MARTA Expansion Could Help Reverse Atlanta’s Legacy of Racial Segregation

This racial dot map shows how segregation operates in Atlanta. Transit development has reinforced this pattern, experts say. Image: ATL Urbanist
This map shows the geography of racial segregation in Atlanta. Transit development has reinforced this pattern, experts say. Image: ATL Urbanist

Atlanta’s MARTA rail system was launched at about the same time as D.C.’s Metro in the 1970s. But the two systems, and the regions they serve, have followed wildly different paths since then.

MARTA rail map. The system doesn't extend into growing suburban counties. Image: ATL Urbanist
MARTA rail map. The system doesn’t extend into growing suburban counties. Image: ATL Urbanist

Metro continually expanded into surrounding counties, and transit commuting has risen rapidly in the Washington region, standing at more then 15 percent as of 2011. Meanwhile, MARTA serves only the two counties that contain Atlanta, having barely expanded since its opening. Only about 5 percent of regional commuters take the bus or train.

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Darin at ATL Urbanist points us to a column by Sarah Collier at Virginia Policy Review that explains why transit development in Atlanta stumbled and how that might finally be changing:

Having worked for two summers in Atlanta, my most prominent memory was the long commute between the white suburbs north of Atlanta, where jobs are plentiful, to its impoverished black neighborhoods downtown. I would have used public transportation, however the MARTA suspiciously ends right before white suburbia begins.

The influence of racial discrimination on MARTA was highlighted in a Brookings Institute Center study in 2000, which noted that race issues have prevented MARTA’s transit lines from expanding to richer counties. The lack of transportation infrastructure in these counties has prevented minorities in the city from accessing areas with high job growth including Gwinnett, Cobb, and Clayton County. MARTA has not had any transit route development since 2000.

But Collier is encouraged by a new proposal from MARTA:

MARTA’s new plan to expand their transit lines to reach North Fulton County is the first step towards ending racial discrimination in Atlanta’s railway transit system. The transit route will also provide greater access to Cobb, Gwinnett, and Forsyth County, one of Forbes’ 2013 top 10 Fastest Growing Counties in America.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Comeback City reports that Baltimore wants to remove its popular Inner Harbor beach volleyball facilities to build a parking garage. The Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog raises questions about the propriety of a land acquisition by the debt-ridden Texas Department of Transportation. And the Wash Cycle tries to make sense of “serious people” who continue to complain about the nefarious “bicycle lobby.”

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Transit Vote 2016: Atlanta May Finally Expand MARTA and Beef Up Bus Service

|
We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Atlanta. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis, Seattle, and Detroit. Back in the 1970s, both Atlanta and Washington, D.C., received federal grants to build rail networks. After finishing the first wave of Metro construction, D.C. continued to invest, […]

Major MARTA Expansion Could Transform the Atlanta Region

|
Transit planners in the Atlanta area are getting serious about the largest expansion in MARTA’s history. MARTA officials have proposed new, high-capacity service into North Fulton County and east into DeKalb County that could link important job centers by rail for the first time. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it could “change the face of Atlanta.” The new […]

Local Ballot Results: The Good, the Bad, and the Highway Money Grabs

|
While last night’s election is looking like decisively bad news for transit in the Senate and in several statehouses, the results from local ballot initiatives are a little brighter. Here are the highlights that have Streetsblog Network members buzzing, as well as results from other referendums around the country. Seattle Seattle voters approved a ballot […]