Atlanta Envious of New Phoenix Light Rail

As a new light rail system begins operation in Phoenix, Atlanta residents look on with envy. Some worry that the lack of viable public transit in Atlanta threatens the city's competitiveness.

"Two years ago, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce invited reporters to hear officials from Phoenix and other cities talk about their new transportation initiatives. The message was clear: Atlanta and Georgia could be left in the dust."

"On Wednesday, Sam Williams, president of the chamber, said in a statement that 'cities that have made transportation a priority, like Phoenix, Dallas and Charlotte, continue to leapfrog Atlanta with respect to regional mobility. While these areas make progress, we seem choked in congestion with little leadership to get us out.'"

"As another legislative session begins, Atlanta remains the second-most-congested urban area in the nation. The Georgia Legislature has tried and failed to pass a transportation funding measure and is preparing for another go in the 2009 session."

Full Story: Atlanta watches with envy as Phoenix light rail debuts



What about MARTA?

I think it's funny that MARTA is never mentioned in the article. MARTA may have its problems (described in some of the comments to the article), but it's still a lot more rail infrastructure than anything Phoenix has done so far.

MARTA is useless

I think the reason MARTA isn't mentioned is because MARTA is almost useless, unless you need to get to the airport or ride in to watch a game at the Arena or Dome. There are two main arteries -- North/South and East/West. Look at the rail map of cities like New York, Washington DC or Boston. They look like a bowl of spaghetti, so you can get anywhere you need to get from anywhere else. You can't really get anywhere on MARTA. I do believe that this will cause people to chose other cities over Atlanta if trying to decide where to live.

Chris Eaker

...Leaving on a midnight train to Georgia

Once again, I must defend Atlanta (an unpaid rebuttal, of course).

"MARTA is almost useless, unless you need to get to the airport or ride in to watch a game at the Arena or Dome."

Yeah. People also happen to live in the City of Decatur, the neighborhoods of Inman and Candler Parks, and the Edgewood/Sweet Auburn district, along with quite a few other burgeoning mixed-use neighborhoods. No, the passenger counts aren't what you'd see in midtown NYC or DC, but nevertheless...

"You can't really get anywhere on MARTA."

See above comment.

"I do believe that this will cause people to chose other cities over Atlanta if trying to decide where to live."

Well, I would agree with you, if people did not also consider housing costs, other cost-of-living expenses, the favorable climate, and a few hundred other reasons as well. Remarkably, people choose to live in quite a few areas of this country without a built-out heavy rail system.

Yes, Atlanta needs more transportation options. Before the economy collapsed, work on the Beltline was actually proceeding ahead with due haste. I'd imagine that after the recession/depression, these initiatives will resume.

MARTA: Bad Management, Yes. Bad System, Not Necessarily.

Don't bash MARTA because it's not Light Rail. Atlanta's not going to replace the system it has, plus MARTA rail system draws more riders than light rail systems in the US. Based on APTA data, MARTA's rail system has 254,000 weekday riders compared to 110,000 per weekday in Portland. Atlanta's figures are far more than any other light rail service in the United States and rank 6th in the US in heavy rail ridership. (

The article indirectly showcases the opposition outside of I-285 to MARTA services, which is based more on negative perceptions than any real understanding of or desire for light rail. Cobb County wants light rail so they purposely don't have to directly link to MARTA's system because they still carry the "transit brings crime" mantra, which in part stalled MARTA's previous plans to extend west to the Six Flags vicinity.

Most light rail systems are just as linear as MARTA (see Portland, Salt Lake, etc.) in terms of providing connectivity to a variety of areas. That's what buses do best and you need them to connect directly to the rail stations. It's not as if Phoenix's system is any less linear than MARTA, so I don't understand the infatuation in the AJC article other than that light rail is a relatively new and polically correct mode compared to what Atlanta has.

Michael Lewyn's picture

More on transit-accessible neighborhoods in Atlanta

See the "Car-Free in Atlanta" webpage at

The bus route info is a bit out of date (since some bus routes have changed slightly), but the rail information is still pretty accurate.


New York and Boston each have more than 100 years of heavy rail service, and all of us foot the bill for the WMATA system in DC. MARTA is doing OK for 30 years in the heavy rail business given the level of investment. As a user, the service is pretty good though but it could use an infusion of money from the state and metro suburban counties to expand and improve.

Beltline = Jobs, right?

It would be great to see the Beltline pull through as one of the big job-creating projects in Atlanta. I'm going to do some more research on the status of the Beltline because, on the surface, it seems like the perfect way to invigorate Atlanta (not that it's currently without life).

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