Mass transit conversation has shifted in North Fulton



While we in North Fulton have been dickering for years about MARTA expansion, I noticed a change: the conversation has shifted from “yes” or “no,” to “what kind.”

From what I’ve been hearing, most people have no problem seeing MARTA heavy rail expanded up Ga. 400 to Windward Parkway, but some don’t want to see it go past Holcomb Bridge Road. Instead they’d like to see a light-rail system, or even an expanded bus system connecting everyone else to the heavy rail stations.

Light rail typically looks more like a small train running on tracks. It’s a fraction of the cost of heavy rail and is visually much less invasive.

I assume an engineer might like to see MARTA’s heavy rail line continue up Ga. 400 to Windward Parkway with stops at Holcomb Bridge and then one or two more at the other exits. There has been talk of an East-West light-rail line along Old Milton Parkway – which could run into Gwinnett County. In this scenario, you could see other forms of East-West lines with light-rail or bus systems along Holcomb Bridge Road and Windward Parkway.

I have heard many arguments offered against MARTA expansion into North Fulton. Some say it will bring a “bad element” and increase crime. A good friend quipped at the image of thieves riding up MARTA, walking a mile or so to break into a home, then getting back on MARTA with stolen TVs on their shoulders.

Others are concerned about aesthetics. You won’t be seeing existing MARTA stations on the covers of Better Homes and Gardens. But you might see future stations, or redevelopments of existing stations, on the cover of a Dwell magazine. Whereas stations like the one at North Springs are huge, sterile expanses, operating in what looks like a no-man’s land, others in Brookhaven and Dunwoody are being enveloped by new projects around them. Other than signs pointing to the station, there will be little evidence that a MARTA station exists there. MARTA officials have proven a willingness to work with communities through some of these redevelopment projects.

No matter what the argument is against it, I have heard two strong arguments for it. The first has to do with ridership and North Fulton’s lack of affordable housing. Land in North Fulton has become too expensive for builders to develop properties under current density guidelines and make a profit. And there isn’t enough of a current supply of housing under $350,000 to house all of our policemen and women, firefighters, other civic workers and our retail and restaurant workers. There also isn’t enough of that housing to house the younger millennial workforce occupying many of the newer jobs in the office campuses throughout North Fulton. So all of those people have to fight traffic to get to North Fulton, and many for a job that pays them only a little more than jobs that are closer to where they live. Talk to a North Fulton restaurant owner and ask them how often they have to rehire for positions.

The second argument for mass transit is simple: today’s corporations want to be near it. If you look at every major corporate relocation to the Atlanta area over the last few years, all of them are next to a MARTA station. Mercedes-Benz put their North American headquarters off Abernathy in Sandy Springs. In their press release, they said being near MARTA was critical. State Farm is building a massive campus across the street from the Dunwoody station. They included a walking bridge over Hammond Drive connecting the campus to the station. You can bet that if Amazon puts HQ2 in Atlanta, it will be next to a MARTA station.

If we want to attract new relocations to North Fulton, it’s going to be harder to do without a good mass transit system in place.

But here is something else to think about: NCR just moved their headquarters from Duluth to downtown Atlanta. They wanted to be in a walkable environment with plenty of mass transit options. So not having a mass transit system in place is not only hurting our ability to recruit new business, it’s causing existing businesses to move out.

Setting aside the fact that these corporations help our local economy by supporting our retail, restaurant and network of other small businesses throughout the day, having less of them will only exacerbate our traffic issues. Once finished, you know how NCR’s employees that live in North Fulton will get to work? Ga. 400 south.

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