Gravel called it a sham

(press.) It’s a time-tested strategy to make sure community engagement delivers the recommendations you want. MARTA’s project evaluation, handful of meetings, and unscientific online survey were designed to do exactly that, and it worked. Amy Wenk captured my initial reaction in this story for the Atlanta Business Chronicle“As vote nears, only ‘refinements’ expected for $2.5B More MARTA transit plan.”

Excerpt: The group Beltline Rail Now “has been calling for light rail along the entire 22-mile loop around the city, rather than the current More MARTA plan of seven miles. During a phone call Monday, Gravel shared his criticism of the public input process, calling it a sham. “There’s never been an opportunity to talk about alternative priorities,” Gravel said. “I’m not going to comment on the list until I’ve seen it. I’m hopeful we’ve made more progress than that.” Gravel also shared his opinion on the future of transit in an August edition of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. > More.

As a brief elaboration, this “sham” is illustrated by these three examples:

  1. The project evaluation was pre-ordained. It was designed to support projects that MARTA wants to prioritize. As one example, residential population was not included in the evaluation – only employment. MARTA rail already connects most major employment centers – its challenge is connecting to where people live. The Beltline does this very well, but because most of its jobs are in the future, a focus on employment and not residential intentionally elevates projects like the Clifton Corridor.

  2. The meetings denied public discourse. Public comments were limited to various tables around the room – a classic move to deny a shared civic dialogue about desired outcomes. By design, this format means people cannot hear what their neighbors are saying, and a consensus can never be formed. MARTA is then free to define their own interpretation of the community sentiment. Special thanks to some vocal attendees and a couple City Councilmembers who insisted on time for discussion.

  3. The online survey was rigged. Rather than get actual public comment, MARTA took it upon themselves to prioritize the original $11 billion project list down to the $2.5 billion that we can afford. There was never a way to challenge MARTA’s decisions. The survey only let you respond to the projects MARTA had already selected – no surprise then that the highest scoring projects were the ones in their plan. If anyone wanted a project that was not in their plan – like the full Beltline – the only way to indicate that was to type in a comment – an answer that doesn’t get tabulated like the other responses.