Amid a major citywide debate on whether MARTA will fund or kill the light rail originally planned to run on the Atlanta BeltLine, North Buckhead residents are adding their voices to demand smaller improvements to bus service in their area.

“Our goal is to greatly increase transit ridership by improving service, access and shelters,” says a draft resolution from the North Buckhead Civic Association and its recently formed transit committee. The group is urging other neighborhood associations to weigh in with MARTA, too.

“If you don’t fight, you don’t win,” said NBCA president Gordon Certain at the Aug. 9 meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, where his group presented the call for improved buses on Roswell, Peachtree-Dunwoody and Wieuca roads and various accessibility improvements.

The backdrop is debate over “More MARTA,” an expansion of MARTA’s transit service within the city of Atlanta that is funded by a half-penny sales tax. Approved by voters in 2016, the tax is expected to generate nearly $2.5 billion for transit expansion over the next 40 years.

The “More MARTA” tax was approved with a proposed list of projects. Some of the biggest ones involved southeastern Buckhead, including constructing light rail on the BeltLine; building a new Clifton Corridor light rail line between Lindbergh Center and Avondale stations through the Emory University area; and adding a new Armour Yard station on the Gold and Red lines.

Now that the tax is in place, MARTA says it can’t afford all of the projects —the Armour Yard station is among the casualties —- and is debating construction priority on others. Major controversy has erupted over MARTA’s plan to prioritize the Clifton Corridor and delay BeltLine rail or even change it into bus service or something else. Ryan Gravel, the urban planner who envisioned the BeltLine, is leading a “BeltLine Rail Now” campaign for it to have rail and top priority, and restoring an Armor Yard station to the mix is also on his agenda.

Other “More MARTA” projects for Buckhead on the original list are still slated to happen. They mostly involve bus service upgrades intended to mean faster travel times on Peachtree Street/Road and Northside Drive.

The BeltLine/Clifton controversy has led MARTA to delay finalizing the project list for an indefinite but apparently brief period, and it is holding a string of neighborhood meetings around the city for further input.

The NBCA sees the process as a chance to advocate for more North Buckhead improvements after having very little on the current “More MARTA” list, which only adds more buses to Roswell Road routes.

“Everybody’s out there arguing for their cause,” said Robert Patterson, head of the NBCA transit committee, adding that there is fear of losing even currently planned improvements.

His group is calling for even better bus service on Roswell Road; restoring a cut bus route on Peachtree-Dunwoody Road; and creating a “crosstown” bus on Wieuca and West Wieuca roads. Also on the agenda are accessibility improvements: crosswalks, parking for cars and bikes near key stops and the Buckhead MARTA Station, and the basic amenity of bus shelters.

Certain said the NBCA did an unscientific survey of residents earlier this year and found MARTA ridership is “terrible,” largely because of these accessibility issues. It leaves residents “forced to get in our cars and drive to work” and makes for ever-increasing traffic, he said.

Patterson said he lives a mile from Roswell Road, but “I have no way to access Route 5” if he goes there by car or bike. And there are few crosswalks on the neighborhood’s long stretch of Roswell Road, he said.

“I’d like to think Atlanta is more progressive than Sandy Springs, but Sandy Springs has beat us to the punch” by building a signalized crosswalk across Roswell Road near the Fountain Oaks shopping center, Patterson said.

The NBCA is also calling for bus stops to have shelters — which very few do currently — as a “very baseline human need” with a cost that would be a “rounding error” in the “More MARTA” funds.

“It’s really just kind of a crime,” Patterson said of the lack of bus shelters, calling them the “most brain-dead, most obvious, thing to do.”

In more formal language, the NBCA resolution says: “While a bus shelter signals that MARTA respects its riders is a significant inducement to riding MARTA, seeing people standing in the rain and heat tells people to avoid MARTA at all costs … All other More MARTA initiatives should come after this basic need is met.”

The NBCA urged other neighborhood associations to join its resolution or make ones of their own. There were no immediate takers at the BCN meeting, but BCN chairman Tom Tidwell spoke favorably of the effort.

“It would be nice to get a little more input from Buckhead and a little more MARTA in Buckhead,” Tidwell said.

The larger BeltLine/Clifton debate is getting local attention as well. Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris, who lives in and represents much of Buckhead, is on the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. board and said he’s concerned about the Clifton project being a “Johnny-come-lately jumping to the head of the list.” He remains optimistic that MARTA might be swayed to put BeltLine rail first.

I’m not sure it’s a lost cause on the Clifton Corridor. I think they’re softening on that,” he said.

North Buckhead’s MARTA wish list

Items on the North Buckhead Civic Association’s draft resolution about local MARTA improvements include:

Service levels
• Upgrade Roswell Road’s Route 5 bus to “arterial,” meaning it runs especially often and gets priority at traffic signals.

• Test an Uber-style pick-up service for accessing rail and bus stations.

• Add a bus route on Peachtree-Dunwoody Road between Lenox and Medical Station MARTA stations.

• Add a bus route on Wieuca and West Wieuca roads and any other streets to create a crosstown service.

• Expand bike parking on bus routes 5 and 110.

• Provide car parking along the same bus routes.

• Install mid-block crosswalks on Roswell Road near bus stops or other high-demand places.

• Provide car parking at Buckhead MARTA Station.

• Install shelters on Route 5 and other bus lines “at virtually every stop where it is physically possible.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.