Bus Rapid Transit is the wrong answer for Cobb
by Ron Sifen
May 11, 2014 04:00 AM | 3520 views | 14 14 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Burying the proposed Bus Rapid Transit line into a large Cobb SPLOST projects list obstructs voters from being able to make a direct decision of whether they support or oppose the half-billion dollar BRT boondoggle.

If the BRT is on the SPLOST projects list, many voters — perhaps most voters — would be forced to choose to vote against projects they would otherwise support — or would be forced to approve a BRT project they oppose — because they didn’t want to vote against other projects on the list.

If commissioners are afraid to take a direct stand against the BRT, I have no objection to giving voters a direct yes or no referendum on BRT. But burying the ultra-expensive BRT into a SPLOST projects list is just flat-out unfair to voters. Of course, BRT might be hated enough to sink the whole SPLOST.

BRT is different than other individual projects, because BRT obligates future non-SPLOST dollars to pay for BRT’s huge operating and maintenance costs.

There are other potential transit projects that could cost-effectively meet the needs of people who would use transit or would otherwise cost-effectively improve overall transportation in Cobb. But any funds allocated for transit in the SPLOST projects list should include language prohibiting any of the money to be used for any type of fixed-guideway transit.

BRT will consume huge amounts of money that will therefore not be available to meet many other transit needs and other transportation needs that are more important than enhancing already existing transit service in one corridor.

Ultimately, BRT will have a net negative impact on transportation in Cobb because BRT will financially obstruct Cobb County from meeting other transportation needs elsewhere throughout Cobb.

Cobb is a mostly suburban county with low population density. The Atlanta region has the lowest population density of any major city in the world. The Atlanta region also has numerous widely scattered employment centers.

“Fixed guideway transit” works in centralized cities with high population density and few centralized employment centers.

Transit that meets the needs of a city with low population density and widely scattered employment centers must efficiently and cost-effectively provide transportation connecting many different communities to many different destinations, and provide service in many different directions. If Cobb commits massive amounts of money to just one corridor, it will consume money that is needed for other transit needs in other corridors and many other transportation needs throughout Cobb.

Ten years ago, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority did a comprehensive study of the Atlanta region’s transit needs. The study was called the Regional Transit Action Plan. The RTAP would have implemented no new fixed guideway transit. Instead, the RTAP would have implemented an entire transit network providing better transit throughout the entire region, for little more than Cobb is proposing to spend to enhance existing transit in one corridor.

I’m not saying the RTAP is the perfect answer. I’m just saying it is the right model for cost effectively meeting the transit needs of a metropolis with very low population density and numerous widely scattered employment centers.

There are other problems with Cobb’s BRT plans:

• The BRT vehicles in Cobb would operate in their own dedicated BRT lanes, which would be the “fixed guideway”;

• Even other regular buses would not use the BRT lanes. BRT would be constructed to only stop at a little more than a dozen “stations.” Regular buses stopping at all current bus stops would have to continue to operate in the regular traffic lanes; and

• The BRT project proposes to put BRT in the middle of Cobb Parkway. The current middle left turn lane would be eliminated and replaced with two dedicated BRT lanes, one northbound and one southbound.

Since 2 BRT lanes are wider than the existing middle turn lane, the entire road will have to be widened. Businesses will lose land that they currently use.

In addition, the “fixed guideway” will block left turns into and out of all of these businesses. This will adversely impact these businesses and inconvenience Cobb citizens.

BRT on Cobb Parkway is a huge gamble — at taxpayers’ expense — that BRT would incentivize the redevelopment of private property near the transit stations. BRT would hypothetically benefit a few property owners near transit stations, but it would clearly be to the detriment of all the other businesses whose business will suffer by having a “fixed guideway” blocking left turns into and out of all businesses along Cobb Parkway.

BRT is the wrong answer for Cobb. Commissioners should make the responsible decision to keep BRT off the SPLOST projects list, and not allow a SPLOST to move forward if it includes funding for BRT.

Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.
Comments
(14)
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opposition2BRT
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May 17, 2014
According to Around Town, recent polls indicate only about a quarter of Cobb residents support BRT.
are you serious?
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May 17, 2014
Nutdragon claims that regular taxpayers are taking money from the CIDs. Seriously???

Nutdragon the CID defender actually confirms Sifen's point that this is totally about development, and using our tax dollars to benefit developers.

There is no consensus in Cobb in support of BRT. 69% of Cobb voters voted against the TSPLOST, and we can vote down the next SPLOST if BRT is on the projects list.

Keep up the good work Ron.
netdragon
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May 20, 2014
No, it sounds like you are twisting facts to misrepresent the truth. This is using tax dollars - including those of Cumberland CID businesses and Town Center CID businesses that pay a significant amount of property taxes combined - to allow portions of Cobb to grow into a more liveable, enjoyable community. More live-work-play, and the kind of community that will attract young professionals and businesses. In the process, those portions will have increasing density which will add to our tax digest, which will decrease our mill rates. Cobb is diverse. There are some portions that are rural, and they can stay rural and still enjoy the benefits of a larger tax digest in areas 5-10 miles away, including the aforementioned lower mill rate and more money for road improvements (such as trails, bridge replacements and better drainage) in their own areas.
county pork
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May 13, 2014
Well, I just went to the Connect Cobb website to verify all of the information that netdragon was saying. Low and behold, there was no information to support his argument. Actually, there was no draft CTP so how can he/she have so much information about the study? Maybe one of the many consultants on the CTP are defending their work and hoping to get another piece of the never ending AA pie. The consultant gift that keeps on giving.
THE TRUTH
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May 14, 2014
If you want to look at the CTP go look at the ARC website. It is right there. Google is your friend. Transit options for Cobb have been extensively studied. It is just a fact.
Tony Cain
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May 13, 2014
Thanks for your great analysis, Ron.

Why can't the BOC and DOT do the same?
THE TRUTH
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May 13, 2014
Just the same old regurgitated nonsense Mr. Sifen has been peddling for years. Who is on the board of the CCCC that calls Ron Sifen their President anyway? Could not find that information on their website. Just wondering who votes on the positions they take?
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
Another fallacy: "the entire road will have to be widened. Businesses will lose land that they currently use."

At least in the Cumberland area, that land is actually already set-aside and developers are not allowed to build on it. If businesses built on it, it was really against the law and at their own peril, since only landscaping is approved on that land.

If you look at South Cobb Drive, it also has that same set-aside land for lane expansion.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
I knew it! The writer wrote almost the same article back in 2013 about the T-SPLOST. It's time to get original or have MDJ hire some writers that are on both sides of the spectrum.

As far at the perceived issue of the fixed-guideway blocking turn lanes. That's easy to solve: You just ensure the transit priority signaling clears out the BRT before people in the left turn lanes have to turn or U-turn. It'd actually give people a wider turn radius for U-turns, which would be great.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
The writer doesn't know what he's talking about, and is mired in politics and didn't do his research. The BRT didn't get on the SPLOST project list via the whims of council members. It came about through a Cobb 2040 CTP process where business leaders and civic leaders agreed it was of top importance for the economic development of Cobb County. After getting through this rigorous scientific project, it was then and only then picked up again by commissioners. Why is the project important, and how did it make it through Cobb 2040 CTP? Currently, Cumberland CID already provides about 20 percent of taxes to Cobb, keeping YOUR taxes lower. However, we're losing the slow war against other parts of metro Atlanta that have better services - and transit. So it's not about convenient trips to midtown. It's about economic survival vs becoming a bedroom slum of Atlanta as all the wealthy people continue moving intown.

And to the writer: Someone can claim anything is a boondoggle. I can claim your article is a boondoggle.
Becky English
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May 11, 2014
Mr. Sifen has it right. Whatever you do, Cobb citizens and political entities, do not deploy BRT in such a way as to allow foreclosure on leading-edge solutions such as those offered by Swift Tram. Swift's elevated fixed-guideway, electrically powered, automated transit network solution installs for about half of light rail's cost, and costs less than half of BRT operations & maintenance. Many public-private partnership agreements prohibit deployment of more efficient, more cost-effective solutions such as Swift Tram, as a way to enhance financial returns for private investors during the lengthy term of the agreement. But if an optimal solution for the public good is what's desired, take a hard look at Swift's alternative to BRT. Full disclosure: I'm a founder of the company, but I do not want to go into detail here or I believe that would be called advertising or promotion. This comment is neither; rather it is a reinforcement of Mr. Sifen's well-founded concern. We are pleased to speak with you further, directly. SwiftTram dot com.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
Becky, as currently envisioned as part of Cobb 2040 CTP and the previous planning studio, the BRT will be in dedicated lanes convertible to fixed rail in the future, if demand ever necessitated heavier stock.

I see SWIFT as being less appropriate for Cobb Pkwy and more appropriate for a quick connection to the Arts Center from Cumberland, which will most likely need to be elevated about I-75 to serve that purpose.

I think SWIFT tram defeats the purpose of what this BRT/rail would be trying to achieve. The idea is at-grade quick entrance/exit to enhance natural pedestrian traffic and create linkages like street-grade trams in Europe. It would have many stops, and be more urban in design.

David Brown
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May 11, 2014
Ron,

Thank you for your attention and edification on this matter. You do great work.

When do we rid ourselves of the agents of the members of the Chamber of Commerce who pour concrete for a living? They seem to own more than one member of the Cobb Commission and are even infiltrating my local government in Smyrna.

I am sorry the economy is so ill that residential and commercial construction is moribund. But the answer is not for the developers and contractors to gin up projects whose primary benefit is to transfer money to them from taxpayers' wallets. Perhaps the political efforts of the Chamber of Commerce to survive this sick economy should be toward the goal of eliminating the kickback artists in D.C., who created it, not toward following their wretched example.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
David, you and the writer have no idea where this project came from. It came from a groundswell of support from citizens and business leaders as part of the Cobb 2040 CTP, identified as a need, in order to bring jobs and make our county competitive. This is after its feasibility was already assessed. We're falling behind. It was hijacked by the commissioners.

Btw, Cumberland CID is the largest tax-paying entity in the county. You, as a regular Joe taxpayer, are actually diverting money from the CID. The CID needs this to grow and survive, and the entire Cobb Pkwy corridor is struggling and entering into blight due to lack of investment. This isn't the 60s anymore, and suburban style strip development just isn't going to cut it for the main cooridor in Cobb County. Not if you want jobs here.

Cherokee county and Paulding county are calling for people who are afraid of investment and would like to bury their head under the sand while jobs move elsewhere.
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