A Letter to Cathy Woolard: Atlanta Affordability & Right-of-way Transit

Dear Cathy Woolard,

While reading your open letter to Amazon in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, several tears manifested. Suddenly, all of the other candidates disappeared from mental view. I realize that you have the best understanding of how Atlanta should advance. Now that I have researched you further, I wanted to critique some of your ideas. Please, let me know what you think!

I’ll start by stating that I love all of your pitched ideas to lure Amazon to our city, but we should be just as focused on encouraging the next local Amazon competitors. Atlanta still loses about half of our Georgia Tech talent to the west coast. We should be giving local startups the same tax incentives, and free buildings as Atlanta will probably end up giving Amazon.

Amazon will be a prosperity bomb with all of the negative connotations of the word bomb directly impacting lower-income families and individuals. Seattle is out of reach for many. San Francisco is out of reach for many. Atlanta will follow this trend without local initiatives, and we need to be leading by example. Other cities with a significant venture capital and technology focus have failed and are losing all of their diversity in all forms. I do not think we are adequately prepared to deal with this bomb. Your letter gives me hope.

Atlanta is also inadequately positioned to ensure that our transit system delivers the same service to these lower-income families and individuals. Our transit system doesn’t go enough places and keeps our employees in vehicular traffic, even with the transformative Keith Parker at the helm. With so many methods of improving transit and mobility in our city, there is one recent development I believe has us on the wrong track: The Atlanta Streetcar.

Atlanta had Georgia Power’s streetcar system long ago, and it was torn down in favor of a superior technology: the automobile. The next technological transportation revolution and a solution that will alleviate traffic congestion will not be the streetcar, but rather the autonomous self-driving car.

I believe you are hurting your chances of winning over Atlantans with your transit plans by supporting the Streetcar. I make an effort to surround myself with many young progressives in the city of Atlanta, and I have yet to run into a single person that thinks rail cars competing with traffic is a sound idea. Downtown Atlanta is my home, and several times a week I am forced into a transient depression, bearing witness to an empty streetcar as it gets stuck in traffic during any hour of the day.

In the echo-chamber of the Mayor’s office, I can see how one might regard it as a way to encourage development alongside the streetcar routes, which has been successful in other cities. However, Atlanta doesn’t need caught-in-traffic transit to promote development, despite any permanence it might provide; Atlanta needs mobility in the form right-of-way transit to go to the places already developed.

I am the biggest fan of right-of-way rail. Partially right-of-way rail doesn’t win over anyone. With the impending self-driving revolution, it makes zero sense to focus on the streetcar. We have an in-traffic bus system that is adequate for the routes streetcars can move passengers along. Focus on right-of-way rail along the BeltLine, focus on MARTA heavy rail, focus on regional right-of-way rail, focus on multi-modal stations, or even focus on right-of-way bus-rapid-transit. Atlantans can see right through expensive cars on tracks, gridlocked in the traffic they know all too well.

I have been to most of the MARTA community sessions over the years, and it is evident that their leadership is also somewhat blinded by the current mayor’s echo-chamber. No citizen in any MARTA outreach event has said something positive about the streetcar. It is perceived it as an inadequate system being forced down our throats; one that will solve none of the mobility issues we face. Right-of-way transit is going big. The streetcar is going home, in traffic.

I am sorry to denigrate the streetcar to this degree. We have so many things to accomplish to attract businesses to Georgia and to encourage talent to stay here, start local businesses, and compete with them. Kasim Reed has been an incredible mayor, but the Streetcar is the stain upon his legacy.

Let’s finally make MARTA part of the permitting process in our city so that developers have to work with the city to ensure adequate transit arrangements ahead of groundbreaking, be it rail or bus service. Let’s focus on hyperloop technology that would likely beat the construction of a high-speed rail transit option between Atlanta and Savannah. There are bigger and better ideas out there, and you should differentiate yourself from the previous mayor in these regards.

Anyway, if you have made it this far, thank you for taking the time to listen to my ideal adjustments to your vision. I want you to have the best chance of winning because you have a grand progressive vision and you are direct about it, much like my other favorite politician, Bernie Sanders. You called out the discriminatory practices of the APD during Gay Black Pride when bars closed early despite the owners showing local ordinance rules. You are what we need.

Alex Groleau
Citizen of Atlanta