Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Advocates: Atlanta's infrastructure bond package should include funding for Lee Street bike lane project

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 2:07 PM

  • Livable Lee Street
Brent Brewer sees huge potential in Lee Street's future. The Historic West End resident says the state road running from Morehouse College to Fort McPherson could become one of the city's most important bicycle routes. But the southwest Atlanta bicycling advocate says the road, which has more car lanes than necessary, fails to meet the city's bicycling needs.

"[Lee Street] is well-traveled by the road warriors, the spandex-clad folks, who ride it every Saturday," Brewer says. "But bicycle commuters would say that people drive too fast. People treat it like a 'de facto' highway. So families don't ride on Lee Street."

He's helped organize a grassroots effort, called People for Livable Lee Street, to bring protected bike lanes to the major southwest Atlanta artery from the Atlanta Beltline's Westside Trail to the city limits. The advocacy group is calling upon officials to fund the project through the upcoming $250 million infrastructure bond package. The two-way bike lane project isn't included on the city's bond project list.

The group's members last week expressed their concerns at the city's final public bond package meeting in Lakewood Heights. Voters will get to decide on whether the city should take on the debt to fix its roads, sidewalks, bridges, and buildings on March 17. Early voting is already underway.

Numerous city plans, most recently the 2013 Cycle Atlanta study, have called for turning Lee Street into a bike-friendly road for more than a decade. Lee Street's conversion into a Complete Street would help connect multiple neighborhoods such as Adair Park, Oakland Park, Sylvan Hills, and West End. Brewer says it would also provide a safe route for bicyclists and pedestrians with improved access to the under-construction Beltline trail.

Rebecca Serna, executive director of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, tells CL that two-way protected bike lanes on Lee Street is a top priority in building out the city's biking infrastructure. Because Lee Street runs along flat terrain that follows the MARTA line south of Five Points, she says it could become a valuable corridor for bicyclists in southwest Atlanta.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is scheduled to resurface more than six miles of roads between Downtown and East Point, including a major stretch of Lee Street, in the near future. Brewer says city officials should help state workers redesign the road to include bicycle use. According to ABC, the Lee Street project would cost no more than $1.3 million. Brewer says the project would "probably be less than $100,000" given that the state would already be repaving and milling the road.

Mayor Kasim Reed spokeswoman Jenna Garland tells CL the Lee Street project is on the city's radar. Atlanta's public works department will work with Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow to see if the city needs to break the project up into multiple segments of if the project can be done at one time. A city official told residents at last week's meeting that "another funding mechanism" aside from the bond package would be used to the fund the Lee Street project, but did not elaborate on specifics.

"We’ve heard the concerns about Lee Street at last week’s public meeting and prior to the meeting as well," Garland says in an email. "We understand the need for the project because of the unique features of the area: the connection to the Atlanta University Center, the future Southwest portion of the BeltLine, and MARTA connectivity."

If the bond package gets approved, People for Livable Lee Street members plan to continue lobbying officials to make the two-way bike lane project a part of the massive infrastructure investment.

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Atlanta's bike share program doesn't use taxpayer dollars, but heavily relies upon ads

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 10:42 AM

Proposed map of where the Atlanta Bike Share stations might be located
  • City of Atlanta
  • Proposed map of where the Atlanta Bike Share stations might be located
Bicycle advocates have waited more than a year for the city to start rolling out Atlanta's bike share program. The long-awaited announcement finally arrived last week with a pledge from Mayor Kasim Reed that the city's program would launch before the year's end. But Atlanta Bike Share still has some major hurdles to overcome — including signing up riders for memberships and finding sponsors — before going live.

CycleHop LLC, which won last year's city's bidding process to operate the bike share program, has agreed to a five-year contract that would bring a minimum of 500 rentable bicycles to 50 different stations. From the city's perspective, the program would increase transportation alternatives at no additional cost to taxpayers.

The Miami-based company is banking on membership fees and sponsorships to make a profit off the bike share program, according to the contract, which CL has obtained. CycleHop projects that it will make about $5.5 million off bike rentals, including more than $1 million in annual membership fees, over the life of the contract.

Like Atlanta's recent RFP that could bring private ads to public property, residents and visitors might help pay for the program through staring at hundreds of mobile advertisements. Nearly $8.8 million could come from selling the program's naming rights, plus slapping ads on bikes and station equipment.

The practice isn't new — cities including New York have used the strategy to lower program's cost to taxpayers and bicyclists. However, some bike share operators have struggled to find companies to underwrite the program. According to the Wall Street Journal, CycleHop had difficulty locking down sponsorships for Phoenix’s 500-bike program and Tampa’s 300 bike-operation. The company also missed target launch dates with bike share programs in Orlando, Fla., and Ottawa, Canada.

We've reached out to CycleHop for comment. But the mayor's office says it's not worried about the company's track record in other cities.

"The [c]ity is excited to have entered into its first bike share contract with CycleHop," Reed spokeswoman Jenna Garland writes CL in an email. "The [c]ity went through a competitive process and chose CycleHop because we felt it is the best partner for Atlanta. CycleHop is responsible for finding sponsorships and launching before the end of the year, and we have no reason to doubt the company’s ability to meet its goals."

The bike share stations will tentatively be located in neighborhoods such as Buckhead, Downtown, Midtown, West End, and in the neighborhoods along the Atlanta Beltline's Eastside Trail. Each branded station will include a payment kiosk, bike rack, and map and instruction boards. The bike share operator will partner with Social Bicycles' smart-bike system to equip each bike with a GPS-enabled locking device allowing riders to park at any station. A website and mobile app will be set up to help people locate and rent bicycles.

The city’s bike share program is taking some proactive steps and learning from other cities with rentable bikes. CycleHop is being required at each station to install a helmet vending machine — an important detail that has gone overlooked in other cities that could in decrease injury liability and boost ridership.

If CycleHop ends up declares bankruptcy, Garland says the bike share contract has safeguards to protect the city. But if all goes well, officials have the option to extend the CycleHop agreement for an additional five years.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Atlanta plans to launch its new bike share program in 2015

Posted By on Tue, Mar 3, 2015 at 11:56 AM

  • Courtesy Atlanta Bicycle Share

Atlanta residents and visitors will soon be able to rent a bike, ride across town, and drop off their two-wheeler close to their destination. After years of planning and negotiations, city officials have signed contracts companies to launch the Atlanta Bike Share later this year.

Mayor Kasim Reed today inked an agreement with several different companies that will help launch and operate the city's new bike share program. Five hundred bicycles will be available for short-term rentals and can be picked up and dropped up at 50 different rental stations.

“Over the past three years we have achieved several major milestones for citizens to enjoy bicycle riding along city streets, paths and trails,” Reed said in the statement. “With the signing of the contract today, we’re able to accomplish another major step forward to become a top U.S. city for bicycling.”

Cycle Hop LLC, the city's lead bike share operator after winning the bidding process early in 2014, manages two-wheel programs in Phoenix, Tampa, and Orlando. The Chicago-based company will work with bike technology company Social Bicycles, local transportation planning firm Center Forward, and local brand design firm Iconologic.

The city's planning department is currently determining where to install the bike share stations. The bike share operation will use Social Bicycles' smart-bike system to equip each bike with a GPS-enabled locking device. That system will allow a rider to park the bike at any public bike rack or rental station. Officials also plan to set up a website and mobile app to allow riders to find and rent available bicycles.

Rebecca Serna, executive director of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, says the program's pending launch is an important moment for making the city more accessible to residents and visitors alike. It can also make a person's experience with the city more memorable, she says.

"Bike share isn't just about biking," she says. "It's about making short trips that much easier. Even if you're driving, you don't have to drive to go a mile. It's great for those middle trips. It's going to be a huge convenience factor for transit riders and will make transit more useful. Bike share is going to give people a much better experience in the city."

According to the mayor's office, the city hopes the bike share program will help double the number of bike commuters by 2016. Want to suggest a bike station location or eventually buy a membership? Visit for more details.

We've reached out to the city for more details and to Cycle Hop LLC and Atlanta Bicycle Coalition for comment.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

MARTA CEO Keith Parker could see two-year contract extension

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2015 at 3:47 PM

MARTA CEO Keith Parker
Since joining MARTA in late 2012 CEO Keith Parker has overseen a dramatic turnaround at the transit agency. He's led initiatives that have clamped down on rider misconduct, ordered reforms recommended by an outside audit, and revived plans to develop barren seas of asphalt surrounding some rail stations. State lawmakers are finally starting to warm up to the economic engine they've ignored for decades. Thanks in part to cost-saving measures and the recovering economy, MARTA's no longer on the verge of insolvency. Ridership is up. And there are new bathrooms!

And that's just been in the first two years he's been leading the bus and rail system. And if MARTA's board of directors moves ahead as planned tomorrow, Parker will have some additional time in Atlanta.

Tomorrow, the directors who oversee the agency will vote to extend Parker's contract for another two years, keeping him in Atlanta until late 2019.

"Extending Keith's contract is an important way to demonstrate his and our commitment to having long-term success," says MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe, who made the announcement at today's State of MARTA address at the transit agency's Lindbergh headquarters. "MARTA's at the cusp of a truly transformational moment. We believe his leadership is part of that. He wants to be part of moving Atlanta forward. Extending his contract sends a strong signal of his commitment and ours to be here for the long term."

That two-year extension also comes with a pay raise, which Ashe says Parker was already eligible for under his original contract. We've asked for that figure and will update when we hear back.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Streetcar takes inaugural ride, kicks off three months of free passenger service

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Hundreds of Atlantans gathered in Downtown today where Peachtree Street meets Auburn Avenue to celebrate the official opening of the Atlanta Streetcar, the 2.7-mile transit loop running from Centennial Olympic Park to the King Center.

The inaugural ride shuttled elected officials, civic leaders, and media from the $98 million transit line's maintenance facility from under I-75 to Woodruff Park. After a brass band and invocation started the event, Mayor Kasim Reed said that the project was already yielding results. More than $400 million in new construction investment could be found within five miles of Woodruff Park stop, he said. The project would play a key role in transporting the more than 45 million tourists who visit the city each year. It would also help make Atlanta denser and more walkable — the type of place where people of all ages want to live and work.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, echoed this idea. To the people who doubted the overbudget and behind-schedule project he said simply: "We did not build this for you." The streetcar is an investment in future generations, Robinson argued, a point repeated by MARTA CEO and General Manager Keith Parker. "These are not projects for right now," Parker said.

What's next for the transit vehicle? Reed said he envisions it connecting to the Atlanta Beltline's Eastside Trail next — and he thinks the city could be competitive for federal funding that could make the extension happen.

We'll have more on this story. In the meantime, view photos from the event after the jump. Or go ride the streetcar. Rides are free for the first three months. After that, a one-way trip will cost $1. Children under the age of 10 ride free. The fare system is also compatible with MARTA's Breeze Card system. For more information, visit the streetcar's website.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Atlanta Streetcar to start passenger service on Tuesday

Posted By on Tue, Dec 23, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Be free and explore this beautiful city, you gorgeous hunk of metal
After delays, cost overruns, and a few weeks of reminding automobiles that you don't screw with fixed-rail transit, the Atlanta Streetcar has an official opening date: Tuesday, Dec. 30. Let the three months of free rides commence!

Mayor Kasim Reed made the announcement this afternoon in a statement, saying:

The Atlanta Streetcar Project is a collaborative effort among Atlanta’s political, business, and transit communities to create efficient, sustainable, and critical infrastructure that connects neighborhoods, the metro area, and the greater region. With the support of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER II Grant, Atlanta leaders have worked diligently to bring the Streetcar to our city safely and just in time for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and New Year’s celebrations.

All passengers are invited to ride for free for the first three months of Streetcar service. Children under 10 years old will always ride free, so I encourage families to ride the Streetcar as you visit our world-class tourist attractions like the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola, and the College Football Hall of Fame. The Streetcar connects these attractions to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., birthplace and museum, and with a short ride, passengers can visit the new Center for Civil and Human Rights. These two institutions pay tribute to Atlanta’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, American history, and world history, and the role we will continue to play in expanding rights for all people in the future.

I wish all Atlanta residents and visitors happy holidays, and invite everyone to join me, City officials, and the hard-working women and men who achieved this milestone on December 30 where Peachtree meets Sweet Auburn at the Woodruff Park Streetcar Stop at 11 a.m. for the grand opening celebration.

You'll recall that Reed promised the transit line would be up and running before the end of the year. Eat that, Politifact!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bike maintenance kiosks coming soon to MARTA rail stations

Posted By on Wed, Nov 12, 2014 at 4:14 PM

Many Atlantans choose to bicycle to MARTA. It's a wise decision for those who want a fun way to exercise and a shorter commute time. But when you pop a flat or break a chain along the way, you have a problem - and an extra weight to carry.

That headache could soon change for some bicyclists. To support its cycling commuters and encourage others to start pedaling, MARTA will introduce bike maintenance kiosks at three stations or bus stops, starting with Five Points.

MARTA partnered with ioby, which helps fundraising campaigns, to help pull together cash for the project. As part of its “Trick Out My Trip” initiative, ioby held a call for project proposals to improve city commuting. The organization selected MARTA’s plan to install Dero self-service bicycle maintenance kiosks that offer commuters options to fix flat tires, loose handlebars, broken chains, and other common cycling problems.

The total cost of the three kiosks is $4,000. MARTA Spokeswoman Saba Long says the transit agency only needed to raise $2,000 thanks to the Transit Center, an organization that offers programs, grants, and investments to help improve urban transportation. The center matched half the funding. The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition served as MARTA’s fiscal sponsor, making all donated funds tax deductible.

If successful, the bike maintenance kiosks could help boost transportation in Atlanta.

“[T]he desire for alternative transportation options, including transit and cycling in the metro Atlanta area is growing by leaps and bounds,” ioby says. “This project makes it easier to choose cycling and encourages MARTA riders to use cycling as a mode of last-mile connectivity. More bikes, more transit, less cars.”

In short, the kiosks will help more people get to where they need to go easier, faster, and safer - and city travel will become more environmentally sustainable.

Though MARTA officials have yet to determine the other two kiosk locations, Long says it’s likely that they will be in close proximity to the Atlanta Beltline.

“The Beltline is not necessarily within walking distance of the stations," she says. "[The kiosks would] provide a convenience for folks who are going to take their bikes on MARTA and then go on the Beltline.”

This project will also complement future smart travel initiatives in Atlanta, including the city’s soon-to-launch bike share program.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Five Points and Garnett MARTA stations are getting makeovers - and you can help

Posted By on Mon, Oct 27, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Time for a facelift!
  • Time for a facelift!
MARTA's Five Points and Garnett rail stations in Downtown are in need of a makeover. Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District want to revitalize the rail stops, including MARTA’s flagship hub where all lines meet.

And the organizations are asking for the public's help.

The two stops, says Jennifer Ball, CAP’s vice president of planning and economic development, are "important to the continued revitalization of the South Downtown neighborhood that is undergoing significant change due to the influx of artists and arts organizations and the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta.”

Residents, businesses, and workers are being asked to participate in an interactive survey and offer ideas. On Tuesday, planners will be at the Garnett Station from 7 a.m.-9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. to gather input. The event follows last week’s survey at Five Points Station.

Ball says train riders and surrounding neighbors are the best sources of input about what the station needs. She says “the makeover effort will identify creative, cost-effective and maintainable enhancements.” Renovations will be related to aspects such as retail, public art, seating, landscaping, and bicycle amenities.

“The stations and their environs should be the most inviting, engaging and immaculate places in the neighborhood so that they can attract more, and better serve transit riders while also catalyzing private investment in surrounding buildings and sites,” Ball says.

CAP and ADID announced a call for design proposals in March and chose the design firm TSW to help envision the makeover. The project is set to be completed before July 2015.

Improving the stations may also help MARTA expand the system. By upgrading the stations and making MARTA a more enjoyable experience, the transit system could attract more riders. That would generate more money, and in turn, potentially help MARTA secure funding for expanding the transit network in the future.

MARTA riders and others who are unable to attend the interactive surveys but have ideas for improvement can participate online now through Nov. 21. You can access it here. The public can also offer suggestions via social media. See an issue at a station that should be addressed by the makeover team? Snap a photo and use #MARTAmakeover to join the conversation.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

MARTA, transit union in standoff over privatizing paratransit operations

Posted By on Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 1:02 PM

In the increasingly heated contract standoff between MARTA and union workers, the seniors and people with disabilities who use the transit agency's Mobility paratransit service are stuck in the middle.

MARTA is moving to privatize Mobility, which the perpetually cash-strapped transit agency says could save tens of millions of dollars. But privatized paratransit here has failed before, and has a track record of lower-grade performance than in-house versions, says the Amalgamated Transit Union's Atlanta chapter.

Mobility provides curb-to-curb assisted service by car or van to qualified riders. It operates within three-quarters of a mile of transit routes. Its budget is around $25.9 million, and in Fiscal Year 2014 it provided more than 580,000 rides.

Transit agencies are required to provide paratransit under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, so Mobility is sticking around no matter how the union battle ends. But there is plenty of leeway on what form it will take - and how well it will work.

Continue reading »

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Clayton's MARTA expansion ballot measure could determine future of metro Atlanta transit

Posted By on Fri, Oct 10, 2014 at 1:03 PM

MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe says he thinks commuter rail could be up and running within five to seven years
  • Thomas Wheatley
  • MARTA Chairman Robbie Ashe says he thinks commuter rail could be up and running within five to seven years
Turn your eyes away for a moment from Georgia's key races for governor and U.S. Senate and focus instead on Clayton County. That’s where voters are preparing to determine one of the most historic transportation votes since MARTA was created.

On Nov. 4, Clayton voters will decide whether to pay an additional 1-percent sales tax to join Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties to fund MARTA. If approved, the levy would raise approximately $49 million each year to fund bus routes linking Riverdale, Forest Park, Lake City, Morrow, Lovejoy, and other Clayton cities to MARTA’s larger system. The days of walking miles to the grocery store, work, or school on streets with no sidewalks might be over.

At a panel discussion in Midtown last night, hosted by the Atlanta chapter of the Young Professionals in Transportation, MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe, Clayton Chairman Jeff Turner, Citizens for Progressive Transit David Emory, and MARTA President of Metro Planning and Engineering Grady Smith were optimistic the vote would pass overwhelmingly.

“75-25,” Turner said. “We need to have a great showing to make a statement. That is, [that] transit is needed not only in Clayton County but in the metro region.”

Continue reading »

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