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Dinner parties were the original social network

Civil discourse can be hard these days. It seems like we’ve allowed ourselves to be defined more by our differences than the many interests or motivations we share. Those differences are enough to discourage many from engaging, but for those that do have a genuine interest in participating in the public discourse on issues that impact their lives, the limited opportunities to do so are often structured in a way that can feel intimidating. With no issue is this truer than with transportation. Most of us didn’t go to school for urban planning. We don’t necessarily know the intricacies of different modes of transit or how important transit oriented development is to boosting ridership in a system, but that type of knowledge shouldn’t be a prerequisite to participating in the conversation about our region’s mobility future. What we do know is that it can be hard to get around metro Atlanta and we’d like it to be easier. We know that most of us would like to have real options in how we move in our daily lives. Those are drivers that should be points we can all agree on and should therefore be the place we start.

These are some of the reasons we started Advance Atlanta– to make the discussion about transit and connectivity approachable and open to all who would like to engage. It’s also the reason we are so excited to partner with our friends at Civic Dinners to offer a new kind of transit conversation. Together we are bringing the conversation down to a scale that anyone can feel comfortable engaging in or leading.

The premise is that the people who call the Atlanta region home are our greatest strength. Civic Dinners provides a platform where we can tap into the collective knowledge of our citizenry and allow passionate individuals to bring people together and drive real progress by connecting with others on a personal level. The inherent flexibility of the model allows residents to participate in the dialogue on their own terms. How many people want to go to a transportation “open house” and look at some engineering plans? And if you are braver than most, stand up and share your reaction to the plans that you just looked at (If your hand is raised, that’s okay. We’re kind of nerds too).

This is about giving people the power to shape their own conversation and to engage in real, meaningful dialogue. Our hope is to take those conversations and to amplify them into a region-wide movement.

The format and ask are simple; we are asking you, your friends and your colleagues to host a dinner and invite a group of your peers (really- that’s it). You can make it an event that’s open for other residents to attend or you can define the invite list.

HOW IT WORKS

Guests will be asked three big questions over the course of the meal and each person is encouraged to share their thoughts with the group and publicly through social media using the hashtag #AdvanceATL. The one (and most important) condition of participating is that every guest has equal time and opportunity to share their personal stories, perspectives and ideas.

TO HOST

  1. Sign-up to host on civicdinners.com
  2. Pick a date, time and location (Many choose a restaurant, but if you’d like to open your home to guests you are more than welcome to do so.)
  3. After you sign up you will receive a hosting toolkit with suggested questions and helpful hints.
  4. You can share your event with a diverse group of attendees or leave it open for guests to search and attend.
  5. At the dinner each attendee is responsible for their own meal and drinks
  6. And that’s it!!

TO PARTICIPATE

Not sure about Hosting, but still would like to participate? No problem!

  1. Go to civicdinners.com and search for events that are already scheduled. You can filter by location and date to find one that is convenient for you.
  2. Simply RSVP to one that suits you or sign up for updates.

We believe that some of the most meaningful conversations can take place around a dinner table and that channeling that passion and thoughtfulness into the broader conversation about increased transit access is the key to connecting this region. Let’s shape Atlanta’s future together, one meal at a time.

TO LEARN MORE

62, 66 and 73. 1957, 1996, and 2016. Remember those numbers.

To be a transit-enthusiast in metro Atlanta is a position often fraught with disappointment and frustration. It is certainly not for the faint of heart, nor those who are not prepared for a constant, uphill battle. However, from the point of view of this eternal optimist, the tide seems to be turning (as I continue to hold my breath, and furiously “knock on wood”).

As a Sandy Springs native, MARTA trains and buses were constants in my childhood, yet only viewed from the window of a car. It was only after four years in Washington, DC that I realized cities were meant to be experienced on foot, bike, bus, or train, and not, as had been my singular experience, behind the wheel of a car from parking lot A to parking lot B. After returning to Atlanta for graduate school in 2011, residing in Midtown was the logical choice in order to maintain the newfound transportation independence and quality of life to which I had grown accustomed. Just take one look at the Atlanta Business Chronicle, or the cranes that dot the skyline, and clearly the business community agrees.

Heartbreak after TSPLOST’s defeat in 2012 ultimately led to my involvement with Advance Atlanta, and the 12 other like-minded individuals who comprise our Board of Directors. Our traction with metro Atlanta residents, the business community, civic leaders, and elected officials has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my adult life, ultimately leading to the passage of SB 369 a mere 3 hours prior to the close of the 2016 Georgia General Assembly session (this is complicated work for those of us prone to anxiety).

For those unfamiliar, SB 369 offers the City of Atlanta the opportunity to ask its residents for a ½-penny tax increase this November for the purpose of funding a massive expansion of transit within the City limits unlike any this region has seen since MARTA’s inception in the 1970s. Advance Atlanta supported the initial vision of Senator Brandon Beach, SB 313, which would have allowed all of Fulton and DeKalb counties to vote on an even more extensive $8 billion expansion. However, due to obstructionism by an extreme minority of elected officials from North Fulton county (against the evidence of current polling), only the 450,000 residents of the City of Atlanta (as opposed to the approximately 2 million residents of Fulton and DeKalb) will get the historic opportunity for the additional transit we so desperately need and want.

Make no mistake, transit expansion inside the city limits will be a complete game changer for what is consistently described as one of most sprawling and poorly designed cities in America. While the project list will not be completely finalized until this summer, it will likely include some combination of light-rail on the BeltLine (which many of us thought was decades away from becoming a reality), the expansion of the Streetcar outside of Downtown, and infill stations on current MARTA lines.

Ultimately, the success of this expansion will not only benefit the City of Atlanta, but will strengthen the case for growth into Cobb and Gwinnett counties as density builds and demand increases. Currently, the voices calling for transit outside of the urban core have been drowned out by the naysayers. For the opposition to change their tune, they’ll have to feel the prolonged pain of businesses and residents leaving those communities for a more transit-rich environment (which is already occurring, just not to the degree needed for a complete change in attitude).

If you have walked the streets of Midtown and seen the numerous cranes in the sky, driven through Central Perimeter and noticed the Fortune 1000 businesses within a half-mile of MARTA stations, or walked the BeltLine through previously forgotten neighborhoods (which now boast townhomes that cost in the mid- to high six figures), then you understand how connectivity can transform a region.  Now, think about what happens to our City when $2.5 billion is invested in the largest expansion of transit since MARTA’s establishment.  For those of you who lament that Atlanta is not as easily traversed as cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, or Boston, now is your chance to make a difference.

Even if you are not a regular MARTA rider, or even a resident of the City, you have a stake in this.  Proximity to transit increases property values, attracts businesses, and injects culture and walkability into a City’s fabric. One of the reasons that I love Atlanta so much is that we do not have a fully formed identity. Unlike the more established Northeastern cities in this country, we are experiencing growing pains, and still coming into our own. To me, that is extremely exciting, and allows residents to have a much more active role in shaping what we will become. This City is a very different place than during my childhood. On all fronts – culture, business, vibrancy, food, music, and art – we are firing on all cylinders like we never have before. The last piece of the puzzle is a more easily navigable community. Mark my words – the best and the brightest will only put up with mediocrity on that front for so long before leaving for greener pastures. We have put up with extreme traffic for so long that we have collective Stockholm Syndrome. This is a wake-up call – easy and healthy transportation options are not a privilege of a select few Northeast and West Coast metropolises – they are human rights, and we need to expect nothing less from our own beloved City.

Oh, right, those numbers I mentioned:  62 percent of metro Atlanta views MARTA favorably, 66 percent of Fulton and DeKalb county residents favor dealing with traffic congestion by improving transit, not roads, and a whopping 73 percent would vote for a tax increase to fund transit expansion.

In 1957, our airport became the busiest in the world; 1996 is when Atlanta hosted the Centennial Olympic Games; and 2016 is the year that Atlanta takes its next giant leap onto the world’s stage by voting to expand transit this November. If you love this City, and support its continued progress, join the Advance Atlanta movement.

Joey Kline is the Treasurer and a Board Member with Advance Atlanta and he is a Commercial Real Estate Broker with Jones Lang LaSalle.


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The History of MARTA

Transit 101: How MARTA became MARTA

MARTA is engrained in the fabric of Atlanta. The system’s routes and rail have shaped the story of our region and influenced development.  However, few Atlantans know the history of MARTA and the challenges it has and continues to face today.

MARTA is primarily funded via fare collections and a 1% sales tax levied in Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties, in addition to a limited pool of federal funds.  

Atlanta benefits from the eighth-largest transit system in the United States by ridership.  In 2014, approximately 440,000 daily riders relied on MARTA’s trains and buses for transportation.  As of 2014, MARTA ranked 6th in the U.S. for average daily riders per rail station (9,915 riders), following New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and San Francisco.  The system is comprised of 38 rail stations that cover 48 miles of track in Fulton and DeKalb counties. But, MARTA’s original vision called for a network that reached far beyond its current footprint.

The proposal for a system linking the burgeoning region was introduced by Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen’s administration in the early 1960s. In 1965, the Georgia General Assembly voted to create MARTA as the transit system to serve the City of Atlanta and its surrounding five counties (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett).  The act required local approvals and which were received from all counties with the exception of Cobb County.  

In addition to seeking approval, funding for the system was another significant challenge.  In 1966, Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to fund up to 10 percent of the cost of the system. The original plan for the local portion of funds was to finance the system through property taxes, though the measure was handily defeated in 1968. Following Ivan Allen, Mayor Sam Massell developed a proposal to fund the system through a special sales tax. Local option sales taxes were new to Georgia and the creation of one would require legislative approval, something that was not easily gained for city-centric legislation.

Backers worked to see the legislation advance and it gain approval, but at a cost. As the bill made its way through the Georgia Senate, Lieutenant Governor Lester Maddox communicated to supporters that if they wanted to see it pass, they would have to accept an amendment requiring MARTA evenly split the sales tax revenues between operating costs and capital expenditures. From the beginning, this restriction would hamstring the system by forcing a significant increase in fares and cuts whenever operating shortfalls arose.

Though the legislation emerged with stipulations, the eventual approval by the Georgia House and Senate were nonetheless celebrated. Massell called a news conference on the City Hall lawn, facing the capitol, where he unveiled a flatbed truck carrying a billboard that read “Thank You, Georgia Lawmakers!”. He also reportedly dug a hole in the City Hall lawn and ceremoniously buried a hatchet as a symbolic gesture of thanks.

Now that backers had won legislative approval, they had to define the terms of the ballot measure. One of the early sales tax proposals was for Fulton and DeKalb to levy a 3/4 penny tax and rely on the state for the 10 percent which was approved in 1966. Then Governor Jimmy Carter called MARTA officials to inform them that the state could not afford the $25 million contribution at that time.  Instead, Carter offered to allow MARTA to collect a full penny in local revenue if they did not lean on the state for dedicated funding. At the time, this revision put MARTA in a better financial position so leaders readily accept the alternative, but it was a decision that many would regret in years to come.

When the penny sales tax came to a vote in 1971, voters in Fulton and DeKalb narrowly approved the measure by a few hundred votes. Voters in Gwinnett and Clayton soundly defeated the measure.

Over the years, additional opportunities for MARTA expansion have unfortunately failed. Nevertheless, in a sign that old attitudes toward mass transit are evolving, Clayton County reversed its 1971 decision.  In 2014, a resounding 74% of the county voted in support of allowing expansion of MARTA service into Clayton County. This was the first expansion of MARTA outside of Fulton and DeKalb counties. Recent polling data in other surrounding counties shows shifting views in support of MARTA. Another survey shows the organization’s favorability within Fulton and DeKalb is as high as it’s ever been.

Part of the system’s renewed community support can be attributed to a financial turnaround engineered over the past several years, leaving MARTA operating with a budget surplus. The 50/50 restriction on the system was also removed in 2015, thus providing MARTA with more creativity and discretion on how it allocates funding.

As the region faces decisions on expanding our transit network, we at Advance Atlanta find it constructive to take stock of the successes and failures of those who have come before us. One thing is certain, the Atlanta region’s decisions on transit have had a significant impact (for better and for worse) on the development of our region. There is no doubt that improving transit access and mobility will leave a lasting legacy.

The Coalition to Advance Atlanta is a citizen-driven grassroots advocacy coalition dedicated to building support for regional transit and championing existing transit resources. Advance Atlanta brings together businesses, residents, and other community partners to advocate for transportation solutions that will advance the region we are all proud to call home.

We believe that the future of the metro region will be driven in large part by strategic investments in transit. If metro Atlanta is to remain competitive it will need to provide residents with  comprehensive transit options capable  of efficiently moving residents where they need to go when they need to be there.

For Atlanta to continue its position as a dominant economic force in the U.S. (and the world), a comprehensive, modern transit system is crucial.  We at Advance Atlanta invite you to join us.  To stay informed on our progress and to get involved, sign up for email updates here.  

Thank you for your support!

Joey Kline is an Atlanta native, Midtown resident, commercial real estate broker with Jones Lang LaSalle, and Board Member of Advance Atlanta. 


Transit 101 series:

This blog post is the third installment in a comprehensive series of stories discussing components of Georgia transit systems, transit decision makers, and regional transit opportunities.  We hope you find this series educational, entertaining, and insightful.


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