Local Voices – Why a Clifton Corridor Transit Line is Long Overdue

by Nenad Tadic for Virginia Highland/Druid Hills Patch
I wrote an article in August on a recent development to bring MARTA rail service directly to Emory’s Druid Hills campus. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept up with the initiative since then so I don’t know the current status of it.
But it’s a shame that when MARTA was constructed, it bypassed plans to service the Druid Hills/ Clifton Corridor area with a rail line. These are some of the biggest commercial centers in all of Metro Atlanta, which include Emory University, Emory University Hospital, Emory Point (coming soon) and the CDC, to name a few. These prominent institutions are located just 4-5 miles from Downtown Atlanta, yet because of the absence of a rapid transit line near them, travel times from the CDC to the Five Points station, per se, can take upwards of an hour.
Convenience. Convenience. Convenience.
That’s the first buzz word that comes to mind for me when I think of what a MARTA station off Clifton Road would bring to our entire community. Getting around town would be no hassle at all.
It’d be safer. It’d make exploring Atlanta neighborhoods more of a possibility. It would diminish the prevalence of the “Emory Bubble,” coined because a freshman at Emory is so limited because of unreliable and oftentimes confusing public transit options that he or she makes his own little bubble on campus.
Emory sponsors Cliff Shuttles which operate on a fixed schedule to/from Emory and various nearby business sites. Emory also has special shuttles that run to shopping districts like Lenox Mall or Atlantic Station. These usually operate on weekends, but not every weekend.
These shuttles are great! I use them often. But they are just too limited and run too infrequently to satisfy the student who has an internship Downtown and commutes everyday, or the cafeteria worker whose home in Southwest Atlanta can’t realistically be reached without a car, especially late at night or early in the morning.
As the 9th largest metropolitan area in the country, Atlanta’s public transportation is a nightmare compared to #10 Boston, #18 St. Louis, or even #23 Portland, Ore.
Of all the cities I have visited during my college visits (these include New York, Philadelphia, Houston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and of course Atlanta), getting from Hartsfield Jackson to Emory was the hardest airport-school commute.
I myself am from Chicago and can attest to the fact that you can get anywhere in the city with public transit. Anywhere. Especially the University of Chicago and Northwestern University – Emory’s peer institutions. In fact, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs the “Purple Line,” named after neighborhing Northwestern which the line runs near.
That’s not to say better public transportation would necessarily make Emory a better school. Not at all. Sure it may make it seem more of an attractive option to prospective students, but that doesn’t get at the bottom line.
The bottom line is this: Atlanta is famous for its urban sprawl and consequently, its traffic. Its infrastructure is severely lacking for a city of its size.
Those opposed to transit lines cite that they bring crimes to otherwise safe and wealthy white neighborhoods. Policymakers need to address their concerns.
It is time for Atlanta to develop a plan that suggests it really is the forward-thinking city it once prided itself on. Better public transit is only going to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. And in important districts like the Clifton Corridor, a transit line is crucial.

1959 Film from ULI and National Association of Homebuilders Warns of Urban Sprawl

This 1959 film, “Community Growth, Crisis and Challenge,” warns citizens, developers, and city officials of the dangers of urban sprawl.  This historical artifact, co-sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the Urban Land Institute ULI) provides alternative approaches to land development.  The film was produced by the NAHB. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1W3onge7BY&feature=colike
For more information on ULI’s historical 75 years, go to:  http://www.uli75.org

Atlanta Police Preparing for Beat Redesign

from Virgina Highland-Druid Hills Patch
Officers in the Atlanta Police Department have started to prepare for the beat redesign that is tentatively set for December.
No official date has been set for the restructuring of police beats city-wide, but zone two commander Robert Browning told residents Tuesday night that officers in zone two and zone six have started to discuss the plan to move the Morningside and Cheshire Bridge Road areas into the zone two boundaries.
Zone six officers currently patrol Morningside and Cheshire Bridge Road.
Browning said the department needs to hire more officers before the redesign can be completed, but in the meantime, officers have started to familiarize themselves with the new territory.
“I’m very familiar with that area,” Browning said Tuesday night at a public safety town hall meeting in Virginia-Highland. “I’m looking forward to getting back in there and dealing with some problems in that area.”
Morningside and Cheshire Bridge were part of zone two roughly 10 to 12 years ago, he said.
“As you know most criminals kind of have an area they like to hang out in,” Browning said. “Our officers are already talking to the zone six officers and familiarizing ourselves with some of the criminals in that area.”
The Atlanta police department began to discuss re-structuring the police beats last year and held several public hearings to give residents a chance to voice concerns and opinions. The decision to move certain areas into new zones was based on call volume and reported crimes in each area.
Zone two, the largest zone in the city, will take on three additional beats after the redesign — Morningside, Cheshire Bridge Road and part of Lenox and Phipps, which will be split into two beats.
“Because zone two is growing…to be able to staff it correctly, we have to have a certain number of officers assigned to the zone,” Browning said. “Right now, we are just a little bit short. We just haven’t had enough people graduate out of the academy.”
Atlanta police department spokesman Carlos Campos said Wednesday the department graduates officers from the academy monthly and the depertment hopes to have the redesign complete sometime in December.
“We are basically dotting some “i”s and crossing some “t”s,” Campos told Patch. “We have to make sure everything is a go, and we are in the process of doing that.”
He said the department will notify Atlanta residents when they are ready to roll out the beat redesign.

MARTA Rep.: ‘We’re at the end of the beginning’

Talks about Clifton Corridor transportation project continue

Residents take a close look at possible transit options in the Clifton Corridor.
by Jaclyn Hirsch for Virgina-Highland/Druid Hills Patch
 
Residents packed a conference room at the Emory Conference Center Hotel Tuesday night to have one final discussion about transportation options in the Clifton Corridor area.
Although MARTA project manager Jason Morgan said the end of the public input process is “the end of the beginning,” residents were eager to study the three options that would bring rail or bus service — or a combination of both — from Lindbergh Center in Buckhead to Cheshire Bridge Road, Emory University, and the Centers for Disease Control.
Some options would extend the line to the Avondale Estates MARTA station and connect North Decatur and Clairmont Road and DeKalb Medical to the line.
This final public meeting gave residents the opportunity to hear from project managers and have one-on-one discussions with those working on the project.
Morgan said the team has been working to balance the needs of residents and commuters in the area and reminded residents that they have a long way to go on the project. Conversations about the project began more than two years ago with 36 options on the table.
“This process is not done,” he said. “This is a journey, essentially, and a partnership.”
The project would cost roughly $700 million and no plans for funding have finalized.
The Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable voted earlier this month in favor of a $6.14 billion list of transportation investments, which included the Clifton Corridor project. Projects on the list would be funded by a penny sales tax — if voters approve — when it’s placed before them on the 2012 elections ballot.
Druid Hills resident Ken Gibson said regardless which option gets chosen, he wants to see action soon.
“I feel strongly that something needs to be done and the longer we wait, the harder it gets,” Gibson said Tuesday night.
Morgan said rumors that MARTA plans to “bulldoze” Briarcliff Animal Hospital on Johnson Road in Morningside are false. He said there are no plans to level any businesses at this time, and only the city and county would have the authority to do so if it became part of the plan.
He also said all transportation options on the table involve building tunnels that will go under Lenox Road.
Morningside resident Carey Aiken said he supports the light rail option and feels the heavy rail option would create “a big transportation mess in an area that’s already congested.”
“Good quality of life would be ruined,” Aiken said.
He said the light rail option is “the vision of the future” and could see himself using that line instead of driving to the 10th Street MARTA station or Lindbergh Center.
Morgan said he expects the MARTA board of directors will approve one of three options in December and urged residents to submit comments and feedback by Nov. 8. Residents can submit comments on the MARTA website.
The options
The three transportation options include bus service, light rail service and heavy rail service.
The 8.3-mile bus service would connect Lindbergh Center to Avondale Estates with stops in Cheshire Bridge, Sage Hill, CDC/Emory, Emory Clairmont Campus, North Decatur/Clairmont, Suburban Plaza and DeKalb Medical Center.
This route would serve about 15,300 riders daily and create about 15 jobs per acre.
The 8.3-mile light rail option would link Lindbergh Center to Avondale Estates with stops in Cheshire Bridge, Sage Hill, CDC/Emory, Emory Clairmont Campus, North Decatur/Clairmont, Suburban Plaza and DeKalb Medical Center.
This route would serve about 17,500 riders daily and create about 15 jobs per acre.
The final option, a 4.7-mile heavy rail line, would connect Lindbergh Center to Cheshire Bridge, Sage Hill, CDC/Emory, Emory Clairmont Campus and North Decatur/Clairmont.
This line would provide direct service to Airport, Doraville and North Springs stations without transferring at Lindbergh. Local bus service would be available to connect to Avondale Estates.
This line would see roughly 18,400 rides daily and create 17.6 jobs per acre.
All three options have an optional station in Morningside.
For more information on the Clifton Corridor project, visit the Clifton Corridor portion of the MARTA website.

Atlanta Marathon Comes to Our LLCC Community


On Sunday, 30 October, the Atlanta Marathon will wind its way though 26.2 miles of Atlanta neighborhoods. LLCC neighborhoods will play host to this marathon along portions of Shepherds Lane, LaVista Road and Lindbergh Drive.
Volunteers from The Center for Puppetry Arts will be along the route in our community to cheer the runners on. They will be dressed in costumes and carrying puppets and noisemakers (according to LVPCA resident Lisa Rhodes). Come out and join this fun-loving bunch to offer encouragement to the runners.

To see the full course map, click HERE.
This course will necessitate full or partial closing of these streets. Below is a matrix showing expected closures:

Shepherds Lane 8:25 AM – 12:10 PM Entire Street
LaVista Road 8:30 AM – 12:25 PM Westbound Lane
Lindbergh Drive 8:35 AM – 12:40 PM Westbound Lane

Transportation Roundtable job is much harder because the state doesn’t fund transit

From SaportaReport.com
 

It all boils down to this.
All the hand-wringing that’s going on this week with the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable can be traced back to one player — the State of Georgia.
The Roundtable has until Oct. 15 to submit its final list of projects that will be included on a penny sales tax referendum that will be presented to voters next year. The tax is estimated to generate $7.2 billion over 10 years with 15 percent of that will go directly to local governments, leaving $6.1 billion to be divvied up by the Roundtable.
The leaders in the 10-county region are agonizing over whether it should add $80 million (in addition to the current $100 million) to fully fund the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s Xpress buses over the next 10 years by taking away from four other transit investments.
The Roundtable will meet on Oct. 11 to try to find consensus on the four toughest amendments that must be addressed before the Oct. 15 deadline.
An amendment proposed by Henry County Chair B.J. Mathis would remove that $80 million from MARTA’s allocation to keep its system in a state of good repair, from the Atlanta BeltLine streetcar project, from the Clifton Corridor transit line and from Cobb County’s light rail line.
Also on the table is another amendment proposed by Douglas County Chair Tom Wortham to shift $34.5 million from MARTA’s state of good repair to go to fund GRTA’s Xpress buses.
A third amendment, submitted by DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, would shift $297 million of funding along Georgia 400 towards expanding MARTA east line along I-20 corridor.
The fourth amendment was proposed by Clayton County Chair Eldrin Bell to invest $350 million in the Atlanta to Griffin commuter rail line, and the proposal has called for reducing all other transit projects by 10 percent to pay for commuter rail.
Watching this agonizing tug-of-war between the various jurisdictions chipping away at proposed transit projects is painful.
And while regional leaders are tempted to turn on each other, the real culprit here is the state and its lack of funding for transit, in particular, and transportation in general.
GRTA is a state agency that was created to be a vehicle for the state to become a regional player in transit. But GRTA has been lobbying to get $180 million from the metro Atlanta tax to fully fund its system rather than rely on any financial support from the state to pay for the regional bus system.
Earlier in the Roundtable process, a dramatic moment occurred when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Roundtable Chairman Bucky Johnson took advantage of a break in a meeting to go see Gov. Nathan Deal. At that meeting, Deal assured Reed and Johnson that he would help the state invest $80 million in GRTA over the next 10 years.
That’s how the GRTA allocation in the project list was reduced from $180 million to $100 million.
Now GRTA backers are trying to restore that $80 million because they say the governor can not make a financial commitment to support the regional bus system because it would be up to the legislature.
Mathis actually called on state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Cobb) to describe the appetite for GRTA funding in the legislature.
“The state has not shown a commitment at this time,” Stoner said. But Stoner added that he did not believe that funding for GRTA should come out of MARTA’s state of good repair, which is essential to having a regional transit system.
Atlanta Mayor Reed said that when the economy recovers, the state will be in a much better financial position than local governments that have a ceiling on what they can collect on property taxes. And he continued to believe the state would rise to the occasion to invest in a regional transit system.
“The governor was willing to try to get it figured out,” Reed said.
The mayor also added that on Wednesday, Oct. 5, the state had “a wonderful meeting around transit governance” — an effort that would create an umbrella entity to oversee all the transit operations in the Atlanta region.
“I think the transit governance conversation really is the key to getting the state interested in long-term funding,” Reed said.
Speaking about the entire Roundtable experience, Reed said: “I never expected this to be an easy process. I focus more on results than the journey.”
For decades, metro Atlanta has been under-investing in MARTA — the region’s largest transit system by far. Most of that can be attributed to two facts — the lack of state funding and the fact that only two counties (Fulton and DeKalb) provide financial support for the system.
Until the state becomes a significant player in transit funding, the region’s leaders will continue fighting over the limited dollars that exist.
And while it would be easy to get frustrated by the situation, MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott has managed to remain hopeful that the process will lead to a favorable outcome for the transit backbone of the region.
“There’s a solution,” Scott said. “We have come too far to have it fall apart now.”

Metro Atlanta turning winning transit season into losing one

By Guest Columnist COLLEEN KIERNAN, director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club for SaportaReport
The way the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) is playing out in the Metro Atlanta Region feels a lot like the 2011 Braves season. It started out with a lot of hope and promise, primed with new leaders at the helm who would be able to undo years of disappointment.
In the early stages, it stumbled a bit, but by mid-season, it was in good shape.  After the All-Star Break, aka the August 15 deadline for a draft project list, boosters claimed the list was about 55 percent transit, 45 percent roads.
Although I’m not aware of anyone who thought the draft list was perfect, it did represent the first time that the 10-county region, as a whole, was going to make a significant and (somewhat) ongoing commitment to funding transit. That commitment, like the ballclub, is starting to crumble in the home stretch.
The team that blew a long lead was the same team that had been looking good enough to run up that long lead.  The TIA showed a similar appearance vs. reality profile: the 55 percent transit number was always a bit misleading.
That figure considered only the 85 percent of the pot that the Roundtable is allocating, omitting the other 15 percent that local jurisdictions get to spend on their own local projects – almost certainly roads.

The 55 percent also counts federal money that is tagged for projects, which makes the transit percentage appear higher than it is. The true final breakdown is likely to be around 40 percent transit / 60 percent roads – a discouraging result in light of the fact that road projects have a dedicated revenue stream, the gas tax; transit has limited regional and no state funding.

Even if the TIA were dedicated entirely to transit, overall regional spending on transit expansion would still fall short of projected roadway spending over the life of the tax. That long lead was not so long after all, not so long it couldn’t be blown when confronted by determined opponents.  The difference between the Braves and TIA is that the opponents are supposed to be members of the TIA team.
But the most troubling element of the TIA draft list is that a segment of the Northern Arc expressway, an intensely controversial road that was repeatedly contested finally defeated by a diverse coalition of organizations (including Sierra Club) nearly a decade ago, was quietly slipped onto the list as project TIA-GW-060 with little public discussion regarding the true impact and ramifications of this decision.
The connection between TIA-GW-060 and the historical Outer Perimeter / Northern Arc concept is undeniable when properly articulated (click here  for a visual explanation), and we are concerned that once voters fully appreciate the magnitude of the decision to resurrect a divisive proposal that was resoundingly rejected by the public years ago, this project will become a poison pill that could endanger passage of the tax next year.
While no amendments were offered that would strip the Northern Arc, Roundtable members have started hacking away at the transit component. Cobb County, which got the biggest allocation of transit money, proposed moving $271.5 million from their transformative rail project from Atlanta to Cumberland to making a portion of Windy Hill Road an expressway and adding bus service from Acworth to Atlanta.
While Cobb insists that the feds will step in and keep the rail project viable, the project will “live” on a wing and a prayer instead of a reliable stream of revenue.
More encouraging was a proposal from DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis to  redirect road money from a massive widening and reconstruction  of GA-400  to the proposal for rail along I-20, but the amendment received little support from fellow Roundtable members. It was then revised to take from the Clifton Corridor rail project instead, and was ultimately tabled until next week.
If this “robbing Peter to pay Paul” exercise is approved, it may be enough to satisfy South DeKalb constituents who have promised a “Vote No” campaign if I-20 East rail is not on the list, but will seriously jeopardize the viability of the Clifton project and likely lose another constituency that otherwise  could have enthusiastically supported the tax.
The more offensive example of “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” however, is the proposal to fully fund Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s (GRTA) Xpress buses at the expense of MARTA maintenance and the Beltline and Clifton Corridor rail projects.
As Senator Doug Stoner pointed out, it’s time for the State to step up to the plate on GRTA funding. And finally, despite  overwhelming  support from all corners for adding the Griffin commuter rail line, all it got was $20 million for additional studies, which while taken from another bad road project (the Tara Boulevard “super arterial”) is good, but not enough.
Sierra Club can’t see any major public constituency that will be truly excited about supporting the T-SPLOST as the project list currently stands — not just on election day but also during the critical campaign season leading up to the vote.
Anti-tax activists and Tea Party types will oppose this new tax simply because it’s a tax.
Should the T-SPLOST fail to inspire significant support from environmental and pro-transit voters, this could be the death knell for passage of the 2012 referendum. The Roundtable would be much better served by focusing on gaining the support of the ever-growing and varied group of pro-transit voters.
If they do, Atlanta can take its place among other forward-looking metropolitan areas that have positioned themselves for enduring success in the 21st century. And then the Roundtable’s last regular season game, despite dragging on for 13 innings, will end up in the “W” column, and we won’t have to once again “wait ‘til next year.”

NPU-B Denies Rezoning for Sembler Co. Project

From Buckhead Patch

NPU-B Tuesday night turned down for the second time the Sembler Co.’s rezoning request for a retail project at Piedmont Road and Lindbergh Drive.
Sembler sought to rezone land in the corridor along Morosgo and Adina drives from high density residential to high density commercial for what has previously been described as a grocery store. But NPU Chairperson Sally Silver and other NPU members have expressed concern that the project would turn out to be of much larger scale than a typical supermarket.
The NPU previously rejected the rezoning for the SPI-15 area near the Lindbergh MARTA Station because Sembler didn’t have a site plan to show the board. Silver on Tuesday said the company had indicated its willingness to offer a “conceptual” site plan, but the board again unanimously rejected the rezoning request.
Silver had called the NPU into executive session to take the vote, although three reporters remained in the Hyland Center at Christ the King Cathedral during the discussion and vote.
NPU members expressed concern that Sembler is seeking to build a “big box” store, possibly a Lowe’s, at the site. Silver said that such a store would bring in traffic from outside the area, countering SPI-15 aims to make the site a vibrant urban area of high-rise apartments and condos with small, local shops and restaurants. The area, near Sembler’s Home Depot-anchored Lindbergh Plaza, consists of apartments and shops around the Lindbergh MARTA station.

Atlanta-to-Griffin rail line getting second look

Dave Williams
Staff Writer – Atlanta Business Chronicle

A commuter rail line linking Atlanta with Griffin, Ga., that appeared to be out of contention for funding through a proposed regional transportation sales tax may get a new life.
The committee of metro-Atlanta mayors and county commissioners that has been assembling a list of highway and transit improvements to submit to voters in 10 counties next year will reconsider the commuter rail project on Wednesday.
An amendment to the $6.1 billion project list proposed by Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, a member of the regional “roundtable” developing the list, would set aside $350 million to build the rail line.
The roundtable had rejected the Atlanta-to-Griffin line last summer as too expensive. But Bell’s amendment, seconded by Union City, Ga., Mayor Ralph Moore, contends the work could be done for more than $900 million below original estimates by scaling back the scope of the project.
“As the first investment in the corridor between Atlanta and Savannah, this is the only project of significant regional and state impact,” Bell wrote in the form he submitted requesting the amendment. “This will be the only rail investment south of I-20, has strong support in the corridor inside and outside Atlanta, and meets every roundtable criteria.”
Supporters, including commuter rail advocates, complained vigorously when a five-member subcommittee of the roundtable recommended a project list that did not include the commuter rail line.
Under the 2010 state law that established the roundtable process and next year’s referendum, the full 22-member roundtable has until Oct. 15 to finalize the project list that will appear on the ballot.
Bell’s amendment recommends a series of cuts to the list to offset the $350 million that would go to the rail line. The largest would involve reducing the funds that would go toward a planned light rail line from Midtown Atlanta to the Cumberland Mall area by $85.7 million and cutting the proposed Clifton Corridor rail line by $70 million.

Sembler grocery store plan for Lindbergh and Piedmont area hits a few major approval snags

From BuckheadView by John Schaffner
 

Those who read early in August that a large grocery store might be coming to near the intersection of Lindbergh Drive and Piedmont Road, and were anticipating their first shopping trip, might want to put those shopping bags back in the closet.
That grocery store, which was anticipated as part of a Sembler Co. commercial retail strip development on 10 acres bordered by Lindbergh, Morosgo and Adina drives has run into a heap of denials for land use changes and likely will be a long time in the future if it happens at all.
At its Aug. 2 board meeting, Neighborhood Planning Unit B approved unanimously two zoning ordinances, which amended the Piedmont commercial corridor regulations to remove a minimum residential requirement for the property. The NPU board recognized the need for a major grocery store to fill a huge void and provide a needed amenity in the area.
From the August NPU-B meeting to its September meeting, the support seemed to dramatically erode. When it came to deciding on whether or not to approve an amendment to the land use element of the 2011 Atlanta Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) at the September meeting the NPU board questioned a number of factors.
First of all, while the NPU-B board had been envisioning a Public or Kroger grocery store as part of the development, the Sembler people had mentioned a Wal-Mart Super Store during discussions with the Design Review Committee. That was not acceptable to the NPU board.
Then board members asked to see a site plan for what Sembler was planning to build. They were told there was no site plan and would not be one until after all the approvals for the project. That too was unacceptable to the NPU board members.
The NPU-B board offered attorney Larry Dingle, who attended the September meeting representing Sembler, the opportunity to defer action on the land use amendment request until Sembler could present a site plan for the board to review along with assurances of what the grocery store would be.
The board even agreed to wait for a day or two to hear from Dingle if his client wanted that or wanted the NPU board to vote on a denial of the request. The board had agreed to do a formal vote by email after hearing from Sembler.
Dingle said there was no reason to wait, he knew his client would prefer for and up-or-down vote that night from the NPU on either approval or denial. The NPU board voted 25-9 for denial of Sembler’s request.
The request for the amendment then went before the city’s Zoning Review Board and Sembler asked for a deferment and received it.
The issue of the CDP amendment was up for a public hearing on Sept. 12 and NPU-B chairperson Sally Silver presented that the NPU board had voted 25-9 for denial of the amendment change for this proposed development. Silver told BuckheadView that the city’s staff also recommended denial.
On Sept. 13, the issue again went before the Design Review Committee, which decided it could take no action, according to Silver, because there was no site plan and no support of the proposal by the NPU or city staff.
The issue is destined to again come before the NPU-B Zoning Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 26, and Silver is sure the committee will vote for denial.
According to Silver, the issue is not necessarily dead in the water, but it certainly has been delayed at this point. She said she has placed a call to the Sembler people to see that they plan to do—proceed along the path they have chosen thus far, or make some changes and come back through the process—but she has not yet heard from them.
In August, Silver was one of the most excited over the prospect of having a grocery store in that area. “That is the big important thing that is going to make Lindbergh work,” she said at the time.