It is just another typical day at Tech. I make my morning cup of coffee, check social media from last night’s happenings, get dressed and mosey on over to the Instructional Center for class. The buses are working rather efficiently this morning and I get there with plenty of time.
Later, I will take the Tech Trolley over to the Moe’s in Tech Square to grab lunch with some friends.
While we are eating, one of my friends points out that she needs to go to the mall for an upcoming event. We are both finished with classes for the day, so we hop on the trolley over to MARTA before traveling up to Lenox. When we get back, another friend asks if we want to hitch a ride with her out to get some dinner in Buckhead.
Living in this Tech Bubble, one can easily fall prey to the false sense of convenience of public transportation.
I mean, do not get me wrong, the location of Tech and the services provided are wonderful and super convenient for us students. But in a much broader aspect, looking at the city of Atlanta and the outer-lying metro area, public transportation and the infrastructure of Atlanta, as a whole, is severely limited.
Before my study abroad this summer, I could easily tell you Atlanta has a horrible public transportation system. To most other Atlantians and Tech students, this is a simple fact; however, only after having seen several European cities’ systems as well as having been in various other American metropolitan areas, did I realize the full extent to the tragedy that has become MARTA and I-85. I can only implore that we turn to our European counterparts for inspiration and that we invest in our infrastructure.
First, sitting in traffic has become all too familiar. The highways and interstates around metro Atlanta may have been decent during the time when the city hosted the Olympics but since then, the city has experienced an influx of people settling around the metro area. This has caused more people to be on the roadways, and with only such limited room, there is bound to be congestion.
As a study from Business Insider reports, the state of Georgia itself has the ninth largest ranked interstate system, thus we should be doing fairly good in comparison to other states, right? Wrong. Largest does not imply most efficient. Of the 1,300 plus traffic signals in the region, Business Insider reports only a “small percentage” as being actually synchronized to keep the flow of traffic moving (which a simple test of driving through from one point of downtown to the other will clarify to anyone in doubt).
Even better, Business Insider reports, on average, drivers will spend 51 hours sitting in traffic, which equates to 23 gallons of gas wasted per year, which amounts to over $1,000, thanks to congestion.
Yet even through all of this trauma, pain, and agony of dealing with Atlanta traffic, something seems to continue: people, myself included, continue to put up with the congestion because it is the best (and really only) option.
Why is it the only option? What could Atlanta be doing to solve this problem?
I have some possible solutions.
Yes, there is MARTA, but as MARTA currently stands, it really has only one vital purpose and that is to get people to and from the airport. Sure you can go places in-between, and if you are at Tech, you could use it like my experience above to go to/from Lenox, but overall, MARTA is horrible.
Let us compare MARTA to the Underground of London (which I do understand is like comparing the iPhone 6 to the Brick Phone of the 90s).
The Underground is so intricate but it is still almost impossible to get lost. There are signs with stops and interchanges posted all throughout stations and trains because they know that such an extensive network requires extensive signs to keep people informed. MARTA cannot even do that.
Or compare MARTA to Paris. Paris has 10 separate subways with an additional 6 trains. They look they are made in random fashion, but instead, they’re made so that it should be feasible for you to get almost anywhere around Paris without having to transfer to more than 2 lines. MARTA offers almost zero chance to get from point A to B without involving a bus ride.
Then there is a matter of traveling to another city. For example, if you wanted to go from, say Oxford to London, there are many options.
Let us just say you live in that country, you could have a car to get you there. If you didn’t feel like driving, there are taxis or better yet, a relatively inexpensive bus ride offered from many different bus companies. If you’re in the ultimate rush, you could even take the train.
Atlanta does not have this. The buses are not the nice, elite kind you will find in Europe and feel comfortable with jumping on-board at weird hours without having a companion. There is no direct and convenient train less than 10 minutes from your home and most likely, you won’t have a train take you to your final destination either.
I would say the one redeeming quality we have is MegaBus. Cheap trips with a bus that has a bathroom, working power ports, and decent WiFi are all a college student needs. But much to my bewilderment, Europe also has MegaBus.
Driving is fun. Traffic is not. Getting to travel to different places is fun. Being forced to choose one method of transportation and suffer because of it is not. We can do so much better.