I am not transit dependent. However, I know there is a lot left to desire in Atlanta’s current transit system, MARTA. I’ve been to plenty of other cities that have amazing transit resources when it comes to getting where you need to go in a timely manner: New York’s is the most accessible; San Fran’s the most expensive, but also the easiest to navigate; Minneapolis/St. Paul’s the cleanest; Boston’s has left me lost a few times, but still better than MARTA; DC’s was affordable; London’s is probably my favorite; and Athen’s (Greece) unreasonably packed, but also accessible to all classes of society. And as little as I use MARTA in relation to others, am just baffled by how difficult it is to get to different locations. This summer, I was going to take a bus to Screen on the Green. I would have had to walk half the distance to Piedmont Park to get on the bus line that goes to 10th. Most of the time, it’s just easier (and less expensive) to travel on foot.
Since I’ve moved here in May, though, I’ve been hearing whisperings about an addition to our existing transit system, called the Beltline. I mostly heard good things, though I did spot a few “STOP THE BELTLINE” bumper stickers, and all in all, I had little idea what was going on, save that I might be able to find more ways to get around town. I didn’t do any research. I didn’t think too deeply into it. I just cheered for all the bike riders who would have more safety lanes and gave a big “Hell yeah!” for progress.
Earlier this week, I saw a Facebook event describing an information session on the Beltline, hosted by the Radical Caucus of Occupy Atlanta. Given my lack of knowledge but ever eagerness to learn, I decided to see what exactly I could find out at the meeting.
I think it’s always good to remember that when you attend meetings with the Occupations that people are usually angry, in an impassioned (not violent) way. This can sometimes lead to exaggerations or skipping over essential details of the oppositions stance, sometimes intentional, most times not. So when I got to the meeting, I was determined to keep an open mind until I heard all the evidence and saw some sort of proof that the Beltline was really a harmful thing. I mean, honestly, I just wanted more ways to get around Atlanta.
The Beltline, as explained to me, is not just a form of alternate transportation. Logistically, it’s not really much of a transport, at all. It’s not mass transport, at least, which is what Atlanta needs. Or, at least, Atlanta needs help improving its existing mass transit system. The Beltline will be a rail line that moves small amounts of people around an inner loop of Atlanta. Easy to hit shopping destinations, not so great if you’re hankering for a new way to work. So who is this really catering to?
There is an emphasis on green spaces, bike lanes, and nifty, tourist like transport that will take you around to your favorite shopping and coffee spots. Who can benefit from this? This isn’t a tough question. The liberal, progressive, middle-ish, predominately white class. The gentrifiers. And I’ll be the first to say it— people like me.
People like me who struggle for their first few years in the real world, but eventually catch a few breaks, or save up, and while they’re not wealthy, they’re still living high on the hog in comparison to a large portion of Atlantans. They care about progressive causes. They recycle. They donate. They drive fuel efficient cars and go hiking. They vote for Obama.
And most of us are white.
What has happened so far? In the name of progress and construction, the threat of moving families has and will continue to happen. Bruce Dixon, an independent journalist in Atlanta, writes about the TIF (Tax Incrementing Finance) that will be voted on next year. It’s supposed to collect sales tax in the metro and surrounding area to provide around $900M for the creation and expansion of public transit. $300M is supposed to go towards building a MARTA line to the Emory campus. The rest will be put towards constructing the Betline. None will go towards MARTA operations, or building a line out to areas where people ARE transit dependent or to putting in more bus lines so that more transit dependent people won’t have to walk two miles to get to a MARTA station.
Essentially, this is a project that is about gentrification that was introduced by the higher ups in Atlanta to assist those who don’t need as much assistance.
So, when someone says: Hey, this Beltline is going to really put Atlanta on the map, and you’ll use your car even less! Most of us don’t stop to think about the housing projects that are being done away with in the name of progress. Or that there are people who don’t have an option of sometimes using a car. And I could say it’s not our fault, I could say we’re not to blame, but I firmly believe it is our job to educate ourselves. I didn’t do that. Most people aren’t doing that.
Informing us is not the job of the families who have been moved to South Lake because their Mixed-Income, privatized housing was taken away by another privatized Atlanta project. It is not the job of the single mother who works two jobs to stop me the next time I’m on Marta to say that it’d be really great if I could support a few extra bus lines in Atlanta, rather than an unnecessary Beltline. We need to be conscious of what we’re asking for when we’re asking for social progress.
So, I push OA to make this our next project. Most of us, though, can only participate as allies. We need the people most affected leading the fight. I can’t and won’t win someone else’s liberation, but I can raise awareness, which I hope will happen through this post and other small efforts I can make. Help us help others. End the Beltline, vote No on the TIF, and let’s get assistance where it is most needed.