In the early 1970s, Atlanta finally got some transit. But the system that was created, MARTA (the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority), serves only the city of Atlanta and the two counties in which its boundaries fall, DeKalb and Fulton. In 1965 and 1971 votes, residents of the other adjoining counties—Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett—rejected MARTA, with votes following racial lines. A 1971 compromise hammered out in the statehouse hamstrung the transit authority’s governance, restricting its use of income for operations and service, meaning that MARTA has not be able to add more service or increase frequency even as the region’s population has grown. In the 1990s alone, 650,000 people moved to metro Atlanta, most of them settling in the northern suburbs.
Ironically, as the metro area grew over the past three decades, those suburban counties have become more diverse, more crowded and more congested. But even if those new residents wanted to use MARTA, it wouldn’t be easy for them to do so. There are few connections between MARTA and systems such as Cobb County Community Transit (CCT), which mostly operates bus routes between major commercial centers in Cobb and the heart of downtown Atlanta. Among the stranded vehicles Tuesday were regional buses. Indeed, a CCT bus spun its tires right behind me, to the amusement of those tourists. Clayton County’s bus service was eliminated in 2010, a victim of the recession…
And that brings us back to Atlanta’s present snowbound state. There was no coordination around school closings, because there are more than two-dozen city and county school systems in “Atlanta.” There was little coordination between highway clearance and service to city streets because “Atlanta” is comprised of dozens of municipalities connected by state and federal highway systems. In one of the most surreal episodes today, Charley English, the head of the Georgia Emergency Management Association, asserted that gridlock wasn’t severe around 3 and 4 p.m. Tuesday, never mind that traffic maps glared red and motorists had already been sitting on freeways for hours at that time. Mayor Reed claimed that the city had done its part getting motorists out of downtown Atlanta, and that getting them the rest of the way home was up to the state. Gov. Nathan Deal, who outrageously called the storm “unexpected,” never mind weather reports warning of the snowfall, at his morning press conference of the relief that will come with a thaw. An act of God might have triggered the fiasco, but wishing for another one to bring it to an end is hardly leadership.
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