Irma moves in, MARTA shuts down and Atlanta is forced to adjust 

George Agyemang figured to be a busy guy on Monday.

It was a little past 10 a.m. when he dropped off a passenger at the Woodruff Arts Center in time for his audition with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The Arts Center MARTA station was just steps away across the street, but it wasn’t an option for riders. Beginning at 2 a.m. Monday, all MARTA service was suspended in anticipation of Tropical Storm Irma’s arrival.

“Wow, I didn’t know,” Agyemang said, poking his head out of the window of his SUV in a steady downpour. “That’s big.”

Five points Marta station closed as Hurricane Irma makes its way toward Georgia. (JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM)

You can say that again. MARTA’s announcement,  which it made around 8 p.m. Sunday through the media and its own social media accounts, initially startled people around metro Atlanta who’d become accustomed to MARTA buses and trains persevering through ice storms, the I-85 bridge collapse and other natural and man made calamaties. 

“You know it just got real when Marta say nope not today,” one woman wrote on Facebook.

Others took to Twitter to make sure it was true. And if so, for how long.

“Many people are inquiring about our Tuesday service schedule,” MARTA spokesman Erik Burton said,  “while some were confirming that service is suspended for Monday.”

And then everyone got to work. Or not, as it turned out. With Irma bringing high winds and bands of rain that looked to intensify across the day, everything from school systems to municipal offices and major attractions proactively planned to be closed Monday. And many businesses followed suit, telling their employees to stay home all day.

For some people used to commuting on MARTA, it relieved them of the need to find other options. At least for a day.

“I take the rail from Midtown to Peachtree Center for work, but office is closed today,” Matt Waldinger wrote in a message about his usual routine getting to his job at Deloitte. Whether he’ll have to make further adjustments, “will depend on status of both tomorrow.”

Dena K. Smith also was’t riding MARTA Monday, despite her best efforts. She wouldn’t normally be on MARTA she said, but had planned on doing so on Monday to get from Norcross to Five Points. Then MARTA suspended service and her work ended up being closed Monday and Tuesday.

Same deal for another regular MARTA rider who takes the train to the Lindbergh Center station every day, then catches a bus to his job at Emory University. With his office closed on Monday, he was OK for now, said the man, who didn’t want his name used as he took a stroll around his neighborhood near the Arts Center MARTA station.

Behind him as he spoke, the station’s small parking lot was filled with cars. With MARTA not running on Monday, more complicated questions arose of whether people would still be able to retrieve their vehicles  where they’d left them earlier in longterm parking.

“How do I get my car out if you close at 2am and my flight doesn't get in until 8:30am?,” Que Cooney, who  was scheduled to return to Atlanta on a flight Monday morning and wondered if she’d be able to retrieve her car where she’d parked it at a MARTA station, wondered in a tweet Sunday night. MARTA responded that she’d have “no problems” retrieving her car, and in a followup message to the AJC on Monday, Cooney confirmed that all had indeed gone well.

 While some people questioned the seemingly drastic decision to shut down all service, MARTA said it was necessary under the circumstances and the continuing uncertainty presented by Irma.

“While flooding and compromised roadways remain a concern, the high winds present a great threat to the safety of our bus, paratransit and rail services,” Burton, the spokesman said in an email. “The anticipated winds and wind gusts are beyond our safety levels for operations.”

Meanwhile, Mike Hastings may be one of the few metro Atlantans not concerned about when it will be OK to drive or ride MARTA again. As usual on Monday morning,he’d ridden his bike the five miles from his Lake Claire home to his office at Colony Square -- and he planned on riding home again later in the day, through whatever Irma might throw at him.

“My wife tried to talk me out of it,” he said with a grin Monday morning, heading for an open Starbucks. “But you know, I actually look forward to my commute!”

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