Critics say MARTA’s Five Points renovation plan falls short

Transportation agency plans to move ahead to complete the project before 2026 World Cup
MARTA plans to renovate its Five Points station in downtown Atlanta. Here's one view of what it would look like.

Credit: Courtesy of MARTA

Credit: Courtesy of MARTA

MARTA plans to renovate its Five Points station in downtown Atlanta. Here's one view of what it would look like.

MARTA plans to press ahead with a renovation of its Five Points station despite objections from some political and business leaders.

In recent letters, City Council members Amir Farokhi and Jason Dozier and Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson have said they do not support MARTA’s chosen design for the downtown hub of its regional transit network. The Five Points design includes eight bus bays at street level, which the critics say will impede pedestrian access and undermine the kind of city square feel that could tie together nearby commercial developments such as Centennial Yards and Underground Atlanta.

“Downtown stakeholders have repeatedly communicated the desire for a pedestrian-friendly station with buses either internal to MARTA’s existing property or on an adjacent parcel,” the council members wrote to MARTA and Mayor Andre Dickens last week. “The current design ignores this repeated request, jeopardizing street access that should otherwise be used for safe pedestrian and cycling activity.”

MARTA says its design will create the kind of pedestrian-friendly atmosphere city leaders want. But it says it is primarily a transportation agency, and the street-level bus bays are a key part of efficient bus service.

“I’m personally excited about the prospect of possibly getting construction started in August,” CEO Collie Greenwood told the MARTA board of directors Thursday.

The debate over the Five Points design is the latest point of friction between MARTA and city leaders as the agency revamps its Atlanta expansion plans.

Faced with higher costs and a revenue shortfall, MARTA announced a revised Atlanta project list last week. The agency will advance nine projects — including new transit lines on Campbellton Road and the Clifton Corridor and an Atlanta Streetcar extension — while other planned projects will be postponed indefinitely.

MARTA’s Five Points renovation made the list of priority projects. The $259.4 million project could revitalize the downtown transit hub and pave the way for hundreds of millions of dollars of transit-oriented development.

The agency plans to remove the concrete canopy over the plaza at the downtown station. It plans to build a new translucent roof over the station to provide shelter but allow more light to come through. It also plans to establish a central bus hub and add green space to Five Points.

MARTA plans to renovate Five Points station in downtown Atlanta. Here's one view of what it would look like.

Credit: Courtesy of MARTA

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy of MARTA

But the proposed design has drawn criticism. In a letter dated Monday, Robinson — who leads the downtown improvement district — said the bus bays would create “a pedestrian fortress around the station on Alabama Street and Forsyth Street.” Robinson said MARTA has provided no justification for the number of proposed bus bays and that the agency should wait until after it redesigns its bus network next year to determine its needs for Five Points.

“We concur that the plan for station canopy and plaza is aspirational and inspiring, but we question the risk of spending $260 million and not getting it right for everyone who has a stake in its success,” Robinson wrote.

MARTA says it plans to move forward so the work can be done by the time Atlanta hosts the World Cup soccer tournament in 2026. In their March 1 letter, Farokhi and Dozier said the agency can make cheaper short-term improvements to accommodate the World Cup but hold off on the major face-lift until it has a better design.

“We recognize the urgency of the impending World Cup; however, we ask MARTA and the City of Atlanta to design a station for the next 50 years rather than focusing on a short-term effort resulting in a sub-par design,” the council members wrote.

On Thursday, MARTA officials said their plans will provide the kind of pedestrian-friendly amenities the city wants. The board received a briefing that included artist renderings of features such as a community garden, a play field and a cafe with terraced seating.

Keli Davis, MARTA’s director of facilities program management, said the renovation also would include pedestrian bridges and other features that will create the kind of environment city officials want. She said many of those details will come at a later stage of the project’s development.

Davis said MARTA has held more than 100 meetings about the project in recent years with city officials and other stakeholders. MARTA officials said they have met with Farokhi and Dozier to address their concerns.

Farokhi said Thursday that he had “not heard anything from MARTA yet that would eliminate my reservations about the Five Points redesign.” Robinson said MARTA has not responded to his letter.

MARTA plans to begin work on the renovation in August, starting with the removal of the existing concrete canopy. The work should be completed in late 2025 — well before the World Cup. Five Points will remain in operation throughout construction.

“We can do this,” Davis said. “We just have to give them the go-ahead.”