Breeze Card purchase bought ticket to a new city

Like many Atlanta residents, I once thought life without my car would be nearly impossible. I was living in Buckhead and commuting downtown daily for work, play, and everything in between. Except for the occasional trip to the airport, I rarely ever even considered MARTA as an option. I did not own a bike and the only walking I did was from the front door to the car. This is how I lived, and how my friends lived. This is how one was supposed to live in Atlanta, or so I thought.

Today, I take MARTA as often as I can, using it to get to work and to meet up with friends. Instead of driving everywhere I need to go, I now spend hours every week biking and walking along the Beltline, where 45 neighborhoods have been given the inconceivable gift of connectivity in a city infamous for its lack of just that. Moving just a few miles away changed my entire perception of the city, and opened up an entirely new Atlanta for me.

After three years in Buckhead, I recently relocated to Candler Park. While I thought I was simply moving neighborhoods, what I got was a fresh start in a new, exciting city. Living in a condo within walking distance to the train station, I quit paying for parking near my office and replaced that hefty fee with an unlimited-ride monthly MARTA pass. Soon, I invested in a bike, and in doing so rediscovered a favorite old hobby from middle school.

MARTA quickly became an integral part of my life, and I began taking the bus to fill the gaps the train stations left behind. To my delight, the MARTA buses were spotless, air-conditioned, and offered free, fast Wi-Fi. The drivers, friendly, knowledgeable and animated, served as fantastic ambassadors between the city and its residents.

Now, my car, once intimately familiar with the potholes and speed bumps of Atlanta’s roads, doesn’t move. Leaving it to collect pollen in my parking lot saves me a good chunk of money, but my wallet isn’t the only thing benefiting. My 10-mile shift in location brought with it a significant shift in well-being.

I’m experiencing our city in a way I never have before. Instead of yelling at strangers on the highway for cutting me off, I’m talking to strangers on the train about a book I’m reading. Where I once watched, frustrated, as folks played chicken over parking spaces, I now observe with pride as good Samaritans help new moms carry baby strollers down the stairs.

I am engaged and invested in Atlanta and its citizens in a way I’ve never been before, and I have discovered new heroes in Beltline originator Ryan Gravel, Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane, and other local leaders “laying the track” for a better Atlanta that desperately needs the improvements for which they are lobbying.

My previous aversion to public transit and general urbanism in Atlanta was not unique — most people I know still strongly believe that Atlanta is a driving city. I believe that can change, and I am encouraged by the increase of transit-oriented developments, the transportation referendums, and the expansion of the bike-share program. These are all factors helping to change the public perception of Atlanta transit among residents. The socialization of MARTA among commuters in response to the I-85 collapse was a brilliant catalyst, a magnificent unintended consequence of the otherwise disastrous infrastructure failure.

It is not just Baby Boomers — loyally served by suburban sprawl — who speak of MARTA only with derision. Many of my Millennial friends and peers routinely dismiss MARTA as a viable alternative to driving. So many Atlanta residents live and work near train stations, yet they proudly claim their independence from MARTA. They speak in coded terms of the “type of people who ride MARTA” and associate them with grime and danger — as if thundering down the highway in unpredictable steel machinery surrounded by car exhaust is the safer, cleaner option.

A walkable, transit-accessible Atlanta is at our fingertips. To government officials and developers: stop widening lanes, building parking lots (which encourages driving), and prioritizing automobiles. To my fellow Intown pedestrians, buy or rent a bike, get a MARTA pass, and start experiencing a new city. MARTA’s greatest sales tool is its experience. Once you’re on it, it requires no further convincing. I think the city hidden under your nose will surprise you.

Dave Lemco, who works in commercial real estate banking, lives in Candler Park and works downtown. He’s a graduate of Emory University, where he studied psychology and economics.

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