Aug. 19, 2009
Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA - Traffic gridlock in Atlanta is clearly one of the region's most pressing issues impacting the local economy, and hindering citizens to get from point A to point B.
The transportation policy that has led to it also has roots in race, class and competing motivations, as Georgia State University's Miriam Konrad explains in a new book.
In "Transporting Atlanta: The Mode of Mobility Under Construction," Konrad explores the historical and sociological issues that have framed transportation policy and discussions about transportation in Atlanta from the latter half of the 20th century through today.
Konrad, a sociology lecturer, said racism and regionalism play a role in the modern, dysfunctional transportation system in the region, which has created inequities between socioeconomic classes and ethnicities.
"Regionalism is a huge factor in the South, and particularly in Georgia, in terms of how spaces are laid out," she said. "It's hard to separate regionalism - the idea that this is my turf and I don't want any strangers coming on to it - from racism in the region."
Through extensive research and candid interviews with community leaders, business leaders and policy makers, the book chronicles the history and development of not only MARTA, but also the Beltline project and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, putting their history and the underlying motives in creating and operating the three projects into context.
Local frustration with the disjointed transportation network also stems in part - especially in MARTA's case - because of different groups, such as environmentalists, the business community and advocates for the poor want the system to be different things independent of each other's goals.
"For some groups, MARTA is meant to serve the underserved, and others, it's seen as part of the business mission of Atlanta, and they want to see MARTA as a connection to convention centers and upscale events downtown," Konrad said. "For some, it seems impossible that MARTA can be both, and for most, it seems that it's impossible for MARTA to be either."
MARTA's current budget crisis represents another part of the repeating cycle in which less money and arguments about who will fund the system leads to inaction. That inaction leads to cuts, causing the system to become less attractive and more unable to move people efficiently, she said.
Despite historical issues which created a disconnected, unequal transit system of roads, rail and buses, there is a way forward out of the situation, Konrad said.
This includes looking to other examples around the country and the world that take a middle path between auto-dominated transportation systems and completely carless ones, considering growth, the environment and transportation equity as a whole rather than separate issues.
"I do believe there are increasingly pockets of people who are more aware of all of the pieces of this conversation," she said. "The piece getting left out the most, however, is the inequity piece. I hope that it gets more attention, and will be incorporated into urban planning in the future."
"Transporting Atlanta: The Mode of Mobility Under Construction" is published by SUNY Press.