Summerhill Bus Rapid Transit: Let's make Atlanta's first BRT route a success!

As an organization that envisions an Atlanta where everyone moves safely, easily, and sustainably throughout the city, we were very pleased when MARTA launched efforts to build Bus Rapid Transit lines in Atlanta.

Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, holds a lot of promise in a sprawling region like Atlanta with minuscule (but hopefully growing) levels of state funding. It occupies a middle ground between regular bus service and rail transit. Bus rapid transit systems around the world bring all the benefits of rail, but at a much lower cost (click here to read about the basics of BRT). In 2016, voters approved funding for the More MARTA projects, and a route connecting the Summerhill neighborhood with Downtown and Midtown received significant federal funding in 2018 (the route was later modified to turn around Downtown rather than continuing to Midtown).

Because the Summerhill BRT line jumped to the top of the list and will be the first BRT project built in Atlanta, it’s essential to get it right. 

However, the route design shared during the most recent public meetings in October falls short of BRT standards: 

  1. It would place buses in general travel lanes in Downtown Atlanta, where congestion already causes significant delays to the existing bus routes and schedules. A defining characteristic of BRT is that travel lanes are dedicated to buses without sharing the lane with cars, so that the bus can move rapidly.
  2. It does not include plans for safe first- and last-mile access for people walking, using wheelchairs, biking, scooting, etc.

While we are not weighing in on the specifics of the route selected, we are concerned that not all local communities’ needs are being addressed, based on comments by the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association. The neighborhood on the southern terminus of the route — Summerhill — supports the current route. We urged MARTA to incorporate the expressed desires of neighborhoods from Downtown Atlanta to Summerhill and the surrounding areas.

If the Summerhill BRT project works for residents and workers in these communities, it will be a transit success story. 

This October, our Executive Director biked the proposed route with MARTA’s Chief of Capital Programs, Manjeet Ranu, and Project Manager, Greg Holder, and provided feedback. On November 10, we sent a letter to MARTA CEO Jeffrey Parker, MARTA executives, and the MARTA Board of Directors calling for changes to the Summerhill Bus Rapid Transit design. 

We asked MARTA to make the following design revisions: 

  • Replace the shared travel lanes in Downtown Atlanta with fully dedicated bus lanes and find a way to protect them from private car use. As we’ve seen with the bus lanes on 17th Street and lanes intended for use by people riding bikes and scooters citywide, unless the lane is protected, people driving personal cars will use them too, defeating the purpose of the dedicated lane.
  • Coordinate with the Atlanta and Georgia Departments of Transportation to create safe first- and last-mile access to bus stations and between bus and rail stations.
  • Ensure safe crossings for people walking to and from bus stops. For example, the proposed stop on Memorial Drive requires riders to cross a high-speed, multi-lane road. While a signalized pedestrian crossing seems like a step in the right direction, it doesn’t change the nature of this high-speed, dangerous corridor, nor does it reduce the number of turning conflicts. This stop should be moved and/or the state should reduce the number of lanes from 4 to 3 to match those on other parts of Memorial Drive.
  • Plan for people riding bikes and scooters to share the dedicated BRT lanes. Failure to plan for this accommodation won’t prevent the bus lane from being used by people on bikes and scooters. Ignoring this likelihood could result in more dangerous interactions than simply including it in the design to begin with.
  • Space the Downtown stops further apart, in keeping with Bus Rapid Transit principles. 
  • Remove the route segment that traverses MLK Drive → Ted Turner Drive → Mitchell Street. Because there is no stop at the federal center, this adds two extra left turns without adding any additional service.
  • Ensure the hours of service for this line are the same as those of MARTA rail and that the frequency of service achieves 8-10 minutes headways. 

Recent Media Coverage

What to expect from MARTA's bus rapid transit line | Axios

MARTA's Summerhill BRT: Consultant hired to help secure right-of-way | SaportaReport 

Downtown Atlanta neighbors plead to City: 'Save MARTA bus rapid transit’ | Urbanize

What’s good & bad about the Summerhill BRT plans | ThreadATL