Smyrna Connects Response: A bold Vision For Smyrna

The Smyrna City Council-sanctioned Smyrna Connects study released a video last week detailing their proposal. The group is seeking comment and feedback from the public.

If you haven’t yet, go check out the video here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=223502405609712

Provide your feedback here (deadline is Friday, May 8th): https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SmyrnaConnectsPriorities

What’s our feedback? Thanks for asking! 🙂

To start, let’s talk about transit in Smyrna now. For a city that connects a significant portion of Cobb County to the rest of the Atlanta region, Smyrna has been dependent upon county transit and is severely lacking.

  • Limited Coverage: A lot of the routes are on the boundaries of Smyrna (i.e. 41 & Windy Hill Rd)- very little coverage within Smyrna’s city limits. There is no transit service on Atlanta Road near downtown Smyrna
  • Not Comfortable: Bus stops are lacking shelters and benches
  • Not Convenient: Bus frequency is low
  • Confusing: Getting to final destinations requires multiple transfers, causing confusion and greater delays

Very few people are currently choosing to take transit unless they have to. We are hoping this study is the beginning of our route to better transit in Smyrna.

I would like to take transit more often, but it’s inconvenient. The closest bus stop is more than a mile away and bus frequency is once an hour. It takes a couple of hours to get somewhere I can drive in 20-30 minutes.

Karen H., Smyrna Resident

Although not a regular transit rider, I recently tried to use transit for a week and it opened my eyes to how better transit could bring a community more together and provide more opportunity for everyone!

Jenny B., Smyrna Resident

Recap of Study

There’s a lot in this study, so here’s a breakdown of what is mentioned in the video.

First, the video outlines 5 critical needs determined by the study:

  1. Frequent Commuter Bus Service
  2. Convenient Bus Connections
  3. More/Enhanced Transit Facilities
  4. Enhanced Transit Marketing/Education
  5. After Hours Voucher Program for Uber, Lyft, etc.

Next, the study lays out a long list of proposed projects in three different timeframes: short-term (2021-2022), mid-term (2023-2029), and long-term (2030-2040).

Short-term Projects (2021-2022)

Proposed short-term projects from Smyrna Connects study
Our feedback on short-term projects

Mid-term Projects (2023-2029)

Proposed mid-term projects from Smyrna Connects study
Our feedback on mid-term projects.

Long-term Projects (2030-2040)

Proposed long-term projects from Smyrna Connects study
Our feedback on long-term projects

Our Response

We are very excited that Smyrna is the first city in Cobb to take the lead and determine its own transit future. The current vision laid out in the Smyrna Connects study goes a long way to help improve the mobility of Smyrna’s residents, workers, and visitors, and would provide a long list of benefits to the city.

Overall, if we were to give the study a letter grade, we’d give it an A-. As much as it lays down a transformational vision for transit in Smyrna, we feel like there are some improvements that can be made, which we detail below.

Here’s what we see are highlights:

  • Increased Coverage- 10 new routes (3 circulators, 3 BRT, 3 Express, and 1 local route) would provide more local and regional transit service. Residents, workers, and visitors will have much greater transit access and the ability to choose transit as a mode of transportation greatly increases.
  • Improved Bus Stops- It’s great that improved bus stop and more bus shelters are mentioned in both the short-term and mid-term projects. Transit will not be a viable option and we will continue to have low usage if people have to wait up to an hour without a bench or shelter in the cold, heat, rain, or wind.
  • Some Focus on Frequency- Although not mentioned enough, there is some focus on improving frequency for some routes. To increase ridership and get more “choice” riders, frequency needs to be 15 minutes or quicker. Setting this as a standard would be important to ensure the investments made in creating these routes
  • Marketing, Marketing, Marketing- This is mentioned in the short and mid-term project list, and it’s very important for increased ridership and successful transit. Very few markets or industries are successful without marketing, and we wonder why people don’t choose to ride transit.
  • Efficiency Improvements- The queue jumping and signal priority are important projects that improve the efficiency and reliability of transit operations.
  • Hiring of Full Time Transit Advocate- This would be a great step for the city of Smyrna as it would be very beneficial for someone to interact with both the public and policy stakeholders.

I love Smyrna and am really excited that this study was conducted. There is a groundswell of support among our citizens for better transit options, particularly since we are in such close proximity to Atlanta, where MARTA is such a big force for good to the community.

Jenny B.- Smyrna Resident

I’m happy to see a Downtown Smyrna station! Having this in our downtown would be a great way to encourage people to take transit and make it more accessible.

Karen H., Smyrna Resident

I love the focus on the bus stops! Seeing people wait for the bus in the rain before going to work just breaks my heart. Better bus shelters would mean more people choose to take transit!

Matt S., Smyrna Worker

Our Recommendations

Although we are very pleased with the current status of the study, we still find on opportunity for some critical improvements. Here are our recommendations that we feel need to be included in the transit vision for the city of Smyrna.

  • Regional Rail– Smyrna is perfectly positioned to be the gateway between Atlanta and the Northwest Corridor (Cobb and other suburban areas). A high-capacity rail connection between Smyrna and Atlanta would cement the city’s position as this important connection and would provide a foundational infrastructure for other regional and local transit. Rail of some type (light, heavy, or commuter) was mentioned by all stakeholder groups in the study and was one of the most desired elements in the survey. We understand the costs are high (especially on the 75 corridor), but we should consider other routes and options, including Commuter Rail along the Western & Atlantic route. If this study is the vision for transit in Smyrna for the next few decades, it is important that investment in high-capacity, high-frequency transit is considered. Creating this hub would also eliminate the need for multiple express routes presented in this study.
  • Forming a Mobility Advisory Committee– We feel that this might be our most important recommendation; this committee would be appointed by the City Council and would be responsible for evaluating and advising the Mayor and the Council on mobility strategies and policies. This would include transit, pedestrians, bicycling, scooters, ridehailing, and other other components of how people get around. This committee would be very helpful in ensuring that the vision and plans laid out in this study come to fruition and would keep the council focused on moving the city forward.
  • Prioritization of Increased Frequency– There are some mentions in the study regarding increased frequency, but we feel this needs to be a higher priority. Frequency is one of the key determining factors in the experience of using transit and it’s important that this is prioritized on every route considered. If people have to create a plan to get to a stop at a specific time or risk having a long time to wait if they miss their connection, they will not choose to take transit. 15 minutes frequency or better should be the minimum goal for each route and this should be prioritized to happen as quickly as possible.
  • Marketing and Branding– We are happy to see that marketing is a key item mentioned in the current study as it is often overlooked as an important factor in successful transit and increased ridership. We believe there are 2 easy ways to rebrand local transit to improve public perception and increase usage:

    1. Rebrand the route names (Instead of ConnEx, name it the “Jonquil Line”)
    2. Any route transfer locations should be called a “station” (not Transfer Center) and priority investment in infrastructure to increase comfort and ease of riders (right now the transfer between the 20 & 25 on Concord Rd & South Cobb Drive is across busy intersections and has no shelter/bench)

  • Defining Bus Stop Improvements-This is one of the most important and critical areas for improving Smyrna’s transit. The opportunity is also immediate. Smyrna’s 20-year shelter advertising contract expires later this year, presenting a great opportunity to leverage a private-public collaboration to improve our bus stops. What does that exactly entail? Smyrna would benefit from developing a standard of bus stops that solves where to place the bus shelters and what amenities are expected and desired.
  • Community Buy-in– Community advocates, business leaders, and other stakeholders should be organized and enabled to have ownership in the entire process. Whether it’s property developers integrating a bus shelter in their development, transit riders being more engaged in their routes, or business owners providing incentives to their customers and employees to take transit, there needs to be a coordinated effort to engage all stakeholders in the community to have ownership in our local transit.
  • More Integration With Other Modes of Mobility– There is a lack of inclusion on how transit can incorporate with other methods of mobility, including walking, bicycling, and scooters. Integrating these will ensure the “last mile” connection of mobility is prioritized and solved.

Rail is the biggest exclusion in this study. Smyrna or the Cumberland area could be the “hub” for the entire Northwest Region of Metro Atlanta. I would no longer have to drive all the way to Medical Center just to get on MARTA.

Matt S., Smyrna Worker

While having a city employee dedicated to transit it a a good idea, I feel more citizen input would be even better – what about having a transportation advisory board?

Jenny B., Smyrna Resident

It’s great that the study includes improved bus stop amenities such as bicycle and sidewalk connectivity. I feel they should also include a commitment for more benches and shelters.

Karen H., Smyrna Resident

Next Steps

The study is currently in the public review portion of the process where they are gathering responses and recommendations from the public. Once the public feedback is considered, we hope the final presentation of the study will lead to the following:

  1. Smyrna submits the entire project list to the ATL Board to add to the regional list of projects studied and reviewed for state and federal funding. Submitted projects are non-binding and the city would benefit from seeing how these projects compare in cost, ridership, and impact to other projects across the metro region.
  2. Smyrna creates a Mobility Advisory Commission to advise and inform the city council on all things mobility and ensure that our city’s leaders continue the momentum to bring increased transit service to Smyrna.
  3. Short-term projects are considered immediately, especially the marketing and bus stop projects. The timing is perfect for improving the bus stops because the contract with the outside vendor that builds and manages the bus shelters ends later this year. This gives an opportunity to negotiate a public-private partnership that gives greater benefits to the city and its transit riders.

Conclusion

Now is the time. After decades of a lack of transit infrastructure in Cobb County, Smyrna is the first city to raise its hand and say “we want more.” As anyone who has followed development and progress in this region knows, just because a study puts a vision on paper does not mean it will get done. There will be some hard decisions that need to be made. It’s likely that not everything on this list gets built and there will be so many hurdles and obstacles to overcome, from funding and planning to property rights and construction.

This is why YOU need to be an active part of this process. For anyone who lives, works, or visits Smyrna or the rest of Cobb County, this is our chance to make sure that we get the momentum started. Change won’t happen overnight, but if we truly envision a community where transit is a viable option to commute and get around, we have to start asking for more from our political leaders, community members and ourselves. Today.

This study is laying out the initial vision. Now it’s up to all of us to make sure we make it happen. Let’s do this!

So what are your thoughts? What do you like about the study? What’s missing? Be sure to let us know by commenting here or on social media. Most of all, please respond to the official study by Friday, May 8th, so that your public response can be recorded.

If you want to be an advocate for better transit in Smyrna, join our Smyrna Chapter by emailing smyrna@cobb4transit.org.

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