What is the purpose of MARTA stations? I clearly have the wrong idea about how the MARTA system was supposed to work. I was thinking that these stations were intended to make it easy to get around Atlanta without a car. Obviously, I am way off the mark with that thought. Because, in order for stations to be convenient for pedestrians, they need to be located in walkable areas and they need to be designed in such a way that they are easy to approach on foot.
If you have used rail systems in other American cities (for instance, Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, etc.), it is apparent that a lot of thought went into how pedestrians will interact with the stations and how pedestrians will access the surrounding areas. Because of this, those cities have transit stations with small footprints, located in areas of the city where walking is not an extreme sport. Below are some images of properly designed transit station entrances. Notice that they are all small and very unobtrusive.
Locust Street in Philadelphia, PA
6th Avenue and 14th Street Subway Entrance in NYC.
Dupont Circle METRO entrance in Washington D.C.
What do we get in Atlanta? For some reason the station designers back in the early days of MARTA thought that we needed giant bunkers and block-sized compounds for transit stations. Take a look at Arts Center Station below. This station is located in one of the most walkable areas of Atlanta, yet it was decided that an entire block of prime real estate is required to get passengers onto an underground train.
Arts Center MARTA Station, Midtown, Atlanta
Unfortunately, this is actually one of the more pedestrian friendly MARTA stations in Atlanta. I’ve spent a lot of time riding MARTA and have visited nearly every station personally. What I’ve noticed is that only a handful of stations are even designed for pedestrian access. The vast majority of stations are meant to accommodate cars. I know that seems weird, but it’s true. The MARTA rail stations are much more accepting of individuals arriving by car than by foot. I suppose the idea was for these stations to act as suburban hubs where people would transition between their autos and transit. But most of these stations aren’t in the suburbs. Some are less than a mile from the state capitol. Check out these stations below. Notice how they are surrounded by trees and parking lots. They are not easily accessed on foot.
Plenty of Parking at East Lake MARTA
Plenty of Parking at Edgewood
Medical Center Station
King Memorial Station. Great access for the dead, not so much for pedestrians.
Oakland City Station.
Sandy Springs Station. At least this one has a taxi stand, because walking around here sucks.
It’s not all bad though. Some MARTA stations are OK. Some are located in pedestrian areas, and a couple even resemble the simple easy access stations like those from DC, Philly, and NY. Check out some of the better MARTA station examples below.
Hey check it out! A MARTA station in a walkable area that is small and unobtrusive (Peachtree Center Station). That’s what I’m talking about! To make this image even more attractive, pretend that there are crosswalks here.
Check out the MARTA station in Decatur above. It’s pretty hard to see because it doesn’t occupy an entire block. It fits right in with its surroundings. Decatur is a great walkable area with easy access to rail transit.
Above is Midtown station. It’s not the best design. It’s too big and surrounded by roads that are very inhospitable to pedestrians. But it is near actual stuff so that makes it one of the better MARTA stations. We have pretty low standards here.
So Atlanta doesn’t have many stations that are truly small, unobtrusive, and in walkable areas. Of the 38 total MARTA stations, there are only 8 that I would considered to be a ‘Good’ design. That leaves 30 stations with Bad design or merely OK design. I took a quick survey of all the MARTA stations and tried to determine which ones are Good, OK, or Bad. I’ve posted that very quick survey below along with a Google Maps link to each station as well as the walk score for each station as a quick reference for each station’s walkability. Please keep in mind that this “study” is very subjective and represents my own very uneducated opinion.
Good MARTA Stations
(These stations are designed reasonably well and are located in walkable areas.)
OK Marta Stations
(These stations contain SOME of the characteristics of a well designed station.)
Arts Center 88, (What is up with the crazy unwalkable design. It could have been so much better.)
Ashby 58, (Low density area. Can’t blame that on MARTA. But building a giant parking lot on the site doesn’t help things either.)
Vine City 65, (The area is very low density, can’t blame that on MARTA. The Georgia Dome and GWCC screw up this neighborhood.)
Lindbergh 66, (The Transit Oriented Development around here is nice, but it feels like window dressing to me. Once you walk out towards Piedmont Ave., you realize that you are a pedestrian stranded in a car desert)
Bad MARTA Stations
(These stations give little or no thought to pedestrian access.)
West End 85, (Why the fencing and the difficult entry?)
I didn’t write this just to bash MARTA, even though that is Atlanta’s favorite pastime. These stations were designed years ago, in a very different era. The current regime at MARTA had nothing to do with making these decisions, and I don’t really know what MARTA can do about it at this point. I write this to point out a couple of things.
1) MARTA never really had a chance at being an effective conveyance for car-free individuals within the city. The stations are too far apart. The stations are too big, and only a very small handful of stations are actually designed reasonably well AND are located in walkable areas. The vast majority of stations are built for car drivers. It was like MARTA was intended to be a crutch for motorists who didn’t want to deal with downtown parking. Well that problem was eventually solved by simply bulldozing most of downtown to build more parking lots.
2) The City of Atlanta needs a true intra-city, light rail, transit system. The handful of urban MARTA stations do not get the job done. They were designed for regional travel, not local travel. Having MARTA heavy rail without light rail is like having an interstate without having local roads. There are enough residents in Atlanta to support a system with more stations and more local service. It is my hope that the downtown streetcar will start to fill that need.
In other random news…