Cobb’s real transportation needs will suffer if BRT siphons dollars away
by Ron Sifen
September 29, 2013 01:52 AM | 1912 views | 3 3 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb DOT Director Faye DiMassimo recently made a presentation in which she discussed what Cobb officials had learned on their recent trip to Cleveland to assess Cleveland’s Bus Rapid Transit system. They looked at a BRT line that ran from Cleveland to Shaker Heights so that they could observe a line that ran from the city to a nearby suburb.

I asked how many of the riders were people who were already transit riders, who were now just taking a different form of transit, and how many were actually commuters who previously drove their cars, and are now using transit?

Ms. DiMassimo said that she did not have that information, but that I was asking the wrong question. She said the relevant issue was how much development Cleveland had subsequently achieved along that transit route.

Wow. I continue to think that my question is one of many important questions that Cobb does not want to answer. However, I also think Ms. DiMassimo’s answer was informative.

Cobb Parkway BRT will provide door-to-door commute times that are far longer than driving. Therefore, it is not going to get commuters out of their cars and into transit. Cobb Parkway BRT is really about incentivizing development of private property near transit stations.

Incidentally, it is my understanding that nearly all of the development along Cleveland’s BRT line stems from just two very large projects. Apparently, one of the developments is specific to Cleveland and might not be repeatable elsewhere. The other reflects growth around a university, which conceivably could be a situation similar to Kennesaw State University.

However, please also note that KSU has had a tremendous amount of growth and development over the past decade or more, and achieved this growth without BRT. Please also note that KSU is already served by regular bus transit. So, KSU’s actual history would suggest that it can grow in the future, as it has in the past, without BRT.

Could enhanced transit service be a benefit to KSU? Perhaps. Is future growth at KSU dependent specifically on a billion-dollar BRT fixed guideway? Unlikely. Could KSU’s transportation needs be met with alternative transit enhancements that would be dramatically less costly to taxpayers? Probably.

In the last three years, the Atlanta region has had more than a dozen high profile “wins” where companies chose the Atlanta region for new business operations, or to relocate existing operations. Two of those located near MARTA stations.

There are plenty of opportunities for other businesses to locate near MARTA stations, if that is important to them. For many businesses, other factors, such as low taxes, are more important.

At another recent regional transit planning meeting in Atlanta, during the public comment period, I pointed out that any regional transit planning should include:

n A recognition that Atlanta is a metropolis with extraordinarily low population density and widely dispersed employment centers.

n That fixed-guideway transit was best suited to populations with high population density and few concentrated employment centers.

n That the Atlanta region needed to address many corridors at a reasonable cost to taxpayers, and not commit all available current and future transit dollars to one or two routes, to the detriment of all of the other transit service that is needed throughout the region.

n That any transit planning needed to include a realistic financial plan that could provide good transit service at a reasonable cost to taxpayers, without necessitating future tax increases for taxpayers.

n That several years ago, GRTA had developed the Regional Transit Action Plan , which proposed an entire regional transit network, that would have cost far less money than Cobb is proposing to have taxpayers spend on one fixed guideway, and would have provided better mobility for far more people throughout the Atlanta region.

Regardless of the population density along Cobb Parkway, Cobb’s plans for BRT is an extravagant and unnecessary expenditure that disregards future high operating and maintenance costs that will consume future transit funds that would have otherwise been available to meet our transportation needs elsewhere in Cobb County.

In the weeks prior to the TSPLOST vote, TSPLOST proponents brought in a consultant from Washington, Chris Leinberger, who told us that cities do not invest in (fixed guideway) transit to improve mobility. He said that the only reason to invest in (fixed guideway) transit was to incentivize development.

We need to improve mobility in Cobb, and in the Atlanta region, and we need to improve mobility as cost-effectively as possible for taxpayers. We need to plan for meeting our future transportation needs while keeping taxes low. The BRT plan will obligate future transportation dollars that will therefore not be available to meet our real transportation needs elsewhere in Cobb.

Cobb Parkway BRT is not a plan for cost-effectively meeting all of Cobb’s future transportation needs.

Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
David Welden
September 30, 2013
Nice work, Ron. Makes a lot of sense. I hope the voters read it. Then I hope the voters get to vote on it.
talking head
September 29, 2013
Dimassimo is just a favorite talking head for Tim Lee. When she tears up at a meeting talking about the "chairman's vision" and what it means shows that she is just his puppet. He pulls her string and she says exactly what he wants. She really has no ideas of her own just his. Cobb co needs real leadership and needs independent dept heads not talking dummies. The bus system is just another ploy to enrich his buddies and stick the taxpayers with the bill.
September 29, 2013
Sifen is correct. Why should Cobb put all our transportation money into one place?

What about Six Flags? What about resurfacing? What about timing the traffic lights county wide? What about bus service for East Cobb?
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