I traded transit for a car. Don't blame MARTA. - Peachtree Panorama - Blogs - Atlanta Magazine
 

I traded transit for a car. Don't blame MARTA.

Posted By: Rebecca Burns · 9/2/2011 8:00:00 AM

For most of the past decade, I commuted by MARTA, taking the train from our house in Avondale Estates to Atlanta magazine’s offices – first in Midtown, later Downtown. I’m not crazy about cars and found the train relaxing. Instead of worrying about the road, I could read, or, after getting an iPhone, check email and play "Words with Friends." Any aggravation triggered by schedule cutbacks, broken escalators, or persistent panhandlers, was mitigated by the sheer convenience of not having to deal with a car. It was cheap, too. Our company covers the cost of a MARTA pass. Parking Downtown, even with a corporate discount, is steep. Then there's the smugness factor; I loved to log into my Clean Air Campaign account and click on the button that calculated how many pollutants I’d kept out of the air.

The only problem was getting to MARTA. The Avondale station was less than a mile from our house. In theory, a great way to add a little exercise at the start and end of the workday. In practice, it was like maneuvering a basic-training obstacle course. Sidewalks stop at the city limits (i.e. three blocks from my home) forcing you to navigate footpaths worn through the easement and hop in and out of parking lots, as shown in the photo above. One business (You know who you are!) erected chain-link around its parking lot, forcing pedestrians to venture onto the shoulder of College Avenue, risking five lanes packed with speeding cars, trucks, and buses. Walk on the south side of the street, and you dodge drunks lollygagging around two liquor stores. Walk on the north side, and you pass a salvage center that was reportedly the site of a homicide. When it rains, the whole thing turns into a red-clay swamp.

I’m luckier than most MARTA commuters. I didn’t always have to walk to the station. When my daughter was in high school, we shared a car. On rainy days, she’d drop me at the station before driving her carpool to school. If I came home when it was too dark to comfortably pass the liquor stores and/or scrapyard, my husband would fetch me. When I had an important meeting, I commandeered one of the cars.

When we were looking for a new place this summer, one of my first wishes was something with a pleasant walk to a MARTA rail station. Finding the right space at the right price that also had access to a mile of sidewalks leading to MARTA proved practically impossible.

You can walk to MARTA from my new Cabbagetown home, but it's hardly pleasant. From the windows of our loft, you can see the King Memorial station. It’s much closer than my old MARTA station; according to googlemaps, just 0.7 miles. But, even google advises, “Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.” Google's algorithms are on to something. Freight train tracks run between my place and MARTA, which means that to get to the station you have to go through the Boulevard tunnel under the tracks. This dark, dirty passageway  ferries cars and container trucks by day and serves as a makeshift homeless shelter by night. To avoid the tunnel, you have to hike down Memorial Drive, all the way around the cemetery, and up Grant Street. This is a mile-plus route and not exactly blessed with surplus sidewalks and crosswalks.

I bought a car.

The drive from Cabbagetown to my office on Peachtree is less than two miles. It takes fifteen minutes with traffic; seven without. Do I feel a twinge of guilt when the MARTA train whizzes past? You bet. Do I realize I am ridiculously fortunate to be able to make this choice? Absolutely.

Thousands of Atlantans have no option but to take MARTA or some other form of public transit. It’s an extremely challenging way to live in this city. I know firsthand; my first years living here I had no car or access to a car and it affected everything from my health (I could only go to doctors accessible by MARTA or buy food I could carry on transit) to my income (I  turned down job offers because I had to way to get to the workplaces).

There's no question we need more, and better, transit options. But beefing up the bus schedule and adding rail lines isn’t going to solve the problem. We need to fix sidewalks, traffic lights, bus-stops, parking lots, and everything else that allows you to safely get from your front door to your transit stop. This need is underscored by two recent news stories.

First, there is the case of Raquel Nelson, the young mother who was charged with vehicular homicide after her four-year-old son was hit and killed by an impaired driver when the family crossed a busy Cobb County street without using a crosswalk. Yes, some may point fingers and say she shouldn't have jaywalked with her kids, but when is the last time any of those critics rode a bus or train, or walked home at the end of the day, let alone with youngsters in tow? Certainly none of the jury members who initially convicted Nelson. Reportedly, few of them had ever used transit, and then only to take the Braves shuttle. Plenty of sidewalks and closed streets when you go from the shuttle to Turner Field, and a shorter walk than the one Nelson and her kids would have had to take to reach the  crosswalk closest to her bus stop.

Second, there is the latest edition of the report from Transportation for America on pedestrian fatalities. The national “Dangerous by Design” report looks at how infrastructure — or lack thereof — threatens pedestrians and transit users. Metro Atlanta ranks No. 11 on their list of the most dangerous areas. Between 2000 and 2009, the study shows, 798 pedestrians died in traffic incidents here. If that many people were shot, we’d be outraged. Heck, if that many people died of food poisoning, we’d be scandalized. But, as the study demonstrates, nationwide and in Atlanta, the people more likely to be killed in such events are poor, elderly, minorities, or all of the above. I’m a middle-aged white woman. If I got run over by a car while crossing Memorial Drive, or mugged in that murky tunnel under the tracks, it would probably make the news. If I was a member of one of the groups over-represented in Atlanta’s appalling pedestrian fatality statistics, that would be less likely.

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  1. Bicycle Commuter posted on 09/05/2011 09:14 PM
    Have you ever thought about buying a bike? It would get you through the tunnel and through shady areas a lot faster. I am sure you can find a bike friendly way to get to the station.
    1. Bicycle Commuter posted on 09/05/2011 09:35 PM
      @Bicycle Commuter Heck you could even just ride all the way to work. It is only 2.5 miles.
      Krog Tunnel, Edgewood, Randolph, Freedom Park Trail, Jackson Street, Trail next to Highland, Baker Street, Peachtree and you are there. Alternative transportation does not always have to be another vehicle that consumes energy. You should seriously consider it.
  2. David Harris posted on 09/06/2011 10:17 AM
    Rebecca,

    I agree 100% with your article. However, you may want to have a word with the editors. The banner ad directly above this article is a BMW ad to test-drive a 3-series. Ergo : forgo MARTA for a 3-series.

    That's probably not the message you're trying to get across.

    But, again, I agree 100% with your article. I was lucky enough to live in Seoul, Korea for 3 years and loved, loved, loved the mass transit options there. I'm also lucky enough to have spent a week working in Amsterdam, which I found to be the most bike and pedestrian friendly city I've visited.

    I can't agree more about how unfriendly Atlanta is to mass transit.
    1. RebeccaBurns posted on 09/06/2011 03:03 PM
      @David Harris David,

      You are right that the juxtaposition of the ad and blog post is an unfortunate coincidence! (And in case you are curious, I bought a second-hand, fuel-efficient Honda.) I lived in the Netherlands for several years, and it's certainly a wonderfully bike-and pedestrian-friendly place.
  3. scott posted on 09/07/2011 06:47 PM
    @Rebecca - I feel your pain. The only way out of my neighborhood, without creating a 3/4 mile detour, is an abandoned bridge that is a haven for homeless people, a toilet for the homeless people (I keep telling myself it's canine) and beer bottles.

    I've walked my route to Garnett Station for 9 years, however when Mitchell Street Bridge reopens, I'll move the walk to 5 Points.

    Walking and bicycling is not a safe option. I've been hit by a car as a pedestrian while I had the green / walk light. The witness for the person that hit me was a homeless man. And what did the city do? I received the ticket. We won't even talk about the cluster f*** that happened in the city courts.

    I went to a concert at Lakewood two years ago, took the train round trip. On the way back, I exited 5 Points Station and took a cab home. Either the cabbie was involved or someone was staking out my building, but I soon found a gun to my head and I was being robbed on a Thursday morning at 1:00 AM.

    Tips:
    1. Continue to walk. Use caution, walk in pairs if possible.
    2. Look 3-4 times at intersections. Your mother was wrong when she said look twice.
    3. When coming back from a concert on a Thursday night, make sure you drive and pay to park. Gun to the head no fun.
    1. RebeccaBurns posted on 09/08/2011 10:18 AM
      @scott Thanks for sharing your experiences. Wow! Ticketed for getting hit by a car - that's a new one.

      Thanks for the good tips, too.

      I'm still getting around by foot and transit as much as possible - just not by myself early in the morning through a sketchy underpass!
  4. abby posted on 09/09/2011 11:36 AM
    Seconding Bicycle Commuter's suggestion. I also live in Cabbagetown, and can't stand the Boulevard tunnel under the CSX tracks. I work in midtown and ride a bicycle a few times a week. BC's route suggestion is similar to my standard route -- it's a pleasant way to transport yourself while getting a little bit of exercise and seeing the city from a different vantage point. Start out one day a week. Especially with this crazy fall weather, it's a great time to try it!
  5. blackbird13 posted on 09/09/2011 10:20 PM
    Don't mean to sound like a nosy jerk, but I'm dying to know: Was the "right space" ultimately more important than accessibility to MARTA? Because I know of a number of places near stations that are not that expensive. Just curious.
    1. RebeccaBurns posted on 09/12/2011 02:33 PM
      @blackbird13 You're not a nosy jerk! But, there are a lot of factors that go into selecting a place to live, and a pleasant walk to a MARTA train station was just one item on our wish list. In the long run, finding enough space -- and the right space configuration for our family -- was most important.
  6. Samuel posted on 09/12/2011 01:23 PM
    One more Cabbagetown resident chiming in here. Welcome to the neighborhood! Bicycle Commuter is correct: the Krog Tunnel route is very pleasant on a bicycle. Abby's suggestion of once a week is also very smart. With parking and traffic included, I've found that cycling to midtown takes just about as long as driving, and that's on low traffic streets at a no-sweat pace. It might actually be faster than driving if you're only going as far as downtown. Atlanta is no Amsterdam, but cycling here isn't as bad as most people assume. You just have to map out your routes in advance. Shoot for once a week, but you might find yourself hooked!

    Also, it's worth noting that there's a low spot in the cemetery fence, just across Boulevard from the Stacks. As long as it's during hours when the west gates of the cemetery are open, you can avoid the Boulevard CSX tunnel and have a pleasant walk to the MARTA station through the cemetery. The Grant St tunnel is much less intimidating!
    1. RebeccaBurns posted on 09/19/2011 10:56 AM
      @Samuel Samuel,

      Thanks for the tip. I walked around there this weekend and did not see the "low" spot in the Oakland wall. I also wonder how practical it would be to clamber over a wall as part of a daily routine (have I mentioned I'm a middle-aged woman? who wears skirts to work?) but I am intrigued and will continue to look for that spot.

      I do love walking around Oakland and it's become part of our new routine - replacing our old stroll around the lake in Avondale Estates.
  7. viaCycle posted on 09/16/2011 11:05 AM
    We agree with the bike commenters here... a bike is a great way to provide yourself with some extra speed and safety when traveling a couple of miles to MARTA or work. Unfortunately, although better than walking through exposed areas like the Boulevard tunnel, Atlanta's biking infrastructure still leaves a lot to be desired. The upcoming TIA referendum is a great step, but it doesn't do much to address that.

    In order to make biking and pedestrian projects a priority, we need to catalyze change. viaCycle is working on bringing bikesharing to the region, which provides better transit access and has been proven to drive bicycling adoption and mode share. Similar incentives such as walking groups or pedestrian commute credits could help more people walk to work as well.
  8. anonymous posted on 02/07/2012 08:27 AM
    If you're looking for a transit for a car, I think you'll be able to get it from carstuff. You might also get new geo tracker parts
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