a ‘s’marta afternoon


i am beginning to wonder more and more about the necessity of a car in this city. with flexcar operating right out of inman park marta for groceries, the doctor and such and rental car companies offering awesome rental rates on the weekends on really beings to wonder.

i say all this because this weekend my gf and i decided to see if we could maneuver our way around a full afternoon in atlanta with out ever once getting in a car. and before i begin let me give her serious ‘props’ for being the type of gf not only willing to indulge me on this but to enjoy it as well.

and look, i know you all are getting rather sick of these marta posts, but just bear with me as i am still preaching with the fire of the newly converted if you will, and seriously, i could be writing about the hawks.

so after a late breakfast we headed out from her place on foot to the king memorial station where we picked up an e/w train after about a 5-7 minute wait. another 5 minutes at 5 points and we were rolling once again north toward lindbergh.

at lindbergh we boarded our first bus, the 38, headed northbound which we rode for about 5 minutes until we got to our stop on pharr road. within a few blocks, we had walked to the jackson fine art gallery to take in their showing of joel meyerowitz photos (amazing and the subject of another post soon). after we got done we walked a few more blocks to check out the antique map store before walking over to piedmont where we waited just a few minutes before the #5 bus ambled along to take us south to lindbergh.

back at lindbergh we boarded another n/s train headed south for our next stop, virginia-highland. we got to the midtown station with time to kill and waited about 20 minutes before boarding the eastbound 45 bus which took us right down 10th street and around grady high, before depositing us right at the intersection of virginia and highland.

we spent a good 30 minutes walking around the highlands – the gf bought a sweater at 80 per cent off at the mitzi and romano boutique in va-hi, and we dined on samples at bella cucina.

after that we strolled down highland getting to ponce within 5 minutes of the arrival of the westbound #2 bus which took us right into the north ave marta in time to head to our final destination; castleberry hill.

we boarded the train, taking it to garnett station where a five minute walk put us right on peters street in the heat of the castleberry hill district. after wandering around for 15 or 20 minutes we decided we were done and ready to come home, so we found the nearest marta bus stop and waited. within 10 minutes the 13 northbound rolled up and took us right in to the five points station. rather than waiting on a train we went ahead and boarded the #21 which took us right down memorial drive and deposited us with 1.2 block of her place.

so the tally – we visited three geographically diverse neighborhoods in atlanta; we rode 6 different buses never waiting more than 20 minutes at any give stop and we had a blast doing it; and we did it all during off-peak saturday and had a great afternoon out.

total cost = $0 for me since i have a monthly pass, $7 for her on a daily pass.

all goes to show that with a little planning and a willingness to ride a bus atlanta is wide-open to you without ever getting in a car.

the marta posts will stop soon, i promise…..

26 Comments so far

  1. meg (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2007 @ 7:47 pm

    don’t stop the comments! i lived my first year in atlanta car-free, and it’s do-able, it really is! i’m glad to see someone else discovering this, and helping other people see that marta really can be used for public transportation. lets get everyone on board. speaking of which, i just discovered this site today, that might help others figure out how to navigate the system: http://trip.atltransit.com/

  2. f (unregistered) on December 2nd, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

    I was car-free all day today too, riding around on my bike. It was a gorgeous day for a ride– plus it’s free, nice exercise, and parking is always easy.

  3. Brian (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 12:30 am

    James — don’t stop the posts, the car-addicts need to hear it!

    I see your posts as a challenge to everyone who has excuses for not taking MARTA. Some reasons are legit, but others are BS or ignorance. These are the reasons I could think of (some of which I have used):
    – Safety / fear
    – A pain when getting groceries
    – Not ideal for a late night bar crawl
    – Picking up kids at day care or soccer practice
    – Waiting for a bus in lousy weather
    – Areas not serviced, walking required
    – Simply not as fast as driving your own car

    The key to getting more people to use public transit is overcoming these reasons (and tons of others I’m sure I didn’t list).

  4. Cindy (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 12:49 am

    Brian, I totally agree with you on your reasons, as those are the exact same reasons I’ve used as well, minus the picking up kids part cause I don’t have any.
    My only real complaint about Marta is that it really doesn’t function that well once you go outside the perimeter. After being lucky enough to visit places like Barcelona, Shanghai, and Washington DC, where they have nice, truly functional metro systems, Marta is a sadly underfunded in comparison. In DC, I can get from Bethesda-which is in another state-back into DC. I can’t even get from the heart of Atlanta to Alpharetta, which isn’t too terribly far away. There’s also the economic issues involved because wealthier areas didn’t want Marta coming into their area due to the fear of bringing in bums.
    Also, Atlanta is a poster child of urban sprawl, and our city is actually a mesh of three grids of varying sizes. Our city block is a weird size, and the farther out we go, the bigger the block, making anything but traveling by car virtually impossible.
    I personally don’t have a bike, and I’ve seen plenty of bikes get stolen before, making that an unsavory option for me.
    So there’s my rant on Marta. It needs more funding. That’s all :)

  5. meg (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 7:28 am

    The system does need more funding, there’s no question about that. The catch-22 there is that policy makers are not willing to fund an underused system, yet users are not abundant because it’s underfunded…

  6. BTI (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 9:09 am

    James – this was a great post. I think you’ve already taken more different buses than I have! These are all great areas that are easy to get to that people don’t normally think about. Keep it up!

    @Cindy – I agree we need more funding, but until that day comes, learn something from james and try riding a bus, it won’t kill you. Who wants to go OTP anyway, I say we need more rail for those that actually live in the city (I’m partly kidding, we need commuter rail as well).

    @Meg – MARTA rail and bus combined serve about 500,000 people a day. MARTA rail is the 7th busiest heavy rail system in the county. Not sure about the bus system but I’m sure it’s up there. I realize half a million people is smaller than some other cities but it’s nothing to turn your nose up at. If you want to live in a city/metro area with a busier subway you have only 6 choices; NYC, D.C., Boston, Chi, Phily or San Fran. Just sayin’….

  7. LC (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 9:13 am

    For me, not riding the Marta is not due to car addiction, but safety. It seems that nobody is bringing the issue of crime, especially with Marta. I don’t live on the Northside of town, and my encounters with Marta trains and the bus have been extremely negative. As a college sophomore, my friend and I were accosted and robbed on the MARTA for our shoes, threatened for my wallet at gunpoint at the Garnett station and I have had a homeless woman vomit on me on the train (well, I guess that’s not the system’s fault). Nobody is mentioning the fact that the trains really are not that convenient for all neighborhoods (at least mine, MEchanicsville). The buses are usually extremely crowded or not running when you need them. Prices on the MARTA trains are ridiculous now. Anybody who takes a look at the map of the city can clearly see it is not designed for pedestrian traffic or public transportation.

  8. james (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 9:34 am

    wow, quite a bit to respond to.

    @brian – i think your reasons are accurate why people don’t want to ride and i’ll address them

    1. i haven’t seen any crime on marta and have actually seen a pretty heavy police presence. granted i am not riding through the worst parts of town and am frequently riding during rush hour. according to marta’s published stats crime is about 3 per cent per thousand rides, with over 1/2 the crime being property crime (larceny or auto theft). i think some of this may be perception or people who are used to being in the majority being in the minority when on marta

    2. a pain with the groceries – fair, but then felxcar is now operating in the city and for $5 an hour still a better deal than owning a car

    3. late night bar crawl – probably not, but then is a car really ideal for this either. and with the money you would save on the car payment you could afford a cab home.

    4. picking up the kids – ya, i’ll buy that. if you have three kids you need to shuttle around, the no car thing isn’t for you. then again, that wouldn’t stop anyone from MINIMIZING their car trips

    5. lousy weather while waiting for a bus – okay, but seriously how often are we talking about here

    6. having to walk to areas not covered – again i think this one is a perception issue. what i realized saturday is that if you plan and know the bus routes, you really can get just about anywhere intown

    7. simply not as fast as driving – maybe. i think it depends, but then again how much is this time really worth? and i have found that marta time can be pretty damn productive

    @cindy – first, saying bethesda is in another state as if to imply that it is light years away from dc isn’t really fair. bethesda borders dc so this is pretty much like saying marta goes to sandy springs which it does. oh and also, you can get to alpharetta on marta, i do it five days a week.

    @lc – don’t know what to say. based on marta’s crime statistics you are an anomaly and i have found every bus i have been on to be prompt and actually rather pleasant.

  9. George Burdell (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

    James – just out of curiosity, what was your starting point to walk to the king memorial station. I live in cabbagetown, and wlaking to that station requies (1) going to krog and down dekalb ave, about a 3/4 mile detour, or (2) walking up the stairwell in the tunnel from boulevard to dekalb ave.

    Option #1 is annoying, and option #2 is scary. Reminds of the (worst) toilet (in scotland) from Trainspotting.

  10. james (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

    we left from mlk, just down the street from the cemetery so it really was only a block and half under the hill street bridge.

    that being said, if you time it right you could walk to memorial drive and pick up the #21 bus right into five points.

    the whole thing i am learning about marta is it really only opens up for you as a means of serious travel if you are willing to take a bus.

  11. Rashid Z. Muhammad (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2007 @ 4:03 pm

    Great discussion.

    This year my motorcycle has only been ridable for maybe three months, the rest of the time I used MARTA. Since I walk to work, my MARTA usage has mainly consisted of simple grocery trips to the Edgewood shopping center (conveniently accessible from Reynoldstown / Inman Park) and commuting to my part time gig up in south Buckhead which requires a ride to the Arts Center and hopping on the 101 up Peachtree.

    My observations in context with some of these comments:

    1. James is right in that you can pretty much get anywhere on MARTA if you take time to find out. I have found that calling MARTA is the best way as you can give them an address and they can tell you exactly how to get there. The problem is that you have to call, there is no reason in this age of geocoding that this can’t be done online. If people couple go to itsmarta.com and type in destinations and seeing which routes come close and when, I am almost certain that the development costs of such a feature would pay for itself in a matter of months.

    2. In 12 years of riding MARTA, I’ve had smelly people sit next to me, sidewalk revivalists try to turn a train car into a pulpit (and choir stage), lots of people ask me for money, heard way more profanity than I would have liked to hear, heard way more loud ass music coming from headphones than I would have liked to hear, witnessed several heated arguments, and seen one bona-fide beat-down, but – with the exception of that latest thing – haven’t seen or been victimized by any crimes.

    That’s not to say that they don’t happen, but I have a pretty large sample size of data over a long period of time that – if crime were nearly as rampant as some make it out to be – would have yielded more hits than it has. I mean my early heavy MARTA days were in the West and and Vice City during the mid 90s.

    3. A bicycle, or willingness to make a few short walks, can increase MARTA’s utility by an order of magnitude.

    4. Breeze has made riding MARTA a much much better experience. It’s also better for them. I remember there was a gate at the 10th street station that would let you in without paying and practically EVERYBODY would go through this gate. I went through it one weekday afternoon just after rush hour and there was a bum there who said “damn man, I’ve been here for three hours and you’re the only person that I’ve seen pay.”

    5. I had absolutely no problem with groceries. I only shop for one, but I cook meals big enough for two and can easily carry a weeks worth of groceries on the train. I concede the fact that I have spent years refining my shopping habits to fit the most stuff possible in a backpack may be helping me out here.

  12. BTI (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 11:46 am

    You know, the comments got me thinking about the areas that MARTA rail serves and I can’t say I really buy into the fact that MARTA only goes through bad neighborhoods. The only stops I’d consider “bad neighborhoods” are maybe Bankhead (never been to this stop, just perception), King Memorial (not for long), Vine City (even though I go here all the time), Oakland City and Lakewood. That’s only 5 out of 38 stations, hardly an overwhelming majority. I think many people view working class black neighborhoods and assume the worst, but I can’t consider somewhere like East Point or College Park to be bad neighborhoods. In fact most of the neighborhoods are good if not great places to live. OK, discuss.

  13. BTI (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

    Not soon after my last comment I went to look up my schedule on MARTA’s website and saw this on the front page:

    Fact: MARTA has been voted safest system in the USA 18 times over the last 23 years.

    Now, I’m not sure how the “voting” works or who gave them this honor, but that’s pretty interesting.

  14. Deb A (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

    I live in East Point, and no, it’s isn’t a bad neighborhood (actually it isn’t a neighborhood at all but a whole nother city, as is CP), and especially the area around the train station is nice.

    I would also say that the Lakewood Ft Mac area isn’t bad either, especially with the new apartment complex right next to the MARTA station and the upcoming changes to Ft Mac once it is shutdown. That area should really boom in the next 5-10 years.

  15. ABG (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

    I have lived in Atlanta since 1976. For some reason, from 1979-1986 I did not own a car.
    Although the first words out of my mouth at parties were often “Going up Peachtree?” I managed to get around, do laundry, shop at Ansley Kroger, get to work at Ga. State, Ga. Tech and Creative Loafing (then up on Highland at Amsterdam), have some kind of social life (where i cadged rides shamelessly) and (BEST PART) hold onto my size 6 frame. I walked everywhere, found lots of money on the street, developed an awareness of a whole different crowd of Atlantans (both on MARTA, the cab users, and other pedestrians). The minute I bought a car (77 toyota), I put on 10 pounds. Yes, having a car at my disposal makes doing errands much better…and of course, getting to awkward or late places and friends is easier too. But sometimes I miss those days. After working places that were close enough to walk and others where i HAD to drive, I can now mix it up. In fact, taking MARTA is finally easier than driving to work and home.
    Long live public transportation!

  16. BPJ (unregistered) on December 4th, 2007 @ 4:58 pm

    MARTA is definitely safer than driving. Getting behind the wheel of a car is the most dangerous thing most of us do.

    A minor complaint: “the highlands” are in northern Scotland, “Highlands” is a town in North Carolina…..the neighborhood Virginia-Highland is just that.

  17. james (unregistered) on December 5th, 2007 @ 11:59 am

    btw, bti, i have now added the #9 to my bus arsenal having tried it going to five points from my house in the morning….

  18. BTI (unregistered) on December 5th, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

    Man, you are putting me to shame in your first week! I gotta step it up! I think I’ve still got you beat but probably not for long. Best I can recall, I’ve ridden #s 2,6,8,12,16,45,110,201,245 and the turner field bus.

  19. james (unregistered) on December 5th, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

    i just added the 110 to my list.

  20. roxie (unregistered) on December 8th, 2007 @ 11:48 am


    When I lived in the dorms downtown, MARTA was my #1. But now that I live in Cobb, I really HAVE to drive CCT stops about 5 or 7 miles away from my house.

    I just got my license little more than a year ago and I find driving SUPER STRESSFUL!! I’ve remarked to myself, after arriving late to places “I hate driving!”

    And if it had not been for several instances where I had to be some where IMMEDIATELY after class, I would have taken the CCT from Parkway Pointe #10 to arts center to GSU.

    Maybe next semester :)

  21. roxie (unregistered) on December 8th, 2007 @ 11:56 am

    I just discovered a new and eaiser route for next semester!

    I could take CCT 30 from Cobb Hospital (which is closer to my home) to Hamilton E. Holmes station to Five Points! And still have 15 minutes to walk to class :D

  22. roxie (unregistered) on December 8th, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

    Ok, so that would cost me about $24 a month which is $2 less than the student discount on the monthly MARTA pass.

    According to google maps the Hospital is 2.7 mi – about 7 mins away from my house as opposed to Parkway Pointe being 14.1 mi – about 24 mins.

    That’s 91.2 miles saved a month!

    *kisses public transportation*

  23. james (unregistered) on December 8th, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

    roxie, that’s great :-)

    oh and bti, i added the 12 to my list this morning. what a great bus ride….

  24. BTI (unregistered) on December 8th, 2007 @ 11:13 pm

    wow, your list keeps growing.

  25. Sara (unregistered) on December 19th, 2007 @ 1:09 am

    I’ve never owned a car in the 6 years I’ve lived here…so your afternoon is typical for me, but doing it daily can get a little old.

    I will say that I’ve almost always found ways to get to where I need to go and the buses are usually right on time, except during rush hour on long routes. I’ve been putting together a guide of sorts, if only because of my experience and abilities to communicate them.

    As for safety, I’m a young professional female and I’ve been on MARTA all times of the night, even going through Five Points. I’ve never had any safety issues. The regulars beg for money occasionally and ONE time some guy was being way sexually inappropriate, but he didn’t approach me and I changed trains. But that is it.

    Especially with the recently revamped bus routes, it is getting much easier to get to where you need to go. Flex car has worked pretty well too, but they keep raising their prices. I may have to follow your suggestion and look into weekend rentals.

  26. Sara (unregistered) on December 19th, 2007 @ 1:15 am

    OH, and this new trip planner is freaking awesome. Includes segments for walking and biking…biking includes terrain maps so you can opt out of biking up killer hills.


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