Monday, July 23, 2012

Why I’m Voting “Yes” on July 31st

By Matthew Tarleton, Project Manager.

On July 31st, 2012, residents of the ten-county metro Atlanta region can vote on a referendum to support $8.5 billion in transportation investments, funded by a one cent sales tax. If you aren’t aware of the referendum – most frequently referred to as the “Transportation Investment Act (TIA)” or the “Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST)” – its implications for the region, or the projects it will fund, you should take some to do a little research before casting your vote. There are many great articles, editorials, and research studies discussing the merits and benefits of the various projects and their cumulative effect in terms of both traffic relief and economic development. You can find out more about the measurable impacts by visiting and can read opinions on both sides of the argument at just about any of our region’s media outlets. As many of my colleagues from the business community have done in recent months, I would like to make my own personal plea and explain to you why, in personal terms, I will be voting “yes” on July 31st. First a little background on me and the ways in which I interact with transit, roads, and walkways in metro Atlanta.

I live two blocks from Market Street’s office in Midtown Atlanta. I walk to work every day, walk to the grocery store, meet our neighbors for “happy hour” at one of many local bars and restaurants, and rarely leave the neighborhood. Sometimes I realize that I haven’t left my neighborhood in weeks and I yearn for a little drive in the car just to escape and get some time alone. I’m delighted that Market Street’s offices are located in one of the few parts of metro Atlanta where thousands can truly live, work, and play. But I know that I’m in the minority (only 1.3 percent of commuters in metro Atlanta walked to work in 2010) and I’m thankful that Market Street’s offices are located in a part of the region that allows me to be in this minority.

Despite this convenience and easy access to two MARTA rail stations, I often feel like I’m trapped in a little bubble in Midtown. When it comes to parts of this region that I would like to have access to via reliable transit, I can think of six areas that I can access via MARTA rail: Inman Park, Candler Park, Old Fourth Ward/Cabbagetown, Decatur, Downtown Atlanta, and the airport. The places I’d like to access that I can’t reach via MARTA rail: West Midtown, East Atlanta/Ormewood, Morningside, Virginia Highland, Poncey-Highland, Emory, and Peachtree Hills. And those are just the places inside the perimeter (I-285). I’d love to be able to avoid 90 minute traffic jams headed north on GA 400, I-85, and I-75 to visit friends and family that live in surrounding areas outside the perimeter. I’d also like to have connectivity not simply between my home and these locations, but between each of these locations. The BeltLine will help this tremendously, at least between the locations inside the perimeter.

This past weekend my brother and his girlfriend were in town visiting from New York. We had dinner reservations at one of our favorite restaurants, La Tavola, exactly two miles from our condo in Midtown Atlanta. It’s a bit far to walk – about 45 minutes – and it was raining torrentially that evening. We took the car. Later in the weekend, we travelled to West Midtown, also exactly two miles from our condo, and again, we took the car. In both cases, we could have taken the bus. There are routes running every 40 minutes from the rail station closest to our house, and each route takes about 12 minutes to get to these two destinations. A completed BeltLine would have enabled us to travel to and from our condo to all of the neighborhoods we visited during his time in Atlanta. I could have shown him much more of this city without being confined to the back seat of an automobile.

You can probably see where this is headed.

I’m voting “yes” because I wish I didn’t have to get in that car, pay for that cab, or wait forty minutes between buses to travel with a group of friends between the most vibrant neighborhoods in the heart of the city that anchors the nation’s ninth most populous metropolitan area.

I’m voting “yes” because I expect the ninth largest metropolitan area in the country and the 17th largest economy in the world to possess a functional transportation system.

I’m voting “yes” because I know that the ninth largest metropolitan area in the country will no longer be the 17th largest economy in the world if we don’t build a functional transportation system.

I’m voting “yes” so that, when I’m 45 years and raising my children here, I don’t regret the decision to raise my family here.

I’m voting “yes” because I understand that, at 30 years old, if I don’t pay for it now I will pay for it later, one way or another.

I’m voting “yes” because I am more than willing to pay for it now. I’m willing to pay an extra $180 each year, or $15 each month (yes, I calculated), to help finance something that is vital to my current and future quality of life in metro Atlanta. And while I understand that many in our region cannot afford an additional penny sales tax, there are many of us that can afford it and many of us that can likely identify a simple tradeoff. I really like that new show The Newsroom on HBO and the replays of NFL games on NFL Network (valued by Comcast at $9.95 and $4.95 each month, respectively), but I like functional transportation systems more. Sorry Jeff Daniels, we may just have to catch up on Netflix later. Oh wait, Netflix is only $15/month as well…

I’m voting “yes” because when I think of that additional $180 each year, I’m also reminded of the fact that delays from traffic congestion cost the average commuter in metro Atlanta $924 each year and that full implementation of the TIA’s project list is expected to reduce the average commuter’s traffic delays by 24%. Do the math. Hint: the personal ROI is positive.

I’m voting “yes” because I understand opportunity costs. I know that there may be a time in my life in Atlanta in which personal or career circumstances may prevent my family from residing close enough to my place of work or a transit station that I can avoid commuting via automobile. And if at the end of ten years, the projects funded by the TIA shave just one minute off my daily commute, that equates to roughly 240 additional minutes (assuming 240 work days each year), or four hours, of extra time that I’ll have with my family. If the projects effectively reduce my commute by two minutes, that’s eight hours each year that I’ll get back. And if they shave six minutes off my daily commute, which is entirely reasonable for anyone that will travel through a new and improved interchange at GA-400 and I-285, I’ll earn 24 hours, an entire day, back with my family. And disregarding all other reasons, this alone is worth the $180 each year.

I’m also voting “yes” because, unlike many intended “no” voters, I don’t care that the project list isn’t perfect. Let me tell me about the last time I voted for an elected official and thought “This individual is the PERFECT candidate!” It was sometime between never and never…I can’t exactly remember. Our elected officials aren’t perfect and the project list isn’t perfect. In the case of imperfect candidates, the alternative is another imperfect candidate. The alternative to a “yes” vote is nothing. In fact, it’s worse than nothing. It’s regression. And this region can’t stand any more regression.

And last but certainly not least, I’m voting “yes” because, despite some disappointments and inconveniences, I really like Atlanta. And I don’t want it to be the butt of the nation’s jokes. Folks, with the worst housing market in the country, one the worst job markets in the country, and some of the worst traffic in the country, let’s face it: we aren’t exactly admired.

So I’m voting “yes” on July 31st because I want this region to be a better place. It isn’t a perfect project list and it won’t make metro Atlanta a perfect place. But it will make it better. For my benefit, and our benefit, I hope we vote “yes” on July 31st.