About ten years ago I found myself in between jobs and without a reliable vehicle. At first, I thought — no problem, I can walk everywhere I need to go, grab a ride from a friend, or just take the bus. But after just a few weeks of adding an extra 2–3 hours to my daily routine just to get the basics taken care of, the reality thousands of DeKalb residents live with every day sunk in — getting by in this county without a vehicle is difficult, by design.
Everywhere I needed to go whether the grocery store, a job interview, a community meeting, required an extra layer of planning and lead time, not just because of logistics, but because the public transit opinions available to me were far away and more often than not, late and unreliable. Not to mention anything more spur of the moment or emergency-related, turned into an extraordinary feat to arrange.
Getting back my freedom, as I thought of it then, when I got my truck up and running was a huge lift off my back and mind. But sitting in traffic on congested highways was only easier compared to when I didn’t have reliable and efficient mobility options.
Ten years later, here in Metro-Atlanta too many of our residents find themselves in this situation, but with no short or medium-term relief in sight. We have lagged behind as a region and a state for decades when it comes to transit expansion. Recently though our local and regional leaders are waking up to the idea that transit expansion might actually be a good thing — for our economy, for our workers, for our families, and for our environment.
When we talk about transit and equity in transit we are talking about the holistic approach to supporting a system that supporters working families, that provides reliable and efficient services to all DeKalb residents and businesses. This will help reduce traffic congestion which in turn supports cleaner air and water in our region.
So when crafting a Transit Equity for all of DeKalb approach, here are a few questions we must start with:
- Would you like to live closer to a transit station or have more frequent bus service?
- Or wish there were better sidewalks and street lighting to your bus stop
- Do you think rapid transit should finally come to south DeKalb?
- Did you know that the leading source of greenhouse gas CO2 emissions in America is now from vehicle tailpipes?
I’ve been an advocate for transit expansion for over a decade, going back to 2006 when I was a door to door canvasser for the Sierra Club, collecting signatures for the nascent Beltline idea.
As Director of the Georgia Sierra Club from 2016–2019, I advocated and campaigned for the successful MORE MARTA referendum expanding transit investments in the City of Atlanta, and the Gwinnett MARTA campaign (we lost that referendum, but the work continues!). I am deeply committed to creating an equitable and just transit system metro-Atlanta wide.
Here is where we are and what we know about the state of transit in DeKalb and the region:
- All of the major transit stations in DeKalb are in the Super 6 district. That includes East Lake, Avondale Estates, Decatur, Brookhaven, Indian Creek and Dunwoody. This is part of the problem — they aren’t any in the other major populated areas in DeKalb.
- DeKalb County is an original member of MARTA. We have been paying a penny tax going back to the passage of the first 1968 referendum.
- We do not have connectivity along the Perimeter and have limited connectivity within the county (for example, using public transit to get from Avondale to Brookhaven is nearly impossible, and entirely impractical).
- There have been two expansions since we joined — Clayton County in 2014 and the city of Atlanta in 2016, both with either a new contract or a restructured contract. It is important to note that Gwinnett was offered a contract with a better set of benefits than currently in DeKalb.
- New population centers such as Toco Hills are not sufficiently serviced.
- We have a growing and an aging population, ADA compliance and improvements are more important than ever.
- We are currently only using heavy rail and buses at limited times rather than the full suite of options that include rapid transit and light rail and greater MARTA mobility reach.
We have a lot of work to do on transit here in DeKalb and in our Metro-Region. I want our county to lead in the transformation of our economy to a clean energy and clean transportation system. We can do that by leading on transit expansion for all of DeKalb.
Here are the key platform ideas:
- We must have a connected county. In order to truly be One DeKalb, people and goods need to circulate to where people are. Our residents, businesses and visiting workers should be able to get from one side of the county to another, efficiently, using transit. We must adopt and fund the full penny scenario in the DeKalb Transit Master Plan.
- Address the “sidewalk gap” and safe lit routes to transit stops. There are too many areas where transit riders have to walk without safe sidewalks or street lighting from their homes to stops and to work and back. We must identify the most immediate and high use areas to improve safer walks to and from the bus stop or MARTA station. This includes working in greater synergy with MARTA police who have overlapping jurisdiction along bus routes and transit stations.
- Adopt a climate action, clean energy and clean transportation approach to all new investments in transit, stations, and other infrastructure. Every expansion in transit options, means less tailpipe emissions, less oil and gasoline run-off into our streams, wear and tear on already at-capacity roads.
- All new buses purchased by MARTA and the ATL should be Zero Emission buses (ZEBs). Not only is this better for clean air, it is the most economical investment, as ZEBs have a lower total cost of ownership compared to natural gas or diesel.
- Commit to creating a fare-free (or nominal annual fee) transit system for MARTA and the ATL. Transit systems across the country are recognizing that eliminating fares supports low-income working families, promoting higher use of transit, which in turn means cleaner air, and less impact on vehicle infrastructure.
- Adopt a county-wide infill policy modeled after the Sierra Club’s national platform, recognizing that growing threats to our environment require a renewed emphasis on cities and towns where people can live, work, and thrive while protecting and restoring our natural environment and fighting the causes and impacts of climate change
Please sign on to our Transit Equity for ALL DeKalb plan, and share with your friends. Help us build thousands of supporters behind taking action on creating a community where we can live, work, and thrive while protecting and restoring our natural environment and fighting the causes and impacts of climate change.
Ted Terry is the former mayor of Clarkston, Georgia — the most ethnically diverse square mile in America, and a current candidate for DeKalb County Super 6 Commission. www.tedfordekalb.com