Ya’ll, I live so close to my work site. According to Google Maps, I am 4.4 miles from Clifton Sanctuary Ministries, the place I work five days a week. It takes me a full hour to get there. On a good morning. And I’ve never made it home in less than an hour and 15 minutes.
Why does it take me so long? MARTA. For those of you not in the know, that stands for Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.
The “Rapid,” I think, is a joke.
At the Dwell House, we are really lucky to be close to a bus stop. My morning begins with a short walk down the street to the north-bound bus stop. I get on the 32 bus. This route runs from Five Points, the train station in downtown Atlanta, past Grant Park, down Moreland Ave. and then runs along Boldercrest Rd. outside the Perimeter.
I am almost always the only white person on the bus. The socioeconomic divide in Atlanta is definitely racial in nature.
Taking the bus all the way into Five Points is a mistake; it adds substantial time onto an already long commute. Instead, 15 minutes later, I get off on Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and walk 150 yards to the Georgia State transit station. This is the heart of Atlanta. In 4,500 feet, I pass by business people and politicians on their way to the Capitol. I see college students hurrying to class at Georgia State University and women and men going to work service jobs at restaurants, hotels, or city hall. I pass by homeless men and women panhandling. But this is not where my commute ends.
After a short walk and a short wait, I get on the east bound train bound for Indian Creek Station. This is the shortest part of my commute and the prettiest.
Three stops later, I get off at Candler Park/Edgewood and gird myself for the hardest part of my commute: a .8 mile walk. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in reality, this part is exhausting.
I walk down DeKalb Ave., which is a major thoroughfare for drivers heading east and it’s always busy. Fortunately, there is a sidewalk the whole way. Unfortunately, that the sidewalk is in full sun in the morning and the afternoon. My commute during the month of September was hot. I don’t know how I can overstate that. I arrived at work every day with a red face and sweat dripping from my scalp down my forehead and onto my shirt. I carry my backpack and the back of my shirt is soaked with sweat as well.
Think that’s gross? It is.
I’m lucky: my office is very informal and no one cares what I look like. I’m also the first person there, so I get a chance to clean up before I see anyone. I also get to take a shower every day, which, you know, not everyone can.
Next follows my work day, anywhere from six to nine hours. More about this to come.
By the time I reverse this and get home, I’m exhausted. Adding at least an hour each way onto a full work day can turn an eight hour day into a ten hour day. And I am not used to walking that far. Before you accuse me of being out of shape, I think it’s important to note that being in shape can help but working out is NOT the same thing as having an active commute.* Clothing, for starters. And mindset. I enjoy exercise, but I have a lot of anxiety surrounding my commute:
Will I get to work on time?
Is that bike/car going to hit me? Should I be afraid of the man walking behind me?
Is the MARTA app correct? Am I going to make that bus or will I have to wait thirty minutes for the next one?
Are my clothes appropriate for work AND my walk? What about my shoes?
For most, these stakes are high; I’m not going to lose my internship placement for being a few minutes late, but what if the difference between having a job and being unemployed came down to being able to arrive to work on time? Public transit is NOT an exact science and Atlanta’s is notoriously clunky.
But we have a chance to change that! This is why I switched my Georgia voter registration to the Dwell House address. There’s a referendum on the ballot on November 8th (my birthday!) regarding an extra half percent tax which would add $2.5 billion to MARTA’s budget by 2040.
There are still a lot of options being pitched (the picture above is idealistic) and if you’re interested at all, check out this website, MARTA Menu, sponsored by CfPT, and spend all $2.5 billion on the expansions you think are most important.
On November 8th, I’m voting yes. Not for myself; yes, it takes me at least an hour to travel 4.4 miles, but I’ve chosen to do this for a short amount of time and I have a car when I need it.
I’m voting yes because of the women and men who have no back up plan, who need public transit to get to work on time, to pick up their children from daycare, to go to the grocery store and back home, to go to the laundrymat. Public transit must be reliable. It must be convenient. And it must work for the people who use it.
*Active commuting is a new buzz term coined by young, urban professionals to describe any commute that isn’t driving. In the last month, I’ve read about women and men who use one or a combination of public transit, biking, walking, and even running to work. Ya’ll, they do this ON PURPOSE. I’m not knocking anyone who chooses this; it’s got a lot going for it. But it’s also important to note that there’s a world of a difference between choosing an active commute and having to utilize public transit/walking to get where you’re going.