Transit for Gwinnett

The Need


By heavily investing in transit of all kinds, Gwinnett County would be setting itself up for decades of sustainable population growth, for helping people of all walks of life enjoy what Gwinnett has to offer, for continuing to attract competitive businesses, for reducing its impact on the environment, and for providing alternatives to clogged roads. Read more about how transit would address each need below:

Preparing for our Growing Population

How Transit is Good Economics

How There's not Enough Space for Everyone to Only Use Cars

Being Prepared for Emergencies

How the People of Gwinnett Already Want Better Transit

 

Population

 

Picture Credit: Just Rent to Own

Picture Credit: Just Rent to Own

By 2040, our metro is projected to reach a population of just over 8 million people. We are already feeling the strain of our current 5.8 million, with ever lengthening rush hours and clogged roads. Imagine another 2.3 million on top of what we have now. The simple reality is that there's no way to handle everyone in cars. There's no way to pave our way out of the traffic nightmare bearing down upon us. That's why it's important, as a region, to embrace transit and alternatives to driving.

From 2015 to 2040, the 20 county Atlanta Region is forecast to add 2.5 million residents.
— ATLANTA REGIONAL COMMISION

Picture Credit: ARC Series 15 Forecast

 

Gwinnett is projected to surpass Fulton County as the most populated county in the metro.

To give some context to this growth, we can look to the Philadelphia metro area, which has a modern population roughly 6 million people. The Atlanta metro is not much farther behind that, yet we certainly do not have the robust regional rail / high-capacity transit network that Philly does to support that population.

Furthermore, the City of Atlanta is projected to grow to 1.5 Million on its own by 2050 (That's 3.2 times the city's 2015 estimated population) putting it (1,500,000 people; 134.00 square miles; 11,194 people per square mile) on the same level of modern-day Philadelphia (1,517,550 people; 135.09 square miles; 11,234 people per square mile). Generally speaking, the roads in both the city and metro are mostly built out, and many are already over capacity. We must, therefore, look to alternatives to roads to pick up the slack.

Looking to Gwinnett, specifically, is projected to surpass Fulton County as the most populated county in the metro. With that, would come Gwinnett's rise to the second most densely populated county in the metro.

 

Space

 

The capacity of a single 10-foot lane (or equivalent width)
by mode at peak conditions with normal operations.

Picture Credit: National Association of City Transportation Officials - Transit Street Design Guide

While street performance is conventionally measured based on vehicle traffic throughput and speed, measuring the number of people moved on a street—its person throughput and capacity—presents a more complete picture of how a city’s residents and visitors get around. Whether making daily commutes or discretionary trips, city residents will choose the mode that is reliable, convenient, and comfortable.

Transit has the highest capacity for moving people in a constrained space. Where a single travel lane of private vehicle traffic on an urban street might move 600 to 1,600 people per hour (assuming one to two passengers per vehicle and 600 to 800 vehicles per hour), a dedicated bus lane can carry up to 8,000 passengers per hour. A transitway lane can serve up to 25,000 people per hour per travel direction.
— National Association of City Transportation Officials - Transit Street Design Guide

Now, traffic, as much as it might feel otherwise, is something of a good sign. It shows that people are busy, getting to work, going to school, and running errands. It is a sign of growth and of an active economy. That said, there's a point where simply using roads just doesn't make sense any more. In many cases throughout the metro, roads are already as wide as they can get before we start tearing into businesses and homes. So, what do we do if we physically can't handle more cars?

The answer is to look at the problem differently. Are we trying to move cars, or people? The answer should be obvious: people. The point of a transportation system is not to necessarily move the most of a certain type of vehicle, but rather to attempt to handle the volume of people trying to get around. To that end, the answer to increasing the capacity of built-out roads, is to use a method of moving people that is more space-efficient than a car.

This, is where transit comes in. Even adding a simple, mixed-traffic frequent bus line to a road has the potential to double its capacity of moving people. When we start looking at dedicating lanes for transit use, the capacity grows even more. These are simple, even relatively inexpensive methods of getting more mileage, as it were, out of a seemingly full road.

As Gwinnett, and the metro, continues to grow, there will be ever fewer opportunities to expand our existing roads to accommodate everyone in cars, but with expanded transit services coupled with other modern road designs, we can keep people moving even as we swell.

For those corridors needing even more service than frequent service and/or dedicate lanes, we can look into truly high-capacity transit, by dedicating area for fully separated transitways, making use of existing rail corridors, and by even burying transit in tunnels or lifting it up into aerial structures. Even these, though they may seem cumbersome at first, can move far more people than if the equivalent amount of land were solely dedicated to cars.

Picture Credit: Cycling Promotion Fund

 

Economics

 

NCR, Worldpay, State Farm, Athenahealth and PulteGroup all announced moves that will put their headquarters or regional hubs close to significant mass transit and, in most cases, MARTA rail stations.
Mercedes-Benz, which is moving its U.S. headquarters from New Jersey to metro Atlanta, is expected to pick a site in Sandy Springs but wants to be close to MARTA as well as interstates.
Combined, the companies account for nearly 15,000 promised jobs, many expected to include high salaries.
— MATT KEMPNER - THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

As our metro grows, the already painful traffic will only seem to grow worse, as more cars try to make use of roads not well equipped to deal with the growing population. The instinct may be to want to simply build more roads, and expand the ones we already have. This, though, will only bring more traffic to fill in road's new capacity with what's called induced and latent demand.

The basic idea is that people who have been avoiding the road, or foregoing trips because they don't want to deal with the congestion of the road. When capacity is added, people who were avoiding the road now come to use it, extra trips are made, and even new development attempts to take advantage of the new capacity. Soon enough, traffic feels just as bad as it did when the road was first planned to be expanded.

There is good evidence to show, though, that these road expansions just do not pay for themselves. Generally speaking, the low-density development patterns, that cars require to remain viable as a useful transportation system, just do not generate enough tax revenue to pay for the long-term upkeep, nor the replacement costs of that infrastructure. The graph to the right shows the cash flow from low-density developments supported by extensive, car-centric road networks. Over time, the cost of maintaining and replacing all the infrastructure supporting the low-density development overtakes the tax revenue collected from that development. This can very well cripple a town's finances.

Picture Credit: Strong Towns

Picture Credit: Strong Towns

The picture to the left shows how the more dense core of a city supports the less dense surrounding area financially. Green means the property produces more than it costs to maintain in supporting infrastructure; red means the property produces less. The taller the bar, the more it produces or costs.

While pure density is not the answer, it is very much part of the answer. Dense, mixed use developments built to take advantage of the capacity efficiency of non-car transportation can more than pay for themselves and their supporting infrastructure in the long run. Transit oriented developments built around stations, high-density corridors along frequent transit routes, and strong supporting networks for pedestrians, bikes, and general buses would all be able to secure the financial future for whatever municipality takes up those practices.

 

Emergencies

 

Picture Credit: Politico

Picture Credit: Politico

Picture Credit: Fox 6 Now

Picture Credit: Fox 6 Now

Though not an everyday occurrence, the Atlanta metro is no stranger to events suddenly bringing our roads to a halt. Whether the crippling snow storm in 2014, or the catastrophic fire, and resulting collapse, of Interstate 85, we have been shown that, at a moments notice, our metro's road networks can come to a screeching halt at the hands of, often, unpredictable events.

Transit has proved, in these times, to be an invaluable asset. In 2014, MARTA maintained rail operations through the night, shuttling those stranded on the interstates and the airport to hotels, friends, and family near transit stations. In 2017, MARTA again rose to the challenge of helping to handle an entire interstate's worth of commuters by extending rail operations for new riders joining the system at its park-n-ride stations, while GRTA and GCT shifted their express bus routes to take full advantage of those same stations.

Even in times of lesser direct affect to our city, transit has shown to be able to pick up the slack whenever a major storm brings with it a wave of stranded airline passengers needing easy access to hotels for the foreseeable future.

We all hope that such events will be the last, and that we can learn enough to avoid them in the future, but the way of the world is that there will always be something, no matter how hard we try. Yet, part of preparing to handle such events is in the ability to keep the metro mobile through them, and to that end, transit has already proven to be an essential part. Expanding transit only adds to its ability to handle the needs of a metro in crisis.

 

The People of Gwinnett Want it Already

 

Across the region, nearly three out of four (74%) respondents think transit is Very Important to the region.
— ATLANTA METRO SPEAKS SURVEY
Voters in Gwinnett County want rail service, according to a new poll conducted by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. Sixty-three percent of respondents supported an extension of MARTA into Gwinnett.
— WABE - Poll: Gwinnett County Wants MARTA Rail Expansion

Gwinnett citizens voiced their support for transit in 2016, with 65.5% saying that transit is "very important", and an additional 21.3% saying it was "somewhat important", for a total of 86.8% of those surveyed believing some form of transit was important to the future of the metro. This joined a metro-wide trend of demanding better transit access to ensure a strong metro area in the future, and, in November 2016, the City of Atlanta stepped up to partly meet this demand by becoming the first area to approve a simply massive MARTA expansion. Companies are taking notice, too, with high-profile businesses making moves to have access to transit to keep up with the shifting ideas of newer generations, and developers taking up projects all along the MARTA network.

Additionally, in 2015 likely Gwinnett voters showed strong support for expanding MARTA into the county, with 63% in favor of extending the service, and with 50% in favor of paying the MARTA tax to receive that service. This represented a tipping point, where Gwinnett voters began showing majority, or near majority support for a true expansion effort.

All that is left, is to actually build a plan that Gwinnett likes, and let the citizens show the support they already have for building a truly world-class transit system in their county.