What’s the Scoop on Gwinnett County?
In 1970, Gwinnett County, now the second most populous county in Georgia, had a population of 72,349. This is smaller than today’s population figures for major metro Atlanta cities of South Fulton (95,158), Sandy Springs (93,853), Roswell (88,346) and Johns Creek (76,728).
Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau, AJC
Gwinnett County would go on to become a growth hotspot in the metro area, going from 166,903 in 1980, 352,910 in 1990, 588,448 in 2000, 805,321 in 2010 to an estimated 936,960 in 2018. During all this population growth, Gwinnett did not have a public transit system and didn’t get one until late 2001, when the population reached nearly 600,000. This gave Gwinnett, listed as America’s fastest growing county throughout the ’80s and among the fastest growing in the past two decades, the distinction of being the largest county without public transit.
Major Metro Atlanta Public Transit Agencies and their Ridership 1999-2014
Data Source: National Transit Database, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Atlanta Regional Commission
Traffic Reaches a Boiling Point, Companies Leave, MARTA-Served Areas Benefit
In the past few years, Gwinnett lost a few big companies to Atlanta. MARTA access was cited as one of the reasons why. Millennials have been the big driver of the back-to-the-city influx and with that, employers are becoming increasingly aware that if you want to attract young talent, you must be more accommodating to what mobilizes them the most: being in an in town location with good transit options.
One of the narratives residents in suburban areas such as Gwinnett have pushed for decades is that public transit is a negative influence on property values and overall quality of life; with crime being the biggest disincentive. The data shows otherwise as properties in neighborhoods in close proximity to public transit stations had higher property values and marketability.
MARTA is considered one of the safest big city transit systems in the U.S. and considering that it moves a half million people every day, there are relatively few crime incidents. Between 2014 and 2018, MARTA reported between 524 crimes (all major categories) in the fiscal year 2014 to 440 crimes in the fiscal year 2018. Crime has fallen on the Atlanta region’s biggest transit system, while crime has increased slightly in Gwinnett County.
MARTA Crime Rate Fiscal Years 2014-2018
Data Source: MARTA (This data should not be relied upon for any purpose without confirmation in writing by MARTA Police.)
Gwinnett County Crime Rate 2014-2017
Data Source: Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Census Bureau
How Gwinnett County Crime Rate Relates to MARTA Crime Rate
MARTA and Gwinnett County’s History
Around the time Gwinnett County had a population of barely 70,000, MARTA was a newly created entity tasked with serving metro Atlanta. Although MARTA stands for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, it started out only serving Fulton, DeKalb and the city of Atlanta. Gwinnett, along with Cobb, and Clayton Counties, had representatives on the MARTA board since its creation, but without MARTA service in their respective areas.
1990 was the last time a referendum was held on bringing MARTA to Gwinnett County. It was soundly defeated. The county had a population of over 350,000, it was overwhelmingly white, and the residents had more of an anti-Atlanta bias.
The Gwinnett of today has nearly 940,000 people, this population is majority minority, with many residents hailing from a variety of places (especially areas with strong public transit). With Atlanta gaining corporate headquarters (and firmly on the relocation radar of companies outside the state), changing demographics and discussions around ‘attracting millennials and creative class talent’, the environment has become much more hospitable for putting MARTA back on a referendum. So, when the Gwinnett County board led by Republican Charlotte Nash, pushed for the county to sign a contract with MARTA in 2018 and to set up a special March 19 election, this came as no surprise.
Race and Ethnicity in Gwinnett County
Data Source: Statistical Atlas
Do you like more gridlock with your commute?
Gwinnett County is at a crossroads with this special election on March 19. This is the chance to help truly bring the county into the metro area. Of course, it’s a part of metro Atlanta according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Atlanta Regional Commission and the 100’s of thousands of residents living there. But if you must drive on Interstate 85, Jimmy Carter Blvd. or Highway 78, Gwinnett County can seem to be a part of its own universe. A universe that still has a relatively good quality of life.
Traffic has been at a point that many are scratching their heads (and banging their steering wheels) while sitting in increasingly frustrating traffic. Many new residents to Gwinnett County hailing from New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., where there are extensive transit systems, don’t understand the racial politics and fear that have helped strangle Gwinnett. They simply denounce the transit choices in metro Atlanta.
They do not know that the state of Georgia created the rules that required residents in the main metro counties to vote on whether they wanted MARTA or not. On March 19, every legally-registered resident of Georgia’s second most populated county can choose whether they want to continue with their county-run bus system that ‘connects to MARTA’ or to choose to truly become part of metro Atlanta, with MARTA buses that would transport riders to the county’s job and population centers and eventually welcome MARTA trains.