Neighborhood Improvement Outlaw

1 Nov

A guy from Dallas, TX (a city very similar to my Atlanta) wants to make his neighborhood a better place to live.  It turns out that it is illegal to make nice neighborhoods in Dallas.  This guy doesn’t care.  He breaks all the rules, and it works!  

Watch thTED Talk  linked below.  It is worth the 18 minutes.

Originally seen here: UrbanVelo.


Police Think We (Cyclists) Are Pedestrians

25 Oct

You know how some business hire police officers to direct traffic in and out of their parking lots during busy traffic times?  Well yesterday, I was visiting such a business on my bicycle.  While I was inside, I noticed that every time someone tried to leave the business in a car, a police officer would walk out into the middle of Peachtree Street and block all four lanes of traffic so that the car could enter the roadway.  I see this all the time in Atlanta and didn’t think much of it.

Well now it is my turn to leave.  I hop on my bike, cruise up to the edge of the street, signal a left turn, and wait… and wait… and wait…

Traffic is miserable (I think Paul Ryan was in town or something), there is no way that I’m getting into Peachtree Street without a little help.  That’s when I look over to the police officer and ask him for a hand.

[Paraphrasing] He says “No, you are on your own.”  This doesn’t surprise me, but it does pique my curiosity.  I’m in no hurry, so I dismount and walk over to the officer and ask him why he can’t help me.

He says, “Because you are on a bike.”

I say, “So, what difference does that make?”

He says, “If you were in a car, it would be different.”

I ask, “How so?”

He says, “If I helped you into the street, and you got hit, then I would be held liable?”

I said, “But if I was in a car or on a motorcycle, you wouldn’t be held liable?”

He says, “I don’t know, I can’t help pedestrians cross the street.”

I say, “I have to follow all the same rules as a car, and it is seems stupid to me that I wouldn’t be given the same treatment as a car in this case.  Especially considering that I am much more vulnerable than someone in a car.”  It really irritates me to have to explain the law to a police officer, but he was being friendly, so I tried not to get riled up.

He says, “Sorry, I can’t help you.  I wish I could. It’s policy.”

I say, “I know you don’t make the policies, but if that is the actual policy, then it is absolutely stupid.  Is there something I can do to get that policy changed?”  I tried not to be a prick, but I did want him to consider the absurdity of that policy (I highly doubt any such policy exists.)

At this point, he was getting a little tired of answering my questions.  He walk into Peachtree Street stops all four lanes of traffic and lets me through.  It was awesome.

I thanked him as I rolled past.  I hope I didn’t come off as too much of a jerk.  He has a very difficult job, and I didn’t want to show any disrespect, but it is crazy that bicyclists are asked to follow the same rules as motorists, but aren’t given the same assistance is situations like this.

I know cyclists are guilty of riding on sidewalks, going the wrong way in traffic, blowing past stop signs and a host of other bad behavior.  But I almost never do any of those things.  I try to behave as any other vehicle on the road, and I expect to be treated as such.  Anyway, it was a small victory.

My next challenge…Getting service at a Drive-Thru.  Seriously, if McDonald’s closes their dining room at midnight, purchasing a $10,000 car suddenly becomes a prerequisite for ordering a delicious McDouble.  That doesn’t seem right.

Cyclists! Stand Up and Be Counted!

21 Oct


A great new app is now available for bicyclists in Atlanta.  It is called Cycle Atlanta.  This isn’t just another bicycle route tracker.  This app gets bicycle lanes built and infrastructure funded.  It does that by providing hard data to city planners and politicians about WHERE cyclists travel, WHEN they travel, and WHY they travel.

When planners and bicycle advocates go to City Hall and Capitol Hill, this data will make it much easier for them to persuade law makers to fund infrastructure. It will also help city planners build the infrastructure that is most needed in Atlanta and build it in the most effective locations.

How can you help?  Download this app (available for both iPhone and Android). Downloading this app will allow you to record any bicycle trip you make and send that trip data to the Georgia Tech researchers managing Cycle Atlanta.

The app is very simple to use. The first screen that you see has a large button on top to Start Trip! (As well as a list of previous trips that you have submitted.) Then you just ride.

As you ride your path is recorded and statistics about speed are displayed to the user. I suppose if you had a mount on your bike you could watch this live. I’m not sure that I would recommend that. I just keep my phone in my pocket.

When your trip is over, hit finish and you will see the following menu. Here you can tell the planners what sort of trip you were taking (Shopping, Work, Social, etc.) and you can even leave comments about the trip. I have used this comment field to suggest locations for bike lanes and report intersections where the induction loops do not detect bicycles.

Finally, your trip map is shown to you with some basic statistics and the points where your location was recorded. This is the exact sort of information that can really improve cycling routes in Atlanta. For instance, look at the map below. Notice that I took a very indirect path between by origin (green thumbtack) and destination (purple thumbtack). This is not the route that I wanted to take.  It was the shortest route that I deemed acceptably safe. I left a comment to this effect for the planners.

Anyone who cycles in Atlanta should download this app. The more people that use this app, the easier it will be to find funding for bicyclists and the more information planners will have about where to build infrastructure.

Let the planners know that you are out there on your bike.  Millions upon millions of dollars are spent planning for automobile traffic.  This app levels the playing field a bit.  By crowd-sourcing this information, bicyclists don’t necessarily need the million-dollar studies to build proper infrastructure.  It lets us actively participate in the planning process by telling the planners and politicians exactly where we go and exactly what we need to improve our experience.  

Cyclists, download this app. Use it.  Stand up and be counted!

In other awesome news:  MARTA has opened up its schedule data and real-time data to the public.  Expect many awesome apps coming to Atlanta very soon.

Cycling in Atlanta is Moving Forward

17 Oct

Friday marked the ribbon cutting for the 5th Street and West Peachtree intersection improvements for cyclists.

The improvements will make it easier for cyclists to continue eastbound on 5th Street without having to illegally ride on the sidewalk as well as make it possible for cyclists to travel westbound across West Peachtree Street without exiting the bike lane.

While this may seem like a small step (and it is), I find it very exciting for two reasons. 1) It is the most innovative and advanced bike lane in Atlanta and 2) the ribbon cutting ceremony demonstrated to me that bicycling in Atlanta is moving beyond a fringe group of enthusiasts and into mainstream, accepted culture.

1) What makes this bike lane special?

In the global view of bicycling, this lane is nothing major. But in the context of Atlanta, it is a significant step forward for bicycling. It is the first bike crossing in the city (at least that I know of) to include crossing buttons specifically for cyclists. Previously, cyclists would have to hope that a car would come along to flip the induction loop sensor or they would have to dismount their bikes and walk over to a pedestrian crossing button. Thanks Atlanta for recognizing this issue and installing this button. Waiting at a light that never changes is a very frustrating experience.

Additionaly, we have colored lanes for added visibility, (the first that I have noticed around the city) and we have a contraflow bike path adjacent to the road to help bikers avoid having to illegally maneuver along the sidewalk with pedestrians. In the past, I felt like city planners were content giving bikers options that were “good enough”, but this project demonstrates a clear consideration for specific needs of bikers and meets those needs.

See the images below for a diagram of the project and a few photos. Click the pictures to enlarge them.

Diagram of Bike Lane [Top of Map Points West]Fancy Copenhagen Left with Crossing Button for Cyclists 

Bicycle Ramp: Eastbound Towards West Peachtree Street

Contraflow Bike Lane Along W. Peachtree Sidewalk

2) Look who showed up.

The second reason that I am excited about this lane, is the large political support behind it. Biking in a Atlanta can be a lonely experience at times. It is easy to feel like you do not belong here and that you are some crazy weirdo for trying to ride a bicycle 2 miles to pickup bread instead of using a 2 ton vehicle for that purpose.

The ribbon-cutting for this bike lane showed me that is changing in Atlanta. It was awesome to see the turnout for this event. More than 100 attendees shows up to hear Mayor Kasim Reed, Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson, Atlanta Bike Coalition Executive Director Rebecca Serna and others sing the praises of cycling in Atlanta and promise to advance the cause of cycling in this great city. It was awesome.

See a few pictures of the ceremony below. It was a good day for Atlanta.

That reminds me. It’s time to renew by ABC membership.

Mayor Kasim Reed

George Tech President Bud Peterson “Bicyle lanes are cheaper to build than roads and highways.”

Ribbon Cutting from

Just for fun. My bicycle parked inside city hall. One minute bicyclists are outcasts, the next we are at city hall.

Up next, Cycle Atlanta, an app to help city planners determine where cyclists are going and help build infrastructure to meet their needs. More cool stuff!

Cycle Atlanta

What will Atlanta look like if the T-SPLOST passes?

30 Jul

Click the map below for a cool Prezi presentation of what the T-SPLOST will do for transit in Atlanta.

T-SPLOST Debate: Should we plan for 5 years or 50 years?

29 Jul

A couple of weeks back, WABE held a T-SPLOST debate.  I watched it a few times, typed up a rough response, basically just to air out much of the bias and misinformation given by the anti-SPLOST representative.  I wasn’t sure whether or not this was worthy of a post, but after watching a couple more times, I figured, why not.  

Click HERE to View the T-SPLOST debate hosted by WABE.

The video above is a debate hosted by WABE on the upcoming July 31st T-SPLOST vote.  If you are unfamiliar with the T-SPLOST vote and live in the metropolitan Atlanta area, please read up a bit on it as this upcoming vote could have a dramatic impact on the future of our region. is a good starting place.

This debate is moderated by Charles Edwards of WABE and the topic is whether to vote YES or NO on July 31.

My point-by-point breakdown of this debate:  All of my comments are shown in green.

Opening Statements:

Dickerson, 2:27 – Transportation is the biggest impediment to growth in metro Atlanta.

Brown, 4:20  –  The chosen list of projects is a problem. The list does not relieve traffic congestion. Transit is not economical and not fully funded.  Operations and maintenance are not covered. We should come back in two years and build a better list.

Having lived in Georgia for my entire life and in Atlanta for the last 11 years, I can tell you that there is no way that we are coming back in two years to create a new list of projects.  And even if by some miracle we did reconvene in two years, the project list would be basically the same.   This list represents a compromise from representatives of all ten affected counties.  If any more transit was involved, the more rural and suburban areas would balk, and if there was any less transit, the city folk wouldn’t go for it.  So this is the list; there will likely be no second time around.  At least not for many years.  

End of Opening Statements, Begin Questions:

Question, 15:00 – Do corporations consider traffic when they think of moving their businesses here?

Dickerson – Yes, we’ve lost hundreds of jobs.  I really wish Mr. Dickerson had provided a concrete list of companies that chose not to come to Atlanta because of transportation infrastructure.  It would have given his argument more strength.  

Brown – Yes. We need to improve our road network instead of wasting money on transit with its low and declining ridership.  OK, transit ridership is low.  Guess what, we have very limited transit infrastructure.  We only have two real rail lines, North/South and East/West, plus a couple of small offshoots.  How can people use something that barely exists?  Arguing that few people use transit when the opportunity to use transit is so very low does not make sense.  On his statement that transit ridership decreasing, I have three thoughts:  1)  Ridership has decreased as service is cut back.  MARTA offers fewer routes and less frequent buses and voila, ridership goes down.  That is not a shock.  2) Transit ridership nationally is up, especially among young people under 35 years of age.  If you want to attract young people to your city, you better get with the program; and 3)  Guess what else is down; automobile use.  It’s the economy, stupid.  Automobile use is down, yet I don’t hear anyone clamoring to cut the highway budget.

Brown continues – People are moving to the suburbs to avoid traffic. Water is more important than traffic, so we should try to fix the water situation. Schools are bad in the city, so fix those before worrying about transportation.  Also, quality of life is bad in the city.  This is the reason that one company from China chose to build a plant in Peachtree City, GA instead of San Francisco, CA.  Quality of life is higher in Peachtree City, GA than San Francisco despite San Francisco having BART.  OK – where do I begin? First of all, I agree that the source of future water is a problem and the schools can be bad (Although to say that all in-town schools are bad is a blatant lie.)  What does water have to do with this?  Saying we shouldn’t fix the transportation situation because there is a water problem is like saying I didn’t go to the doctor about that rash because I had a toothache.  They are both problems that need addressing separately.  By the way, do you know where school funding comes from?  Property tax.  Do you know what raises property values?  Available transit.  It’s like a win-win.   

Now onto this manufacturing company that chose to move to Peachtree City over San Francisco.  First off, I have to assume that the company wasn’t actually considering downtown San Francisco because there just isn’t any room there for large manufacturing plants.  Also, BART doesn’t serve most of San Francisco.  San Francisco is served by the Muni and BART serves the Bay Area (hence Bay Area Rapid Transit).  So if the company was considering one of the outlying areas, you should say that.  Then we can compare apples to apples.  Also, using one company as anecdotal evidence proves nothing.  Look at the GDP of San Francisco and the per capita GDP of the Bay Area.  They kick our butt.  So don’t act like we are better for business because we don’t have transit.

Brown – People don’t want to live in the city because the schools are bad and quality of life is low.

Dickerson’s response –  Actually the city is growing at  a faster rate than the suburbs.  People want the transportation options provided by the city and want to avoid the suburban gridlock.  Transit ridership of 16-34 year olds increased 40% over the past 8 years. We are building for future generations, not just for the current users.  Also, transit makes Atlanta’s vast hospitality and convention industry possible.    Well actually, ridership didn’t increase 40%; the total number of miles traveled increased by 40%.  Still a very impressive increase, though.

Question, 23:37  – What specific projects would not help Atlanta?

Brown – Economic development projects, especially the Beltline. The Beltline is about rehabilitating 42 in-town neighborhoods.  It’s all about future development and future transit.  The Beltline does not help relieve congestion. Does he not think building 42 new neighborhoods that are independent of cars will help ease congestion?

Brown continues – We need population density for transit to work, and Atlanta doesn’t have it. I totally agree; however, areas of downtown and midtown are approaching that density.  If you want fewer people sitting in their cars in front of you on the interstate, build transit in town and attract people back into the city.  That is EXACTLY what the Beltline is.  His arguments make no sense to me.  He says we should cut projects that increase density because there isn’t enough density.  How?…what?…huh?  I don’t get it.  It seems to me that Brown is not about improving Atlanta, he is about attracting people into the suburbs, specifically his suburb.  He promotes this despite the fact that more people commuting from Peachtree City will only lead to more congestion.  He certainly doesn’t seem to care about creating a long-term solution to Atlanta’s transportation problem.

Brown, 26:10 – only 1.8% of Atlanta commuters use transit at a cost of $90K per passenger. Once again, people cannot ride something that doesn’t exist.   Also, he does a little math here, which Dickerson can’t keep up with because he goes too fast. (This is a nice trick in a live debate but doesn’t hold up when you have time to sit down and count it out.)  He says that the cost per commuter will be ($3.2Billion/74,8000 boardings)*2 boardings/passenger = $85,600 per commuter.  He then rounds that up to $90K per passenger.  Two things here.  1)  This would assume that the trains are only going to run for one day.  I wonder how much the roads would cost per user if the roads were forced to pay for themselves in one day.  Trains are much more cost-effective over the long run, so this number is irrelevant.  Also, I would have to guess that these numbers are considering the current layout of Atlanta, but I am only assuming this because there wasn’t a good source here on how the 74,800 boardings number was calculated.  The projects that are funded by the T-SPLOST seek to increase density and increase ridership, which makes these values obsolete.  These numbers exist in a vacuum.  

One more thing here.  Don’t laugh at the guy’s name at 26:oo.  It’s not his fault that you can’t pronounce it.  Sorry, I digress.

Dickerson – Those numbers are stuck in time.  We are planning for the future, we can’t look at what we’ve built and make assumptions based on future behavior from it.  Young people want to live in walkable cities, if we want to attract them, we have to build for them.   Yes!   I want to drive less and I want the city to be walkable, and I am an educated young person with a choice in where I will live.  Also, I am a lifelong Georgian, which means I don’t want to see my city left behind.  Mr. Brown seems to enjoy anecdotal evidence so here is some: I have a BS and MS from Georgia Tech. Of the dozens of close friends that I have from Georgia Tech. Guess how many stayed in Atlanta after graduation… One!  And he was born and raised in Georgia. The reason that my friends all fled? Better jobs and better quality of life in other cities.  We want to live in vibrant walkable cities.  I also want to live in Atlanta.  I want to raise a family in Atlanta.  Mr. Brown says you have to move to the suburbs to have a family; well, that is not acceptable to me.  I want to make Atlanta an attractive place for families.

Hayse, 28:10 – The ARC has performed extensive economic analysis of all the projects.  Hayse Anger Translator:  Don’t call our numbers BS, your numbers are BS.  

Brown, 29:53 – ARC models are bad.  200,000 jobs won’t be created.  It’s job-years that are created.  The 4 to 1 economic benefit is not accurate because the operations and maintenance cost are not considered beyond ten years.  OK, this sounds like a legitimate gripe, but the numbers still look pretty good to me.  

Brown continues – How are we going to pay for the projects?  MARTA can’t even afford to pay for itself now.  Well, that is because MARTA is not allowed to touch literally half of its tax revenue for operations and management.  The state added an amendment at MARTA’s inception, even though the money doesn’t come from the state, to force MARTA to spend half of its money on new capital investments.  The bottom line is that MARTA would work much better if they were actually allowed to use 100% of their money.   Who will pay for operations and management of these transit projects ten years from now?  This is a real concern that will have to be answered.  I personally hope that the projects are successful enough that an expanded tax base, due to an influx of city residents and increased property values, will help cover the cost.   I wonder how others cities do it.   We should look into that; surely we aren’t the first city to try implementing transit.  Also isn’t this a problem for the roads as well?  Why not raise a flag there?

Dickerson, 33:25 –  If we don’t support this tax, we won’t have any leverage to ask for federal dollars. We have to do work for ourselves before others can be expected to help us out.

Brown, 35:00 – The federal government cannot be counted on for financial help. If it wasn’t for China, the federal government and United States would no longer exist.  Seriously, dude?  Federal government should not be looked at as a life preserver.  Well, it isn’t. Federal money is MY tax money meant to be spent on highways, transit, and other regional projects. Unlike these anti-government folks, I do expect my tax money to return to my region. But it won’t if we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot by not helping ourselves.

Brown continues – MARTA cannot support its own operations.  He keeps harping on this and I’ll rebut the same way.  They aren’t allowed to spend their own money.  They are the largest system in the USA, by ridership, to receive zero state funding, yet the state withholds literally half of their money from them.  By the way, this is the real reason this T-SPLOST was created. It was a way for the state to continue denying money to its orphaned transit system and push that responsibility onto the region.

Dickerson, 36:43 –  I’m sorry that we didn’t built a forever tax here. All SPLOSTS work this way. When we build a new school with a SPLOST, we always have to worry about funding the school once the tax is up.

Question, 38:49  – How can we be sure the project list won’t change?

Hayse – It is illegal to change the list. Also the list does include maintenance for ten years.

Question to Brown, 40:00 – Would you agree that adding/expanding roads is only a short term congestion solution?

Brown – We need to look at something else, BRT is a viable option if we have dedicated lanes.   Yes! I’m on board with this. I don’t think we need rail going all the way into the suburbs. Then he goes off topic saying MARTA is always over budget (unsubstantiated) and that we should close the GA-400 tolls. Not so coincidentally, this has since been scheduled. 

Question to Brown, 41:50 – What is your alternative?

Brown – Telecommuting.  <sarcasm> Yes, because when I think about awesome cities and communities, I think telecommuting.  Boy, I love Houston, the telecommuting scene there is outta sight!  </sarcasm> Ok, so telecommuting actually is a good idea, but what is stopping people from telecommuting now?  In addition to telecommuting, flexible work hours.  Sure, this is a good idea, but why haven’t people done this yet?  If flexible work hours is going to solve all of our problems, why hasn’t it happened yet?  Also tolls.  We should put in tolls to pay for roads.  I agree tolls are a great way of directly taxing the users of a system.  But didn’t this guy, literally two minutes ago, advocate removing the GA-400 toll?  I can’t follow his logic.  

Question to Dickerson, 44:00 – Why has the 400 toll not come down and why should we expect this tax to stop as expected?

Dickerson – That toll was put into place without a popular vote. People got no direct say in its existence. This law gives the power to the people and in ten years, we can vote to remove/change the projects if we see fit.

Brown, 47:30 –  Most of the road projects in the T-SPLOST are already on the list for funding by the GDOT, eventually.  What happens to the funds that were originally slated to build the projects?  They are going to go to a giant slush fund for pork projects, that’s what.  This dude has no faith in government, and with leaders like him, I can see why.  The truth is there are way more projects that need to be funded than there actually is funding.  The GDOT money should go to many of those projects that didn’t make the TSPLOST cut.   Get someone on that.  I can’t believe he is actually wanting us to vote against the SPLOST because it will cause too many projects to be built.

Dickerson rebuttal, 48:40 – If there are problems with government, you fix them. You don’t shut down the government.  Brown really seems to have a problem with any type of government at any level.

Question, 49:50 –  How will these projects keep people off the interstates? Give a concrete example.

Hayse – ARC, analysis shows, through travel demand modeling, a 24-25% decrease in delay, on average, in 2025 on the roads that have made improvements.

Brown, 51:30 –  Transit has dropped 1/3 in usage since 1982 (Despite $750B in subsidy).  During this same time period much more money has been poured into expanding roads and promoting sprawl.  Cities have been redesigned around the car; urban flight has run rampant.  Transit decline did not occur in a bubble. This trend is changing, however.  If you look at transit use since 1990, it is up 17%.  Since the end of 1995, it is up 35%.  It’s funny how that year of 1982 seems so randomly chosen, damned statistics.   The recent increases in ridership is partly because young people don’t stigmatize transit the way older generations do.  Access to cool bus tracking and train tracking apps make systems much easier to use.  Also, my generation is one that grew up with sprawl.  Some of us are damn sick of it.  When you build a new rail line, people come from buses and not from cars. Also completely false, but don’t take my word for it – click here to see the raw numbers per mode each quarter since 1990.  

Dickerson, 53:30 – Transportation is long term. People don’t use transit now because it doesn’t exist in most places. The desire of the next generation is to live in town and have options.  Yes, options, that is what I’m about.  Options! I’m not forcing you to take transit; don’t force me to drive.

Closing arguments:

Brown, 55:35 – Transit is too expensive. It’s a losing entity. We should use private alternatives, e.g. Megabus.  Megabus takes people all across the region for just $2.50. Well, that is completely not true and he knows it. The $2.50 number is a loss leader for that company. Most tickets are significantly higher than that – $20 or more. I know because I have bought them. It is still a very good deal mind you, but he shouldn’t pretend like the bus is full of people paying $2.50; that is a lie.  I too, would love to have a private company come in and provide rail; no one is doing it. Also, no one is doing it for roads. Roads do not make money and the gas tax does not support roads. They are heavily subsided at the expense of both road users and non-road users.

Dickerson, 57:20 Reagan was a fiscal conservative and doubled the federal gas tax. He invested in transportation for the future. We should follow the Reagan model.  Referencing Reagan to appease the conservatives is a little obvious, but a true statement nonetheless.

My Summary

Since this is my blog, I get to say whatever I think.  No one has to listen (no one does), but I get to say it.  I think these two men are trying to reach different objectives. At no point did they list what the hell they want. Dickerson seems to want a walkable downtown; he wants a city that will attract young, educated people and promote future business growth. He wants a city that is suitable for raising families.  He believes that the city is good but can be made better if we invest in it.

Brown wants wider roads and for more people to move into the suburbs.  He is scared of the city and believes that it is an irredeemably bad place.  He believes if anyone wants to not be shot or have ignorant children they will have to move to the suburbs and there is no point in even trying to improve the city itself. He does not care about Atlanta or the region as a whole. He is only concerned with maintining the status quo in his small area at the expense of the city.

Brown turned the debate from “should we vote YES or NO on this bill” to “should we ever invest in transit”.  Brown is saying we should NEVER invest in transit for Atlanta and we should stick to building more and bigger highways.  I’m sorry, but just building more roads isn’t going to work. Expanding roads to fix congestion is like an obese person trying to lose weight by buying a bigger belt.  How many lanes will it take to end traffic congestion?  We already have 15, so 20? 30? 50 lanes? Maybe we can just pave over the entire metro area and when you get in your car, you will simply point towards your destination and drive in a straight line towards it. Even then, there will be people who are in each other’s way.

What we need are options. Stop trying to force everyone to live the suburban lifestyle and drive everywhere. The Beltline is exciting because it opens up more intown neighborhoods with affordable housing. It is currently very expensive to live near transit in Atlanta.  This is because the supply of housing in these areas is very low. If we increase the supply of areas near transit to come closer to demand, we can have more people living near transit and consequently much higher transit use. You cannot half-ass transit and then wonder why no one uses it. Hell, if our road system only consisted of 2 roads that meet at Five Points, but we had tens of thousands of transit lines, guess what mode most people would use.  Many people want to live near transit. Many people want to be able to walk more. This is proven by the higher real estate prices of locations that are near transit. Get people walking, get people out of there cars and traffic will be reduced for the rest of you. I’m not saying everyone has to live in an urban, walkable area. But if everyone who wanted to could, there would be fewer cars on the road.  But let’s not forget, despite the tone of this debate, that half of this money is going towards road improvements.  It seems a good compromise to me and one that will benefit the entire region.  

The Transportation Tax – Truth, Lies, and Gridlock

23 Jul

More on the upcoming Atlanta TSPLOST…

PolitiFact weighs in on the truthiness of arguments from both sides.



Where it All Went Wrong: Cross post from Atlanta Magazine.

23 Jul

This is a interesting read on the history of MARTA and Atlanta transportation from Doug Monroe at Atlanta Magazine.  This guy doesn’t pull any punches.

Read it here: “Where it All Went Wrong

Why can’t I go through here?

13 Jul

It doesn’t matter what mode of transportation you choose (driving, walking, biking, transit, pogo stick, or whatever) getting around a big city like Atlanta is difficult.  Congestion is rampant.  There are limited sidewalks and bike lanes, and transit can take forever.  But I’ve learned to deal with all these things.  If I have to travel at rush hour, I exercise Buddhist patience during the 1-2 hours it takes to drive across town.  If I have to travel on MARTA, I make sure to bring extra victuals to sustain myself on the inevitably long journey.  If I travel by bike, I always say my prayers before doing the SUV tango.  I consider these things minor nuisances.

But there is one thing that always infuriates me, and it might only be me that would let such a small and stupid thing drive me so insane.  I’m talking about the selfish my-parking-lot-not-gonna-share-with-no-one-’cause-it’s-mine-and-you-can’t-have-it mentality that makes driving and walking way more difficult than it should be.  What I’m referring to is parking lots on busy streets that force customers back into the roadway even when they are only going next door.  I’ll include a couple of examples.  Let’s say for some reason I want to visit Einstein Brothers, Wendy’s, and Office Depot in one trip.  (See map below.) Don’t ask why I’m visiting Einstein’s and Wendy’s in the same trip.  Maybe I’m a glutton, or maybe Einstein’s was closed when I arrived so I couldn’t get a delicious Santa Fe wrap and instead had to settle for the equally delicious Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich.  It’s irrelevant.

 The point is that these three locations are all within very easy walking distance.  The problem is that they are all located on three different lots and do not allow people to leave their cars behind to visit other locations.  “Parking is for Customers Only, Violators will be Towed”.  OK so I’m probably not going to get towed, but why is walking against the rules?  Why is it technically against the rules to leave my car behind and visit these three places on foot?  Furthermore, if you are going to force me to drive, why are these lots not connected in some way?  The orange arrows above show the only legal way to visit these three locations.  I have to re-enter the extremely busy and epidemically congested Howell Mill Road twice for no good reason.  These places are NEXT DOOR to each other, so why force more cars onto the road and increase the number of trips required in an already congested area?  I don’t get it.  Wouldn’t sharing or connecting their lots improve business by improving accessibility?

OK, now here’s another one that really blew my mind when I noticed it.  If you live in midtown Atlanta, you may visit the Trader Joe’s and Whole Paycheck Foods from time to time.  These are two locations that are located a mile or two apart.  Trader Joe’s is on the north end of midtown around 10th street and the other one is located down on Ponce.  It takes 5 minutes or so to drive between these locations (depending on traffic).  That’s OK, right?  Because these locations are far apart, right?  Wrong!  They are literally next door to each other.  The parking lot that serves Trader  Joe’s and the Midtown Promenade bumps right into the parking lot that serves Whole Foods and that group of stores.  See the locations A and B below. Why do I have to travel nearly 2 miles to get between them?

The picture below is taken from roughly point A on the map above. What you see in this picture is the Home Depot parking lot and the Ponce City Market. Yes, Ponce City Market on the far south side of midtown is only a few hundred feet from Trader Joe’s on 10th Street. I know that mathematically this makes sense. It’s really only about 8 blocks or so, but to actually realize how compact our city is and then think about how difficult it is to move around despite this fact is very frustrating.

To top it all off, you aren’t even allowed to walk between these two lots, at least not according to the plethora of “don’t even think about storing your car here for even one minute” signs. You are required by the rules put forth by these two establishments to get in your car and drive nearly 2 miles to travel a total of 50 feet. It boggles the mind. What would it take for these two strip mall operators to come together and say, “Hey, if we build some stairs or a ramp to let people walk between these two parking lots, people might actually be inclined to make an impromptu visit to one store when their intended purpose was to visit another.” Wouldn’t that be good for business? It’s clear that people want it. Just look at the desire path made by all the insidious rule breakers (image below). I’ve even pushed my grocery-laden bike up and down that small mountain a few times. It’s amazing how hard this town makes it to walk or bike around. It’s almost like living outside the law.  Hopefully with more and more people desiring to live in walkable and bikeable areas, these things will start to change. 

Anyway, this is just a rant and the rant is now over. However, future rants are sure to appear soon. After all, the July 31st transportation referendum vote is approaching and if there are two things that Atlantans love to argue about, it’s traffic and taxes.

Until next time, be careful out there.

Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Silicon, I will fear no car.

31 May

After spending the last few months in Mountain View, CA, it is nice to be back home in Atlanta.  I feel more at home here, where government and society are a little more dysfunctional.  I’m not accustomed to the organization and general niceness of  northern California.    Blue skies and green grass get monotonous after a while.  I prefer Atlanta, where the smog is a different color everyday, no two consecutive blocks are paved with sidewalks, and pedestrians are kept in their rightful place at the bottom of the socioeconomic/transportation ladder (right behind fire hydrants and telephone poles).  No seriously, it’s good to be back home.

There are a lot of good things to be said about Mountain View, CA (and Silicon Valley in general).  Despite the fact that the entire South Bay area is a haven for traffic and cars, they still manage to make walking a respected and easy way to get around.  How did they do it?  By managing their parking.  Remember this picture of arguably Atlanta’s most walkable neighborhood, Midtown?

Land 100% Dedicated to Parking in Midtown Atlanta

The red squares show land that is 100% dedicated to car storage (a.k.a parking).  Dedicating this much land to parking not only lengthens the distance that people must walk between locations, but it also makes the walk less pleasant.  This is because vast parking lots do not provide shade and force pedestrians to always be on guard for cars entering and leaving the parking lots.  

Shown below is a similar shot of downtown Mountain View, CA.  

Land 100% Dedicated to Parking in Downtown Mountain View, CA

What’s important to notice is here is that while the parking is still present, it has been strategically placed.  The main street of downtown Mountain View, Castro Street, is completely devoid of parking lots and decks.  Instead, the parking is placed behind the many businesses that line Castro Street.   By moving the parking off of the main commercial street, shops are allowed to build closer to one another making walking much easier along this street.  With this type of setup, people will park once and visit many destinations before returning to their cars.  This is unlike much of Silicon Valley (and Atlanta for that matter) where people will literally drive across the street because all the parking forces buildings to be no closer than 1000 yards apart.  The park-and-walk setup of Mountain View is a great compromise between those who love to drive and those who love to walk.  You can drive right up to the back of your destination and park very close to the door, but the front door and the main street belongs to pedestrians.   Below are few shots around Mountain View.

Castro street in Downtown Mountain View, CA

Here a a single parking spot has been replaced with outdoor seating for 18 people. Talk about efficient use of space!

Taking a leisurely stroll through Silicon Valley.

A parking deck viewed from Castro Street. Parking decks and lots are not allowed directly on Castro Street to improve walkability.

Walk OR Drive to the performing arts center.

The library. These people know how to live.

No car necessary. A train to the next town. Very nice!

No pedestrian paradise is complete without it’s hipster coffee joint. Literally everyone in this place is working on a startup.

It’s amazing how simply arranging the location of parking lots in a thoughtful way can create pockets of walkability in an otherwise hostile environment.  Probably the best example of this model in Atlanta is Tech Square,  where the two main parking decks are located one block from 5th street, allowing the street to be dominated by pedestrians without fear of being mauled by cars.  (See the Google Street image below.)  I hope to see more of this type of development in my town.

Mountain View as a cool place with much of what I look for in a city or town, but for some reason, when I talk about what I look for in a city (walkability, bike friendliness, compact design), I am often accused of being a socialist pinko.  Why are any of these things socialist?  Is it ironic that a place that closely matches with what I want lies at the heart of Silicon Valley, the home of Facebook, Google, and the world’s richest company, Apple?  I thought that biking, walking, and transit were anti-capitalist business killers.  I guess I’ll never figure it out.

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