A monorail system connecting MARTA, office parks and DeKalb-Peachtree Airport is getting a $10,000 preliminary study from the city of Brookhaven.

“I have a vision. I see it as a potential Disneyland type of monorail,” said City Councilman Joe Gebbia, who announced Dec. 15 he is paying for the study from his discretionary fund. “If we do it right, I think this would be an example of what cities and unincorporated areas could be doing to expand MARTA.”

A monorail at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in 2006. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams is not a fan of the idea, asking, “Is a monorail old-style, 1950s Disney technology?”
She noted that at Disney World, monorails connect the hotels, but trams move people from the parking lots to the park. “I would look at trolleys…Let’s do express bus lanes first,” Williams said, questioning the possible expense of a monorail.

Kim Pedersen, president of a California-based advocacy group called Monorail Society, said that Brookhaven should think beyond the Disney image. A small-scale monorail could be feasible in the area, he said.

“The Disney monorails are quite capable and do carry hundreds of thousands of passengers each day,” Pedersen said. “However, I hope that the studies and promoters will also take a serious look at all the non-recreation monorails that operate on a daily basis around the world.”

A possible Sandy Springs monorail has been in the news since that city’s Planning Commission chairman floated the idea last month. But Gebbia said he independently thought of a local monorail earlier this year and has talked informally with various officials about it.

“Monorails seem to be resonating,” Gebbia said. “I was very pleasantly surprised to see that article come out from Sandy Springs…If Sandy Springs does it, that’s great.”

Gebbia said he thought about monorails while driving on I-85 through Brookhaven, pondering traffic snarls, MARTA’s expansion struggles and forthcoming redevelopment around I-85 and North Druid Hills Road.

“I said, ‘Wouldn’t that be really neat to see a monorail [running along Buford Highway], saying ‘Brookhaven’ on the side?’” Gebbia recalled.
He envisioned the monorail that his family rode when they visited Disney World. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that monorail handled a lot of people.’”

“We’ve got to find a way to take tires off the street” while attracting top-quality economic development, he said.
Gebbia envisions a circulator monorail connecting the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station, Buford Highway, PDK Airport, and the Century Center, Executive Park and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta office centers. That would require partnership with MARTA and the city of Chamblee. Gebbia would like MARTA to own and operate the monorail and tie it into its Breeze card fare system.

Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson declined to comment, saying he hadn’t heard the monorail idea before. MARTA and PDK did not have immediate comment.

Gebbia believes monorails could help MARTA expand on east-west corridors because, unlike heavy rail, they don’t require buying expensive rights of way and could run on city- or county-granted easements. He also believes such a “unique” project could better attract federal transportation matching funds.

But cost is where “the rubber hits the road,” he noted. The preliminary city study essentially will determine whether a deeper, fuller study is worth doing. “I don’t know how valid the idea is. But I think it’s worth spending $10,000 to find out,” he said.

The study technically is “open to anything and everything” for transit solutions connecting the various areas of Brookhaven and Chamblee, but the monorail vision is the driver.

The consulting firm Gresham, Smith and Partners has already agreed to conduct the study, Gebbia said. That firm previously created Brookhaven’s transportation plan and is now doing its Ashford-Dunwoody Road improvement plan. Gebbia said the study will coordinate with MARTA, the state Department of Transportation and the Atlanta Regional Commission. The estimated timeframe for a report is four to six months.

John Ruch

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

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