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03 April 2017

Opinion: Atlanta's Mass Transit Woes Can No Longer Be Framed Along the Old Racism Lines

In the days following the fire and collapse of I-85 north, I noticed quite a few people airing grievances against suburbanites living outside the perimeter who aren't necessarily enthusiastic about bringing mass transit to their communities.

These grievances reverted back to the usual, "white-conservative-Republicans-oppose-mass-transit-because-it-will-bring-the-'wrong-kind'-to-their-neighborhoods" argument.

The prevailing opinion in a lot of circles seems to be that demography equals destiny; that once these suburban counties become more "diverse" (you know, more black and Hispanic), they'll easily join MARTA.

Allow me to share some numbers pulled directly from the Census Bureau's 2015 population estimates.

Douglas County is 44.5% black and 9.1% Hispanic.

Henry County is 41.8% black and 6.5% Hispanic.

Rockdale County is 52.2% black and 10% Hispanic.

All three of these counties are included in the area designated by the United States Office of Management and Budget as the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area. All three of these counties are teetering on the edge of being majority-minority.

If demography equals destiny, then why are these three counties, which are far more diverse than they were when MARTA was originally proposed in 1965, still hesitant to join MARTA?

If you're able to answer that question, then you'll understand why the old "white-conservative-Republicans-oppose-mass-transit-because-it-will-bring-the-'wrong-kind'-to-their-neighborhoods" paradigm no longer works.

It's no longer easy to frame metro Atlanta's transit woes on Republicans being opposed and Democrats being supportive. The biggest advocates of mass transit in Georgia these days are Republicans. In Douglas, Henry and Rockdale counties --three counties that went for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the past two presidential elections-- their Democrat-controlled county commissions have been slow to move on authorizing MARTA.

Atlanta's mass trasit woes go deeper than the old arguments of partisanship and racism allow. It is more nuanced than that, and requires a lot more critical examination than what quite a few people have been giving the issue.