Atlanta’s initial modern streetcar line went into service yesterday. It marks the first time for streetcar operations in Georgia’s capital city since service was phased out in 1949.
The $90 million project, which relied upon $47 million from TIGER II funding, has a similar system design as Cincinnati’s system, but utilizes different rolling stock. In Atlanta, transit officials opted to award a $17.2 million contract for four vehicles to Siemens. Like Cincinnati, however, the vehicles are capable of expanded capacity more akin to light rail trains in use around North America.
The reason for such planning is that this streetcar segment is seen as the first part of a much larger network that folds into the comprehensive Atlanta BeltLine project. As part of that, planners anticipate building a 63-mile network of modern streetcars throughout the heart of the 448,000-person city.
City leaders, civic boosters and transit officials gathered in downtown Atlanta yesterday to celebrate the occasion. Paige Malott, an UrbanCincy contributor, was there to capture the scene and reported capacity crowds on the initial trains in operation.
“First ride inside the Atlanta Streetcar, and it is standing room only,” Malott wrote. “It is at capacity with 150 riders; super smooth ride!”
The 2.7-mile route is notably smaller than Cincinnati’s initial $148 million segment, which is 3.6 miles and features 17 stations, and is planned to average 15-minute headways.
Starting at Centennial Olympic Park and ending in the King Historic District, the initial features 12 stations and is envisioned to connect people to a slew of attractions spread throughout the center city, while also spurring redevelopment on the southeast edge of the central business district.
Like Cincinnati, the City of Atlanta is the owner of the project while MARTA oversees its operations. The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District is also a part-owner.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) announced their selection for a new Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, to fill Terry Garcia Crews’ vacated position, earlier this month. Dwight Ferrell was the person tapped for the position, and will take over effective January 5, 2015.
Ferrell boasts a long a diverse career in the transit industry. He will join Metro following his service as the County Manager for Fulton County, Georgia, where he oversaw more than 5,000 employees along with the county’s state and federal legislative agenda. In addition to that, Ferrell also previously worked with Atlanta’s largest transit agency as the Deputy General Manager and Chief Operating Officer at MARTA – America’s ninth largest transit system.
Ferrell’s background extends beyond the Atlanta region and includes transportation experience in Austin, Dallas, New Orleans and Philadelphia. According to Metro officials, he is also an active member of the American Public Transportation Association, Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, and Transportation Research Board.
Prior to taking over as Metro’s new CEO, Ferrell kindly agreed to an interview with UrbanCincy. The following interview was conducted on December 22, and is included below in its entirety.
Randy Simes: Coming from Atlanta, and having worked on their streetcar project, did you and Paul Grether, Metro’s current Rail Services Manager who previously worked as MARTA’s Streetcar Development Manager, ever work together? If so, how was your experience working with him, and how might that experience be beneficial moving forward with the operations of the Cincinnati Streetcar? Dwight Ferrell:I did work with Paul and have the highest regard for his knowledge about rail transit. Paul serves as the chair of the American Public Transportation Association’s streetcar committee, which is in Cincinnati this week to see the Cincinnati Streetcar construction.
Cincinnati is fortunate to have Paul working on this project. I am confident that under his leadership all Federal requirements will be followed and we’ll be ready to operate the streetcar in 2016.
RS: If there is one thing from your experience with MARTA that you could copy and duplicate at Metro, what would it be and why? DF:I really believe in performance management. It’s important for the community to know how we’re doing and for us to be transparent.
RS: When Atlanta pursued federal funding for its streetcar, there was the idea that the city needed to choose between seeking funding for rail transit for the BeltLine or the streetcar. Ultimately Atlanta went with the streetcar. If presented with a similar dilemma in Cincinnati, about a second phase of the streetcar or the Wasson Line, which do you think you would be more inclined to support and why? DF:These are local decisions based on many factors, and it’s too early for me to evaluate the merits of projects in Cincinnati. The process of securing Federal funding for rail projects requires intensive analysis and review to determine if a project would be eligible for funding to move forward. It’s a highly competitive funding arena.
RS: MARTA was dealt a blow with the defeat of TSPLOST, but gained a big victory recently when Clayton County voters approved an expansion of MARTA to their county. With SORTA exploring potential transit tax increases and service expansions of its own, what do you think should be learned from those two very different experiences in Atlanta? DF:Each region is unique. I need to get to know what the community wants in terms of expanded transit, so any talk of funding increases is premature at this time. That said, Metro is a status quo system; if we add service somewhere, it has to be decreased somewhere else. We can’t add service to meet the community’s need for access to jobs without more funding.
RS: Metro*Plus service has seemed to be a hit since its initial launch. Metro has publicly stated its interest in establishing several more Metro*Plus corridors, but what is your take on reducing stop frequency along all routes in order to improve travel time? DF:Limited stop services like Metro*Plus are just one tool in the toolbox, and they work great in some applications. They offer a faster ride, but speed is not always the only consideration. For some neighborhoods, convenient access to a bus stop is critical, especially for older riders and riders with disabilities.
RS: How do you envision Metro’s existing and future bus service working together with not only the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, but other potential rail transit in the region? DF:It is imperative that Metro bus service and other modes function as an integrated transit system without redundancy. The goal should be a seamless transit experience. This means easy transfers between modes, a coordinated fare structure, shared infrastructure like ticket vending machines and back-office technology related for emergency response and vehicle movement.
RS: The best-scoring bus rapid transit line in North America is Cleveland’s HealthLine, but it scores a mere 63/100 points. Do you think true BRT, as defined by what has been built in Bogotá and Curitiba, is appropriate for North American cities? Furthermore, would you support the development of such a corridor in Cincinnati? DF:BRT is appropriate in some cities and some applications depending on the objective. I need to get to know Cincinnati before judging whether BRT is right for this community. Federal funding for BRT has become more restrictive in recent years and finding exclusive right of way is sometimes difficult in older cities with high density. The decision whether or not to build BRT is really about what works for Cincinnati.
RS: How does Cincinnati’s cold weather and its hills differentiate it from your past experience? How do these conditions impact how you run a transit system? DF:I worked at SEPTA in Philadelphia, so I do have some familiarity with what winter can mean to transit in northern cities. Transit is adaptive — if a hill is impassable, we find a way around. We’re all dependent on the road conditions and we stress safety. Today we have the ability to use social media to keep customers updated on what’s happening with their service, which is a benefit.
RS: A topic UrbanCincy has continually raised up for discussion is what could/should be done with the Riverfront Transit Center. A variety of ideas have been suggested, but in your opinion what do you think is the future of that facility? DF:I visited the Riverfront Transit Center when I was in town last week, and it is an impressive facility. It’s used every weekday, about every 15 to 30 minutes, for Metro*Plus service and it’s used for Bengals and Reds games and special events. It’s my understanding that the All-Star Game coming to Cincinnati next summer will depend heavily on this facility for staging of buses and other vehicles. That’s what the Riverfront Transit Center was built to do: serve Cincinnati’s redeveloped riverfront venues and events. Long term, our goal is to maximize its use.
RS: What transit system in the world impresses you the most and why? DF:Each system has its own appeal. Of course, mega-systems like New York City and Washington D.C. are impressive because of their sheer size and the incredible number of people they move every day. I think the most impressive systems are the ones that allow people to move around without the need for a car.
RS: Finally, what first made you interested in transit and want to pursue a career in the industry? DF:I was 23 when I started as a bus driver in Dallas, and I was a bus driver for 10 years. When the merger occurred with DART, new opportunities opened up for me in management. My career progressed to the C-suite and those positions allowed me to work at the most senior levels of transit management across the country. I feel blessed to have found a career and an industry that I am passionate about. Metro recently started the John W. Blanton internship to provide an opportunity for college students to experience the transit industry as a career path, and I support that effort.
Dwight Ferrell holds a BA in Business Administration from Huston-Tillotson University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
A few weeks ago I journeyed seven-plus hours by car from Cincinnati to Atlanta for the American Planning Association’s (APA) national conference. The five-day conference was held in the Georgia World Congress Center in the core of Atlanta between downtown and Vine City.
This was my first trip to Atlanta since passing through the city in the early 1990’s.
For an urbanist, the city of Atlanta at first glance is a conundrum. Subway stations that seem to feed park and rides, buildings that barely front the street and streets with no crosswalks where pedestrians play a dangerous game of Frogger just to cross to the other side are all typical occurrences in the city.
However the city is all of these things and more. Atlanta boasts beautiful and funky neighborhoods such as Poncey Highlands, Little Five Points and Castleberry Hill. Beautiful parks such as Inman Park and the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Piedmont Park.
The BeltLine, a multi-modal transportation corridor we reported on last week, has sparked development along its route and spurred pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between many of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods.
During the conference I also had a chance to view the Atlanta Streetcar, which could begin operating later this year. Planners in Atlanta have tucked the streetcar’s maintenance facility under a highway viaduct. This is where the streetcars that have already arrived are now being stored.
As you might expect, social divisions by income were evident. I had a chance to explore some of Vine City, which is located just west of where the conference was held and was also home to Martin Luther King Jr. This neighborhood has given way to abandonment and decay. Empty lots, run down houses and discarded vehicles littered the streets.
At the conference, one particular session focused on the redevelopment of Vine City and the adjacent English Avenue. During that session, neighborhood leaders and proponents of the redevelopment plan were questioned vigorously by a representative from a community group that is active in those neighborhoods. The challenges reminded me of the not-so-distant past for Over-the-Rhine and other Cincinnati neighborhoods, such as the West End or Avondale, that are still struggling to rebuild what they have lost over the years.
On the last day of the conference, the APA announced that they had completed a survey which found that both Millennials and Baby Boomers prefer to live in urban settings where there are plenty of transportation options and walkable neighborhoods.
“If there is a single message from this poll, it’s that place matters,” stated APA’s executive director, Paul Farmer, in a prepared release. “Community characteristics like affordability, transportation choices, safe streets, high-speed internet and housing that can accommodate others or enable you to live there as you grow older matter as much as job opportunities.”
It seemed odd that the APA would choose to release this information while hosting a conference in an infamously automobile reliant city; but, while Atlanta is a city that is still overrun by the automobile it is showing signs that communities, residents and activists are coming together to push for neighborhood connectivity and pedestrian improvements.
Even though my initial impression was that the city serves as a dystopian future for urbanism where pedestrians are marginalized in urbanized places, after learning more about the city at the conference, it is encouraging to see that old mentality is changing.
This year the American Planning Association (APA) National Conference was held in Atlanta from April 26 to 30 at the Georgia World Conference Center. For those who have never been, it is five days packed full of urban-focused sessions, workshops, tours, meetings, happy hours and an awards ceremony, with approximately 5,000 in conference attendees.
Attendees and experts are also able to submit ideas for presentations, and put on a session of their own. For presenters, it is a lot like show and tell. Professionals get to share lessons, valuable knowledge gained on the job or show off a successful or interesting planning project to the world.
This year’s conference program was particularly transportation-heavy, and with good reason.
Many presenters remarked on the increasing evidence that people are trading in their car for a transit pass, a bicycle or walking shoes. Teenagers, in particular, have less interest in acquiring driver’s licenses. The rate at which this is happening is significant enough that it has been covered by nearly every major news source in the United States, according to Greg Hughes from the Utah Transit Authority in a session about transit and competitiveness.
Bloomberg Business Week reported that from 2001 to 2009, 16- to 34-year-olds took 24%more bike trips and were 16% more likely to walk to their destinations. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14- to 34-year-olds without drivers’ licenses increased from 21% to 26%.
If anyone feels that Cincinnati is bucking the trend, we could take our temperature on the invisible hand.
Zipcar, Uber, Lyft and Cincy Bike Share have all moved past the market analysis phase and are providing, or will soon provide, private-automobile alternatives within the city. In addition, bus ridership in Cincinnati grew by 3.5% last year, significantly more than the 1% seen nationally, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
This same APTA report showed the highest U.S. transit ridership in 57 years. It seems that we could be entering into a new Golden Age of transit.
Atlanta had a few transportation projects of its own to showcase. One of the favorite activities for conference attendees was exploring the Atlanta BeltLine – a 25-year project that will transform old railway and industrial sites into 22 miles of multi-modal trail right in the heart of the city. It connects multiple parks and green spaces, and given that it is woven so seamlessly into the city fabric, is a viable transportation alternative to city streets.
Atlanta boasts the largest public transit system in the southern United States, and carries roughly 500,000 passengers on weekdays.
MARTA rail services were well-used by conference attendees, and some attendees even made a point to get hotels outside of downtown and utilize the subway to get to the conference venue and back. Although not yet operational, Atlanta is also in the process of finalizing its 2.7-mile streetcar project running from Centennial Olympic Park downtown to the historic Old Fourth Ward neighborhood to the east.
Atlanta’s pedestrian-oriented Midtown neighborhood became a favorite after-conference hangout, and the restaurant and pub scene in Little Five Points was both eclectic and funky. Next year’s conference will be held in Seattle.