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I don’t own a car. Break out the smelling salts!

Whenever I tell someone that I choose not to drive, the typical response is a what-are-you-smoking kind of look. Or, I hear something like, "I wish I could do that." For my family however, this choice makes the most sense. It suits our budget and we get lots of exercise from walking or cycling. For us, it’s a no-brainer.

We moved back to Atlanta in 2005 after four years in the northwest. While we lived in Washington State, my husband and I developed a routine of cycling, walking or taking transit wherever we went, whether it was the grocery store or to work. On the weekend, we would cycle four miles to the coffee shop to java-nate and play chess (I rarely won, but that’s another story). We were healthier and less stressed. It simply made sense for us to continue that lifestyle in Atlanta.

Our choice of where to live in the metro area had to be in line with ready access to basic amenities, including MARTA. For us, walking (or cycling) a mile or so to get to a train station or bus stop is not an issue. It’s simply what you do. Rain? It’s only water. Pack for it—carry an umbrella or raincoat, wear some rain boots, use a backpack. Too hot outside? Carry another shirt and change at work. Drink lots of water.

My husband cycles to the DeKalb Farmers Market every week, as well as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. He has panniers on the back of his bicycle. He has perfected the art of squeezing a basket full of groceries into both panniers. People sometimes stop to watch because they don’t believe he can do it.

I commute to Buckhead from Edgewood every weekday. It’s a one-mile trek from home to the station, then west and north on the train. I always have a plan B or C in case there are delays. For example, if the train westbound from Edgewood Candler Park station is delayed, do I take the number 102 bus instead? Or walk to Inman Park station to catch the number 6 bus to Lindbergh? Also, in 2012, I used to ride my bicycle seven miles a day as part of my work commute. I will be getting back into that soon.

What about other things like parties, movies or concerts, you may ask? Transit, Netflix, carpool! There’s always a way, if you’re willing to make it happen.
It’s all in the choices we make. I am healthier, less stressed, with time to read or complete a Sudoku puzzle – the evil ones, or course! And My 56 year old husband doesn’t look a day over 40.

Jo-Anne Carlson has worked at the Buckhead CID for over seven years. Added to that, she is a lover of art (and crafts) in all forms, including painting, music, knitting/crocheting, and writing. She lives in Atlanta, GA in the Edgewood neighborhood. Check out her personal website at:

Ever been stuck in traffic? Of course you have. Ever been stuck in traffic in front of that donut shop that you pass by every day and then must convince yourself not to pull in and order a dozen to take home?

After a long work day, all you want to do is go home and relax, right? Well, traffic congestion quickly puts a damper on your plans. Stuck in a gridlock, tired of changing the radio station, it’s hard not to notice a tasty looking burger sign on your right. Suddenly you realize you are hungry. You decide to grab a quick bite to eat while traffic dies down. “Only this one time,” you tell yourself. Better than sitting in the car, or yelling at the person who cut you off in traffic.

Yet traffic is not a one-day scenario, and that restaurant will keep luring you in. It is time to find a solution. Find a carpool buddy or a wingman to talk you out of ordering that large pizza with an order of fries. Or try transit, because even the richest piece of cake cannot slow that train from getting you home.

The benefits to alternative commute methods are endless — from reduced traffic, to cleaner air, to even a healthier diet. Why not improve not only your environment, but also yourself?

Clara is the Administrative Coordinator for Georgia Commute Options. Clara enjoys film, reading and writing, and cute animals. When not looking at funny cat memes (or taking pictures of her own cat), she can be found at Piedmont Park, either playing recreational volleyball or simply enjoying the outdoors. 

Last week, we heard Part One of John Bayalis's story (read it here) about how his life changed once he started riding MARTA. John has been living in Atlanta for about 20 years and his first 10 were spent refusing to ride MARTA. Read on for Part Two of his story.

Upon taking the plunge, I immediately noticed the following in rapid succession:

  • I was no longer dependent on my car.
  • I went from filling my tank up (14 gallons for a 1999 Honda Accord) four times a month to once, meaning I was no longer exclusively dependent on gasoline. The cost of a monthly MARTA pass was, at the time, about the same as one tank of gas, meaning I saved nearly $100 per month.
  • I was no longer dependent on planning my day around traffic patterns for leaving my office to run errands and/or get to and from work.
  • I was no longer having my day impacted by all those drivers that that had my blood boiling by the time I got to and from work.
  • My quality of life improved – I “became less intense” according to several people (and to all of them: I still don’t know what that means, but I’ll take your word for it).
  • I got work done on the train. I got work done on the bus. I read more than I had in 10 years.
  • I napped.
  • I learned about the city.
  • I learned how Atlanta can be walkable if you stop complaining, plan and use your legs for something other than getting in and out of your car.
  • I formed friendships and relationships with people at local businesses I frequented from across the system, giving life to parts of the city I never even knew existed. I welcomed the diversity of ridership.
  • I enjoyed talking to others and finding out what they thought of the system and how it could improve.
  • I began using mass transit in other cities when I would travel for work (which was extensive and for which I received constant ribbing from my fellow colleagues who also traveled). I would now never consider going to Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago or San Francisco again and renting a car or making my way by cab.
  • I felt empathy for the friends and colleagues who lacked the quality of life I now was able to take advantage of.
  • I figured out that the old stand-by that, “MARTA doesn’t go anywhere” is utter hogwash spoken mostly by people who have only ever – if ever at all – set foot on the system to go to the airport or a Braves game.
  • I learned firsthand that not only is it a safe system, MARTA has one of the lowest crime rates of any of the nine largest transit systems in the country – the worst, San Francisco’s BART, has a crime rate substantially higher than MARTA.
  • I discovered programs that reward people for using public transit like Georgia Commute Options.
  • And, finally, I learned of an obscure and oft overlooked “commuter benefit option” made available through my employer via federal law that allowed me to put money away every pay-period, pre-tax, into a transit account, making the already-lower cost of commuting by train even less costly.

Mostly, though, I learned that freeing yourself of the proscribed confines of the standard “cars = freedom” mantra so ingrained in American culture truly opens up the world and expands freedom, both within a person and to the outside world.

Life is, inevitably, about choices. Many of us ignore options that are available simply because we feel we have no choice and so remain anchored to unfounded assumptions and the voices of others who operate with limited vision and information. That is unfortunate because hard choices, life-changing choices, require a leap of faith and a suspension of long-held assumptions. I’m glad I had someone prod me to consider the options, and I am especially grateful to the 2006 version of me for listening.

Give mass transit a try. Expand your freedom.

John Bayalis has more than 10 years of experience in public affairs management, grassroots mobilization, issues advocacy and lobbying. He joined MARTA in April as Director of Government Relations after 5 years with international public relations firm Allison+Partners.

There used to be a game-show on television hosted by the late, great Dick Clark named $25,000 Pyramid. Contestants would be paired off with celebrities into teams of two and chose from a list of categories. The object of the game was for the one teammate to describe words that fit into a chosen category, and, based on those clues, for the other teammate to then correctly guess the words being described. For example, if the category was “Fruit” and the first word was lime, I might say to the guesser “small, roundish, sour, green”.

To win $25,000, the team making the final “winner’s circle” had to actually guess the categories words came from – so a little harder, but actually a lot more fun. I thought we could pretend as if we’re a team and we’ve just made the winner’s circle and we’re playing for $25K. I’ll provide some words, and you, my teammate, will have to correctly guess the category.

Here are my clues:

  • Congestion
  • Rude people
  • Life-threatening situations
  • Regular automobile maintenance required to avoid thousands of dollars in car repairs
  • Anger
  • Impatience
  • Thousands of hours in productive time wasted per year
  • Exhaustion
  • Gridlock
  • Excessive monthly motor-fuel costs
  • Chained to your car
  • Sitting at traffic signals for hours on end
  • No end in sight
  • Easily avoided by using mass transit

If you guessed “things associated with commuting by car in Atlanta,” or some derivation thereof, you and I would have just won $25,000! That’s right, you and I would each be $12,500 wealthier, but unfortunately, not wealthy enough to quit our day jobs or, more importantly, quit our commuting. Fortunately, there is an alternative to commuting by car for the sensible Atlantan…

I’ve lived in Atlanta for nearly 20 years, and for the first 10, I shared a relatively similar view to the many people I talk to now that refuse to use MARTA. The most common complaints are that it’s a limited system that “goes nowhere”, is a bad steward of public funds rife with service problems and crime and ultimately creates a bigger headache than Atlanta traffic does for daily commuters.

Then a funny thing happened. At the suggestion of my then-girlfriend/now-wife, I decided to look into this MARTA thing and see if all the anti-hype was accurate. At the time she lived near of the Edgewood-Candler Park Station, and I lived close to the Arts Center Station. “You’re always miserable at the end of the day when you drive over here and you always loathe driving back in the morning,” she would say at the time. “Why don’t you just take the train?” And despite pushing back initially for fear of the unknown, I decided that she was right and gave it a whirl.

Stay tuned for Part Two of John's blog in the coming days to see how trying out transit changed his life.

John Bayalis has more than 10 years of experience in public affairs management, grassroots mobilization, issues advocacy and lobbying. He joined MARTA in April as Director of Government Relations after 5 years with international public relations firm Allison+Partners.

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