There is something dividing our city: transportation.
A few weeks ago, I stepped out of The Fox, an environment saturated with suburban privileged people—mostly white Atlantans from affluent neighborhoods—onto a late-night southbound MARTA train filled with people on their way home. The difference? I was one of two white people on the train. The rest of the people got in their cars and onto the interstate.
I go to a school where diversity is one of the most highlighted aspects of our campus. My classes are filled with students from all around the world, and in every environment in which I work there are many different kinds of people. I have always known that MARTA is only used by those in the suburbs when they commute downtown or go to Braves games, and due to the lack of extension to the MARTA line, it only makes sense. It’s not possible to get anywhere quickly outside of the perimeter using MARTA, and it’s impossible to transport in suburban areas. My hometown has zero options for public transport, and the closest spot I can grab any form of public transportation is a 10-minute drive away from my house in Stone Mountain—and that’s just a bus stop, not a train stop.
I use MARTA several times a week because I enjoy public transportation and I don’t like keeping my car downtown when I can get around perfectly fine on a transportation system I highly value. But not everyone feels like MARTA is safe or useful. My roommate once told me she had a friend who wouldn’t stay on campus late because she didn’t want to ride MARTA after dark. Many times have my friends refused to let me get on a train at 11 p.m. after a night shift at the mall because “it wasn’t safe for me to ride it that late.”
How can Atlanta thrive and grow without a large, useful, extensive public transportation system? How can we combat the stark divide between affluent suburbanites and poor Atlantans? If Atlanta expects to continue its growth as a large, successful city, it needs to step back and realize what damage they are doing without this piece of the puzzle. New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo—all these cities have metro systems that extend far beyond the city perimeter. When I lived in Paris, I commuted from my home—a good 45 minutes away from Paris center—into the city using a suburban bus, a suburban rail line, and a metro system within the city. In Atlanta, a commute from my house to downtown Atlanta absolutely requires me to drive to Doraville station, a 25-minute journey from my home.
Rebecca Burns’ The Day We Lost Atlanta in Politico Magazine as well as Tracy Thompson’s What Does Racism Have To Do With Gridlock in Slate both go more in-depth on why MARTA hasn’t been extended based on the experience Atlantans had in their cars during Snowpocalypse. There is a history behind MARTA and why it hasn’t been extended.
But what could possibly be holding us back from an extension now? It’s time to fight for public transportation in an effort to unite Atlanta and give more options to people who don’t have cars, don’t want to have cars, or are temporarily visiting. For Atlanta to grow and thrive, we need to recognize how (lack of) transportation options divide this city by race and class. It is a problem that must—and should—be fixed.