Where It All Went Wrong

If only we could undo the MARTA Compromise of 1971


0812_Features_AtlantaMetroCoverOCT1971Like ghosts rising out of a Confederate cemetery, Atlanta’s past lapses in judgment haunt the region today, leaving a smoky trail of suburban decay, declining home values, clogged highways, and a vastly diminished reputation.

At the heart of the rot eating at metro Atlanta is the Mother of All Mistakes: the failure to extend MARTA into the suburbs. It wasn’t just a one-time blunder—it was the single worst mistake in a whole cluster bomb of missteps, errors, power plays, and just plain meanness that created the region’s transportation infrastructure.

As we look at the future of Atlanta, there’s no question that battling our notorious traffic and sprawl is key to the metro area’s potential vitality. What if there were a Back to the Future–type option, where we could take a mystical DeLorean (heck, we’d settle for a Buick), ride back in time, and fix something? What event would benefit most from the use of a hypothetical “undo” key?

The transit compromise of 1971.

Before we get into the story of what happened in 1971, we need to back up a few years. In 1965 the Georgia General Assembly voted to create MARTA, the mass transit system for the City of Atlanta and the five core metro counties: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett. Cobb voters rejected MARTA, while it got approval from the city and the four other counties. Although, as it turned out, the state never contributed any dedicated funds for MARTA’s operations, in 1966 Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit the state to fund 10 percent of the total cost of a rapid rail system in Atlanta. Two years later, in 1968, voters in Atlanta and MARTA’s core counties rejected a plan to finance MARTA through property taxes. In 1971—when the issue was presented to voters again—Clayton and Gwinnett voters dropped their support, and MARTA ended up being backed by only DeKalb, Fulton, and the City of Atlanta.

In 1971, given the lack of support for MARTA by the five core counties, then Mayor Sam Massell came back with a new plan: to provide an ongoing subsidy for MARTA through a sales tax levied in Fulton, DeKalb, and the City of Atlanta. No other jurisdiction in Georgia had a local option sales tax, so the General Assembly had to approve the idea. When the notoriously anti-Atlanta legislators gave the go-ahead, Massell called a press conference that featured a flatbed truck pulling up in front of city hall, facing the Capitol, with a large billboard that said, “Thank You, Georgia Lawmakers!” Massell then dug a hole in the city hall lawn and buried a hatchet to symbolize his appreciation for the state’s rare support of the city.

In a promotional stunt worthy of Mad Men, Massell sent a bevy of young women to the Capitol in pink hot pants with little keys to the city, a proclamation expressing the city’s gratitude, and invitations to city hall for a lunch featuring fried chicken (for Lieutenant Governor Lester Maddox), peanuts (for Governor Jimmy Carter), and, of course, Coca-Cola. “We got a four-column picture—the biggest exposure we ever got from the Atlanta newspapers,” recalls Massell, now president of the Buckhead Coalition.

After getting the legislative approval for the sales-tax option, Massell had to persuade voters to pass the sales tax. “We were going to buy the existing bus company, which was then charging sixty cents and a nickel transfer each way—$1.30 a day—and they were about to go out of business. I promised the community we would drop that fare to fifteen cents each way immediately,” Massell says. The daily fare would plunge from $1.30 to thirty cents. Not everyone believed him. City Councilman Henry Dodson cruised the city in a Volkswagen with a PA system that blared, “It’s a trick! If they can’t do it for sixty cents, how are they going to do it for fifteen?”

Massell countered the VW with higher visibility, chartering a helicopter to hover over the Downtown Connector, congested even then, while he called through a bullhorn, “If you want out of this mess, vote yes!”

“This being the Bible Belt, they thought God was telling them what to do,” Massell quips today. Still, to make sure Atlantans voted his way, he rode buses throughout the city, passing out brochures to riders, and he visited community groups with a blackboard and chalk to do the math on the sales tax. Voters approved the plan by just a few hundred votes.

Another of the blunders that crippled MARTA at the outset—and haunts it to this day—was engineered behind closed doors by the segregationist Lester Maddox, according to Massell, who believes Maddox’s intervention was even more devastating than the vote not to extend MARTA into the suburbs.

After the Georgia House of Representatives approved funding MARTA through the sales tax, Massell had to approach the Georgia State Senate, where Maddox held sway. Maddox told the mayor he would block the vote in the senate unless MARTA agreed that no more than 50 percent of the sales tax revenue would go to operating costs, Massell recalls. “He called me into his office and told me that was it. Either I swallowed that or he was going to kill it and it would not pass.”

That has meant that whenever MARTA needed more money for operating expenses, it had to cut elsewhere or raise fares. As a result, MARTA has raised the fare over the years to today’s $2.50, making it one of the priciest transit systems in the country.

Although the 50 percent limit has resulted in higher fares, few people realized the ramifications of the so-called “Maddox amendment” at the time, Massell says. In fact, it actually was viewed favorably by DeKalb legislators because they were afraid MARTA would spend all its money in Atlanta before extending rail service to DeKalb, according to a thirty-six-page history of MARTA written by former State Treasurer Thomas D. Hills.

Hills’s MARTA history also illuminates why the state never contributed funds for MARTA, despite that 1966 vote that would have allowed it to. One early plan was for the MARTA sales tax to be three-quarters of a penny, with the state chipping in up to 10 percent of the cost of the system as approved by Georgia voters. But early in his administration, according to Hills’s history, then Governor Carter called MARTA attorney Stell Huie—who was on a quail-hunting trip—and said the state couldn’t afford its $25 million share for MARTA. Carter offered to raise the sales tax to a full penny if the state didn’t have to pay, and Huie agreed. The lawyer said the 1 percent sales tax plan came out of the House Committee on Ways and Means and “there was a tag end, not even part of the act, that just said the state won’t put any money in.”

Hills wrote that the events help to “explain why some representatives of state government and others in the community understand that the state’s support in allowing the local option sales tax for MARTA was a bargain in exchange for a reprieve for the state from future funding for MARTA.”

The 1965 and 1971 votes against MARTA by residents of Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett weren’t votes about transportation. They were referendums on race. Specifically, they were believed to be about keeping the races apart. Consider the suburbanites voting back then. The formerly rural, outlying counties had exploded with an astonishing exodus of white people fleeing the city as the black population swelled during the civil rights era. This mass migration came at a time when Atlanta was known through its public relations bluster as “The City Too Busy to Hate.”

The 1960 census counted approximately 300,000 white residents in Atlanta. From 1960 to 1980, around 160,000 whites left the city—Atlanta’s white population was cut in half over two decades, says Kevin M. Kruse, the Princeton professor who wrote White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Kruse notes that skeptics suggested Atlanta’s slogan should have been “The City Too Busy Moving to Hate.” “Racial concerns trumped everything else,” Kruse says. “The more you think about it, Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure was designed as much to keep people apart as to bring people together.”

In the early 1970s, Morehouse College professor Abraham Davis observed, “The real problem is that whites have created a transportation problem for themselves by moving farther away from the central city rather than living in an integrated neighborhood.”

The votes against MARTA were not the only evidence of the role of race in Atlanta’s transportation plans. The interstate highways were designed to gouge their way through black neighborhoods. Georgia Tech history professor Ronald H. Bayor, author of Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta, says the failure of the 1971 MARTA referendum in Gwinnett and Clayton was the beginning of the region’s transportation problems because of the lack of mass transit in the suburbs. Yet his research goes back to the racial reckoning behind the route of the interstate highway system that began construction in the 1950s.

The highway now called the Downtown Connector, the stretch where I-75 and I-85 run conjoined through the city, gutted black neighborhoods by forcing the removal of many working-class blacks from the central business district. It could have been worse. The highway was first designed to run smack through the headquarters of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the city’s major black-owned business. “The original intention was to destroy that black business,” Bayor says. A protest by the black community saved the structure and moved the highway route a few blocks east, where it still managed to cut through the black community’s main street, Auburn Avenue.

Interstate 20 on the west side of town is a particularly egregious example of race-based road-building. Bayor wrote: “In a 1960 report on the transitional westside neighborhood of Adamsville . . . the Atlanta Bureau of Planning noted that ‘approximately two to three years ago, there was an “understanding” that the proposed route of the West Expressway [I-20 West] would be the boundary between the white and Negro communities.’”

The strategy didn’t work, of course, as whites fled by the tens of thousands. One of the unintended consequences of the race-based road-building is today’s traffic jams. “What happened didn’t change the racial makeup of the metro area but led to congestion within the metro area,” Bayor says.

Aside from political vengeance and racial politics, another enormous factor was at play in transportation policies of the 1960s and 1970s: Atlanta’s love affair with the automobile. The great migration out of the city started in the late 1950s—just as workers at General Motors’ vast Lakewood assembly plant in southeast Atlanta put the finishing touches on one of the most iconic cars in history: the 1957 Chevy.

The allure of roaring around Atlanta in cool cars took over and never let go. Once MARTA started running, who would ride a bus or subway when they could drive a sleek, powerful car and fill it with cheap gas? Only the people who couldn’t afford the car. MARTA became an isolated castaway, used primarily by poor and working-class blacks. Racist suburbanites brayed that the system’s acronym stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”

While MARTA was struggling to crank up the bus and rail system, the State of Georgia and its powerful highway department had other, bigger ideas.

David Goldberg, a former transportation reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says the road-building binge that led to the gigantic highways that course through metro Atlanta—some of the widest in the world—diminished MARTA’s potential. “It’s not a single mistake but a bunch of decisions that add up to one big mistake—the failure to capitalize on the incredible success we had in winning funding for MARTA by undermining it with the incredible success we had in getting funding for the interstate highways,” says Goldberg, now communications director for Washington-based Transportation for America. “We were too damn successful—it was an embarrassment of success. Like a lot of nouveau riche, we blew it before we knew what to do with it.”

As metro Atlanta’s geographic expansion grew white-hot, developers had to move homebuyers—those fleeing the city and others moving South from the Rust Belt—in and out of the new subdivisions they were carving from the pine forests and red clay. Georgia started “building highways expressly to enrich developers,” Goldberg says. “A whole lot of land owners and developers who knew how to do suburban development had the ear of state government and the money to buy influence. They took all that money we had and put it into developing interchanges way out from town. A lot of what was new suburban development back then is now underused, decaying, and part of an eroding tax base in the older suburban areas.”

The vast highway system sucked up billions of federal dollars while the state refused to put a penny into MARTA—until the past fifteen years, during which it helped buy some buses. “The sick joke of it all is that we built the place to be auto-oriented and designed it about as bad as we could to function for auto use,” Goldberg says. “The highway network we did build was designed in a way almost guaranteed to produce congestion—the land use around all that development put the nail in the coffin.” He refers to the neighborhoods full of cul-de-sacs that force cars onto crowded arterial roads lined with commercial activity, then force them to merge onto the freeways, which eventually funnel down to one highway through the heart of Atlanta.

More than forty years later, what does the failure to create MARTA as a regional system mean for Atlanta? Christopher B. Leinberger, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution and professor at George Washington University, has been watching Atlanta’s growth—and decline—for decades. In January he declared, “Atlanta is no longer Hotlanta.” He cited the free fall from the number eighty-ninespot on the list of the world’s 200 fastest-growing metro areas to ranking at 189 in just five years. Not to mention the plunge of 29 percent in average housing price per square foot between 2000 and 2010. Not to mention that Atlanta has the eleventh-most-congested traffic of 101 metro areas in the country.

“The big mistake was not taking advantage of MARTA,” Leinberger says. “Atlanta was given by the federal taxpayers a tremendous gift that they squandered as far as MARTA. It’s not just that Atlanta did not take advantage of it. They didn’t expand it and they didn’t recognize that it could allow them to build a balanced way of developing.”

Leinberger agrees that part of the region’s blindness toward MARTA’s potential was the belief “that the car was the be-all and end-all forever. The other part was the basic racism that still molds how Atlanta is built.”

The most maddening realization is that the once virtually all-white suburbs that voted against MARTA years ago are today quite diverse and reflect Atlanta’s evolution from a biracial city to a multiracial, multiethnic one. Today’s suburbs are not only home to African Americans, but also Latino, Asian, and Eastern European immigrants. The city’s diversity is projected to increase over the coming decades (see page 68). Many of the people who voted against MARTA decades ago are dead or retired. The suburban lifestyle they were so eager to defend has lost much of its cachet as gas prices soar and houses don’t sell. Smart young people up to their necks in college debt don’t want to spend their money and time driving cars back and forth; they want to live in town. Atlanta’s only neighborhoods to gain inflation-adjusted housing value in the past decade, Leinberger notes, were Virginia-Highland, Grant Park, and East Lake.

The Georgia Sierra Club’s opposition to the July 31 referendum on a regional transportation sales tax—on the grounds that the plan, despite including a majority for transit, was a sprawl-inducing road expansion—troubled Leinberger. “That’s a dangerous strategy. From what everybody tells me, this is a one-off.” He says the state legislature has traditionally treated Atlanta like a child, and is saying, “Finally, one time only, children, are we going to let you decide for yourself. This is it.”

The July 31 vote is “an Olympic moment,” he says. “If the vote fails, you have to accept the fact that Atlanta will continue to decline as a metro area.” Forty years from now, will we look back at failure to pass the referendum as a mistake as devastating as the 1971 MARTA compromise?

Atlanta faces a classic problem. It boomed in the go-go decades at the end of the twentieth century when everyone zoomed alone in their cars from home to office to store. Now it must move beyond what worked in the past to a new era that demands a new way of building, with up to 70 percent of new development oriented around transit, Leinberger says. “Atlanta has a lot of catching up to do, but it’s hard for old dogs to learn new tricks.”

The never-ending ramifications of a race-based transportation infrastructure, built to accommodate a suburban driving lifestyle that has started to die off in a state that has traditionally refused to embrace mass transit, could doom Atlanta to a future as a newer, sunnier Detroit.

“It only takes a generation-plus of yinning when you should have yanged to wake up and say, ‘Oh my God! How did it happen?’” says outgoing MARTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott, who watched from afar the decline of her hometown, Cleveland.

Atlanta’s failure to build out MARTA looks even more shameful when compared with what happened with similar transit systems in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., which started at the same time as MARTA, she says. “The reality is, this region got stuck. We have about half the build-out of what it was planned to be.” But San Francisco and Washington “kept building and moving . . . they had plans regardless of whether folks were red or blue. They had a vision and the fortitude to make purple and keep moving. We just got stuck.”

MARTA was born out of Atlanta’s giant ego in the days when the city was entering the major leagues across the board—baseball, football, international airport—bolstered by a racially harmonious reputation unmatched in the South, deserved or not. “You said to yourself, ‘We’re top-notch. Everybody’s got to have a rail system,’” Scott says. “But it was built as a manifestation of ‘we have arrived’ without a bigger vision of ‘what do we want to do for our region?’ You built it like a trophy.” Indeed, some of the Downtown MARTA stations were built on a scale that would please a pharaoh.

Yet Scott says she is no doomsayer. During her tenure at MARTA, she has seen marked progress in forging the civic-political infrastructure necessary to build an integrated transportation network. Her concern is that the region is at a critically urgent juncture in the process and can’t afford to lose focus or momentum.“There’s still much work to be done,” she says.

Word about Atlanta’s transportation muddle has gotten around. Scott says she’s been privy to meetings during which corporate relocation experts tell Chamber of Commerce members: “Hey, Atlanta is not only not at the top tier anymore, we’ve got companies saying, ‘Don’t put the Atlanta region on the list.’” It’s not just the congestion and pollution—“they’re not seeing leadership or plans to get yourself out of the fix.”

Atlanta’s leaderless transportation fix is the ultimate example of the admonition, “Be careful what you pray for.”

“This is the irony: The majority of whites in Atlanta wanted to be isolated when they thought about public transportation,” says historian Kevin Kruse. “As a result, they have been in their cars on 75 and 85. They got what they wanted. They are safe in their own space. They’re just not moving anywhere.”


Hindsight: Other lapses in civic judgment

The 1818 Survey  Snafu That Keeps  Atlanta Thirsty
Surveyors in 1818 goofed when marking the border between Georgia and Tennessee. At least that’s Georgia’s story, and we’re sticking with it. Legislators still quarrel over the alleged historical cartography blooper that left all of the Tennessee River within Tennessee. Georgia claims surveyors set the boundary line too far south by more than a mile and should have included a sliver of the mighty river within our borders. During recent severe droughts, Georgia thirsted to stick a pipe into the Tennessee and route water to Atlanta, which now draws all its H2O from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River, whose water is also lusted after by Alabama and Florida. Another mistake is our failure to build additional reservoirs —just being addressed now.

The “Grow No More” Edict of 1953
The city of Atlanta hasn’t extended its boundaries in the last sixty years, while the population and landmass of the surrounding counties has exploded. The last time Atlanta expanded its limits was 1952, when it took in Buckhead and went north—almost to Sandy Springs. Timothy Crimmins, who directs the Center for Neighborhood and Metropolitan Studies at Georgia State University, thinks Atlanta’s biggest mistake—bigger than the MARTA compromises—was a 1953 decision by the state supreme court that declared unconstitutional an effort by the local legislative delegation to annex additional parts of Fulton County. The court said only the General Assembly could expand city limits—and the referendum sought to preempt that power. It was a critical opportunity that would have set up a central government that could grow with our expanding population instead of the proliferation of regional governments.

The last major effort at annexation was Sam Massell’s “Two Cities” plan of the early 1970s, which called for Atlanta to annex unincorporated Fulton County north of the city, and College Park to annex unincorporated Fulton to the south. The plan passed in the House of Representatives and was set to pass in the Senate, but it was killed by Lester Maddox. Ironically, segregationist Maddox stopped annexation that would have returned Atlanta to a majority-white city. Adjusting racial allotments “was not the motivation” for the plan, Massell says. What he was after was a city with a greater population, and thus greater power. Crimmins says Maddox killed the bill at the request of black leaders and the City of East Point.

Our Sewer Woes—Dating Back to Reconstruction
In the years after the Civil War, Atlanta built a two-pipe sewer system: a separate but integrated network of pipes that collects sewage and storm water. During downpours, rainwater forced raw sewage into the Chattahoochee. As the population grew, the pollution became grotesque. In 2001 the city agreed to federal and state demands to fix the problem with giant underground tunnels to store the overflow and then send it for treatment. The Clean Water Atlanta program has cost $1.6 billion so far and will cost another $450 million over the next thirteen years. This is why Atlantans have among the nation’s highest water-sewer bills. The situation in the suburbs may be worse because so much wastewater treatment is the responsibility of private homeowners with septic tanks. “The pollution potential for that is gargantuan,” Crimmins says.

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  • http://www.newurbanroswell.com Michael Hadden

    Excellent article! I hope this helps get out the vote next week. We need solutions. TIA2012 is a solution and it’s a good solution. I liked the quote from Beverly Scott… San Francisco and Washington “kept building and moving . . . they had plans regardless of whether folks were red or blue. They had a vision and the fortitude to make purple and keep moving. We just got stuck.”

    We’ll be stuck for a lot longer if we don’t vote YES on Tuesday.

    • http://www.cjmillisock.com CJ Millisock

      Fascinating read. What vote is occurring on Tuesday?? 07/31/12?

  • Josh White

    Why was this article written in the future?

    • Jackson Reeves

      The date at the top of the article actually refers to the issue in which the article originally ran. In this case, this story is from our August issue, and we’re teasing it on our site ahead of schedule given its relevance to the TSPLOST vote on July 31. Thanks for reading!

  • Chris

    Fascinating article Doug!
    Can you say more sabout what Maddox’s motives or intentions were in demanding the 50/50 restriction on MARTA? We can all see the negative consequences, but it is not clear what the possible benefit was for Maddox and his cronies.

    • DougM_8345

      Chris, I asked Sam Massell about it several times and he insisted Maddox was seeking political vengeance for a friend. In the context of the times, Massell was a young, Jewish liberal from a prominent family while Maddox grew up poor and was an arch-conservative bigot. Maddox had been involved in politics since the1950s, when he ran unsuccessfully against Mayor Hartsfield, and wrote his weekly newspaper column “Pickrick Says.” The enmity went back a decade. Massell and Maddox had other clashes later. Good question. I wish I had a more definitive answer. …Doug

      • Tom W

        I am 67 grew up in Atlanta. Lester Maddox was the only honest governor of my lifetime. Sam Massell & his brother were as big crooks as Bill Cambell.. This whote thing is bull.

        • Honest Les

          Honest? Yeah, honestly hateful, racist, and bigoted. The research, not just anecdotal memory from a loyal constituent, has been performed. The result confirms Doug’s article. Regardless of whether or not you think all politicians are “crooks”, the point is that Maddox fought MARTA tooth and nail because he was an angry racist prick. Oops, i mean pickrick. Don’t believe me? Here is a photo of your beloved Governor threatening to shoot an unarmed civilian for attempting to purchase chicken from him: http://www.atlantatimemachine.com/misc/maddox10.htm
          What a swell guy. I bet you miss those good ole days, huh?

  • Charles

    Kudos! I only wished you had praised Los Angeles, too (where I lived 1979-99 before moving to ATL) for the enormous strides they have made with their underground and light rail systems.

    • Debra

      Charles, I grew up in LA, prior to the development of the rail system. I recently had the privilege of briefly riding it while in downtown. Although I initially thought it was crazy to build a subway in an earthquake-prone area, the subway was well-maintained and well-conceived. From downtown LA, I could have ridden to West Hollywood! And there is a definite reduction in the traffic congestion.

  • wh17y

    My biggest problem with TSPLOST is that I do not live or work in or near Atlanta. I fear that the 75% of 25% of 80% of 20% numbers game will be used to funnel money to projects that will have no benefit to me or my community. I know that money is supposedly “collected by the Georgia Department of Revenue, then transferred to the Georgia Finance and Investment Commission for distribution.” But that seems like a lot of transferring and redistributing of wealth to me, with whatever counties that politicians know will get them reelected getting the bulk of the money and their higher priority projects moved up the list. I am all for some improvements to Atlanta traffic, I drove there from an hour out to the south for 10 years. But I don’t see the problem with usage fees via tolls, a la GA 400, to pay for these projects. Of course, we all know how fast that toll plaza disappeared after the road had been paid for.

  • JohnT_4364

    Best quote of the article… “This is the irony: The majority of whites in Atlanta wanted to be isolated when they thought about public transportation,” says historian Kevin Kruse. “As a result, they have been in their cars on 75 and 85. They got what they wanted. They are safe in their own space. They’re just not moving anywhere.”

    • Ben

      Actually it’s one of the dumber and smugly self-righteous lines in an article chock full of them.

  • marl745

    Wow…this was a very informative article. This is exactly the reason Im NOT voting for the TSPLOST. Theres not enough MARTA expansion plans. I live in Gwinnett, work in Dunwoody, and MARTA will never be a viable option for me or my family!! While i would love to park the car and ride, what sense does it make for me to Travel down 85 S, around 285 to park at a marta station(by the way only about 5 miles from my work exit), then get on marta to travel south to Lindbergh, get off to switch trains, then travel north to Dunwoody…smh, we’ve got to fix this! But not like this….

    • Ben

      The public transport obsessives gush like little schoolgirls about how wonderful the subway is, but practicality never seems to enter their minds. It’s like they think we all live in Paris flats with a Metro station every other block or so.

  • Nathan

    Great article, Doug, thanks for the history lesson and journey thru time!

    Do you have any info on the MARTA provisions for future expansions (Tucker-North Dekalb, Northwest, Hapeville). Like where the tracks were going to be laid, which parts were gonna be under/above ground, where the stations would be?

  • http://www.tenthamendmentmedia.com Dominique

    Great article! Atlanta has tried to do some annexing in South Fulton during cityhood fever of Fulton County. They did bring in a few neighborhoods but many simply said no thanks. However, many of the other cities like Union City, Fairburn and Palmetto grew tremendously. Forced annexation never works and while I think growing College Park would have been great, the people should have been allowed a choice.

    We all know that for years the city always wanted Fulton Industrial Blvd, hence the protection around it to keep it from being annexed by any city.

    Here is a link to what could have been for MARTA with canceled Fulton-Dekalb rail stations indicated on this map. There is also a similar map at Peachtree Center in the stairwell.


    • DougM_8345

      Wow, Dominique: what a fantastic link! Thank you.

  • The Future of Atlanta

    This is an excellent article and I am ashamed of the way everyone is set in their ways. The main point I gained from the article was what went wrong the first time. Everyone opposed to this new tax is concerned about how it’s going to benefit them NOW. It is not about you NOW it’s about the future of Atlanta. The city will still be here after you are dead and gone. In the 60s and 70s when the opportunity presented itself to make Atlanta a major city we didn’t and again we have failed the city of Atlanta and its potential for a bright future all because people are concerned about themselves. Selfishness is what got us in the position we are in now and it is going to keep us here for the next few decades.

    • wh17y

      Yes, we are concerned about how this is going to benefit us NOW, because we will have to start paying on it NOW. I don’t know about you, but I am not exactly rolling around in extra money at my house. I have other bills that are more important than fixing up the roads in (North) Fulton, Dekalb, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties. I am sorry so many of you moved on top of each other on the north side of Atlanta. But I don’t see how throwing money at this is going to work much better than a lifestyle change for many, if not all, of the commuters going into Atlanta.

      What I don’t see is businesses allowing their people to report on staggered shifts, I don’t see more than 20% of commuters carpooling, and I don’t see many people trying to find a job (for even a little less pay) closer to their home or maybe in the opposite direction of traffic. Until a true effort is made to fix the problem from their own end by those crying for the government to help their commute, our wallets and pocketbooks are closed.

      • ArchaeoHistorian

        The whining about paying for the city to have functional transportation is absurd, “Whitey”. The simple fact is as plain as your pathetically racist moniker. Atlanta had not simply a functional, but an excellent system of public transportation in the 1930s. The entire system was removed due to a combination of racist sentiment(running an all-white and an all-black line in every community was impractical, and continuing to allow the Klan members/trolley drivers to murder black passengers was becoming politically unpalatable) and capitalist innovation(the private trolley lines were sold to the automotive industry, who promptly removed the infrastructure). Cars are sooo much easier to segregate. Of course, Whitey/whi7y would have you believe any of a dozen other conservative talking point(it’s about the poors/liberals not trying hard enough to find jobs closer to their homes, it’s about fiscal responsibility, it’s about killing the nanny-state, it’s about Whitey not being able to afford another new car if he has to pay an extra $0.01 per dollar, on and on…) rather than admit that the entire fiasco is about keeping his/her neighborhood blanched.
        You and your ilk are the reason Atlanta will continue to struggle with commute times similar to those in L.A., despite being smaller than three-dozen other cities in the U.S. The suburbs have few jobs outside of fast-food and shopping malls. Our Metro area has over 4million residents and the city proper has only 450k. MARTA serves 2% of the GAMA. It is one of the least funded, most expensive(by fares), and least accessible/per resident public transportation systems in any metropolitan area in the continent. It is a disgrace. The most disgraceful part is that we could have done something to improve many aspects of life in the GAMA on numerous occasions but we let racist fear-mongers shoot it down, every time. It isn’t about money, despite what Whitey/whi7y tells us. The interstate system and connected roadways have been in a constant state of construction/repair/expansion for six decades. The cost per citizen analyses have been performed at multiple points throughout the past 40 years. We have spent far more on automobile infrastructure, lost time/productivity to traffic congestion, and the deaths associated with automobile accidents on our interstates/highways than we would have on a functional rail system. MARTA is, to this day, 20 miles shorter than the original plans called for nearly 50 years ago.
        Think of our city as a heart. As we have grown older, our cholesterol(cars) level has increased. The congestion slows the flow of traffic until our DOcTor decides to address the problem. In 60 years of heart trouble our city has opted for angioplasty every time: we widen the main arteries juuust enough to let the congestion pass through a little easier. We have not addressed the causes, some of which we consider beneficial, yet we also have not (seriously) considered alternatives. Adding MARTA yet severely restricting it from the very inception(I’m looking at you Lester Maddox and all of Cobb(a county incidentally named after a slave master)), only served to legitimize claims of race-baiting politicians. We made sure that primarily poor blacks would have access to the system so we could decry the inherent nature of public transportation to “bring black criminals” into the (formerly) lilly-white suburbs.
        However, time has proven the racist charlatans wrong. Massive communities of people from any number of ethnic groups, especially African Americans have moved into the suburban enclaves that were 90% white just 20 years ago, despite the lack of public transportation. What we have found is that crime doesn’t follow buses and trains. It follows poverty and desperation. As a lifelong resident of Atlanta with family on both the far East and far West sides, I have seen first-hand the failures of White flight and the restrictions on Atlanta that a crippled MARTA have produced.
        Your arrogance and “closed” pocketbook(you still pay for paving and widening the roads) speak volumes of your character and your racist heritage, Whitey. Lester Maddox and the rest of his cadre would be proud. I can’t wait until all you bigoted dinosaurs finally go extinct. My skin is peach-colored, but I will never call myself “white”. That is the color of shame(think KKK, Cobb, and Maddox), not pride, fool.
        (This diatribe has not been edited for typos and was composed in a rush. I apologize for any grammatical errors, but not for my disgust with the S.O.S. that stagnates the city I love.)

  • Ben

    This kind of supremely smug thumbsucker of an article almost writes itself by now. No matter the city, the argument is always the same: If only whitey hadn’t been so racist and run off to the suburbs, all would be peaches and cream today. Please. Sure, racism played a part in white flight. But so did escaping crime and social dysfunction and the allure of a larger yard. Think back: What else was going on in the 1960s and 70s? Ah yes: Race riots in cities all across the country. Who in their right mind would want to stay in the central city?

    So to recap: Staying in the city would mean higher crime, smaller house, and falling property values. But all those minor little issues aside, the ONLY reason white people moved was because they were raaaaacist. Right.

    One more little problem with these kinds of claims: Atlanta really was a boom town for a few decades. Tens of thousands of people did, in fact, flock to the area. All those people had to live somewhere. So it was inevitable that congestion was going to follow. Except in very densely-populated cities like New York, Chicago, and Paris, public transportation is almost never a popular option. In order to get to work, most people would have to drive to a MARTA station, take the train into town to a station located only semi-close to their office, then wait for a bus to take them the rest of the way. As a result, the time saved commuting is not that great, but the aggravation and crime risk are appreciable. And if you have an errand to run after work, forget about it.

    The fact is, Cobb County got it exactly right not participating in the MARTA boondoggle.

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  • Bryan Griffith

    But greater density prevents crime. Perhaps by now you have heard?

  • comment_comment_comment

    Sitting in traffic for 4 hours a day is the epitome of life quality. Cobb really hit the head of that nail.