The winter storm that dropped 2.6 inches on the Atlanta area Jan. 28 will remain in many commuters’ memories for years. Stories of children stranded in school buses and people taking up to 25 hours to get home made the national news, among the gridlock that paralyzed the roadways.
The apology issued by the Governor’s Office Jan. 30 for “inadequate preparation” was referring to short-term measures ahead of the snowstorm that could have been handled better. But in the days that followed, I didn’t see any mention of the long-term changes that are needed to make the Greater Atlanta area more efficient and weather-resistant.
Even with modern communications technology, commuting will remain a part of life for decades. Roadways into Atlanta experience daily traffic jams and crashes in any weather conditions. Progress made in other large cities shows that in addition to highways, public transportation by rail is a must for densely populated metro regions.
Washington, D.C., for example, is quite similar to Atlanta. Both are ringed by a beltway and have a metro population near 5 million. But the D.C. Metrorail system has grown to be the second busiest in the U.S., according to the American Public Transportation Association. It covers a total of 106 miles, compared to MARTA’s 48.
Far away but similar in regional importance is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, also known as “KL.” This major business hub, too, has between 5 million and 6 million people living in its metro area, with the population more spread out than that of Atlanta. KL’s gorgeous vistas of modern high-rise buildings, ample green spaces and parks and suburban residential areas make the city look remarkably similar to our state’s capital.
Commuter traffic is heavy and the major connecting roads jam up regularly. But an expansive system of light rail and monorail provides an alternative. The stress of commuting by car, watching for brake lights, lane changers and speed limits goes away when one rides a train to work. On the train, texting is legal and the newspaper is a welcome accessory.
Currently, MARTA is considering expansion in the Ga. 400 corridor from North Springs to Windward Parkway. This would bring light rail a good deal farther north. Commuters from the Gainesville area have reason to hope that we, too, might be getting on the map soon, and public transportation in “ATL” will become a little more like the rail network in “KL.”
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.