My review of tonight's mayoral candidate forum

I attended the Atlanta mayoral candidate forum on transportations alternatives tonight. It was well worth it, yet really not particularly enlightening. Here is a summary, which is admittedly highly unscientific and highly summarized, as quickly as I could take notes by hand. Feel free to contact me with corrections or disputes (please identify if you're a partisan for any particular candidate. I'm not.)

Candidates attending included, in the order they were sitting on the stage from right to left:
Lisa Borders, Atlanta city council president
Mary Norwood, Atlanta city councilwoman
Kasim Reed, Georgia state senator (apparently until today)
Jesse Spikes, attorney in corporate practice

The most important question and answer, to me, came about five questions in: do you own a bicycle?
Lisa Borders: No, claims she can't bike due to college injury to her knees. But she does a lot of walking.
Mary Norwood: No. But she “loves bicycling.” Hmmm.
Kasim Reed: No. But he is a runner and a swimmer.
Jesse Spikes: Yes, was at Oxford for two years [1972-74], still has the bike he bought there. Plans to do a bike tour of the city as part of his campaign. Westside a difficult place to bike.
SCORE: Clear winner is Jesse Spikes. The really tragic point is that three out of four of our leading mayoral candidates who attended an alternative transportation forum DO NOT OWN BICYCLES. That sucks. No wonder our politicians don't have any idea how horrible the urban cycling situation is in Atlanta.

This was an alternative transportation forum, focused on cycling, pedestrians, and mass transit, so let's start with the automobiles they and their households drive. Well, that's what the forum did. Was this intentionally ironic? I can't say.
Lisa Borders: a Honda Civic, and a Lexus GX 470 that she says is so she can shuttle her father around, who is ill with diabetes. The Lexus GX 470 is a full size luxury SUV which, according to, “is a top-tier luxury SUV in every sense of the term. In addition, this particular Lexus has the ability to venture further off-road than most of its owners will have the desire, or courage, to take it.”
Mary Norwood: a Buick Century. Let's stick with the descriptions: “a comfortable car with a very good reliability record, but it has a floaty suspension, unresponsive handling and so-so brakes. In general, most other midsize sedans are a better choice.”
Kasim Reed: Ford Taurus. Again, per “We've found the Taurus' ride typical of a big American sedan: smooth, quiet and comfortable.”
Jesse Spikes: a GM Yukon XL which he says is so he can haul around his large smoker (BBQ thingie) which is one of his passions.
SCORE: Slight advantage to Mary Norwood, who drives the smallest and least silly car, but let's be serious: it's pretty tragic when a Buick Century wins the category. Biggest loser: a marginal tie between Jesse Spikes' full sized SUV, a GMC Yukon XL, and Lisa Borders with another full-sized SUV, a Lexus GX 470, in addition to her other car. While pulling around a smoker BBQ is a sillyass justification for driving a gigantic SUV, both of their justifications felt a little flat and hard to swallow.

Favorite city (ostensibly, since it's an alternative transit forum, they should be talking about, uhhh, alternative transit.)
Lisa Borders: New York City, talked about transit.
Mary Norwood: London, talked about taking the Tube.
Kasim Reed: Washington, D.C., talked about going to college there.
Jesse Spikes: Cape Town, South Africa, talked about diversity.
SCORE: No advantage. Everyone sounded like they were pandering, to one degree or another.

What neighborhood do the candidates live in?
Lisa Borders: Southwest Atlanta, and downtown (two residences.) Talked about how both of her places have been broken in to.
Mary Norwood: Habersham Road, near West Paces Ferry. Talked about how her husband is a pediatrician at Piedmont Hospital, and how she could walk to Buckhead and Roswell. (WOW! That's a lot of walking.) 2000 square foot house on 3/4 of an acre.
Kasim Reed: Southwest Atlanta. Judging from his stated district address, Olde Overlook Court, Atlanta, GA 30331, way OTP, west of I-285 and south of I-20.
Jesse Spikes: Southwest Atlanta, talked about... green spaces?
SCORE: No winner, but multiple losers: Lisa Borders for having two residences, and Mary Norwood for living in the burbs. On 3/4 of an acre. Boo.

Does your neighborhood have sidewalks?
Lisa Borders: Yes: near Centennial Olympic Park Drive & Merrits Ave.
Mary Norwood: Only recently, walks to Buckhead and Roswell Road, but no sidewalks from there. But she still walks a lot?
Kasim Reed: Nope. Subdivision.
Jesse Spikes: Nope. Small streets, circular road.
SCORE: Clear winner: Lisa Borders. Apparent losers: Kasim Reed and Jesse Spikes. Mary Norwood is a draw.

When was the last time you took public transit?
Lisa Borders: Took MARTA paratransit with her father, who is ill with diabetes. MARTA is not perfect, but sustains her father's life. (Ummm... then why do you need the Lexus GX 470?)
Mary Norwood: To the airport. MARTA train, apparently. But the connections from her neighborhood are difficult. Likes “jitneys” and “trams.” Connectivity is important for suburban neighborhoods like hers.
Kasim Reed: took MARTA on Thursday from the Arts Center stop where he was doing as campaign stop, to see his mother.
Jesse Spikes: Likes the Falcons and the Hawks. Has a law office at Peachtree Center. Takes MARTA to the airport. Does Park & Ride. Uhh... okay.
SCORE: Winner is Kasim Reed, for recent use, and specifics. Losers: Jesse Spikes for talking about sports and his law office, and using Park & Ride instead of pure transit; and Lisa Borders for sounding insincere from one question to the next. Mary Norwood manages to eek out a draw again.

Grade, from 1-10, the quality of WALKING in Atlanta:
Lisa Borders: 3
Mary Norwood: 5
Kasim Reed: 3
Jesse Spikes: 2
SCORE: Uhh... nobody wins? I have a very hard time believing any of them really walk at any kind of length.

Grade, from 1-10, the quality of BICYCLING in Altanta:
Lisa Borders: 1
Mary Norwood: 2
Kasim Reed: 1
Jesse Spikes: 1
SCORE: They all win, and then all lose. How incredibly depressing: they are all right, but only one of them even owns a bicycle, and none of them ride regularly. I would be shocked to hear that any of them have ridden on Peachtree St, or Ponce, or Clairmont, or Edgewood, any time in the last decade. Or century.

Grade, from 1-10, the quality of TRANSIT in Atlanta:
Lisa Borders: 4
Mary Norwood: 3
Kasim Reed: 3/awful
Jesse Spikes: 3
SCORE: They all lose. They all pandered to MARTA employees, while shitcanning the system. Kasim Reed was perhaps the most insincere with his “three but awful”, so he gets the extra special low grade here.

Should bicycling infrastructure be a priority?
Lisa Borders: Yes, several plans in place, Connect Atlanta, Beltline, loves the Peachtree Streetcar.
Mary Norwood: Yes, Connect Atlanta, might not be feasible to retrofit older streets, but in new planning bicycle planning should be a priority. Need bad weather contingency.
Kasim Reed: yes, biking should be a priority, talked a lot about his work in the state legislature.
Jesse Spikes: Yes, sorta, but right now we need to get our financial house in order.
SCORE: Lisa Borders wins by a thin margin; Jesse Spikes loses hugely for his first of many answers that we should look at budgeting, and to hell with alternative transit.

Should pedestrian issues and sidewalks be a priority? What about the responsibility of property owners to maintain and repair sidewalks in front of their properties?
Lisa Borders: Lights, bridges, streets. Should have a revolving capital fund to pay for sidewalk repair, as most people don't have the money for sidewalk repairs.
Mary Norwood: We should have “quality of life” bonds to pay for sidewalks. Many impoverished homeowners can't afford to pay.
Kasim Reed: We should have a comprehensive approach, but this will NOT be a priority in the first 24 months of his mayoral administration. Agrees with Lisa Border's idea of a revolving capital fund. We should only deal with sidewalks when the city is able to financially.
Jesse Spikes: Remove the burden from individual people, get the city's financial house in order first, repair sidewalks only as cost effective.
SCORE: Lisa Borders, while I appreciate the social justice message, loses. Many property owners throughout Atlanta most certainly do have the money to pay to maintain their sidewalks. Kasim Reed scores a huge loss for his honest response that he doesn't care about sidewalks and pedestrian issues. Jesse Spikes scores yet another loss for the “let's not do anything until we get the city's financial house in order” routine. Mary Norwood once again manages to not say anything stupid.

How do you feel about Georgia DOT's ideas for a seven mile long underground tunnel from GA-400 to I-675, and a surface freeway connector through east Atlanta?
Lisa Borders: Oppose both. Proposed tunnel could cost 4.8 billion. We cannot build our way out of congestion. Our largest educational system in the state is the penal system. We have a 25% poverty rate.
Mary Norwood: Oppose both. Protect single family neighborhoods.
Kasim Reed: Oppose both. Talked about his 11 years in the state legislature.
Jesse Spikes: We should investigate all proposals. Roadways might be part of the solution.
SCORE: Absolute clear winner is Lisa Borders. Absolute clear loser is Jesse Spikes. Enough said.

Should we have a bike coordinator, or “bike czar” for the city, similar to Boston?
Lisa Borders: Yes: not just a transit Czar, or Czarina, but someone to handle all transportation alternatives for the city.
Mary Norwood: Yes, we should follow the Boston model. Beltline is great, but in the meantime, how do we get across town? Should be mayoral cabinet level position.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: Should only do what you can afford, should “get the proper input,” if it's affordable, we could have a bike czar, “sure, why not”
SCORE:Winners: Lisa Borders and Mary Norwood. Obvious loser: Jesse Spikes.

Should we have zoning regulations that require short block lengths?
Lisa Borders: We can improve requirements, but must identify the money first. Shouldn't retrofit existing neighborhoods. Should improve new development. Lights, bridges, streets.
Mary Norwood: We should encourage walking. We have very little suburban development in Atlanta (?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!) Commercial nodes = good walkability.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: Walking is a benefit of greater density. Very slippery response. This will change over time. We need lots of input. Subject to current circumstances.
SCORE: They pretty much all blew this one. Their answers were all so awful, in so many different ways. Maybe the biggest losers were Jesse Spikes, for yet another “let's not do anything, we need lots of input" and Mary Norwood for her truly bizarre comment that ATL have very little suburban development.

What are the big barriers to expanding transport, and what would you do about them?
Lisa Borders: We have a love affair with cars, believes in public transit.
Mary Norwood: We have plenty of density, but need to work on how to get buses up and down narrow streets.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: We can't expand MARTA, it would cost too much, light rail may be an option, buses are good because they move more people, can't build up MARTA because we don't have the money.
SCORE: Winner: Lisa Borders. Loser: Jesse Spikes, yet again. Confidential to Jesse: how is MARTA not an option, but light rail is?

We have lots of streets with excess capacity for cars, but no excess capacity for bikes, should this change? Taking out the funding question.
Lisa Borders: Conceptually, sure, this is good, but you can't take out the funding question.
Mary Norwood: Super Ditto with Lisa, sure, but you can't take out the funding question.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: Funding, funding, public safety is important, you can't do this until you identify funding.
SCORE: They all lose, but Jesse Spikes really loses badly. Again.

We have lots of surface parking lots. Should changes be made to tax and zoning codes that encourage surface parking lots?
Lisa Borders: We have lots of “legacy” parking lots, can't touch those. Could look at this with new development, similar to Atlanta Station. Going forward, we should took at parking down and up.
Mary Norwood: Shielded decks are better than surface. Wants a stormwater fee for big parking lots. Plants trees. We don't need more parking lots.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: Private property owner rights most important. Development important. Let's bring all the ideas to the table.
SCORE: Mary Norwood wins, but largely because Lisa Borders was deeply mediocre, and Jesse Spikes was once again ridiculous. (In my notes, I wrote “FAIL x3”)

As mayor how would you expand public transit?
Lisa Borders: Already begun discussions. Not just about Atlanta. People have to trust you. Knows new GDOT commissioner.
Mary Norwood: Transportation funding. Will work “hand in glove” with state.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: history, Atlanta must take lead role in negotiating. Dr. Scott at MARTA has a plan.
SCORE: Uhhh... they all lose. OBJECTION! NON-RESPONSIVE!

Here, the moderator asked a pretty much useless, compound question about should we connect transit, is bike access important, should we have 900 miles of new sidewalks, etc. It was such a worthless question that it's not worth bothering with or judging any of the vague non-responses.

Would you support a new $0.01 sales tax, given that Atlanta / Fulton have already born a sales tax increase for alternative transit?
Lisa Borders: Have been paying for 30-40 years, but supports a regional sales tax anyway.
Mary Norwood: Support. Half of the city languishing for 50 years. Should do intersection improvements at same time as transit. Like sewer tax when most people outside of Atlanta on septic.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: Support regional plan if under local control, address by local needs.
SCORE: Winner is Lisa Borders by a thin margin over Mary Norwood, who was less responsive. Jesse Spikes loses, as he once again manages to sound somewhat silly and to pander.

What about a multi-modal transit station in downtown Atlanta?
Lisa Borders: Is working on multi-modal transit station, Gulch/Phillips Arena, but we “couldn't get anyone to take the risk” to build it.
Mary Norwood: Mayor should use the bully pulpit. Loves commuter rail plan circa 1990.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: Push the state to get it done, push the legislature.
SCORE: Three-way tie: none of their responses were substantive or impressive. If a loser had to be declared, it would be Lisa Borders, for saying it can't be done because we couldn't find some private contractor with a profit motive to buy into it, so it can't be done. Actually, yes: Lisa Borders loses.

Why, with the recent redevelopment of Peachtree Street, does it not have bike paths?
Lisa Borders: No requirement for bike paths. Need a bike czar.
Mary Norwood: Agree it's a problem. Talks about Peachtree Streetcar. Need a dedicated lane.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: Shouldn't invoke government. A failure in communication.
SCORE: Winner is a tie between Lisa Borders and Mary Norwood. Clear loser is, once again, Jesse Spikes.

Atlanta is in a unique position to cash in on DC relationships (read: Obama administration and endorsements...)
Lisa Borders: Supported Obama. Leverage every relationship.
Mary Norwood: Leverage every relationship. Stays out of party politics. Likes being in a blue house in a red neighborhood in a blue city in a red state blah blah blah.
Kasim Reed: had left for another event by this time
Jesse Spikes: Leverage everything, get every dollar available. Uses uncommon language “if the money is fungible.” Maximize available money from federal government.
SCORE: None of the responses were particularly remarkable except for Jesse Spikes' random usage of “fungible.” How many people do you think know what that word meant? (I do.) Loser = Jesse Spikes.

Then the candidates did their closings, which were all fairly unremarkable politician boilerplate.

Overall, their positions on alternative transportation were unimpressive. My summary scores:
Lisa Borders: Much like the rest of this election, an ongoing battle with Mary Norwood. Mostly so-so responses, but careful, and of little substance.
Mary Norwood: Much like the rest of this election, an ongoing battle with Lisa Borders. Mostly so-so responses, but careful, and of little substance.
Kasim Reed: left early, and mostly managed to avoid sticking his foot in his mouth.
Jesse Spikes: Said very little of value, had no wins (for this audience, on these issues) and said a lot of stupid stuff. Absolutely the loser.


Thanks for posting this sumary!

Well-written and informative. It's particularly sad that none of the candidates (now that Spikes is out of the race) ride a bike. Most progress in other cities occurs when local leaders personally identify with the challenges that we face.


Sorry... But I don't consider Mary Norwood's residence in Buckhead "the burbs." Unless of course you are a snarky, sniveling hipster who doesn't trust anyone outside the 30309 zip code.

Impressive summary

I seldom read a story from start to finish. This was serious and humorous at the same time. Well done. Even though I do not bike or live in Atlanta for that matter. I enjoyed it.

Oh, and the next time I want real information on an issue - will you go to the meetings and summarize for me?

Why are we so concerned

Why are we so concerned about Bike Lanes? Why not save the money of painting and expanding lanes, and spend it on educating drivers that it's OK for cyclist to ride in the traffic lane?

I commute to work every day, and the time I feel LEAST safe is when I'm in the very short bike lane between the Buckhead Marta station and where it ends after it crosses Piedmont.

Bike lanes just mean motorist feel just fine passing within inches of you at 55 miles per hour.

Bike Lanes, not Bike Paths

I heard "bike paths" mentioned several times last night. Aren't "bike lanes" easier and cheaper to install and more likely to get you where you need/want to go? Paths are largely aimed at recreational cyclists (in Atlanta, at least, see PATH system), not for utility cycling.

paths vs. lanes

I don't think the candidates are aware of the plusses or minuses of either, or even realize there is a difference. They just use the terms 'bike path' and 'bike lane' interchangeably.

I hear you, but consider this...

GOOD bike lanes (and the one on W. Peachtree does not qualify as such) have been shown time and again to increase the number of people biking.  That's why I support them and advocate for them.  They help people get started, and built properly (4 ft minimum, 5 ft next to curb, 6 ft next to parking) they can provide some relief from car traffic, especially on hills or higher-volume streets.  

You're point to something important though  - a stripe of paint does not protect a bicyclist from cars.  You have to do that yourself by adhering to safe cycling principles, and car drivers have to do their part by paying attention while operating their 2 tons of steel and glass and giving people on bikes some space and a break.

It takes 15 seconds to pass someone on a bike properly.  If ambulances can pass me the right way (at least 3 feet, without honking, speeding up, or buzzing my elbow) then regular folks can do it.

Green Transportation Forum

I was there for the first hour of the event and I have to agree with the comments posted.  Overall, I believe none of the candidates offered a clear vision or plan to get Atlanta moving into a green transit orientated future. 

Atlanta had a bike plan drafted in 1995 ( and very little if any of it has been implemented. Why should we expect the next generation of politicians to be any better? Especially in light of the fact that only 1 out of the 4 attendees even ride a bike.

This is from that aforementioned study; "Based on the street surveys, destination points, and the field visits, the
committee chose the most appropriate routes and divided them into three priority categories: one-year, five-year, and fifteen-year projects . These bicycle projects comprise approximately 350 miles of on-street bicycle routes throughout the City of Atlanta as shown in this plan." And we have now about 30 miles of on-street bike lanes. What the hell happened?

To quote the rock group, The Who; "Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss" - From the song - Won't get Fooled Again.

John Tackett

Death does not scare me.. It is life that frightens me more!