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marta12Much is being made of a rail line connection to Emory; presumably this will be a light-rail line from Lindbergh Station which will follow the CSX tracks to the Emory campus.  I even suggested as much a while back, but the prevailing thought at that time was that a heavy rail line should be built along that same route.  The old metric for a heavy rail line was $400 million per mile unless there was extraordinary construction such as hard rock tunneling.  I’m sure that it is more expensive now.

However, there is another alternative that while costing the same, may actually serve more people than just Emory.  In its original design for the heavy rail system, several branches were incorporated into the design that allowed for future expansion.  At the time of original construction of the heavy rail lines, structures were placed at several locations.  These structures typically were short tunnels which “went nowhere”.  There are several.  One is just north of Arts Center station for expansion to the NW.  There is another, an underpass just south of the East Point station for a line to Hapeville.

One is actually being used.  Just west of the Ashby Station, there is a line that goes all of one mile up to Bankhead Station as the Green Line.  This was originally the “Perry Homes Line”, and a portion of it actually got built after lots of local political pressure so that “people living in Perry Homes could get to their jobs”.  Of course, the irony is that Perry Homes no longer exists and is a statement to the fact that heavy-rail construction takes a lot of time in addition to costing a lot of money.  So, for the moment, the Green Line is an operational anomaly, serving one unique station and duplicating the balance of its route on the Blue Line.

Right now, the Green Line runs through downtown, terminating at Edgewood Candler Park station.  It then switches over to a center track passing siding, allowing Blue Line trains to pass by.  The operator walks to the other end of the train and the Green Line train then proceeds westward to Bankhead.  However, just a bit east from Candler Park station, the other end of the passing siding there is an expansion point where the Green Line train could go into a short tunnel, passing under the CSX Railroad.  Like so many other MARTA heavy rail rights of way, the Green Line would then be parallel to the CSX tracks which lead to Tucker and beyond.

atlantamap-mod

So, the Green Line, which is currently underutilized, could be expanded up to the Emory area by following the CSX tracks northward.  By doing so, at least two DeKalb County neighborhoods would have MARTA stations, which could also include the Veteran’s Administration Hospital on Clairmont Road.  After passing under North Decatur Road, the MARTA Green Line would then turn westward, again following the CSX right of way, connecting the main campus of Emory University, Emory Hospital and the CDC facility on Clifton Road.  Emory already has circulator buses in the general vicinity, and perhaps a light rail circulator line could serve not only Emory but also CDC and relieve a bad traffic situation.

Will it get built?  I’ve given up trying to predict this sort of stuff.  Should it be built?  Maybe.

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 Acela_old_saybrook_ct_summer2011

 One of the evergreens for politicians are high speed trains.  They get dewy-eyed at the prospect of having high speed trains in their political districts.  For people who have been savvy enough to get elected and have the self-control which allows them to stay in office for long periods of time, politicians can be remarkably irrational when it comes to the subject of railroad transportation.  Especially high-speed trains.

Inevitably, their eyes turn toward the Northeast Corridor.  If they’re lucky, their constituents will send them on a 14-day junket to Europe to survey the passenger railroad situation there.  Like the Intercity Express:

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 And when they get back from Europe, they find themselves standing in front of their constituents, extolling the virtues of high-speed trains.  The high speed train is the Holy Grail of modern transportation, that object of exceeding value that must be had by all progressive peoples.  It has become a crusade, just as streetcars have become a crusade.  As just like the modern day streetcar, the real goals of these projects are concealed behind a veil of flowery words and empty promises.

So it is with Columbus, Georgia, which has plans:

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Of course, once the pretty words and pictures are peeled away, there’s still the ugly reality that these trains cost a lot of money.  They cost a lot of money to plan for, they cost a lot of money to buy the rights of way for the tracks, they cost a lot of money to build, they cost a lot of money to operate and, most importantly, they cost a lot of money over the long term to maintain.  Without continuous maintenance, these high speed trains cannot reliably operate.

Already, there have been studies, with civil engineers sitting about with yellow pads and pencils, pulling numbers out of thin air to justify the construction of these things.  Let’s look at the competition:

Automobile

The optimum in terms of transportation availability, the automobile has already won the war in terms of popularity.  Our entire transportation infrastructure revolves around the automobile.  Since much of the cost of that infrastructure is buried out of sight, it is impossible to factor in the actual costs of an individual trip to Columbus from Atlanta.  Using Mapquest, the trip on I-85 is about 126 miles, taking typically 1 hour and 40 minutes.  Except on Fridays on holiday weekends in the rain.  You are, modern soul that you are, driving a 2014 Toyota Prius, using about $10.00 worth of fuel.  (Interestingly, the way to play this is to make the trip having your fuel costs reimbursed by your employer at the current IRS rate, to the tune of about $60.00).  Of course, your mileage may vary.  And, no mention of wear and tear on the car or on the roads.  Nor a mention of the overhead costs such as insurance.

The Bus

Greyhound goes between Atlanta and Columbus, taking between 1 hour 50 minutes and 2 hours 15 minutes.  The one-way fare is around $33.00, less discounts.  Again, because the bus uses public rights of way which are supported by the taxpayers, it is not possible to calculate the actual costs of this trip per person.  But you have to believe that the costs for Greyhound are artificially low.

Flying

Until recently, for example, there were direct flights from Hartsfield to Macon which were heavily subsidized by the taxpayers.  Even then, the air carrier couldn’t make it work out, probably because more time was spent on the ground taxiing than actually flying.  In any case, a Delta subsidiary will get you to Columbus in about 42 – 48 minutes, gate to gate.  The fare is in a general range between $450.00 and $600.00.  As with the other forms of transit discussed so far, the actual costs are hidden from view, making cost benefit analysis difficult.

High Speed Train

The Columbus proposal shows three different options, with the least expensive having trains that operate at speed under 100 mph on existing rights of way.  You can refer to the costs of these plans in the feasibility study document.

What We Had

Just for fun, let’s go back 60 years, to the early 1950’s.  There was a passenger train called the Man O’ War, which ran between Columbus and Atlanta; center of the city to center of the city.

Central_of_Georgia_Railway_Man_O_War_1951

The train was operated by a private company, the Central of Georgia Railway.  This company paid taxes on its revenues, on its equipment and on its rights of way.  Prior to 1956, there were two trains between Columbus and Atlanta (typical running time 2 hours 50 minutes, with several stops) :

passengertr3

The round-trip fare, in today’s dollars, was $31.62, or $15.81 one-way.  Of course, that would be different these days, since fuel costs, taxation and such would have grown considerably faster than the official rate of inflation.  But, there’s still a point to be made.

Popular tastes change.  People got tired of taking the streetcar when they could take their car instead.  So, the streetcars generally went away.  Popular tastes have changed back, with the streetcar becoming a sign of urban progress (and not so much as a sign of improved transportation).  We had it all and let it slip away.  And, we’re paying for it now.  While our elected leaders are dreaming of high speed trains, a more modest train with useful amenities such as Wi-Fi, conference rooms, light food and beverage service, which would be useful for those who travel between Columbus and Atlanta might be a real winner.  It won’t be as fast, but it will be just as useful at a much lower price.

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Snowzilla 2014

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Atlanta is slowly coming back to life.  I’ve lived here since 1965, and I’ve seen my share of Atlanta in freezing weather.  And, I’ve had a child-like innocent attitude toward this sort of event, discussed here.  This time, however, things are different, and the reasons why are interesting.

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Whenever Atlanta freezes up like it did at the end of January, 2014, I always look back and remember that those days were extraordinary and unique.  It all comes down to where I was and who I was with.

History

  • The first storm that I remember was in 1973.  I had been visiting my parents in Athens and suddenly realized that I needed to get back home before the storm.  I crept into town that Sunday afternoon, headed toward my apartment in Buckhead.  There was a 1/2″ patina of ice on my car.  During the night, the electricity went off as thousands of ice covered limbs fell onto power lines.  I was relatively fortunate, since the power came back on a day later, but many parts of town were dark for a week, if not longer.  After that event, Georgia Power became more aggressive in maintaining power line rights of way.
  • In 1982, I was sitting in a bar on Irby Street in Buckhead drinking beer with a friend.  We looked out to see snow falling heavily; he headed home and I found myself making a choice as to where I would go.  I could go home to my little cottage in Brookhaven or I could go be with the woman that I loved.  By the time things had firmed up and I was granted permission to stay with her, the roads had become barely passable.  I ended up walking to Sandy Springs in the snow.  Nearby, I-285 was completely shut down, with cars parked all over the place.  I’m glad that I was with her, even though we had to walk to the local 7/11 to buy groceries as things dragged on.  I would eventually marry that lovely young woman.
  • By 1993, we were married and living in Brookhaven when another storm hit town.  We were without electricity for five days.  Fortunately, my wife treated it as a camping adventure, and we cozied up near the fireplace under blankets.  The family cats hung nearby, too.  The big discovery in that storm was that we still had hot water; I had assumed that because there was no electricity, there was no ignitor for the water heater.    Fortunately, the heater had a pilot light and we were able to warm up in the bathtub.

There have been other storms, and there have been some false alarms, too.  I remember there was the threat of bad weather in the early 1980’s; everybody left town and went home to prepare for the oncoming storm.  It never happened and there was some finger-pointing about it after the fact.  Employers and schools were embarrassed.

Through it all, there has been a sense of “Well, this stuff happens from time to time.” and that’s been it.  This time appears to be different.

Politics

Certainly, politics has something to do with it.  Governor Nathan Deal is running for reelection.  Like him or hate him, the first Deal administration has been remarkably quiet.  There have been a few dust ups along the way, but the Deal administration has generally cruised right along.  Of course, with an impending election, opponents are eager to drum up whatever campaign rhetoric is available.

One of our neighbors, an all-politics all-the-time sort, had this to say:

I was just told by a friend that her son saw our Governor, Nathan Deal at the Varsity at lunchtime yesterday right as the snow was starting. He even took a picture of him. I guess a chili cheese slaw dog and a frosted orange took precedence over Georgian’s lives.

We can only speculate as to what she would have had to say if she had gone into the Varsity’s men’s room.  And, now that things are over, opponents are looking for anything that will stick.  I don’t remember previous governors getting this kind of flak; usually the Atlanta mayors get hit with it.

What is different this time is that popular expectations have changed.  We’ve been going through a five-year cycle of significantly increased governmental presence in our lives.  We are being told that government will be there to solve our every problem, and that only government has the tools to make such changes.  It was inevitable that popular expectations would rise as the government’s presence in our lives also rose.  Now you hear people asking “Why wasn’t the National Guard called out sooner?”  This on the second day of the storm.

Social Media

In spite of the constant drumbeats of anger over the traffic situation, there were some distinct bright spots.  Facebook proved to be an extremely useful tool, especially when someone set up a page that helped people find shelter:

enhanced-20286-1391019806-29All those little white markers  indicate someone who is willing to give shelter to strangers in this emergency.  Likewise, others reached out to strangers stuck on the highways:

enhanced-buzz-30973-1391023549-8More about those kind souls, here.  Home Depot and local grocery stores let people sleep inside where it was warm.  Not exactly the best, but at least acceptable.  Chick-fil-a reportedly gave out food to those stuck in place.  This sort of stuff is Atlanta at its best.  And, there was dry humor:

Stay off Johnson Ferry.  Seriously.

Stay off Johnson Ferry. Seriously.

Social media has not only been the font of information for people affected by the storm, it has also been the source of discussion.  Some it has been very good:

Lisa Engle I think no matter the call made, right / wrong, pockets of people will find “fault” and reason to highlight how it “should” be done different. After 25(ish?) in “the system”, I’ve seen that there is always controversy about the choices made. Julie – The call made a few weeks ago was bc of the buses not having the fuel “supplement” for the diesel to deal w/ the cold.. (from what I’ve been told)…wasn’t a “kids in the cold” issue…more a “can’t have kids stranded bc our buses won’t run” issue. Personally, I think the call to cancel would’ve been best in hindsight, but sure as that happened the snow would’ve arrived at 6:PM instead and the system would be made to look like idiots who caused parents trouble w/ childcare. Moving on…

There already has been major discussion online and in the newspapers.  This includes an article titled “Why the South Fell Apart”.  There is sure to be a lot more, including this blog item.  Yet, there is one other matter that has not been discussed…….

The Trucks

As I opined on Facebook:

At the mere mention of ice and snow, when everybody is racing to the store to buy bread and milk, that is the time to officially embargo all tractor trucks from passing through Atlanta. The city trucks are given enough time to get home, and then they too stay put until the storm has passed. Almost every scene in the year’s debacle includes shots of tractor/trailer rigs folded up, blocking lanes of traffic.

The presence of tractor trailer trucks significantly made matters worse.  A couple samples:

3223154_G 3223220_GAtlanta is a major transportation crossroads, and the tractor trailer traffic is significant in this town.  If you don’t believe me, go over to I-75 near Cumberland and count the number of trucks passing by in the span of five minutes.  Certainly, these trucks should be kept off the highways and away from Atlanta until the weather clears.  The truckers are sure to blame the auto drivers, and they’re probably right.  But it doesn’t sound so good to hear them complaining about the cars when nobody’s moving.

Long term, the truck situation in Atlanta needs resolution, regardless of the weather.  Looking to Europe, there are certain highways that are so congested that the tractor trailer trucks are hauled past the congested areas by train:

ger_bls_re485nr005_weilamrhein_2007_1_LIt’s called a “Rolling Highway“.  And it’s worth a look.

The Trains

Those who read these pages regularly know that I am a train enthusiast.  No apologies from me on that score, for I know that steel wheel on steel rail has some inherent advantages, both with fuel economy and system reliability.  For while MARTA buses were not able to run, the heavy rail portion of the system operated reliably, even with a fire at Five Points station.  My nearby Norfolk Southern line to Washington kept operating in its same reliable fashion through the storm.  It’s hard to improve on that.

Aftermath

There is sure to be a lot of discussion about this, but one thing keeps coming back to me.  Atlanta gets one of these storms every other year, with pretty much the same outcome every time. Fox News is saying that we only have perhaps a hundred sand / plow trucks, while Chicago has four times that many, if not more. Is it necessary for us to have hundreds of sand trucks for an event that happens every other year?

Be as the reed in the wind; bend but do not break.

I’m sorry for those who got stranded, and I know that we can do better, but this all needs a grain pf practical judgement. This is not Duluth, Minnesota. And, we’re lucky that it is only snow on the ground, no ice in the trees. Which means that the electricity is still on, so we still have heat and can watch Fox tell us how bad things are.

And, when the next storm threatens and the DoT starts spreading salt and sand on the roads, who will be the first person to complain about its affects upon the environment?

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151572326Atlanta, Traffic

Everybody talks about Atlanta’s traffic problem, but nobody seems to be able to do very much about it.  The premise of this blog item is “What happens if you offer something so attractive that they willingly choose?”  That is to say, people are often forced to choose something and people resent being forced.  In recent years, commuting has become a forced choice.  Allow me now to discuss what if?

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MARTA Heavy Rail System - 2013

MARTA Heavy Rail System – 2013

In looking at the MARTA system map above, you will note that virtually all of the heavy rail system is within the limits of I-285.  There are possible explanations for this, such as here.  Regardless, the original concept of the MARTA system was regional in nature:

MARTA as originally conceived

MARTA as originally conceived

You will note the little arrows pointing outward from the center of Atlanta.  Atlanta wants to be the center of the world, but that is an opinion which is not shared by all.  And the mere mention of MARTA to those outside of I-285 often produces a visceral negative reaction.  Simply put, those outside of I-285 view MARTA as representing everything that is wrong.  And MARTA represents a path for bringing what is wrong into their communities.  So they resist being forced to accept this state of affairs.

Not that MARTA hasn’t helped things along by allowing the system to become hostile to its customers, but that is not a permanent condition.  There are indications that the new General Manager, Keith Parker, is taking steps to remedy this problem.  One example is a new “Ride with Respect” campaign to make the transit environment friendlier.  Another example is a new smart phone app that gives you not only schedule information but also real-time locations of trains and buses.  While this app may not have come from MARTA, the Authority has been willing to share its data, a turning point for them.  It’s going to take a while for this to soak in, and Fulton and DeKalb counties will benefit, but the problem of negative perceptions outside of I-285 will remain.

Wrong Direction

To me, the problem is that we have been thinking about this in the wrong direction.  Rather than having a system map which shows arrows going outward from Atlanta, we should actually have a system map which also has arrows pointing inward to Atlanta.  That is, rather than MARTA reaching out into the Atlanta region, the MARTA heavy rail system really should become a conduit for the region to reach Atlanta’s assets.  I’ll spare you the breathless Chamber of Commerce invective; we’re not talking about making Atlanta into the largest Stuckey’s in the world.  We’re talking about facilitating the region’s ability to conduct business.  We’re talking first about the Airport.  Then maybe the State Capitol, Georgia State and Georgia Tech.  Use your imagination.

What I’m suggesting is that the heavy rail system of tracks currently operated as “MARTA” should be opened up to rail vehicles from around the region.  Since the MARTA tunnels are designed for a certain size electrically powered train, any train traveling on MARTA tracks would have to fit within its standards.  At the same time, this approach allows different parts of the Atlanta region to customize their rail vehicles to meet their specific needs.

An Example

Consider a train leaving the airport, headed toward Doraville.  Externally, it looks like a MARTA train but is decorated in a different livery.  It could be up to eight cars long, and operates from electric power supplied by the third rail of the system.  Yet, this train has major differences from a MARTA train.  It is more like a conventional railroad passenger car, with coach seats and doors at the ends of the cars.  Each car has retention tank toilet facilities.  There might even be special cars with a conference room, a small lounge area that serves beverages and snacks.  This train makes only a few selected stops; say at Fort McPherson, Five Points, Peachtree Center, Arts Center, Lindbergh Center, then Doraville.

Arriving at the Doraville station, the train continues to the current end of track.  At that point, it couples to a conventional diesel-powered locomotive and disconnects from the MARTA third rail.  From there, this train continues on the Norfolk Southern tracks, making stops at Norcross, Pleasant Hill, Buford, Flowery Branch, Mundy Mill Road and finally Gainesville.

The costs for starting this service would be lower than for constructing a conventional transit right of way.  Since the Norfolk Southern right of way that this train would operate on already has passenger train service in the form of Amtrak, upgrading the railroad to accommodate commuter service would be less expensive.  While the Standard Gauge used by most railroads in North America is 4′ 8 1/2″, MARTA is supposedly 4′ 8 1/4“, but this is within the margin of error for railroad operations.

All of this is proven railroad technology, it is solely a matter of design and funding.  And the popularity of the idea.

Connection Points

In addition to the current end-of-track points for the different MARTA heavy rail lines, the MARTA system also has several expansion points which were incorporated at the time of initial construction.  They are located near Arts Center, East Point and Edgewood / Candler Park Stations.  The point near Edgewood / Candler Park Station could provide access to CSX tracks which lead to Tucker, Lawrenceville, Winder and Athens.  The point near the East Point Station, could provide access to NS tracks that lead eventually to Macon (this would be the vaunted commuter train to “Lovejoy, Georgia” that keeps rearing its head).

The MARTA Green Line could be extended to Cobb County, running down the middle of South Cobb Drive.  In this case, the “train” could be a self-propelled diesel railcar that also has electrical third rail shoes for operating on the MARTA right of way. The Green Line could also provide access to NS tracks that continue westward toward Birmingham; as with the Gainesville train, this trackage is also rated for passenger service.

Political Will

Perhaps the greatest hallmark of the recent TSPLOST referendum for the Atlanta region was that the transportation projects identified for funding by the tax were a melange of dribs and drabs.  There was no coherent plan, no larger vision.  In many cases, people were voting on projects for places that they did not know existed.  The voters recognized this and voted the tax down accordingly.  We keep looking for long-term solutions to our regional transit problem.  Perhaps this idea will get the political juices flowing toward a solution that is acceptable to the region.

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Burb Ball

Atlanta Braves Announce Plans to Move to New Stadium

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Shortly after the above headline appeared, my good friend and fellow baseball viewer Gary Rowe sent me an email saying:  “Surely, the Brookhaven Bear has something to say about the team leaving the city.

Well, the short answer is that, no, I don’t have anything to say about the change of venue.

Simply put, in light of today’s current events, where the fabric of our society is being rent asunder for political advantage, the act of moving a mere baseball stadium 12 miles seems remarkably trivial.

Of course, the long answer is that is what this blog item is about.  The real fact of the matter is that while I once cared about major league baseball, I do not do so today.  The break occurred during the 1994/1995 Strike.  It was at that point that I realized that neither the players, nor the owners, cared the least whit about those whose paid admissions helped make all of their game possible.  Baseball, always a matter of numbers, had thrown a key constituency over the side.  And I was part of it.  Simply, baseball would never be the same for me after that moment.

Prior to that, baseball had been an interesting pastime for me.  I saw my first professional baseball game at the age of seven, in Brownsville, Texas between two farm teams.  Baseball is unique unto itself; just ask George Carlin.  His monologue on baseball really nails it.  Baseball is ethereal, quirky, odd.  Which, of course, makes it remarkably appealing.  Consider that the late Bart Giamatti gave up being President of Yale University to become the seventh Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  Given the choice, who wouldn’t?  “Let’s see here; attend yet another boring faculty meeting where all the faculty think that they can do my job better than I can.”  Or…. “I get to be the head kid at the ball park, sitting there eating hot dogs and looking grand.”  Smart choice.

Baseball had ingrained itself into our society.  On Saturday afternoons, it was the TV, Dad, me, Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese.  And Falstaff Beer.  It was rightly called the national pastime.  Either you liked baseball or you didn’t.  What was boring to some was “languid”, “deliberate” or “nuanced”.  But whatever else it was, baseball was always there for me.  And I count on a large number of colorful stories about baseball, which we will save for another day.

No, after the 1994 Strike, things were not the same for me.  The fact that the Braves then won the World Series after everybody went back to work was a small consolation for the loss of something wonderful.  The loss of the warm fuzzies of being at the ball yard and feeling that your presence actually mattered.

Blue Monday

What is truly remarkable about the move to a new stadium in Cobb County is that fact that it was a very well kept secret.  Literally nobody knew except for a few select participants.  Of course, the impact of the announcement was well tempered by the fact that a lot of people are worried sick about their health insurance.  It was a perfect time to announce something controversial.  Nobody paid attention.  But there also is the sense that more than a few people had their suspicions since there had been extended discussions in the months prior.  And not that there hadn’t been a few hints.

Transportation

Both Atlanta baseball stadiums have not been transit friendly.  At this writing, I’m not clear who benefited directly, but whoever it was made a lot of money from the parking concessions, and did everything to discourage rapid transit service.  It was never easy to get to the stadium on public transit:

  • When it was time to build a new stadium, it was built even further from the E/W MARTA line.
  • For quite a while, if you wanted to take public transit to the stadium, the powers that be made patrons walk through Underground from Five Points Station to the buses to the stadium.  And again on the return trip.
  • For a period of time MARTA dropped all service to stadium.
  • Last summer, during the negotiations with the Braves organization, the City of Atlanta came up with a high-pie-in-the-sky scheme to build a Mag-Lev train from Georgia State Station to the MIDDLE of the parking lot; not from Georgia State to the stadium, but to the parking lot.

If the Mag-Lev scheme sounds familiar, consider that the MARTA “Civic Center” station is three blocks from the actual Civic Center, which I blogged about earlier.  When confronted with the unpleasant reality of no-transit connection for a facility, the City always seems to come up with something unrealistic.  This time it was a very expensive solution, at a time when two cheaper people movers are already operating in the City.  And, this expensive solution did not offer a fully complete connection between MARTA and Turner Field.  Yeah, that’ll really encourage public transit ridership.

No, there has always been an orientation toward automobile access over public transit in Atlanta, and not just to the baseball stadium.  At least the Falcons got it right, but I’m sure that was by accident.  Regardless, Atlanta’s understanding about public transit still needs training wheels.  We’re just not accustomed to being a big city with big regional transit needs.  The recent TSPLOST vote results are proof of that.  We’ve got a long way to go in this department.  While we may not understand public transit, we certainly do understand traffic.

As said before, whoever benefited from the parking concession revenues also had a powerful reason to stifle any rapid transit activity to Turner Field.  And, in a related story, WXIA’s Doug Richards has started looking into the neighborhood’s use of allocated funds raised by the parking concession at Turner Field.

Stuck in Traffic

As could be expected when the announcement of the Braves’ move to suburban Cobb County became public, there was a rush to the keyboards by experts throughout our great republic.  The Huffington Post was not exception.  In a heated blog, “award-winning political journalist” Will Bunch went to town.  And, as is the case with heated invective, it’s easy to overrun the facts.  Consider:

  • There’s the fact that the Braves are leaving a ballpark served by mass transit for one that would be located at one of the most traffic-congested intersections (I-75 and I-285) in America, pumping tons of unnecessary carbon pollution into the air.

It seems that Mr. Bunch has not noticed the fact that traffic is equally backed up at the nearby junction of I-75 / I-85 and I-20; my carbon load is just as big as yours.  Likewise, Mr. Bunch’s belief that Turner Field is “served by mass transit” misses the mark by almost a mile.  Perhaps he considers that limousine that picked him up at the hotel and rendered him to Turner Field is “mass transit”.

Regardless of the heated prose, I don’t believe that we’re in the position to declare the Cobb County site as being a new source of unnecessary carbon pollution.  And, given the three year time-frame before the move, it is always possible that infrastructure improvements will be made to the area, although it already has a nice street structure that helps alleviate traffic jams.

Of course, there will probably not be rail-transit in the area in my lifetime, but I’m over being sore about it.  You can’t change some people’s minds, so I’m willing to wait until an attractive and popular solution becomes available.  You can’t change the course of 60 years worth of transit destruction. Things will be rebuilt in their own time.

(As an aside, Cobb County did earlier consider rail transit, but rejected it.  The proposed line would have run on an East / West route, with a track gauge that was different from MARTA’s standard gauge rails, making it impossible to connect to the “regional” MARTA system.  Talk about being stubborn).

What the Other Teams Are Doing

An interesting blog item points out that most other baseball teams are moving closer to their city centers.

ku-xlarge

We can only speculate as to why this is happening in Atlanta.  I’ll take a guess.

The Neighborhood

Certainly part of the motivation for the move is due to the condition of the neighborhood surrounding Turner Field.  It’s not pretty, literally.  Across the street from the stadium, along the right outfield side, is a boarded up apartment house.  Down the street is a liquor store with bars on the windows.  Further east on Georgia Avenue are more boarded-up buildings. Across Hank Aaron Drive are the remnants of another misguided project, Fanplex, a $3 million waste of taxpayer money.  There are three “economy” hotels for the convenience of Turner Field visitors, along with a barbecue restaurant along the third-base line side of the park.  In short, this is what visitors to Atlanta see when they go to a ball game.  It’s sad, in a Detroit-kind of way.  And you have to wonder if this is the best that Atlanta can do.

If I were an executive of a business that had a multimillion dollar payroll operating in a multimillion dollar facility and I looked out of my office window and saw the neighborhood, I’d start thinking about moving, too.  And, there’s the haunting fact that Atlanta has had almost fifty years to address this problem.

A Matter of Numbers

One of the interesting facts about the Braves’ move is that, concurrently, there was a public policy issue discussion about taxpayer support of the new Falcons stadium.  Inevitably, these discussions seem to gravitate toward the cost / benefit analysis of a massive expenditure by government.  Preposterous dollar amounts are bandied about concerning the economic effects of having people coming to sporting events.  It’s along the lines of “3.4 people come to Atlanta from outside of town, spending $2,756.43 each per day on lodging, food, drink and tchotchkes“; all for the greater economic benefit of the City.  The whole thing is very nebulous, very much in the manner of Viet Nam body counts.  I’m sure that those who draw up these numbers will snort and harrumph, but, let’s face it, it is all just an educated guess.

So, in that vein, let’s compare Braves to Falcons.  Just ballparking here, but the Braves had 81 home games in 2012, with a grand attendance of 2,420,171.  You can look it up.  In contrast, the Falcons had 8 home games, with an attendance of 560,773.  Assuming that baseball fans and football fans typically spend the same amount of money, baseball would seem to be a better generator of cash for the local economy.  And, of course, the teams’ performance will affect those numbers, too.  Makes you wonder how Chicago does it with the Cubs.  But, then again, they need two teams just to keep things going.

Sports Teams / Welfare Queens

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the fact that sport teams are remarkably willing to get someone else to pay for their business expenses, all in the interest in helping the local economy.  There, I’ve said it.

Hometown Advantage

Given the apparent disparity between attendance figures, and the related economic effects upon the local economy, it would seem that keeping the Braves was a better deal than keeping the Falcons.  But, there’s another deciding factor.  Arthur Blank, lead owner of the Atlanta Falcons is local-boy-done-good.  He’s all ours.  The Braves are owned by Liberty Media, a cable company operating out of Denver.  It’s hard to get attached to them.

Quick, Everybody Look Busy

When the news of the Braves’ departure hit the media, the Mayor’s office was quick to gloss things over.  “Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed promises enormous middle-class development at Turner Field“.  Note that this new development will be “enormous“.  Also, note that when there’s nobody else left to help, the middle-class is always there to fill in.  The focus groups tell you so.  And, not everybody in government attended the meeting for the new middle-class development.

Broken Hearts

I have a number of business relationships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I love the town and the Brewers play decent ball.  I also had a business relationship with the late Dorothy Daugherty, who worked for one of my vendors.  I liked Dorothy greatly, and she helped me with my business career on several occasions.  Whenever I was in Milwaukee, I always made a point of taking her out to lunch.  I always bought and we would always talk about what was happening in our industry and about the people that were a fascinating part of the business.

We also talked about other things.  She knew that I was from Atlanta, and when I brought up the subject of the Braves one day, she became quiet.  And, after a minute, she slowly said: “A lot of people’s’ hearts were broken the day they left Milwaukee.”

Which tells you just how far baseball has come in the intervening 50 years.  To be sure, there are those who are upset about the Braves leaving downtown Atlanta, but I’m not one of them.  It’s just a business decision made by a corporation in response to a political problem that was solved by another political group.  There’s no heart or soul involved.

And, by the way, the Macy’s holiday tree this year will be a fake one standing in the parking lot of Lenox Square.

burbball

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Midnight Sun Restaurant

Midnight Sun Restaurant

It has been said that “A restaurant is a fragile thing”, and I believe it.  It’s such a simple premise on such a complicated topic.  You have a room with tables and chairs, a kitchen and an “Open” sign, and from there it gets interesting.  The restaurant has to have good food, at least at the beginning, but at some point, a restaurant takes on a life uniquely its own.  People become loyal customers, celebrations take place there and a restaurant becomes unique.  And restaurants come and they go.

As you drive up Peachtree north from Five Points, there are ghosts of restaurants all along the way.  These were places of memory and human emotion, happy times and a few sad ones, but all that revolved around a table and chairs, places set for the human drama.  There was the Top of Peachtree (one of the tallest buildings in town), then Leb’s (that did not integrate in the 1960’s) and Herrin’s (which did), The Midnight Sun (in the Peachtree Center complex), Dale’s Cellar, Fan & Bill’s, Johnny Reb’s, A Taste of New Orleans, Mammy’s Shanty, The Coach & Six, Clarence Foster’s, John Escoe’s, Abruzzi, Hart’s, The Feedmill, the soon-to-be-gone Dante’s Down The Hatch, and Bluepointe.  There were Camellia Gardens, House of Eng, The Abbey, Arigatoh, Bobby & June’s, Robinson’s Tropical Gardens, Snack & Shop, Harold’s Sandwich Shop, The Granary.  Every major street you follow has ghosts of restaurants past.

In their place, new places have cropped up, sometimes in the same space as an earlier restaurant, but the scene is the same.  It’s usually a family that takes that vacant space and turns it into something real; chain restaurants have no soul.  Eventually, the place develops into an institution and you have a success story.  The place takes on a life of its own, with regular waiters, regular customers, regular menu items.  Of course, to some this is boring, but for others, such as myself, it is comfort, that the world is in its proper place and all is well.

Circumstances being what they are, you may not get there very frequently, and by doing so you miss that slow subtle changes that every restaurant has to make to stay alive.  And that is what this blog item is about, for last night we visited a place of great sentiment and memory and it was a disappointment.

Somewhere on Peachtree, between that late-Abruzzi and the late-Hart’s is an Italian restaurant that I have always held in great esteem.  The place opened up in the late 1970’s, located in the basement of an apartment building.  It’s an odd location to begin with, but there’s not another restaurant for at least a mile in any direction.  In fact, the location is almost worthy of being a destination since those driving by on Peachtree would never know what is downstairs.  By itself, this gives this restaurant a certain cachet, the sense of being a hidden jewel.  Which it is.

For so many years, a visit to this restaurant was a visit to the grand old-school sensibilities, where gentlemen wore coats and ties, the ladies were dressed up to be out with their men.  The service was flexible, able to adapt to the fusty bank president or to the younger entrepreneur who just wasn’t all that serious.  Regardless of their backgrounds, the diner knew that they would be treated with respect and that they were there to enjoy great food.  It was a stable place in an uncertain world.  As you left your car at the front door, you entered an apartment building in a high end Atlanta neighborhood.  You were literally in peoples’ homes and as you got off the elevator, you opened a glass paned door, walked down a hallway lined with deep red velvet and entered an exclusive world.

All of that is still there today, but my recent visit again confirmed that a restaurant is indeed a fragile thing.  To be sure, this restaurant is faced with an uncertain future because its basic customer demographic is getting older.  The fusty bank president has retired to the Highlands and his buddies that are still in town are dying off as the natural cycle of life.  The young entrepreneur has either moved to Vail or went bankrupt in the last economic cycle.  Fortunately, I still have money and I still get a craving for this hidden place; not just the food, but the whole cannoli of cozy dedicated service with a deep wine list attached.

It was not quite that way this night.  My friends and I were there to celebrate two birthdays and things started off well enough.  After initial drinks, however, it became apparent that we were located in Siberia.  Every restaurant has one of those undesirable places (euphemistically called “The Ponderosa” or “The South Forty’) , usually near the kitchen or behind a concrete column.  As it turns out, this restaurant’s bad table is almost right in the center of the restaurant.  Who knew?  But it soon became evident where we were when we constantly had to seek out our waiter, something which I had never experienced at this place, ever before.  It was sad.

Overall, the food was good, which helped save the day.  I wasn’t quite so sure about the bottle of Tuscan wine that I ordered, but given the general tenor of the evening, I was not about to send it back.  But as we waited yet again for the return of our waiter, I found myself looking around.  As it turned out, our isolated table also gave me a view of the entire restaurant, which proved to be an interesting thing.

On one side of the restaurant were the old bull elephants and their brides, those who had carried this restaurant for decades.  They were dressed in business-like beige summer coats.  The wives were in muted shades of blue and yellow.  And there was lots of gray hair.  That side of the room was dim and gray.  A single teenaged girl sat with her parents and their friends, looking awkward.  The dim light of that part of the room made them appear almost as visions in the mists, gray shadows of something greater.

To my other side, however, was a brighter scene, literally.  While the elderly side of the restaurant was dim, the area around the bar was brightly lit with the warm shade of light that only incandescent light can produce.  Young people sat around the bar with other young people.  There was bright young conversation and it appeared that many of these young people were friends of the restaurant’s new managers.  Lots of hugs as more young people slowly drifted into the restaurant.  Meanwhile, as 10:00 PM approached, the gray side slowly emptied out as bedtime approached.

What would have normally been a two-hour meal had dragged out into a three-hour affair.  Under normal circumstances, I would have been pleased that we had been able to take that much time there, but that was not the case this evening.  It made me wistful, wishing for the many times that we had there earlier.  And had me wondering about how much of this experience was due to the fact that I’m part of a dying demographic, one that this restaurant now seems eager to push into the past.

It’s all over the place.  There are stores that will not wait on older people, doctors that are reluctant to treat an older patient, not because they’re old but because it’s more gratifying to treat a younger person who will get longer benefit.  I refuse to get paranoid about this stuff; old age just sort of snuck up on me.  One day, you’re looking in the mirror and there it is.  I’m still the same irreverent soul that I have always been.  And, in many ways, I’m at the top of my game.

No, I’m not mad at the restaurant for an off night.  Every restaurant is entitled to have one every now and then.  No, it’s more that I found myself looking at the cycles of life.  On one side, there were those who had made a success of life off to one side in the mists, having a quiet dinner at a favorite place with close friends.  While on the other side there are other younger ones with their lives full ahead of them gathered around the brightly colored bar.

The drive back to Brookhaven was uneventful and nothing felt better than coming into our home.  I’ll make at least one return visit to this restaurant to make sure that it was just an odd evening but with restaurants, as in all life, things come and things go.

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Image

If you recognize the value of a historical perspective, you always find interesting things in history that connect to today.  Fortunately, there are lots of things in history to be interested in.  As a railroad enthusiast, there is plenty of interesting historical material, but as a Southerner and a long-time resident of the City of Atlanta, there is a never-ending trove of new material related to the Civil War.   To be sure, there are those who question the relevance of study of the Civil War, but the issues raised by the war keep reappearing.  Consider my blog item from 2009, titled Sometimes, It’s Never Over, about an on-air squabble between two panelists on the local news program “The Georgia Gang”.  This dust-up centered on a local political light, Loren Collins, and Confederate Memorial Day (April 26th each year).

If there ever was a question of the Civil War being ancient history, the 1990 Ken Burns series The Civil War put that to one side.   Years after hostilities officially ended, the War still generates passions.  And numerous academic careers have been centered on the study of America’s civil war, where families fought each other over an abiding and unresolved issue.  Just what “that issue” might be has a lot to do with your sympathies for the circumstances of the war.  It is as complicated as human nature itself.  For more than a few, 150 years later, those sympathies are still actively discussed.  And popular entertainment still draws upon the Civil War as source material.  For something so long ago, it is still very much alive.  Merely consider a massive series of podcasts on the Civil War from the Gilder Lehrman Institute on the topic, located here.

Which brings us to a very interesting lecture series being presented by the Lovett School called “The Civil War and the Forging of Character“.  There are those who regard the Civil War, aka “The War Between the States“, as being ancient history, but I’m not one of them.  Likewise, there are those who question the necessity of further study of events which occurred more than 150 years ago, but this lecture series disproves that.  These lectures, sponsored by Jack and Anne Glenn Charitable Foundation and brothers Jack, Alston, Bob, and Lewis Glenn, have proven to be a remarkable series of new and interesting information about what might be considered to be a dusty subject.

To quote the Lovett website:

  • The Civil War and the Forging of Character is a four-year lecture series presented by The Lovett School to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the Battle of Atlanta. Its purpose: to bring to Lovett speakers and scholars who can engage all of us—students, faculty, parents, alumni, and the community at large—on critical matters of character and integrity as demonstrated during this defining period in our nation’s history.

At this writing, there have been four lectures spaced over a series of a year, with the promise of many more.  Each of these four lectures have proven to be interesting in unique ways.

  • Edward Ayers, Ph.D.; President, University of Richmond – The opening lecture by Dr. Ayers, “Where Did Freedom Come From?” set the tone for the series by the application of modern technology to an old topic.  Using mapping software, new analysis of the emancipation of slaves using record books from that era brought new light to a complicated process.  Materials are available (“Visualizing Emancipation”), here.
  • Gary W. Gallagher, Ph.D.; Professor in the History of the American Civil War, University of Virginia – “Robert E. Lee and the Question of Loyalty.”  Lee is always an evergreen subject, and Gallagher did not disappoint.  This lecture could easily be described as “frisky”, and Dr. Gallagher was not afraid to step on a few toes, quietly pointing out some of the fallacies of what Southerners “believe”.  There are lots of misty moonlight and magnolia fantasies that don’t hold up under examination.  The full lecture is available on YouTube, here.
  • George McDaniel, Ph.D.; Executive Director, Drayton Hall, Charleston, S.C. – “”The Civil War, Vietnam, and the Shaping of Values“.  In earlier times, Dr. McDaniel taught at the Lovett School and his return was in front of many friends.  Some of the lecture talked about the similarities that every soldier experiences, including a heart-stopping description of a meeting of two soldiers in Viet Nam, enemies to each other.  Other aspects talked about researching local civil war sites.   A full video is available, here.
  • Ted DeLaney, Ph.D.; Professor of History, Washington and Lee University – “Frederick Douglass, Millennialism, and the Civil War“.  Dr. DeLaney’s back story of his academic career was easily as interesting as his lecture.  Why he turned down a full scholarship to Morehouse College but later earned a college education is a story worth knowing unto itself.  His lecture brought me a new understanding of why Frederick Douglass is important.  And why the Abolitionists were a driving force in the Civil War.

The next lecture will be on May 8, 2013 at the Atlanta History Center, which is a cosponsor of the series.  The lecture series returns to the Lovett School in November 2013, with an additional four lectures posted through September 2014.  Additional lectures planned through the balance of the sesquicentennial years.

Atlanta

There is an inevitability about Atlanta.  This is certainly true if you fly on one particular airline, which uses Atlanta as a major hub.  But Atlanta’s location has always put it at the center of things, and it is this centrality that has often shaped the events of Atlanta.

There were other bloodier battles, but it was Atlanta that proved to be a major turning point of the Civil War.  Those who are from other places often fail to grasp that most of the Atlanta area was a battlefield.  The Lovett School property itself was a site of one such battle and although most of the traces of these battles are now wisps of history, evidence still periodically crops up.  In my Northeast Atlanta neighborhood, an individual pottering around in his garden turned up a Civil War-era artillery shell that that proved to be still active.  When I was a student at Lovett in the 1960’s, you would periodically see individuals wandering around the forested areas of the school with metal detectors, looking for Civil War artifacts.  These people would quickly be approached by school personnel and shooed away from private property.

Even with the great war ended, Atlanta in ashes would continue its key role.  It continued as a major railroad center, later adding highways and aircraft travel to its remarkable transportation role.  Banking and corporate business followed.  It was a cultural center for all people.  In the post-Civil War era, Atlanta would thrive, and all of its people would benefit from Atlanta’s location.  As the years passed, however, it became apparent that while slavery had been ended, there was substantial racial inequality.  Nor was this inequality confined to the former Confederate States.

In looking back, it’s hard to believe that it took as long as it did to address this problem.  I grew up in coastal Texas, and I remember that the local grocery store had two water fountains; one was marked “White” and the other was marked “Colored”.  In that era, if an African-American family traveled away from their home town, they carried a copy of the “The Negro Motorist Green Book“.  This book, published by a firm in The Harlem borough of New York, was a guide to restaurants, hotels and other accommodations that did not discriminate against people of color.  The era of racial discrimination would come to an end because of the efforts of many people, and more than a few of these people called Atlanta home.

As the Lovett School was located on a battlefield of the Civil War, so too it was a skirmish point in the effort to end discrimination.  This from the Lovett website:

  • The years 1963 through 1966 were difficult ones in Lovett’s history with the beginning of integration. Lovett certainly was not the last stronghold of segregation, but it was certainly one of the most publicized. In 1963 Martin Luther King III applied to Lovett and was denied admission by the board of trustees–despite the objections of the governing Episcopal Diocese, which was in favor of open churches and open schools. But Lovett’s trustees argued that they were not in defiance since the school was not originally founded by the Episcopal Church. As a result, the Reverend McDowell, an Episcopal priest, resigned as headmaster, and the school’s admission policy was revised to free itself of ecclesiastical jurisdiction of The Cathedral of St. Philip. However, by 1967, Lovett’s admission policy had been revised to adopt a non-discriminatory policy of evaluating students without regard to race or religion.

So into this environment comes the Forging of Character lecture series.  In addition to four interesting lectures on a diverse variety of related topics, these lectures have also increased my awareness of the environment in which the different issues occurred.  In that way, I have started noticing related articles.

Consider “When the South Was Flat“, a book review of “River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom“, located here.  Slavery had become integral to the economy of the United States.  In the first lecture in the Lovett series, Edward Ayers observed that the two wealthiest states in the United States of that era were South Carolina and Mississippi; all due to the value of human beings held in slavery and the related institutions.  One of the great Southern fairy tales is that “Only 1/3 of the people in the South owned slaves”, but as Gary Gallagher pointed out in the second lecture, the entire South was dependent upon the institution of slavery.

So, the lecture series brought things into perspective when the book review states: Louisiana and Mississippi slaveholders were keen to reopen the African slave trade in the late 1850s, which, the thinking went, would allow more whites to own slaves and dilute the tensions from an emerging class of slaveless whites.  In other words, the practice of importing slaves from Africa, which had largely been ended in 1807, was about to begin again.  The pressures for war were building.

At this point, the lecture series will continue for several years, covering a variety of aspects on the Civil War.  The next is scheduled May 8th at the Atlanta History Center; David W. Blight, Ph.D. will present “Emancipation at 150: How Does the Civil War Have a Hold on Our Historical Imagination?

I don’t yet have a sense of the overall focus of the lecture series, but I do feel that it is worthwhile.  I feel like I am looking at a large stained glass window.  Right now, each lecture looks at a few pieces of colored glass, but at the end I will see things as a totality.  This is a great lecture series, well worth your attention.

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