Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations are unique for several reasons, but at the most basic level they establish a sense of permanence not seen at traditional fixed-route stations that can be subject to route changes and interrupted use. For this reason, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is seeing increased interest in its future BRT stations, especially in the development community.
MARTA’s future stations for its Summerhill BRT corridor aim to provide a modern experience with community programming, as well as stimulate economic development focused on affordable housing. And with these goals, MARTA further strengthens its place as a community asset.
BRT stations boost economic development
As mentioned, developers and investors are already showing interest in funding projects along the BRT corridor. In March 2022, MARTA and the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group within Goldman Sachs Asset Management (Goldman Sachs) opened the Skyline Apartments, a transit-oriented (TOD) development with 250 units of affordable housing located across from the Southern terminus of the Summerhill BRT line.
This TOD project is made possible through a larger partnership between MARTA and Goldman Sachs which established a $200 million initiative to fund new developments at or within one mile of MARTA stations. Although MARTA has no money in this initiative, it has established the criteria for the program to advance equitable investment and development near transit.
The partnership is part of the Greater Atlanta Affordable Housing TOD Initiative, which is a flexible, multi-product program designed to promote and support the development of mixed-income, TOD, and affordable housing projects that benefit from proximity to the 38 heavy-duty housing units of MARTA – train stations, 12 Atlanta Streetcar light rail stops, and in new transit investment corridors, such as the Summerhill BRT corridor.
MARTA’s Senior Director of Transit-Focused Development and Real Estate, Jacob Vallo, shares that he sees this as an encouraging sign from the development and investment communities, adding that MARTA is just coming to be included in property marketing packages for major development projects if it is close to heavy rail.
“What I’m hoping for is that bus rapid transit gets that same level of respect because it provides that level of connectivity that’s important and that’s a convenience for tenants,” Vallo said. “I think it’s this evolution of permanence. Bus stops are equally critical, but from a dollar investment or the importance of capital investment, the development and investment community certainly sees this permanence and is drawn to it.
In addition to increased investment, the initiative with Goldman Sachs and MARTA also contributes to equity by increasing affordable housing and partnering with Black-owned and Black-led organizations and developers. , and especially led by black women, to build the TOD projects.
“If we have access to capital that could benefit someone’s projects [then] you make those connections because ultimately it elevates the whole community along that corridor,” Vallo said.
Modern equipment for a modern service
The all-new TODs won’t be the only feature of the Summerhill BRT corridor. The service will include 16 stops equipped with modern equipment to improve the customer experience and increase connectivity and safety.
For example, MARTA created an inventory of pedestrian connections to assess the sidewalk infrastructure around several of its future BRT stations. The inventory includes the results of field visits that identified deficiencies such as broken sidewalk pavers, needed ADA ramp upgrades, limited pedestrian lighting, and other connection issues for pedestrians due to level crossings. MARTA is working with the Atlanta Department of Transportation, Georgia Department of Transportation, Norfolk Southern, Atlanta Belt Line, and private owners to address these issues.
Other service features include 85% reserved lanes, transit signal priority, off-board fare collection, real-time information and two hybrid pedestrian beacons. At each station, passengers will experience level platform boarding, station signage and screens with route map information, inclined rails, station telephone with white light, ramps with lattice panels, polycarbonate roof, window, benches and railings with built-in artwork panels.
A larger footprint opens up opportunities
Typical customer conveniences like real-time information and personalized shelters won’t be the only things that improve the customer experience. With a permanent and broader footprint, MARTA thinks outside the box on how it can capitalize on its BRT stations. An example is the expansion of the agency’s Fresh MARTA Market from its heavy rail stations to BRT stations.
Vallo explains that going forward, the agency is focusing on the southern terminus for fresh markets to conceptualize the idea, but will focus on stations with the highest ridership which are likely to have the most customers. who can benefit from better access to fresh produce.
“We want to make sure that, if we pass the first two filters, okay, there’s good traffic, there’s a physical location opportunity for that; we also want to make sure it’s in the area of food insecurity as identified by the USDA,” Vallo said.
Vallo notes that the agency could also consider adding food vending machines to its future transit hubs — which primarily serve bus routes — such as at its heavy rail stations. However, he adds that MARTA could re-examine the options available to promote a healthier lifestyle to better position transit as a public health good, as well as align with its contribution to the wellness agenda. StationSoccer.
StationSoccer is a program run by Soccer in the Streets, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization. The scheme was launched at MARTA’s Five Points station at the plaza level, creating the world’s first football pitch project inside a train station according to the non-profit organization. MARTA hopes to extend StationSoccer to Summerhill BRT termini, but each BRT station can be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Vallo shares these types of programs can add value to stations and other transit facilities.
“As we start to think about early activation, we can talk about the biggest TOD, but how can we have an impact today or tomorrow, because these TODs take a long time,” Vallo said. “So what can we do to help address some of the mayor’s concerns about activating some of these surface parking lots? The arts are a great way to do this.
And StationSoccer isn’t the only community program offered at MARTA. MARTA also hosts dance, theater and live music events at its passenger facilities which could potentially expand to future BRT stations. These live music, dance and theater events are part of the Artbound public art program, which also includes murals and other visual arts. MARTA’s goal with public art is “to bring joy to the experience,” says Vallo, and by working on the Summerhill BRT corridor, project teams are more willing to have an art director around the table to improve the project.
“I think the functionality is expected, but to go beyond that you have to really affect or have a positive visual impact on the senses,” Vallo said. “The customer expects the thing to work. You don’t get credit for that just by working. You get screwed if it doesn’t work, but I think to get back the goodwill we need to focus on some of those sweet things.
Growing interest in development and investment communities and the opportunity to educate them on how bus service is a convenience to their projects, as well as the introduction of a new mode of public transit service which offers new amenities and a new approach to bus stations have brought Vallo enthusiasm for the region.
“I think our region has a really exciting opportunity to continue to do these projects and benefit the community, but also to do infrastructure projects that are considered important and permanent, and relating to the community of development and investment,” added Vallo. I am optimistic for our region.