Anti-Transit Design in the Atlanta Suburbs: Aiming for Exclusion, and Failing

Atlanta’s I-85, as viewed from a MARTA train.

“Don’t let Atlanta’s environmental activists take away your right to live where you want and drive when you want. They’re trying to use laws and lawsuits to move families out of the suburbs and into downtown, and even insist we give up our cars. This is America. Know your rights for personal choices in transportation and where we can make our homes.”

From the 1998 Atlanta Regional Commission transportation plan. The sprawling, outward population growth is intense. Interesting note: that outline in the center is not the city limits of Atlanta, it’s the “railroad cordon” which we now know as the Atlanta BeltLine. It’s worth considering that this former rail line is now where so much population growth is happening, versus the exurban explosion of the 1990s and 2000s.
The unwalkable, automobile-oriented plan for Atlanta growth in 1952
Fans of suburban zoning in the 1940s, which maintained a car-centric environment where homes were set apart from businesses and retail, and which excluded people who couldn’t afford cars. (NOTE: turns out this is a photo from Los Angeles, not Atlanta, though one can imagine this scene taking place in many cities.)

“Believe it or not, there were communities in the metro area that did not want it simply because they felt that there would be an undesirable element, citizens, who would evidently ride MARTA to their communities, steal their TVs, electronics and get back on MARTA to go home, apparently, because they did not wish for MARTA to be in their communities.”

1967 map of a proposed rail transit system for the Atlanta region. It shows lines reaching into both Cobb County and Gwinnett County. But both of them were scrapped when those counties voted to not join the transit system.

“There’s a lot about Atlanta’s suburbs that isn’t working. Suburban poverty exploded here between 2000 and 2011, rising by 159 percent. Now, 88 percent of the region’s poor people live in suburbs.”

Majority-minority neighborhoods in Atlanta, 2010.
Railroad cordon in the center of sprawl

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