MARTA chief Jeffrey Parker discussed the electric scooter craze and possible mass transit on Ga. 400 and to SunTrust Park during an Oct. 17 appearance in Sandy Springs.
Parker, MARTA’s general manager and CEO, was among the experts in a panel discussion of trails and transit at the annual dinner of the Sandy Springs Conservancy, a parks advocacy group.
An audience member asked Parker about the craze for rentable electric scooters that can be picked up and left anywhere. Scooter companies controversially have distributed the scooters without notice in Atlanta, and they have started appearing in Brookhaven. The scooters appear to be popular.
Parker joked about the potential dangers of scooter-riding, another point of social controversy about them.
“I’m completely uncoordinated and they scare the death out of me,” Parker said of scooters.
More seriously, said the transit agency aims to welcome a wide variety of transportation choices.
Scooters are here,” he said. “…We, as a transit agency, have just got to embrace those technologies.”
Ga. 400 and stadium transit
Parker commented briefly in an optimistic tone about the planning process for the state’s controversial idea of putting “bus rapid transit” on Ga. 400.
In a Fulton County transit master planning effort last year, extending the Red Line train line was the locally preferred option for Ga. 400 corridor improvements, but political resistance in other north Fulton cities got that reduced to “bus rapid transit” or BRT. BRT means high-capacity buses typically using a dedicated lane or other traffic priority method, and officials say it’s unlikely that can happen – at least in a traditional way – on Ga. 400.
The Georgia Department of Transportation currently proposes running buses on toll lanes that are proposed to be added to the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange over the next decade. Gov. Nathan Deal recently approved $100 million in bond funding for the BRT “infrastructure.” Sandy Springs officials have questioned whether BRT will work properly on the highway and whether the interchange expansion is eating up too much right of way for long-term transit solutions. The discussions remain private.
In an interview after the Sandy Springs dinner, Parker spoke in an upbeat manner about MARTA’s discussions with GDOT about the Ga. 400 BRT. He said the talks are ongoing and that he participates in a meeting about them roughly once a month.
In those meetings, he said, “we continue to talk about where the right opportunities to put [BRT] stations on there” and how the plan works with communities in the corridor. He said MARTA also wants to “make sure it meshes” with the proposed toll-lane interchanges, whose specific locations are also a point of controversy.
The lack of MARTA transit at the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park baseball stadium in Cobb County’s Cumberland area was raised by an audience member during the panel discussion. Cobb is among the counties known for historical resistance to joining the MARTA system.
Parker noted that “The ATL,” a new, 13-county transit authority that is in formation, will give Cobb a new chance to approve MARTA participation. If Cobb wants to do that, Parker said, “then there absolutely should be a rail connection to SunTrust.”
Another panel discussion topic was dealing with “not in my back yard,” or “NIMBY,” opposition to trails and transit, especially the often-cited concern that they will attract crime to the suburbs.
Parker said that the way to cope with opposition is “good government.”
“We need to be transparent. We don’t always communicate well,” he said. He cited the example of “More MARTA,” the agency’s plan to expand transit within the city of Atlanta, which is funded by a new, voter-approved sales tax. He said “More MARTA” was successful because the agency laid out its rationale for projects, listened to criticism, and adjusted the project priorities.