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Op-Ed: Bus Rapid Transit is the Wrong Answer for Cobb

The author, Ron Sifen, writes about some of the disadvantages and costs of the BRT proposal, and also discusses transit alternatives that he says would ultimately do more to meet Cobb's overall transportation needs.

Credit: Patch graphics
Credit: Patch graphics
[Editor's note: The following text was submitted by Ron Sifen of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. It was originally published in The Marietta Daily Journal on May 11, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/pm4h7qt]


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.

- Mr. Sifen can be reached at Rsifen@aol.com
Brian May 20, 2014 at 02:25 AM
If you read the responses in the MDJ, there are a lot of inaccuracies in what he said and he is a regular detractor of public transit, not an "expert" thereof. Some examples here: * Inaccurate claim: " 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.” * Correction: Within walkable areas with high concentrations of businesses, such stops are usually separated by a reasonable walking distance * Inaccurate claim: "the “fixed guideway” will block left turns into and out of all of these businesses." * Correction: The median, not the fixt transit, will INTENTIONALLY block left turns in and out of business except at controllable intersections. This is because there is too much volume on Cobb Pkwy and you cannot have uncontrolled access to the middle lane. It's chaos and slows down traffic. For left turns at designated left turn lanes, the BRT will be on priority transit signaling. That means that when it's at the intersection, it'll be cleared out prior to the left turn lanes going on for regular vehicles. No issues there, and in fact considering the fixed guideway adds to the unusable center portion of the road than just a median, it will mean a wider turn radius for cars, which means turns and u-turns can be done at a higher speed, which is a huge win.
Brian May 20, 2014 at 02:27 AM
Oh, and this innacuracy as well... * Inaccurate statement: "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." * Correction: Business were not allowed to use that land since that land was slated for extra lanes. It was always expected Cobb would be widened. Businesses were allowed to put low-impact landscaping in that area, but nothing else. As such, businesses are not using it. It just adds an unattractive buffer that adds to the un-walkable appearance and old-fashioned suburban look of Cobb Parkway except in the CID, where it was widened and street-scaped already (but where the BRT may use the Cumberland Blvd loop instead)
Clark May 20, 2014 at 03:56 PM
This is the right stance, but for the wrong reason. BRT is the wrong transportation solution for the corridor, but that doesn't mean that all fixed-guideway transit is wrong. The problem with BRT is that it is really for a low-density corridor, something Cobb County most certainly is not! (another inaccuraccy in the OpEd). What Cobb really needs is Heavy or Commuter rail from at least Kennesaw into Atlanta with stops in several places, particularly Cumberland. MARTA Heavy Rail could be extended to Cumberland and that would help a lot with transportation with the Braves move. A solution for high capacity transit across the top-end perimeter is also needed connecting Cumberland with Perimeter and Doraville, or more accurately, connecting the busy I-75 corridor with the GA-400 and I-85 corridors. For local transit between Cumberland and Kennesaw, Light Rail would actually work, and fill much the same role as BRT, just with a lower ongoing cost, and far higher capacity.

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