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Guest donaltopablo

Highway vs Street Level BRT in Atlanta

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Obviously an easy decision to most of us. I agree with the Atlanta mayor, the extra cost is worth it to run it on the street. Even if it's only for part of the system while it travels inside 285. I would rather no compromise since Cobb could use the benefits of a street level transit system to get away from the sprawl style development. But it would be better than the entire system on the highway.

Traffic cure or spur to growth?

Costs, philosophy drive GRTA board's split over how bus rapid transit would travel


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The unexpected debate over how transit should travel between intown Atlanta and Town Center in Cobb County is more than a difference in opinion over routes. Much of the argument revolves around what the goal of the transit line should be.

Those who like the proposal to run rubber-tired buses designed to ride like trains in the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes of I-75 stress that this alternative moves the most passengers for the smallest investment of money.

Those who favor putting the bus rapid transit vehicles on exclusive lanes running along city and county arteries stress the potential for the line to stimulate development in the corridor as well as to ferry commuters.

The HOV option is projected to cost between $700 million and $800 million. The dedicated lane option is projected to cost between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion. A third option is a light rail line, estimated to cost between $1.6 billion and $2 billion.

With the staff of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority poised to embrace the HOV option, environmentalists, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and some members of the GRTA board advocated, at the 11th hour, the arterial route. The clash delayed a GRTA board vote last Wednesday that would put I-75 commuters one step closer to a new mass transit alternative.

GRTA Executive Director Steve Stancil also received a letter from Atlanta Regional Commission Director Charles "Chick" Krautler encouraging the authority to consider alternatives that "offer considerable potential for transit-oriented redevelopment."

GRTA Vice Chairwoman Sharon Gay was more blunt. "We're missing the land use linkages," Gay said.

New GRTA board member Lee Morris, who, like Gay, lives in the city of Atlanta, agreed. He said new types of higher-density development with access to mass transit are going to be essential to maintaining the region's livability as it adds an estimated 2 million more residents in the next 25 years.

"For us to ignore the opportunity of planning how we're going to grow and accommodate these 2 million people would be a real waste," Morris said.

But Jim Ritchey, GRTA's deputy executive director, stressed the lower cost of the HOV option as well as the relatively short construction period.

"We're at a point in the regional transportation planning process when we need to start building projects," Ritchey said. "We believe that Alternative A [the HOV option] is the most cost-effective project. These are dollars we can spend now."

Many residents of the area that will be served by the project agree with Ritchey, as do some board members.

Ross Bickers of Vinings attended the GRTA board meeting to voice his opinion. "Alternative A is the only alternative that meets the needs of most Cobb County commuters," Bickers said.

GRTA board member Richard Tucker took issue with Morris' view that stimulating new kinds of development should be part of the authority's goal with the transit line. "I don't think we can plan our transportation infrastructure around social engineering," said Tucker, the president of the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce.

Following the surprising opposition to the plan, the vote was reset for the board's Feb. 9 meeting. On Feb. 3, GRTA board members will tour the proposed routes before holding a work session to iron out their differences.

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Our current governor is a big fan of BRT. BRT, if done correctly (i.e. run on truly dedicated lanes), eliminates many of those disadvantages. The problem is, with running along standard road lines or shared highway lanes, it does have the same problems.

Personally, I'd give on BRT vs LRT if they do the development right. My concern is that they won't use the mass transit to change the style of development, or at least take advantage of it. Leaving us with another car dependant transit solution. Ugh.

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Build something that is rail up to town center. That's the best solution, even though it's the most expensive. A rail line with proper planning and zoning ordinances can spur transit-oriented development with time. As for suburban commuting into the major employment centers within the city, commuter rail should take care of that.

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What kind of distance are we talking about here? BRT in a dedicated lane on an existing road is little more than a regular bus (NYC has bus lanes in Manhattan, what a joke!). If the BRT is running (basically) in regular traffic on surface streets, what is the incentive for people to leave their cars at home, when they could beat the bus to town, by driving themselves on the highway?

Personally, I would go with the LRT option. If the LRT is running in a seperate median allignment, with traffic light prioritization (and if it doesn't stop every 100 feet like Boston's B Line), then you're going to see some time savings over a bus in a 'dedicated' bus lane (I'm picturing pavement painting marking the lane, much like Boston's Silver Line BRT). Also, the costs of LRT vs. BRT look to be very close (why is the BRT so expensive?), but over the long run, LRT is cheaper as the cars have a longer lifespan and need less maintenance than buses. Buses are also tough on pavement, shortening the lifespan of the street itself.

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Rail is the best choice. It stimulates development along its path. BRT can do the same thing, but often times it is poorly done, and ends up being not much better than a regular city bus. There was an article in the LA Times about the ineffectiveness of BRT a few weeks back. If I can find it, I'll post it here. It showed how when done incorrectly, a rider using BRT could actually reach his destination in less time by using a car. Of course that is not to say that all BRT is bad, but rather that LRT is probably a better choice, especially when the buses are traveling on heavily traveled roads.

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Well, here is the end result of the debate. They are going to run BRT along I75 and eventually run BRT along the street as well. Hey, we'll have BRT line "within a decade". Nice. For all of the positives going on in Atlanta, this is really disappointing. I've got 50 dollars say they run it up 75 and it never makes it on the street.

Transit agency to run buses on I-75 from Cobb


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 02/12/04

In a last-minute compromise, Georgia's transportation superagency approved deploying trainlike buses along I-75's HOV lanes from Cobb County's Town Center area to Midtown Atlanta.

The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority also committed to eventually launching similar vehicles along U.S. 41 in Cobb County and Marietta Boulevard in northwest Atlanta.

The compromise, forged late Wednesday, broke a deadlock on the GRTA board between advocates of the I-75 proposal and members who preferred running the buses along the surface streets to spur new development.

Now the state Department of Transportation can begin the required environmental assessment process and could have the buses, described as "trains on tires," rolling down the high-occupancy vehicle lanes within a decade.

Georgia Conservancy President John Sibley cast the board's lone dissenting vote because he said the plan does not tie the transit system closely enough to development.

"Even though this resolution pays homage to the language of the regional development plan, it doesn't really marry transportation and land use," Sibley said.

The $1.4 billion cost makes the transit initiative the least expensive proposal on the table at a time when money for transportation projects is scarce.

"We have to deal with the lack of funds," said GRTA board member Richard Tucker, a Gwinnett County developer.

Cobb County residents who support the HOV plan applauded the board's decision.

"[it] is simply the best transit plan for suburban commuters in general and for an integrated regional system," said Ron Sifen, president of the Vinings Homeowners Association.

At the same time, Sifen expressed some reservations, saying the plan could undermine funding for other projects, such as I-285 transit, an intown Belt Line and other projects already in planning stages.

Intown resident Reagan Quigley, a 26-year-old management analyst who lives near downtown, said she thinks the decision to invest in rubber-tired vehicles is short-sighted.

"I don't see the need to put more money into a bus system. If you're going to spend the money, you might as well throw it into a train," she said

Georgia Sierra Club Director Bryan Hager told the authority Wednesday the plan will do little to ease gridlock or curb sprawl, which will continue to damage the environment and hamper metro Atlanta's economy.

"You are putting us on a treadmill that's going to bankrupt this region," Hager said.

But the compromise that committed the authority to come back later with a plan to put transit on new, exclusive lanes along Marietta Boulevard won the city of Atlanta's endorsement, which was crucial to board approval.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has been unwavering in her support for mass transit along Marietta Boulevard to spark redevelopment along a mostly rundown industrial and commercial strip.

"In my ideal world, we would have done [Marietta Boulevard] first, but ultimately we need both," said GRTA board member Lee Morris, an engineering company executive and former Atlanta City Council member. "If we get them both, then everybody wins."

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