Transportation is the important topic again
Dear Mayor Haddix,
I don’t believe we have formally met, and I should rectify that. But I’m writing now to express my hope that you will be taking your place on the regional transportation planning group with enthusiasm and openness to ideas once believed to be unpopular.
There is a knee-jerk response among elected officials here that regional mass transit is not welcome in Fayette County, that we don’t need it, and that it will bring crime to the area. You are in a perfect position to help dispel those notions and show leadership in bringing Fayette into the 21st century.
Mine is also a knee-jerk reaction, I’ll admit it. When the words “transportation” and “planning” appear in the same sentence, I feel a compelling need to fire up my laptop and remind whoever is representing us how some Fayette County citizens feel about public transportation. If this sounds familiar, it’s because there aren’t that many ways of saying that the Atlanta area, of which we are a part, needs travel options that will reduce ground-level emissions and fossil fuel dependence.
Begin by ditching the oft-repeated falsehood that “No one in Fayette County wants public transportation,” a.k.a. “We’re not ready for public transportation here.”
I know we pro-transits are in the minority, and have soft voices, but make no mistake, I am not alone in wanting transportation options in this community. And as the county’s population ages, more and more will join me.
We kid ourselves when we look at sunlight filtered through tree leaves and believe our air is safe to breathe. In 2008, according to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, the metro Atlanta area, which includes Fayette County, exceeded federal standards 24 days; in 2009, 16 days; and thus far into 2010, 16 days.
Among those who would benefit most from public transit:
• Seniors leery of Interstate-driving and hard-to-find parking;
• College students who now have to choose between the high cost of living in Atlanta or driving daily from Fayette;
• Aficionados of Atlanta’s cultural arts who don’t wish to drive to town, especially at night;
• A small but deserving disabled population who cannot drive;
• A surprising number of people who cannot afford car ownership and are essentially stranded unless they can arrange rides with friends.
In 2002, in an AJC op-ed piece, Peachtree City’s then-mayor, Steve Brown, argued that the building of too many roads produced the congestion the north metro counties are suffering, then proposed that the state buy up rights-of-way to attract economic growth on the south side.
Road-building in northern counties causes congestion; road-building in the southern tier alleviates congestion and makes public transit unnecessary? What odd reasoning.
Asphalt and clean air are counterproductive to reducing traffic, hence cleaning air.
The mantra, “If you build them, they will come,” has proven to apply to roads at least as surely as to baseball diamonds. Time and again, the expansion of highways has resulted in an even greater glut of traffic with its inevitable surge in bad-air days.
Our elected officials often seem to think we want it that way. They are wrong.
Fayette County needs:
• An open-minded transportation authority or commission within the county to put together a transportation plan that relies on something other than cars and more road construction;
• Designated walkways along city streets and across large parking lots;
• A tram circulating through our large shopping centers;
• A shuttle looping through the county, linking government offices, Fayette Pavilion, Peachtree City shopping centers, the hospital and medical centers;
• With our huge airline and frequent-flier population, links to Hartsfield, connecting with MARTA and downtown’s entertainment, educational, and business amenities;
• Bus service, for openers, and eventually commuter and regional rail alternatives to air travel.
Only government is big enough to pull such services together. For openers, they must bring existing services, like the MARTA system, to accountability for safety, dependability, and well-maintained equipment.
Would public transportation be expensive? Certainly. Would it pay for itself? Of course not. Neither do sewers or highway systems. For local-transit success stories, look at Portland, Ore., Chattanooga, and Knoxville where buses or trolleys circulate through downtown loops – free to the public, paid for by merchants and/or government.
Peachtree City has done as poor a job planning for transportation as Fayette County itself. In our 1960s fervor to prevent downtown blight, we have eliminated downtown, distributing stores from Kedron to Redwine Road, about seven miles. Except for quick golf cart trips to a food store near you, you cannot reasonably run errands here without a car.
There is still not one hardware store accessible by golf cart. And even when you drive your car to a shopping center, you can’t realistically carry purchases from one end to the other, from Kroger to Kmart, say, or from Williams Sonoma to Atlanta Bread Company, without driving.
The same is true in Fayetteville. No one is going to pick up fertilizer or a new screen door at Home Depot and then walk nearly a mile to Kohl’s or Walmart. You drive from one end of the Pavilion to the other.
Mr. Mayor, present the case for public transportation when you meet with your colleagues. Take the lead in bringing Fayette County into the 21st century.