In 2010 I moved from New York City, which had been my home for 20 years, to Atlanta to take on a one-year consulting gig that required me to live there (and required me to buy a car). As publisher of Creative Loafing Atlanta, a financially troubled alternative weekly, I had to get to know that city. I was incredibly impressed by the fact that it was the African-American capital of the United States, a city full of successful Black business owners and politicians and celebrities. And some of the most talented of our staffers were Black.
But, of course, there was another side to Atlanta. In the affluent white suburbs of that city, places like Gwinnett County, residents had fiercely opposed expanding the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) subway line into their communities. That’s despite the fact that traffic congestion in Greater Atlanta was horrible, and Atlanta and Gwinnett County ranked high on the American Lung Association’s list of cities with poor air quality, largely attributed to automobile exhaust. (Although it was still a lot healthier than car-obsessed L.A., which for 20 years in a row has been ranked as the city with the worst air quality in America.)
Why the opposition to extending the Atlanta subway into suburban counties? The arguments were much like those I am hearing now in opposition to extending L.A. Metro’s Crenshaw line through West Hollywood, a city (like most in Southern California) where people seem to hang some of their sense of self-pride on the size and model of their vehicle. The MARTA extension would bring downtown Atlanta criminals into the suburbs, the opposition argued, without evidence to support that. They complained that stores would be broken into and vehicles stolen, and people robbed.
As a New Yorker who had taken the subway daily for 20 years, I was puzzled. Wouldn’t a nearby subway station help you get to work more quickly, I thought? Wouldn’t the extension, if you were a local business owner with a unique product or service, help you expand your clientele? I was finally able to identify the underlying factor in much of the opposition when I was told that some residents of Atlanta’s affluent white suburbs said MARTA really stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
Racism is something that opponents of the MARTA expansion (and of the Metro northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX light rail transit linethrough West Hollywood) certainly deny. However, when we have prominent people in our city saying the Metro extension will bring criminals into our community (where 81% of the population is white according to the 2019 US Census Community Survey, and only 3.6% is Black), and there are no reputable studies to support that claim, one has to wonder. (Here’s a link to one of the many, many studies that disputes the assumption that extending public transit increases crime). In Clayton County, Georgia, one of the MARTA opponents cited as evidence the fact that she “personally saw unsavory people begin to come from Riverdale Road down into the subdivision” when a new bus stop was created nearby. That’s somewhat like hearing some of those people who object to the controversial Cookies cannabis shop on Melrose complain that they see people wearing hoodies standing in line to get in. And there was that one woman who guessed that some of those Black Cookies customers “have Records and Weapons.”
Yes, it is true that some of those people who, years from now, walk out of the Metro Station on Santa Monica Boulevard near San Vicente may be Black, or Latino, or Asian. Many of them might be working in the hotels and restaurants and nightclubs that dominate the economy of West Hollywood, with jobs that don’t pay enough for them to afford to live here. Or they may be people coming to enjoy West Hollywood’s restaurants and nightlife. And perhaps some of those Metro passengers might be white West Hollywood residents who know that tooting our horn about being a “green city” is pointless so long as we do nothing to curtail vehicle traffic or make public transit and bicycling safer and easier.
Of course there still are complex issues about the funding of and construction of the Crenshaw North extension that need to be addressed. Should it run above ground? Should it run below ground? Who is paying for what and how? Some of that is on the agenda at tonight’s City Council meeting.
Thankfully we don’t (yet) have people complaining that WHAM (West Hollywood Advocates for Metro Rail) means “West Hollywood Attracts More Races.” And please note that saying you’ll accept the Metro extension only if it runs along La Brea Avenue, the eastern border of West Hollywood, is a clear sign of transit NIMBYism that would put you in the West Hollywood Attracts More Races camp.