I left a 10-day vacation in Switzerland last month in awe of the country’s rail infrastructure. One can live in a small village hours away from a major city like Zurich or Geneva, yet work in the city without a car. This would be tough to do in Atlanta.
In Switzerland, trams are an indispensable ingredient of a convenient commute. Street-level light rail in Geneva enabled me to easily jump on a train and get off when I saw my stop. I watched hundreds of people do the same during a day trip to Zurich.
Traveling regionally, I took express trains that didn’t stop on the way to our destination, making for very efficient trips. My wife and I only had one late train on our entire trip. I took several naps in my clean, cushioned seat during one-and-a-half-hour train rides from the Alps to Zurich. I awakened to at least one nightmare upon realizing that I spend the same amount of time driving from Decatur to the University of Georgia in Athens twice a week.
Returning home, I couldn’t help but think about how metro Atlanta could benefit from Zurich’s expertise in establishing a tram network that encourages commuters to use rail within the city.
Rapid transit has been a major discussion point in metro Atlanta due to the city’s stifling car traffic and the lack of access to the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority’s (MARTA) rail lines in certain areas.
A series of projects in the pipeline could combat these challenges. The Atlanta Beltline includes a 22-mile rail line that will connect the majority of Atlanta’s neighborhoods. And last year, the City of Atlanta won a $47.6 million federal grant to construct a streetcar connecting King Memorial and Centennial Olympic Park. Atlanta won this funding after falling short in securing nearly $300 million in funding for a streetcar that would run along the Peachtree Street corridor between Downtown and Midtown.
In researching these efforts, I learned that Atlanta officials have already engaged Swiss leaders to learn more about the country’s transit model and its lessons for Atlanta.
Councilman Kwanza Hall traveled to Switzerland to participate in an intensive study of the country’s transit system. Atlanta’s Swiss consulate general also has hosted multiple sustainable transportation conferences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
One of Atlanta’s African sister cities would do well to join Atlanta in learning from Zurich’s experience. Lagos, Nigeria, with its 15 million people, is the country’s most populous city and the second most populous city on the African continent. Its government has committed 70 billion naira (about $452 million) to install a light rail system that would improve the ability of Nigerians to move within a city projected to be Africa’s largest by 2015, according to a United Nations HABITAT report. By establishing links with Zurich’s Public Transport Authority (ZVV), Lagos could ensure that it reduces car traffic as much as possible.
The completion of the Lagos light rail project could also increase the ease of travel between Atlanta and Lagos, which are already linked by a nonstop Delta Air Lines flight. The light rail line will connect Murtala Muhammed Airport to the rest of Lagos, enabling foreign businesspeople to more easily travel throughout the city. This convenient change would be a small but significant contribution to the growth of business engagement between Lagos and Atlanta.
Zurich provides a light-rail model for Lagos and Atlanta, one from which I hope they partner in learning. It would be great to see Lagos and Atlanta residents and visitors utilizing their rail lines as admirably as Switzerland, for the long-term benefit of both cities.