn’t make fun of this fella’s misfortune. But my family travels on GA-400 everyday. The fewer drivers like this guy on the road the better.

Will the law make a difference? Hard to tell. My father used to say that only swift and certain punishment will make someone change their ways. But the threat of an extra $200 may not make a difference to someone living in an affluent burb. I suppose if it eliminates just one catastrophe on GA-400 then it’s all worth it. I just don’t expect the insane driving on this road to end anytime soon.

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