Standard: W.9-10.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
- Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
Learning Target: Students will begin drafting their public transportation writing assignment.
Activator: Schoolhouse Rock!
Writing Assignment: Public Transportation
Name: ________________________________________________ Block: _____________
The Metro Atlanta Area’s public transportation system is widely considered one of the worst in the country. Based on the group work we did Friday, and your classmates’ presentations, evaluate Atlanta’s public transportation system.
Thesis statement: Before you can write this essay, you will need to make a claim about the prompt. A claim should do all of the following:
- Make a complete statement (a full sentence)
- Be presented as fact (i.e., do not say “in my opinion…”)
- Be something you could argue about (i.e., you cannot argue “there are many types of public transportation,” but you could argue “public transportation is a waste of tax dollars.”)
- Take a moment to think about the various ways to get around Atlanta that we have discussed as a class. Make a statement about Atlanta’s public transportation system. Do you think the system we have is fair and efficient? Shouldn’t “public” transportation be available to all of the public? Shouldn’t Atlanta’s public transportation system take you to anywhere within the metro Atlanta area? Or are the transportation options we have sufficient? If it is so bad, why was it made this way in the first place, or why hasn’t it been changed? If you have knowledge of a public transportation system from another city (New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, etc.) you may use that knowledge to help you judge Atlanta’s system.
- Now, fill in the following sentences:
Atlanta’s public transportation system is _________________________________ (good, bad, efficient, inefficient, outdated, modern, etc.) because ______________________________________.
The biggest problem with Atlanta’s public transportation system is ___________ because _______________________.
The problems with Atlanta’s public transportation system could be solved by:
Now, compose your own thesis statement which makes a claim about Atlanta’s public transportation:
- Now, using these two sources, you are going to find evidence to back up your thesis statement. Find and highlight three quotes from each source. These quotes should prove that your thesis statement is correct.
Excerpts taken from Atlanta Magazine
Where It All Went Wrong: If only we could undo the MARTA Compromise of 1971
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Doug Monroe
At the heart of the rot eating at metro Atlanta is the Mother of All Mistakes: the failure to extend MARTA into the suburbs. It wasn’t just a one-time blunder—it was the single worst mistake in a whole cluster bomb of missteps, errors, power plays, and just plain meanness that created the region’s transportation infrastructure.
Before we get into the story of what happened in 1971, we need to back up a few years. In 1965 the Georgia General Assembly voted to create MARTA, the mass transit system for the City of Atlanta and the five core metro counties: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett. Cobb voters rejected MARTA, while it got approval from the city and the four other counties. Although, as it turned out, the state never contributed any dedicated funds for MARTA’s operations, in 1966 Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit the state to fund 10 percent of the total cost of a rapid rail system in Atlanta. Two years later, in 1968, voters in Atlanta and MARTA’s core counties rejected a plan to finance MARTA through property taxes. In 1971—when the issue was presented to voters again—Clayton and Gwinnett voters dropped their support, and MARTA ended up being backed by only DeKalb, Fulton, and the City of Atlanta.
The 1965 and 1971 votes against MARTA by residents of Cobb, Clayton, and Gwinnett weren’t votes about transportation. They were referendums on race. Specifically, they were believed to be about keeping the races apart. Consider the suburbanites voting back then. The formerly rural, outlying counties had exploded with an astonishing exodus of white people fleeing the city as the black population swelled during the civil rights era. This mass migration came at a time when Atlanta was known through its public relations bluster as “The City Too Busy to Hate.”
Aside from political vengeance and racial politics, another enormous factor was at play in transportation policies of the 1960s and 1970s: Atlanta’s love affair with the automobile. The great migration out of the city started in the late 1950s—just as workers at General Motors’ vast Lakewood assembly plant in southeast Atlanta put the finishing touches on one of the most iconic cars in history: the 1957 Chevy.
The allure of roaring around Atlanta in cool cars took over and never let go. Once MARTA started running, who would ride a bus or subway when they could drive a sleek, powerful car and fill it with cheap gas? Only the people who couldn’t afford the car. MARTA became an isolated castaway, used primarily by poor and working-class blacks. Racist suburbanites brayed that the system’s acronym stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
Atlanta’s failure to build out MARTA looks even more shameful when compared with what happened with similar transit systems in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., which started at the same time as MARTA, she says. “The reality is, this region got stuck. We have about half the build-out of what it was planned to be.” But San Francisco and Washington “kept building and moving . . . they had plans regardless of whether folks were red or blue. They had a vision and the fortitude to make purple and keep moving. We just got stuck.”
MARTA was born out of Atlanta’s giant ego in the days when the city was entering the major leagues across the board—baseball, football, international airport—bolstered by a racially harmonious reputation unmatched in the South, deserved or not. “You said to yourself, ‘We’re top-notch. Everybody’s got to have a rail system,’” Scott says. “But it was built as a manifestation of ‘we have arrived’ without a bigger vision of ‘what do we want to do for our region?’ You built it like a trophy.” Indeed, some of the Downtown MARTA stations were built on a scale that would please a pharaoh.
It’s Not Easy Being a Transit Advocate in Atlanta
Last July, residents of Atlanta took their long pent-up frustration with some of the worst traffic congestion in the country to the voting booth. On the ballot: a one-cent sales tax increase, projected to raise billions of dollars over 10 years to improve local roads, upgrade the transit system, build out streetcars, trails and Bus Rapid Transit. The vote was, in and of itself, a major milestone in this car-bound city.
“Congestion is bad here and we’re not unaware of it – everyone in Atlanta wants to do something about it,” says Ted Bradford, a local transit advocate. “It really came to a head when we decided ‘are we going to come together and cooperate and tax ourselves at a higher rate and do something about it?’”
The answer, at the end of the day, turned out to be ‘no.’ Nearly two-thirds of voters rejected the referendum, leaving Atlanta, now six months later, in a particularly painful predicament.
“There’s definitely a feeling here that the people who ride the bus are not ‘people like me.’”
“How do you change something without a budget for it?” says Matt Santy, another Atlanta transit advocate, posing the question as if it were a bleak inside joke.
Atlanta, like a lot of Southern cities, long ago passed on transit infrastructure – and the kind of culture that grows up around it – for an all-in commitment to the car. Now, people like Santy and Bradford will endeavor to make up for that inheritance with the only assets they can afford: human capital and cheap technology.
“Even if we change hearts and minds all over Atlanta and Georgia,” Bradford says, “we’re never going to be in a situation where we’re going to start recreating a massive subway-heavy infrastructure like New York. It’s no longer that time. We don’t have a Robert Moses, we don’t have the money. We don’t have anything like that.”
There’s no point in waiting for big projects, let alone the next big referendum. “There’s a realism here,” says Bradford, who has been planning along with Santy and others to jumpstart the conversation with a one-day conference, TransportationCamp South, on February 9. It’s planned as the kind of grassroots, developer-friendly confab that happens regularly in New York City. But even the idea of hacking transit data is novel in Atlanta: The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, one of the last major metro transit agencies in the country still guarding its real-time arrival data, finally opened it to the public in the fall.
So where do Atlanta transit advocates start at this point? The best they can do now, Bradford figures, is to try to improve existing service at the margins – for one thing, make bus service more predictable by building a reliable tracking app. That relates to Bradford’s other goal, which is, as he puts it, to “ennoble” bus ridership.
Southern cities often overly rely on bus service in the absence of more rail infrastructure. But the ridership on those bus systems still pales in comparison to similar-sized cities elsewhere. As Eric Jaffe has previously written, less than 4 percent of Atlanta residents get to work by transit. The city has a small-scale rail network best known for shuttling people to and from the airport, with pretty predictable arrivals every 12 or 15 minutes.
“Most people in Atlanta don’t live close enough to a train station to really care when a train is coming,” Santy says. Passengers can wait for the bus, on the other hand, for 45 minutes, and that unpredictability compounds the stigma attached to riding it. There’s even a cottage industry of viral videos on YouTube, Bradford laments, mocking MARTA riders.
“There’s definitely a feeling here that the people who ride the bus are not ‘people like me,’” says Kari Watkins, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech who is also helping to organize the conference. In other cities, people ride transit for a variety of reasons that go beyond financial necessity: because it’s the quickest alternative, or because it affords passengers the opportunity to get work done on a smart phone, or because it’s the more environmentally friendly option.
But those motivations – especially that last one – aren’t terribly prevalent in cities like Atlanta. And it can be hard to understand this from, say, a New York City subway platform.
“They have a storied subway system, and it’s steeped in history, and it’s kind of considered a noble thing,” Bradford says. “It’s easy for people to participate in something that’s noble and historic, that has these good connotations with it, whereas MARTA is more of a Great Society, mid-century liberalism project.”
And it’s one that many people in Atlanta (and even legislators in the statehouse) never really embraced. Now advocates will try to improve MARTA’s reputation by gradually improving its service. A traffic signal system that prioritizes transit could be one way to do that without a major construction project. And ultimately, slowly, Watkins suggests, as transit’s image changes, maybe more residents will be willing to see the value in it with future funding decisions, even if they don’t chose to ride transit themselves.
Other improvements – like bike lanes – wouldn’t require costly construction either (come to think of it, our emphasis on “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects in the Recession era completely ignores the fact that sometimes shovels aren’t necessary at all). In all of this, Atlanta doesn’t really have other cities to look to.
“I don’t know that there is another model for us,” Watkins says. Similar-sized transit agencies and cities are mostly on the West Coast, the Northeast, or in Chicago. “And we are not those,” Watkins says. But Southern cities with similar challenges might make progress if they began to band together, as she, Bradford and Santy now hope they will. “It’s easier to do all of these things,” Watkins says, “if you’re also changing Raleigh and Chattanooga.”
Top image: Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock
Emily Badger is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area. All posts »
- Now, you need to explain how these quotes prove your thesis is correct. On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite each quote, along with a 2-sentence explanation of how that quote proves your thesis.