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Number of the Month – Commute Times

Around the first of the month I publish the number of the month, a random bit of local trivia.

27.1 versus 29.1

The average travel time to work for Fulton County residents, 2009 versus 2000. Yes, it has gone down!

Figures from the 2010 census are slowing being released. Unfortunately commute times (or as the census calls it, “Mean Travel Time to Work”) isn’t out. Yet I did find this bit of information. The census bureau conducts yearly surveys that get rolled up into five year intervals. So from the years 2005 – 2009 the average commute time for Fulton County residents was 27.1 minutes. This figure is less than the 29.1 minutes Fulton commuters spent in 2000. I’ll post some other north metro counties below to see how they compare. As a general rule, commute times have remained flat or declined slightly over the last decade while populations have boomed.

Why do I bring this up? City and regional planners are considering drastic actions to tackle traffic. Those include spending billions on MARTA rail expansion and zoning for very high density. Perhaps we should keep this traffic statistic in mind before we dramatically alter the shape and character of the communities we love.

Commute Times - North Metro Atlanta

County 2005-2009 Commute Times 2000 Commute Times
Fulton 27.1 29.1
Forsyth 30.5 33.2
Cherokee 33.4 34.4
Cobb 29.8 31.3
Gwinnett 32.4 32.2

If You Build It, He Will Come

Did you hear that whisper? “If you build it, he will come.” A lot of powerful people claim they don’t hear the voice, suggesting that perhaps those who do might be a bit loony. Nevertheless, they are building it, and eventually he will come.

I wanted one followup to last week’s MARTA article. The Field of Dreams analogy was something I couldn’t pass up. In case you’re not a fan of baseball movies, allow me to hold your hand through this. The baseball diamond in the corn field is high density development. Shoeless Joe Jackson is MARTA and Kevin Costner is being played by the Alpharetta City Council. If you build high density along GA-400, MARTA will come (or at the least will be very interested in coming). That part really isn’t up for debate. Who is hearing and responding to the voices? That no one will admit to.

What I’d like to see is for Alpharetta to take a stand on MARTA and act on it. It might be like how they roll in Milton…

If You Don’t Build It, He Won’t Come – Milton

If you don’t build sewer in Milton, density won’t come. It’s something I’ve written about and generally disagree with. They don’t wish to have high or even medium density in most of their city. The best way to accomplish this goal is to starve the density by taking away a food source. No sewer; no density. Right or wrong, at least Milton has taken a clear stand and they’re working towards that stated mission.

I don’t see this happening in Alpharetta. Does the City Council wish to have MARTA’s north line extended to Alpharetta? It’s a simple question. If the answer is yes, then say it and continue fueling it with very high density along GA-400. If the answer is no then let’s starve MARTA of its sustenance. But most of all, take a clear and unequivocal stand on MARTA expansion before the voters. The time for pussyfooting is over.

As an aside, today the Alpharetta City Council will vote to submit multiple transportation projects totaling $145 million to the Atlanta Regional Commission. These projects may be included in a 2012 penny sales tax referendum. Buried in the list of projects is $2.4 million to purchase the land reserved in the North Point LCI for the MARTA station at GA-400 and Encore Parkway. Alpharetta is building it. Let’s just admit is already!

Photo Credit: Scott Ehardt

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

Transit in the Far-flung Burbs

This article in the AJC jumped out at me today…

http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-politics-elections/transit-beckons-in-far-571625.html

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently completed a “major study” on who takes transit and why. What’s the biggest finding, according to the AJC article? Transit trips in Metro Atlanta mostly happen in Dekalb and Fulton counties. 85% of them do. Imagine that! In a related study, Roots in Alpharetta has learned that 100% of MARTA’s trains exist in Fulton and Dekalb counties. Hey ARC… next time you commission a study on this, don’t hire Captain Obvious to grind the numbers.

The conclusion drawn from this study is that there is demand for transit in the burbs. I read the article three or four times through and I still don’t understand how they came to that conclusion based on the data. But nevertheless this is timely stuff. Recently the Georgia legislature voted to allow regions in Georgia to tax themselves for transit initiatives. Will this finally allow for trains in the burbs? Let’s hope not.

There are a lot of reasons we in the northern burbs are generally not in favor of mass transit. Usually the ITP folks will say it is based on race. Here on my blog I’m not afraid to point out bigotry in the burbs (here and here). I assure you, this isn’t one of those cases. Here are my reasons for not supporting mass transit in the burbs…

MARTA is a boondoggle. Its management and board are complete imbeciles. I have absolutely no confidence in their ability to run any organization, much less something as large as a transit authority. Even with a 1% sales tax and increased fares they still have trouble meeting operating costs. Sure, new transit in the burbs might not be run by MARTA. But given my observations, I have no faith that transit can be effectively managed here.

Building transit is capital intensive. A lot of MARTA’s current infrastructure was built on Atlanta’s existing rail lines. That was a smart move. But in our suburb this isn’t possible. There are zero miles of existing train track in North Fulton and Forsyth. Absolutely none. Gwinnett and Cobb are a little different though. But nevertheless I don’t think residents here would approve of additional taxes for this. Remember, we’re in the reddest part of this red state.

And lastly, we have cars here… lots of very nice fancy cars. The study finds that 40% of MARTA riders have no car. Alpharetta is an affluent place. I don’t know many people without a ride. As one of my twitter friends mentioned once… his SUV had more passengers than a MARTA bus he observed going down Windward Parkway.

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