A Bowl of Brown M&Ms

September 24, 2017

I’ve been meaning to post about Amazon but there’s been so many great pieces out there from every publication. I am not sure if I can do any of it justice with limited time but maybe I’ll try and make some maps of Dallas and Denver soon which I think have the upper hand based on quality of life and transportation access.

But the last few days it’s been kind of funny to watch some people who usually could care less about transit access and normally just sell out for roads start to wonder if they’ve been doing it all wrong…

First from Atlanta, Paul Supawanich had this to say.

Further into the piece, it becomes even more clear.

State Sen. Brandon Beach has a message for suburban Atlanta communities: Get on board with mass transit or get used to losing out on Amazon and other big corporate prizes.On Friday the Alpharetta Republican said Cobb and Gwinnett counties and his own north Fulton County are suffering the economic development consequences of their long-time aversion to public transportation. He said they’ll have to change their attitude.“We have to get Gwinnett and Cobb in the (regional) transit system,” Beach told a crowd at an Atlanta Regional Commission summit on the future of transportation, drawing applause. “We have to bring them into the fold.”

So it wasn’t enough before that people can’t get to work or access anything without a car. Heck Atlanta is the only place I know where frequent bus routes don’t really exist except to connect with MARTA. But dangle 50,000 jobs and lots of money in front of people and they start to get it.

In Fort Worth they can’t even get a small bus network expansion going. But man do they need that rail network stat!

Plans to add $2.8 million in city bus service stalled last week, and City Council appeared to be asleep at the wheel.Raising taxes even only $7 extra per year for a smidgen more public transit led to a complete mechanical breakdown at City Hall, and Councilman Cary Moon intentionally blocked a plan that had been on wobbly wheels from the start.

But gosh darn if they shouldn’t throw in on a regional rail network for Amazon!
Cary Moon said “We need a mass transit system that will attract corporate headquarters like Amazon, and that doesn’t rely on buses.”
Moon continued elsewhere…

At the east side forum, Moon muddled the debate by saying city leaders can attract companies like Amazon with a big regional rail plan, not a few million here and there for city buses.“If we’re going to spend money on public transportation,” he said, “we need to do it correctly.”

I guess the sentiment of doing things correctly is ok but I don’t feel Moon seems to understand what that might entail over the longer term.  Can’t just plop down a rail network and call it a day.  Some might argue incremental change is good, but ultimately transit networks are so bad already a large investment in bus service would be useful to start anywhere even if Amazon weren’t coming.

All of this is fascinating to me because while I’m reticent to support this sweepstakes, Amazon has an opportunity to change the discussion about transportation investment in the United States. We’ve known for a while about the “back to the city” movement among major employers like GE in Boston and others as they try to attract a certain kind of workforce. They want places that are walkable, connected to transit, and compact. This is something everyone should want because it’s more efficient, but its fun to watch the lightbulbs go off.

You can already see it in the Triangle.

“I felt like the region performed strongly on all of the criteria, and then you get to transit and you think, well that might be our weakness.”

in San Antonio

“Yes, Bezos needs to know about VIA’s CNG fleet that reduces nitrogen oxide emissions 97 percent; its solar-powered, illuminated bus stops and enhanced transit centers that provide protection for 95 percent of transit riders; and the fact that it was the first major transit authority in the nation to offer free Wi-Fi across its fleet. He also needs to know that in cooperation with our public and private partners and guided by the community, VIA is moving forward with a comprehensive, multimodal transit system.”

and Detroit.

“What Amazon has proposed is a reminder that any major site location in our region which adds a good number of employees requires better public transit than we have,” said Paul Hillegonds, chairman of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. “We’re simply not well-connected. And growth, which we all want, will require better connections.”

The Amazon list also reminds me of a concert rider for a major band. Van Helen famously asked for a bowl without brown M&Ms only in order to see if the person reading the list was actually paying attention.  Is regional transit or walkability just a brown M&M in the list of asks?


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