Turns out that, flying out from Pearson on Thursday evening, I left behind rapidly dropping temperatures and freezing rain that, frankly, should have caused a snow day in Kitchener-Waterloo. Fortunately, Erin called one on her own. I arrived in Atlanta to temperatures in the upper teens, not needing a coat.
I did, however, appear to pull that wash of cold air down after me. Through most of Friday, the temperature in Atlanta dropped like a stone, and the winds picked up tremendously. By evening, it was close to freezing, and the wind chill was putting it below zero. Not something I suspect Atlantans are comfortable with. So I guess I should apologize. Good thing I packed that coat.
After a breakfast of chicken and waffles, I spent the day exploring Atlanta's Metro system, who locals refer to as "Marta". The system as a whole goes by the acronym MARTA, but when I asked for directions to the subway or the metro at the Airport, the person in the uniform asked me, "do you mean the Marta?" So, yes.
The system clearly has its roots in the eighties. Construction started in 1975, with the first segment opening in 1979. It reached the Airport in 1988. There are four lines, meeting downtown at an interchange that Toronto could only dream of called Five Points. They spread out of downtown in a cross, before branching off to go west, northwest, north, northeast, east and south. They cover most of the quadrants of the city within its Beltway.
I also have the impression that it was built primarily with an eye for tourists, and with an eye to nabbing the Olympics (which it hosted in 1996). Apparently, there was a neat bit of staging municipal officials accomplished where guests from the IOC were shepherded out of a conference room in a government office tower, taken down the elevator, and out into a station where a train just happened to pull up to meet them (it had been parked in a siding, waiting for the municipal officials' call). Supposedly, this presentation was a particular highlight for the IOC officials, and a big reason the Olympics went to Atlanta in 1996.
And once the Olympics were achieved, that was it. Well, almost. A small two-station extension followed in 2001, but no extensions have been added to the Metro since, and I'm sorry to say that the system feels a bit underfunded. The stations are clean, but haven't been updated for years, and the same seems to go for the equipment.
Riders could do with some love in the form of more frequent service. The four lines combine into two-line combos through the downtown which offer better-than five minute frequencies, but in the branches where each line operates individually, the trains come every ten minutes, at best. Outside of rush hours people have to wait up to twenty minutes for trains at some stations.
You can tell that people depend on this system. The train from the airport as I arrived late at night was packed, as was a bus I used at the beginning of the afternoon rush hour, but in both cases, some passengers had to wait twenty minutes for the service to arrive. They deserve better, but many in Atlanta acknowledge that the city has been revamped to address the needs of the car. Other than the investment in the Metro around the Atlanta Olympics and continued tourism trade, public transit is left as an afterthought for citizens who have no alternatives.
Still, I was pleased to have a chance to ride, as there are some impressive things to take in about the system. Five Points station is exactly what Toronto's Bloor-Yonge should be (I know; hindsight is 20-20), with side and island platforms used so trains an open doors on all sides on all lines, speeding up boarding and detraining. Asthetically, Peachtree Centre is a marvel, blasted so deep underground, it takes three minutes to get from the street to the platform by escalator (Atlanta is surprisingly hilly -- the next station, Five Points, is practically at the surface).
And then there's the Green Line which, unlike the other three lines, operates with two-car trains as opposed to the standard six. It's trains are dwarfed by the lengthy platforms it shares with the Blue Line, before the line breaks off on a single station extension before reaching Bankhead, the cutest little station in a beautiful natural area that's only long enough to handle those two-car trains. I do wonder what the plan is, here: are they intending to extend the Green Line northwest, keeping the stations small to save money? Bankhead opened in 1992, however, and nothing has been added to the Green Line since.
There's a lot to like about Atlanta's Metro system, but it could use a little love. Sadly, given the political climate of Georgia, I doubt it's going to get it from the state.
I boarded Amtrak's Crescent, which arrived roughly on time at Atlanta's Peachtree station. Today is a travel day, taking in the sights of North Carolina and Virginia before ploughing up the Northeast Corridor to Newark. Hopefully, it will give me the chance and some inspiration to do some writing.