Transportation in Atlanta

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Transportation in Atlanta
Locale Atlanta metropolitan area
Transit type Rapid transit, commuter rail, buses, private automobile, Streetcars, Light rail, Taxicab, bicycle, pedestrian
Daily ridership Half a million people daily.
Operator(s) Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, GDOT

Atlanta's transportation system is a complex infrastructure of several systems, including 47.6 miles of heavy rail, 91 bus transit routes, 1600 licensed taxis, a comprehensive network of freeways, the world's busiest airport and over 45 miles of bike paths.

The city began as a railroad town, and remains a major rail junction and home of major classification yards for Norfolk Southern and CSX. Amtrak provides the only remaining passenger service via its daily Crescent service to cities between New Orleans and New York.

Atlanta's subway system, operated by MARTA, is the eighth busiest in the country.[1] The rail system is complemented by MARTA's bus system, the 14th largest in the country.

A 2011 Brookings Institution study placed Atlanta 91st of 100 metro areas for transit accessibility.[2] However, reliance on cars has resulted in heavy traffic and has helped make Atlanta one of the more polluted cities in the country.[3] The Clean Air Campaign was created in 1996 to help reduce pollution in metro Atlanta. Since 2008, Metro Atlanta has ranked at or near the top of lists of longest average commute times and worst traffic in the country.[4]


Top:A view of a horsecar on Peachtree Street in 1882.
Bottom: Atlanta streetcar, 1910. Pay-as-you-enter cars were being introduced at the time.


The history of Atlanta's transportation system began in 1836, when the state of Georgia decided to build a railroad to the Midwest and chose Atlanta to be the Terminus. Between 1845 and 1854 rail lines arrived from four different directions and Atlanta became a transportation hub of the Southeast. In 1871 horse-cars began to be used in the city but Electric Streetcars arrived in 1889.[5] by 1926, passenger service peaked at 96,794,273 people per year. The introduction of Trackless trolleys in 1937 led to the gradual decline and eventual end of electric street car service. The last streetcar was run in 1949 by Georgia Power, only Trolleys and Buses were left.

During the period when the system was at its maximum size trolley-buses carried 80 percent of all transit riders[6] By the end of 1949 Atlanta had a fleet of 453 trolleybuses, the largest in the United States,[6][7] and it retained this distinction until 1952, when it was surpassed by Chicago.[7] Since the 1920s Georgia Power had been losing money and ridership and during a five-week-long transit strike the company began looking for buyers. Clement Evans, Granger Hansell and Inman Brandon with Leland Anderson formed the Atlanta Transit Company and purchased the transportation properties on June 23, 1950

In late 1962 Atlanta Transit decided to phase out all trolleybus service the next year, to avoid the expense of having to string new overhead wires when extending service to new areas.[8] There were 39 trolleybus routes at the end of 1962.[8] Another reason cited was the anticipated high cost and difficulty of obtaining new trolleybuses to replace ATC's large fleet, which ranged in age from 14 to 17 years.[8] Since 1959, when Marmon-Herrington ceased production of trolleybuses, no manufacturer in North America was still making the electric vehicles (a situation which lasted until the late 1960s).[9] At the beginning of 1963 the active fleet included 273 trolleybuses. The entire electric system was converted to diesel buses over a period of less than one month in September 1963.[8] Atlanta's last trolleybus service operated on the night of September 27, 1963.[8][9][10]

Originally constructed as a four to six lane expressway in the 1950s, the stretch of I-85 between the southern merge with I-75 and North Druid Hills Road was reconstructed as part of the Georgia Department of Transportation's Freeing the Freeways program. This project included rebuilding all overpasses, new HOV-ready ramps (with the system implemented in 1996), and a widening of freeway capacity.

The portion of the highway from the Buford Highway Connector to GA 400 was constructed during the early 1980s, and was designed as a replacement for the original four-lane routing of I-85 (now GA 13). In addition, the new viaduct was designed to accommodate connections to the Georgia 400 tollway (then in planning), HOV lanes, and a bridge carrying the MARTA North Line (then under construction).[11]

I-285 was opened in 1969 at a cost of $90 million as a four-lane highway throughout (two lanes each way).

Until 2000, the state of Georgia used the sequential interchange numbering system on all of its Interstate Highways. The first exit on each highway would begin with the number "1" and increase numerically with each exit. In 2000, the Georgia Department of Transportation switched to a mileage-based exit system, in which the exit number corresponded to the nearest milepost.[12][13]

Mass transit use and car ownership[edit]

Atlanta is notable for being the 25th city with the most homes without cars and has a fair use of public transportation with 14.85% of workers using public transportation, while 12.7% of self-driving commuters spend more than an hour getting to work.[14]

Environmental and social issues[edit]

Commuting/modal split[edit]

Of all workers aged 16 and above commuting within the city, 77.85% drove alone, 8.95% carpooled and 13.2% used public transportation according to the 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.[15]

Mass transit[edit]


MARTA is composed of both heavy rail rapid transit and a bus transit system that operates primarily within the boundaries of Fulton and DeKalb counties. In addition to Atlanta itself, the transit agency serves the following incorporated places within these two core counties: Alpharetta, Avondale Estates, Chamblee, Clarkston, College Park, Decatur, Doraville, Dunwoody, East Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Lithonia, Palmetto, Pine Hill, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, Union City. Outside of the immediate service area, MARTA also serves the Airport Station and 7 miles (11 km) of rail that are located in Clayton County[16] and one bus route to Cobb County's Cumberland Boulevard Transfer Center.[17] MARTA formerly operated bus service to Farmers Market in Clayton County as well as Forest Park before the now-defunct C-TRAN took over operation in the mid-2000s.

Map of the MARTA rail system


The MARTA rapid rail system has 47.6 miles (76.6 km) of railroad tracks and 38 rail stations located on four service lines: the Red Line (prior to October 2009, known as the North-South Line), Gold Line (former Northeast-South Line), Blue Line (former East-West Line), and the Green Line (former Proctor Creek Line).[18][19] The tracks for this system are a combination of elevated, ground-level, and underground tracks.

The deepest station in the MARTA system is the Peachtree Center Station which is located in a hard-rock tunnel, 120 feet (36 meters) beneath downtown Atlanta, where the highest hills in Atlanta soar to 1100 feet (300 meters) above sea level. No artificial lining of any kind was installed in the walls or the ceilings of this station, or the adjacent tunnels, but rather, the architects and civil engineers for this station decided to leave these with their rugged gneiss rock walls.

MARTA switched to a color-based identification system in October 2009. Formerly, the lines were named based upon their terminal stations, namely: Airport, Doraville, North Springs, H. E. Holmes, Bankhead, King Memorial, Candler Park, Indian Creek; or by their compass direction. During the transition between the two naming systems, all stations on the Red and Gold lines are using their original orange signs, and all stations on the Blue and Green lines are using their original blue signs.

All the rail lines have an ultimate nexus at the Five Points station, located in downtown Atlanta.[19] MARTA trains are operated using the Automatic Train Control system, with one human train operator per train present to make announcements, operate the doors, and to operate the trains manually in case of a control system malfunction or an emergency. Many of the suburban stations have free daily and paid long-term parking in park and ride lots.[19] These stations also have designated kiss and ride passenger drop-off areas close to the stations' entrances.


MARTA bus stop sign

MARTA's bus system serves a wider area than the rail system, serving areas in Fulton and DeKalb counties such as the cities of Roswell and Alpharetta in North Fulton, along with South DeKalb. As of 2010, MARTA has 554 diesel and compressed natural gas buses that cover over 91 bus routes which operated 25.9 million annual vehicle miles (41.7 million kilometers).[18] Effective November 20, 2006, MARTA now has one bus route providing limited service in Cobb County (Route 12 has been extended to Cobb County's Cumberland Boulevard Transfer Center).[17][20] All of the MARTA bus lines feed into or intersect MARTA rail lines as well. MARTA shuttle service is available to Six Flags Over Georgia during the park's summer season.

In addition to the free parking adjacent to many rail stations, MARTA also operates five Park and ride lots serviced only by bus routes (Windward Parkway, Mansell Road, Stone Mountain, Barge Road, and South Fulton).[21]

Atlanta Streetcar[edit]

Main article: Atlanta Streetcar

The Atlanta Streetcar system, which opened at the end of 2014 and is owned and managed by the City of Atlanta, rather than by MARTA, is a streetcar line serving the downtown area. It runs from Centennial Olympic Park along Edgewood and Auburn avenues to the King Center and has a stop at MARTA's Peachtree Center Station. Expansion is proposed.

Other bus[edit]

Emory University operates The Cliff shuttle bus system with over 50 buses, 21 routes, and 200,000 rides per month. Private bus companies operate pesero (Mexico-style jitney) service along Buford Highway.[22]

Roads and freeways[edit]

The Downtown Connector, seen at night in Midtown.

With a comprehensive network of freeways that radiate out from the city, Atlantans rely on their cars as the dominant mode of transportation in the region.[23] Atlanta is mostly encircled by Interstate 285, a beltway locally known as "the Perimeter" which has come to mark the boundary between the city and close-in suburbs ("ITP": Inside The Perimeter) from the outer suburbs and exurbs: ("OTP": Outside The Perimeter).

Toll lanes[edit]

The Peach Pass toll lane system is being implemented to ease traffic for commuters. These toll lanes are expected to greatly reduce traffic congestion once they are completed by 2018.

Major highways[edit]

Three major interstate highways converge in Atlanta; I-20 runs east to west across town, I-75 runs from northwest to southeast, and I-85 runs from northeast to southwest. I-75 and I-85 combine to form the Downtown Connector through the middle of the city, carrying more than 340,000 vehicles per day, making it one of the ten most congested segments of interstate highway in the United States.[24] The intersection of I-85 and I-285 in Doraville is nicknamed Spaghetti Junction.[25] Metro Atlanta is also approached by Interstates 575, 675, and 985; Georgia 400, 141, and 316; and US 78; all terminate near the Perimeter.

Bridges and tunnels[edit]

Personal transportation[edit]

Private automobiles[edit]

Reliance on cars has resulted in heavy traffic and has helped make Atlanta one of the more polluted cities in the country.[3] The Clean Air Campaign was created in 1996 to help reduce pollution in metro Atlanta. Since 2008, Metro Atlanta has ranked at or near the top of lists of longest average commute times and worst traffic in the country.[4]

Pedestrians and bicycles[edit]

Main article: Cycling in Atlanta

Cycling is a growing mode of transportation in Atlanta, taking 1.1% of all commutes in 2009, up from 0.3% in 2000,[26] and organizations like the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition[27] continue to lobby for increased accessibility to bicyclists. However, heavy automobile traffic, Atlanta's famed hills, the lack of bike lanes on many streets, and difficulty in crossing major streets deter many residents from cycling frequently in Atlanta.[28] The city's transportation plan calls for the construction of 226 miles of bike lanes by 2020.[29] The BeltLine,[30] which will include multi-use, paved trails, may help the city achieve this goal.[citation needed]

Port infrastructure[edit]

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world's busiest


Current, future and proposed projects[edit]


Main article: BeltLine

In July 2012, there will be a referendum on a 1-cent sales tax (SPLOST) to fund traffic and road improvements. If approved, the tax will fund several streetcar routes along portions of the BeltLine trail and connections onto MARTA stations and with the Downtown Loop streetcar. Funding for the lines is provided by an eight-billion dollar grant being pitched by Marta to state government.[34]

Clifton Corridor[edit]

Main article: Clifton Corridor

The Clifton Corridor is a proposed light rail line which would run from Lindbergh Center eastwards, following the existing CSX rail corridor to Emory University, continuing along the northern edge of Decatur via Suburban Plaza on N. Decatur Rd. and on to the Avondale MARTA station.[35] Funding is also dependent on the same eight-billion-dollar grant currently proposed.


There are currently two proposals for railway extensions to the network. The first proposed project involves heavy rail, the current mode used by Marta.[36] The Red Line will be extended from its current terminus at North Springs towards Alpharetta. It would cross over metropolitan route 400 twice. Stops are proposed at Northridge, Holcomb Bridge, Mansell, North Point Mall, Old Milon, and Windward Parkway. Funding is also depending on an eight billion dollar grant. The second proposal is for commuter rail, a form of rail, though long proposed, currently doesn't operate with Marta. The line extending to Clayton County[37] The line will have stations at East Point (connections to Red and Gold rapid rail lines), Mountainview ( for int. Terminal F) Forest Park, Fort Gillem, Clayton State, Morrow, Southlake and Jonesboro with Justice Center and Lovejoy a later phase. The line is being pitched as commuter rail though what type (EMU, DMU, etc.) is unknown. Agreements are being worked on with Norfolk Southern who owns the track. Rather than a proposed grant, this project would be half government funded, half taxpayer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ American Public Transportation Association, Heavy Rail Transit Ridership Report, Fourth Quarter 2007.
  2. ^ "Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA Metro Area", part of "Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America", Brookings Institution, May 2011
  3. ^ a b Copeland, Larry (January 31, 2001). "Atlanta pollution going nowhere". USA TODAY. Gannett Co. Inc. Retrieved September 28, 2007. 
  4. ^ a b "Atlanta traffic the worst in America". May 1, 2008. 
  5. ^ Carson, O.E., The Trolley Titans, Interurban Press, Glendale, CA, 1981, p.xi
  6. ^ a b Carson, O.E. Gene (January–March 1997). "Atlanta [Part 1]". Motor Coach Age, pp. 3–29.
  7. ^ a b Sebree, Mac; and Ward, Paul (1974). The Trolley Coach in North America, pp. 14–19. Los Angeles: Interurbans. LCCN 74-20367.
  8. ^ a b c d e Carson, O.E. Gene (July–September 1998). "Atlanta, Part 2". Motor Coach Age, pp. 24–47.
  9. ^ a b Murray, Alan (2000). World Trolleybus Encyclopaedia. Yateley, Hampshire, UK: Trolleybooks. ISBN 0-904235-18-1.
  10. ^ Sebree, Mac; and Ward, Paul (1973). Transit's Stepchild: The Trolley Coach, p. 52, 68, 91. Los Angeles: Interurbans. LCCN 73-84356.
  11. ^ State Route 13 Page Peach State Roads. Retrieved 27 May 2007.
  12. ^ Georgia's Interstate Exit Numbers Georgia Department of Transportation - online. Accessed April 30, 2007.
  13. ^ Interstate 20 Exit Renumbering Page Georgia Department of Transportation - online. Accessed April 30, 2007.
  14. ^ best and worst commute times - Forbes
  15. ^ "MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION TO WORK BY SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS". 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates Survey. United States Census Bureau. 
  16. ^ "Media Kit". Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved February 25, 2008. 
  17. ^ a b "MARTA's Bus Route 12 will provide extended service to the Cumberland Mall area" (Press release). Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. November 20, 2006. Retrieved February 24, 2008. 
  18. ^ a b "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report" (PDF). Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. June 30, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 29, 2007. Retrieved February 24, 2008. 
  19. ^ a b c "MARTA - Getting There - Rail Schedules and Map". Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved February 24, 2008. 
  20. ^ "Route 12 - Howell Mill". Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved February 24, 2008. 
  21. ^ "Parking Information". Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. Archived from the original on June 29, 2007. Retrieved February 24, 2008. 
  22. ^ "Response to Recent Conversation", '"Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 26, 2013
  23. ^ "Atlanta: Smart Travel Tips". Fodor's. Fodor's Travel. Retrieved September 28, 2007. 
  24. ^ "Atlanta, I-75 at I-85". Forbes. Worst City Choke Points. Retrieved April 2, 2006. 
  25. ^ "Atlanta Road Lingo". AJC Online. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved May 5, 2006. 
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ BeltLine
  31. ^ Tharpe, Jim (January 4, 2007). "Atlanta airport still the "busiest": Hartsfield-Jackson nips Chicago's O'hare for second year in a row". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on January 6, 2007. Retrieved September 28, 2007. 
  32. ^ "ATL Fact Sheet", Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, retrieved Feb. 7, 2012
  33. ^ "Delta Invites Customers to Improve Their Handicap with New Service to Hilton Head, Expanded Service to Myrtle Beach". Retrieved April 5, 2010. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Light Rail Recommended in Emory, CDC Area", Patch, March 22, 2012
  36. ^
  37. ^