Atlanta Millennials Included in Long-Term Regional Planning

ARC_100215The Atlanta Regional Commission has spent the past eight months working with a unique group of people on a the commission’s long-term planning process for future development.

Young adults from 10 counties around the region ─ Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale ─ were divided into eight teams and tasked with developing pitches for eight different policy issues related to future planning for metro Atlanta.

The executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, Douglas Hooker said it’s important to hear from millennials.

“It was very clear to me that we’re making plans for a 20 or 25 year future for our community, but the people who are going to be the adults and the leadership roles in the community typically aren’t at the table because they’re early in their careers and some of them are still in school,” Hooker said during an interview on “Closer Look.”

“We felt it was critically important to get more of their vision for the community that they want to grow into as a way of being able to help steer the growth and development of the community as they get older as a way of being committed to living here and growing here and helping the region address its challenges as they grow older,” he added.

Hooker said he was impressed with the ideas the young team members brought to the table and that the ARC has plans to use some of those ideas.

Two of the millennial team members, who worked for almost a year with the ARC to develop ideas for long-term planning in Atlanta, Bee Nguyen and Nicholas Juliano, joined “Closer Look” to discuss their part in the project.

Nguyen worked with the Millennial Advisory Panel group that focused on improving the region’s education system, specifically the disparities in the quality of education at low income schools compared to schools with more resources.

Nicholas’ group focused on improving the region’s transit system and even launched a website called Advance Atlanta.

 

Is Parking What’s Stopping Atlanta From Becoming a Sustainable City?

opinion_park1-1_16It’s time for an intervention if we want Atlanta to become a walkable and transit-connected city. 

Following up on “Atlanta’s Parking Addiction,” a recent column in the alt-weekly Creative Loafing, Darin at ATL Urbanist points out that much of the city’s new downtown streetcar route is lined with vehicle storage, rather than housing and businesses.

Creative Loafing reported that over the last 30 years, “the availability of low-cost parking” was “the second strongest indicator of the lack of success ” of urban rail in the U.S. Darin says local leaders must recognize that giving streetcar riders fewer places to go hampers ridership and hurts the system’s chances for growth.

The image above shows a section of the streetcar line on Luckie Street in Downtown Atlanta. Everything that isn’t shaded in red is either a parking lot or a parking deck.

This is important. We have a $100 million starter line for modern streetcars in Atlanta and much of the track runs beside properties that contain facilities devoted to car parking instead of destinations for pedestrians. If this seed is going to grow into a larger, successful system of street rail — and there are proposals for that — city leadership needs to get off its collective ass and give the line a chance to work as it should.

I am in general very excited to have a streetcar here and hopeful that it will end up, some day in the future, serving a thriving neighborhood of new residential and commercial structures that replace our downtown parking blight. But there are also days when I walk these streets, where I live, and cynically think: “In Atlanta, we love parking so much that we built a $100 million streetcar line to show off our parking facilities to tourists.”

Origanal article can be found here.

Is Atlanta Taking Advantage Of Its Walkable Areas?

[BLOG}: Curbed Atlanta has a good run down of the changes in Atlanta’s neighborhood WalkScore rankings over the last couple of years – read it here.

I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast…but three of the top five most walkable areas of the city, according to the ranking system, are part of Downtown. The areas are: GSU, Peachtree Center and SoNo.

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We need to take all of this with a large grain of salt because WalkScore rankings are significantly flawed. They’re based on criteria that does not include reports of the actual experience of walking the streets of these neighborhoods. You can only judge walkability so well from electronically collected data; real experience matters.

The SoNo district (see a map here), which is “South of North Avenue,” shows the difficulty of WalkScore’s methods. It is certainly easy to walk through here, and there are some key destinations and services – Shakespeare Tavern, Gladys Knights & Ron’s Chicken and Waffles, Emory Midtown hospital, Peachtree-Pine shelter, some apartments and the Bank of America tower. But a quick look at a Google map (along with my own many experiences passing through on foot) shows that a lot of the district’s land use is made up of parking facilities, empty lots, abandoned buildings and interstate infrastructure. It’s a place that needs some added development before I would recommend a visitor take a stroll there.

Read full article here.

Major MARTA Expansion Could Transform the Atlanta Region

MARTA officials have proposed new, high-capacity service into North Fulton County and east into DeKalb County that could link important job centers by rail for the first time. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it could “change the face of Atlanta.”MARTARailMapPropExpansionProjects_071715-01

The new rail service would finally connect residential areas to the rapidly growing area encompassing Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control, just east of the city limits. It would also extend all the way north to Alpharetta, a booming business center 25 miles north of Atlanta in Fulton County.

Officials from Cobb County, just west of Fulton, have long resisted and even ridiculed the idea of bringing transit access there, and Gwinnett County to the east is too low-slung and suburban to consider rail service at this point. But Fulton’s charge ahead into a more urban future could cause its neighbors to reconsider their ways.

MARTA Board Chair Robbie Ashe says the transit expansion could propel a new model of growth in the region. “Corporations are increasingly demanding immediate proximity to transit stations,” Ashe told the AJC. “State Farm did it when they came here. Mercedes did it. Worldpay did it when it relocated. Kaiser is going to be located two blocks from here because of the Arts Center Station.”

Best of all, according to Darin Givens who blogs at ATL Urbanist, these new stations, even the ones far out in the suburbs, are likely to be surrounded by transit-oriented development rather than park-n-rides.

“MARTA has now accepted that it’s time to undo its park-n-rides,” Givens said. “They’re trying to turn all these park-n-ride lots around MARTA stations — around a lot of them — into transit-oriented development.”
The agency hasn’t released any proposals for developing the areas near the new stations, but Givens is hopeful that they’ll be surrounded by walkable, mixed-use development. “MARTA leadership understands that the way of the future for MARTA, and for Atlanta, is to build in a new way around these MARTA stations that allows people to walk to them,” he said.

The agency would need Fulton, DeKalb, and Clayton counties to agree to a half-penny sales tax to fund the expansion. The counties already have state permission to ask residents to tax themselves, but only for five years. MARTA is petitioning the state to allow a much longer sunset of 42 years. They’ll also need special permission for the revenues to be directed to the transit agency.

It’s unclear why Clayton would be taxed. The county doesn’t get any new service in the most recent proposal and it just approved a full-penny sales tax last fall to be included in the MARTA network for the first time.

City of Atlanta Must Carefully Weigh its Future Transit and Streetcar Options

By Heather Alhadeff

The reaction to Maria Saporta’s recent streetcar/BeltLine articles produced an unusually hot-tempered string of comments. From my perspective as a transportation planner, what seems to be muddying the waters of this debate is a natural misunderstanding of the long-term, multipurpose benefits of a variety of transit routes.

Commenters tended to lump all trip purposes and transportation technologies together. A more nuanced understanding could help the dialogue become more productive.

Additionally, comments narrowly defined benefits and costs when in actuality there are seemingly unrelated outcomes and impacts that a city must balance. In many economic debates, it’s not uncommon to recognize ancillary benefits.

For example, solving the City of Atlanta’s pension problem didn’t affect anyone in my family, but it right-sized a significant budgetary weakness and improved the city’s bond rating, which will continue to directly impact my life via other projects and programs.

Providing transportation options to a citizenry is one of the most essential and effective ways a government can ensure the highest level of opportunities and quality of life. But life and progress are nit static. Cities deliver transportation systems in segments or phases and at the same time people are moving and economic conditions shift. However, one thing is certain. A segment passes though areas of different types of land uses and land value and is used by both the rich and poor for different types of trips, at different times of day.

Sometimes I use I-85 to get to my soccer games, sometimes to a meeting. When I was younger, I used I-75 to get to my job, now it’s used to visit some friends. My family drives a sedan to dinner, but at one time we needed a 15-passenger van for a longer trip. A van was lower and certainly cost more in gas, but it was the most appropriate option for that trip. I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed a flight on a small private plane to go a state or two away. I have also used a larger jet to fly all the way to Washington State.

Similar to needing different cars and planes, a MARTA bus varies from MARTA rail, and I use and need both for different destinations and trip types. Sometimes I will travel on the train from Midtown to downtown, but sometimes I will take the Midtown-downtown bus if I need to speed up to a meeting nearby or if heavy packages prevent me from walking to the station. The upcoming streetcar service will help me too, although buses have been serving the area and the train station is nearby. The bottom line is that a true transportation system requires different types of technologies for different trip purposes and for different times of the day.

Some people will not ride a MARTA bus, but they will ride a MARTA train. Some people will not fly, but they will drive. If a city wants to offer its residents the most opportunity to succeed (thereby reducing resource demands) then it is the city’s responsibility to consider and plan for as many people and trip types as it can.

The general idea of connecting the traditional BeltLine transit loop to more destinations and riders in the city has been in the heads of planners for years. In the City of Atlanta’s case, a couple of years ago the Transportation Improvement Act (or TSPLOST) was absorbing an inordinate amount of time from elected officials, policy makers and an already overburdened staff. The City’s Transportation Planning staff and the Atlanta BeltLine Inc’s transportation staff were both asked to assess and organize their projects to compete with the new regional TIA criteria.

Fatefully, around the same time the Atlanta Regional Commission was also updating its long-range plan. So, with city and ABI staff goals overlapping, the city staff was also busy organizing the rest of the City’s project needs.

The city leadership and ABI staff determined it was the appropriate time to look at additional routes linking to the BeltLine, specifically calling for Streetcar service and the type trips that technology offers.

Thus ABI staff launched a prioritization process for BeltLine-related routes that will be used by citizens “off” of the BeltLine. To be fair to ABI, they took the lead on planning for those BeltLine-connecting routes because they had more staff and planning funds than were available to the city’s staff at that time.

So it’s no wonder there is public confusion and pressure from City Council to better understand the staffing roles and the lens with which the different entities prioritize projects.

The on-going transit debate can be a healthy one if we can at least begin to differentiate between the benefits and attributes of the Atlanta Streetcar, the BeltLine-related projects as well as MARTA’s bus and rail.

Any one transit segment is likely to serve existing congestion demand, while on some parcels, it will enable future growth — development likely to be less dependent on cars. Any one segment can be expected to serve rich and poor, workers and retirees. The difference is some segments will serve varying proportions of those parcels and people, yet each project will benefit everyone more than any “ridership or economic estimate” could hope to calculate or predict.

As we look to the future, we need recognize multiple stages of growth and needs that does indeed mean pursuing funds for projects requiring existing ridership as well as serving citizens and businesses regardless of the amount and value of development surrounding them. Such wise variety in transit investments ensures that we are creating the Atlanta we want to become.

MARTA Official Right About Limited Options

By April Hunt ahunt@ajc.com

MARTA General Manager, Keith Parker, wrote on twitter, “18 percent of jobs are accessible by transit for metro Atlanta residents, 33 percent for those living in the city.”

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The statement came with the hashtag OpportunityATL, days after yet another major business, Mercedes-Benz USA, announced a corporate relocation that puts it next to both highways and MARTA rail.

Is there something to the claim that stretches beyond the miles of snarled traffic on four highways last week? We decided to check it out.

First, as the hashtag indicates, the statement did not come out of the ether. Parker posted the figures as he live-tweeted presentations at a forum sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Author Rebecca Burns was the keynote at the Building Opportunity event focused on poverty and transportation. She cited The Brookings Institution for those statistics on a slide during her presentation.

To find out if those stats are accurate, we reached out to Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. That’s the unit that conducts research for cities and their surrounding suburbs and exurbs.

A 2011 report, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America ,” found that the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metro area was among the worst in the nation for residents trying to reach work via transit.

The study, the most recent available, looked at how many people can reach work in 90 minutes between 6 and 9 a.m. on a Monday.

Typical residents in the nation’s largest 100 metro areas can reach about 30 percent of jobs by transit in 90 minutes, the study found.

In Atlanta, the transit studied included MAR-TA, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and regional bus services in Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Yet workers here reached just 22 percent of jobs that way.

That ranked Atlanta 91st out of the 100 largest metro areas studied. The numbers are, as Parker’s tweet suggested, even worse for the region’s suburbanites.

The study found that 33 percent of the region’s jobs are accessible for city residents by public transportation and just 17 percent for suburbanites.

“In some ways, it’s not surprising, given the age the cities developed in,” said Adie Tomer, a research fellow at Brookings who co-authored the study. “Atlanta was really built in the era of the car, and so it’s built out in a suburban style.”

So the numbers are pretty on target and somewhat expected. More than the exact numbers, though, is the overarching point.

Tomer said cities with more transit access are effectively providing more options for workers. They can drive to work, ride a train, ride a bike, or even walk.

Meanwhile, the traffic jam last week showed the “virus” effect a backup can have on highways as well as surface streets when those options are limited. That ripple effect is prompting more suburban counties to gear up for serious talks about transportation options and has even put “public transit” in the mix of the state Legislature’s debate this year about transportation improvements.

The challenges are clear. An exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll recently found that almost 70 percent of Georgians support new bus and rail lines. But only 36 percent said they’d pay higher taxes to pay for transportation improvements.

Yet the benefits are just as clear. Mercedes-Benz USA’s CEO recently cited easy access for workers as a factor in its planned to move to Sandy Springs

— suburban but adjacent to rail lines. Other major firms, from State Farm to PulteGroup, have made similar statements about their relocations.

MARTA and other public transit projects have likewise had a run of good headlines. Clayton County residents voted in November for their county to become the third to join MARTA — the first in 40 years.

The Atlanta Streetcar’s launch in December, the first expansion of a new rail line in years, drew attention nationally.

To that end, Parker said, he posted that tweet because the statistics startled him. Looking at them another way, at least six out of every 10 metro workers lack access by public transportation to jobs.

Like Tomer, Parker hopes the existing collaboration between MAR-TA and bus lines in outlying counties will be seen by policymakers as an option — one to further investigate and expand.

“We want people to look at us as a real alternative to get them to work, to school, to recreation,” Parker said. “You can know with a sense of certainty that 95 percent we are on time with train service. I dare say we don’t have that level of certainty on the highway system right now. We want people to see this is a viable option.”

So as state and local leaders hash out ideas to discuss those options, can they count on the statistics reflecting workers’ access to jobs by public transit today?

Parker posted a tweet from a forum, claiming 33 percent of people in the city and 18 percent elsewhere have that access. An independent analysis confirmed the point, if not the precise number for suburbanites.

We rate the claim True.

This article was edited for length. See a complete version and its sources here.

Cheshire Farm Trail

The Cheshire Farm Trail spans the creek as it flows along the edge of I-85 between Cheshire Bridge Road and Lindbergh Drive. Find it off Cheshire Bridge Road where the road goes under I-85 and becomes Lenox Road.

When the Georgia Department of Peachtree Creek - Cheshire Farm Trail Ribbon Cuttingdecided to build the new flyover ramps for GA 400, some neighbors weren’t pleased. The Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition and the South Fork Conservancy encouraged  community meetings where neighbors discussed how GDOT could make it up to them. After plenty of discussion, two popular mitigation ideas were offered to GDOT: National Register of Historic Places  designation for the Lindridge Martin Manor neighborhood  and the creekside trail. GDOT agreed to both. Heather Alhadeff, a traffic consultant then working for Perkins+Will, helped steer the trail to completion. The cost neared a million dollars for the half-mile trail, including one major and three minor bridges.Peachtree Creek

Read more here.