The Livable Communities Coalition

Working to improve Atlanta's quality of life through smart growth

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Moving Minds: 12 anti-transit myths

(Above) Lind delivers the conservative case for transit at the June Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable. Along with 12 anti-transit myths, Lind outlines 3 common conservative misconceptions about transit.

During his presentation to metro Atlanta transit advocates earlier in the year, conservative transit advocate Bill Lind predicted the “anti-transit troubadours” would come and lend a voice to the political forces determined to see the transportation tax referendum fail.

Now that the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable executive committee has released the draft project list, the anti-transit whispers have become more strident, according to Atlanta-Journal columnist Jay Bookman.

Lind, and his former colleague and Republican political strategist Paul Weyrich,wrote Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation  with the idea that the transit movement could use some conservative voices. In fact, as Lind asserts in his book and in speeches, transit is fundamentally a conservative issue.

“All we [conservative transit advocates] want is what we once had,” Lind said at the June Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable. “We had it all and threw it away.

What our society once had was a great deal better than what it’s got now. And, one of those things was our wonderful streetcar system.”

The Livable Communities Coalition invited Lind to Atlanta to help transit advocates make the conservative case for transit as the region prepares to vote on the transportation sales in a referendum scheduled for next summer.

The Livable Communities Coalition launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative in March to develop broad support for enhancing and expanding transit in Atlanta through the proposed 10-year sales tax. The draft project list proposes reserving 55 percent of the $6.1 billion the tax is expected to raise over its lifetime for transit projects.

“This is transit’s best shot at significant new funding, according to Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman says. “We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.

Polls, surveys, focus groups and town hall meetings have all shown our region’s appetite for more transit.  Tired commuters know that we can’t change traffic congestion in metro Atlanta if we don’t change what we’re doing to address it.  We have to do something fresh and different if we hope to make a difference.  The time to expand rail transit is now.”

The Transportation Investment Act requires the full 21-member roundtable to deliver a final project list by Oct. 15. There will be 12 public meetings, allowing roundtable members to get additonal public input. The first will be held in Douglas County on Sep. 7.

Twelve anti-transit myths, excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation

  1. Light rail has been a failure everywhere. The estimated costs always prove too low and the ridership projections are too high.
  2. Transit is a declining industry. Despite massive increases in transit funding since 1980, transit ridership has declined. Rail transit has a very high subsidy per passenger, and transit use has declined as much in cities that have built light rail as in those that haven’t.
  3. Commuting by rail is slower than commuting by car or express bus.
  4. Transit does not relieve congestion. Congestion has actually increased in cities that have built light rail, and building more highways will relieve congestion better than building rail systems. A rail line has less capacity than a single lane of freeway or even a major arterial.
  5. Where transit is needed, buses are better than rail. Buses cost less and provide the same or better service.
  6. Most new jobs are in the suburbs, but rail transit can only serve urban cores.
  7. Rail transit does not spur economic development.
  8. Transit brings crime into a community.
  9. Most light rail riders are former bus riders.
  10. Transit is a blight on the economy, while highways are a net public benefit.
  11. On average, most of the seats on a bus or train are empty.
  12. It would be cheaper to buy or lease a new car for every rider thant to build a new light rail system.

Over the next two weeks, the Livable Communities Coalition will post Lind’s deconstruction of these myths.

Who said what: Audio highlights of the Aug. 15 roundtable meeting.

Final details of the draft transportation project list that will be the focus of 12 meetings throughout the region in September were hammered out in a four-hour meeting of the five-person executive committee of the metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable the afternoon of Aug. 15. Listen to excerpts (above) to get a sense of the depth of support for various transit projects voiced by those present.

Now, the full 21-member roundtable has begun the work to develop the final project list by the Oct. 15 deadline.

The full roundtable may decide to strongly adhere to the executive committee’s recommendations. Or, the region may find that the full roundtable may go back and reconsider other projects that made the unconstrained list but did not make the draft project list.

Significantly, the draft project list reflects an emerging public sentiment that the region needs more transportation choices by enhancing and expanding transit, and that any project list must communicate a strong vision for relieving congestion, promoting economic development and creating jobs.

For the first time in more than 30 years, the region seems ready to commit significant resources to transit. The draft project list commits $3.4 billion to transit over the life of the proposed 10-year tax.

It is apparent how much the region has changed over the last 10 years by listening to locally elected officials talk about the region’s transportation needs. Most acknowledge the region needs transit to move forward.

As Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman has noted publicly and in a Fair Share for Transit podcast, this is a dynamic shift for the region.

The Livable Communities Coalition invites you to listen in to some of the audio highlights from the Aug. 15 roundtable meeting in the set list above to hear for yourself how our leaders are talking about the future of the region. A full audio file is available on the Atlanta Regional Roundtable website.

From Concept 3 to Action Plan 3.0: A New transit Vision for Metro Atlanta

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

Last week, the vision for metro Atlanta’s future got bigger and brighter.

Working against the clock to beat a midnight deadline, five elected officials from around the region – from as far north as Kennesaw, as far south as Henry County and as far west as Douglas County – voted in late afternoon last Monday to approve a draft list of transportation projects for the 10-county region.  That list, which now goes to the full 21-member Regional Transportation Roundtable for its consent, blends $6.14 billion of public transportation and road projects.  Observers quickly called last week’s vote a watershed event, nothing that the action by the five-member executive committee of the Roundtable:

  • Was unanimous (5-0), the patient result of a deliberate and painstaking effort to work toward regional consensus.
  • Endorsed a list of which $3.4 billion, or approximately 55 percent, is directed to transit, marking a major commitment to developing an integrated regional transit system.

The list is noteworthy in several respects.

First, it allocates significant funding to three major new fixed guideway rail lines in the region, indicating what the next set of regional transit construction priorities should be.  These include:

  • More than $600 million for Atlanta’s BeltLine streetcar network.
  • More than $856 million for a rail line from Midtown Atlanta to Cobb County’s Cumberland district.
  • $700 million to connect MARTA’s Lindbergh station to the huge Emory University/Centers for Disease Control job center in northwest DeKalb County.

In addition, the list provides $600 million for MARTA capital “state of good repair” projects.  This money not only refurbishes the region’s core transit rail system but also protects access to future federal funds for other transit projects by showing good stewardship of existing investments, a key benchmark for new federal funding.

And there’s more, including money to advance rail transit in East DeKalb (the money will pay for express bus service connecting MARTA’s Indian Creek Station to Wesley Chapel Road near I-20 while also paying for environmental studies, design work and initial right of way purchases for the eventual extension of rail service along that corridor); for GRTA express bus services; $100 million to help restore bus service to Clayton County; and $17 million for a regional mobility call center.  The call center will serve as a region-wide resource for all citizens, including seniors and the disability community.  Citizens will be able to call the center for advice on the quickest, most efficient and/or most cost-effective way to travel between two points within the region.  Finally, there are funds allocated to help support initial design, engineering, and related work associated with the construction of a rail line paralleling I-85 in Gwinnett County and the extension of the MARTA 400 North line beyond North Springs to Windward Parkway.

Everyone copied on this note can take pride in being part of those accomplishments.  Transit is critical to our region.  That’s why the 84 members organizations of the Fair Share for Transit have consistently called for a substantial new investment in transit, which provides a unique blend of benefits that addresses economic growth, commutes, traffic congestion, changing patterns of land use and development, our region’s future population growth and our region’s changing demographics.

That’s why we applaud the great start made by the Roundtable Executive Committee and why we will continue to argue the business case for transit for our region.  That’s why we have urged the Roundtable to send a strong signal to businesses, entrepreneurs, young professionals, residents, families and the world that the Atlanta region is serious about building an integrated transportation network.  That’s why we have consistently reminded the Roundtable that while the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 offers an alternative funding source for roads, it offers the only funding source for transit.

This week, members of the Fair Share for Transit working committees will convene to discuss next steps in the effort to make sure that transit receives a Fair Share in the final project list to be approved by the full Roundtable on October 15.  Look for more from us over the coming weeks via e-mail, Fair Share’s Facebook page, Fair Share’s Twitter account and the Livable Communities Coalition’s blog and website home page.

Together, we can make a difference that will benefit generations to come.

Thank you for your continued support.

Ray

Draft project list is out; ball’s in full roundtable’s court

Deal-making has long characterized politics. Deal-making also came to characterize the task of identifying the region’s transportation priorities by Monday’s deadline.

Monday, the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable unanimously approved a draft final transportation project list.

The list will now be scrutinized by the full roundtable in preparation for approving a final project list by Oct. 15, as mandated by 2010’s Transportation Investment Act.

Monday’s draft list sets aside 55 percent of the $6.14 billion for transit projects, leaving 45 percent for regionally significant road projects.

As Mayor Kasim Reed said in an interview with Creative Loafing, “this is the end of the beginning.”

The next two months will test the strength of deals struck during Monday’s roundtable meeting.

The next two months will also determine whether a vision emerges from the draft project list. The roundtable will now take the list on the road and hold a series of meetings in each of 10 counties represented on the full roundtable. Effectively communicating a transportation vision will be critical to building support for next year’s tax referendum.

Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and Mayor Reed proved critical to advancing Monday’s conversation to a vote.

Mayor Reed clearly came to the table ready to deal – to a point. When the conversation turned to gutting MARTA state of good repair and expansion of transit into south DeKalb County, the mayor drew a firm line in the sand, challenging other executive committee members to find different projects to cut.

“Basically, the major projects for Atlanta and DeKalb are taking the most significant cuts and there are other projects out here that can take equal cuts,” Reed argued. “I would just urge our team to try to resolve the last $130 million collaboratively rather than balancing it on the backs of Atlanta and DeKalb.”

Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd concurred with Mayor Reed, delivering an impassioned reminder to the roundtable about their obligation to ensure regional transportation solutions that make the local economy stronger and help get residents to jobs.

“This is not about spreading dollars in the right place; this is about getting people to work, “ Floyd said. “And I think that’s where we are losing sight of that for the sake of building roads.”

It was Mayor Mathews’ original motion that permitted the deal-making to begin, and it was his amended motion that finally carried the day.

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to offer up, just in an effort to get this thing closed out today, to take that $7.5 million from the northwest Cobb transit project,” Mathews said.

After 4 hours of conversation, questions about regionalism and old-fashioned horse trading, metro Atlanta finally got its draft final project list.

For the first time in more than 30 years, there may be a significant regional commitment to transit, possibly resulting in shoring up existing transit assets and expanding into new suburban territory. All that needs to be done is to refine and sell the promise of this resurgent transit vision.

A greater share of transit is a fair share for transit

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dear Members of the Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable Executive Committee:

Fair Share for Transit applauds the Roundtable for already identifying transit projects totaling $3.6 billion on the current draft project list for Monday’s vote.  But we continue to urge you to push this number higher in order to more fully meet our region’s transit needs.

Please remember:

  • Next year’s sales tax referendum is the only opportunity on the horizon to fund much-needed – and much wanted – transit projects in our region.
  • Fair Share for Transit’s goal of $4 billion for transit represents just 25 percent of the total $16 billion expected to be spent on regional transportation in the coming decade.
  • $4 billion for transit can leverage $1.5 to 2 billion in federal matching funds that otherwise will not come to the region.

What needs remain?  The current draft project list:

  • Includes rail transit construction projects whose proposed funding falls short of cost estimates for full build-out, including the Clifton and Northwest corridors and high-capacity rail transit in the I-20 East Corridor (MARTA’s Heavy Rail Extension to Wesley Chapel Road is the current choice; Fair Share isn’t taking sides in the discussion over the merits of heavy rail to Wesley Chapel versus light rail from downtown to Candler Road).
  • Does not include worthy projects such as the downtown Atlanta to Griffin commuter line, leaving no transit commitments south of I-20 other than stretches of the City of Atlanta’s BeltLine and restoration of Clayton County bus service.
  • Leaves other worthy projects such as MARTA North Heavy Rail and the I-85 North Transit Corridor with seed money only.

From the outset, Fair Share has recognized the need to invest in roads as well as transit, but road projects have other funding opportunities.  Without TIA funding, on the other hand, transit has no plan for funding.  Advocates for projects not on Thursday’s $6.56 billion draft list are right to fear that if they don’t win a spot on Monday’s list, their chances for funding go away for another decade.  Monday is the day to seize the opportunity for transit projects that only TIA can make possible.

How can the Roundtable Executive Committee find the money to push transit spending to at least $4 billion while also reducing the entire project list to no more than $6.14 billion?  Through the careful reallocation or redirection of money dedicated to projects that have – or should have – other funding sources.  Consider, for example:

  1. Four proposed projects that are already on the region’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which means that they have non-referendum funding identified.  The total potential “savings” is $78 million. (Please see first attachment or link here.)
  2. More than two dozen projects that were not identified as Plan 2040 “constrained” priorities.  The total cost of those projects is $461.9 million.  (Please see second attachment, column H.)
  3. More than 40 projects totaling more than $1.5 billion that involve interstate highways, U.S. highways, and state roads, all of which have access to state and federal funding.  Consider, for example, collector-distributor lanes for State Road 400 at $200 million and three grade separation projects totaling $135.9 million along State Road 316, where the state is already undertaking – at state expense – other grade separation projects.  The state could pick up a greater proportion of the cost of these projects, freeing up scarce TIA funds for other uses.   (Please see second attachment, columns I and J.)
  4. Projects with limited or no regional significance, remembering that the 15 percent set-aside that will go to counties and municipalities will generate substantial amounts to fund purely local projects.  Fulton, for example, can expect more than $22 million annually, Cobb more than $17 million. (See Page 3 in linked document.)

Fair Share does not suggest that projects in these categories aren’t worthy, only that they – unlike transit – already have or will have other sources of funding.

For road projects, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 offers an alternative funding source.  For transit, it offers the only funding source.

On Monday, let’s send a strong signal to businesses, entrepreneurs, young professionals, residents, families and the world that the Atlanta region is serious about building an integrated transportation network.

Thank you for your hard work and many hours in service of our region.  We look forward to your vote on Monday.

Ray Christman

Executive Director, Livable Communities Coalition, on behalf of the 81 organizations united in asking for a Fair Share for Transit.

Draft list looms; region awaits transportation vision

Out of context, the numbers seem staggering.

$47 million.

$173 million.

$658 million.

$879 million.

On and on it goes.

However, within context of the expected transportation spending over the next 15, 25 or 30 years, $6.1 billion begins to sound like a bargain. The Atlanta Regional Commission recently reported that the region expects to spend $61 billion on road projects through 2040.

The politics of determing which projects will benefit from this relatively paltry sum of $6.1 billion have exacted a large toll on the elected officials and their staffs up to this point.

Thursday, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable executive committee postponed a vote on the draft list, opting to use the weekend to review the projects in more detail for the difficult task of project selection.

The Transportation Investment Act, as State Senator Doug Stoner reminded the roundtable Tuesday, intends to jump-start transportation projects that are regionally significant, mitigate traffic and promote economic development.

According to Ray Christman, Livable Communities Coalition executive director, the roundtable needs to fulfill the intent of the legislation by selecting special projects that promise special results. For the smart growth organization, which launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative in March, that means transit.

The organization’s own poll – as well as others – indicate residents in metro Atlanta want special projects and likewise believe that those projects should be transit projects.

Until Monday, when the roundtable executive committee must deliver its draft list, no one can be certain whether the intent of the legislation and the reams of data will sway the executive committee members and, later, the full roundtable. It all depends on politics.

Roundtable committee prepares project recommendations

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

Dear Member of the Roundtable Executive Committee,

As transit advocates, we applaud the strong start that the Roundtable Executive Committee made last week when it chose seven transit projects to serve as the starting point for the region’s draft Transportation Investment Act project list.

As you consider your vote for a final draft list tomorrow, we urge you to adopt a package in which transit receives $4 billion – or roughly 60 percent – of the revenue to be generated by the TIA sales tax. We believe that this amount would allow the Executive Committee to provide appropriate support to the seven priority projects previously identified as well as to other worthy projects such as the I-20 East rail extension and the Regional Mobility Call Center. Please consider:

  • Only rail transit offers a viable alternative along our region’s most congested corridors.
  • Only rail transit offers a package of benefits that blends jobs creation, economic impact, the ability to
    move people reliably between major job and population centers, and a positive impact on surrounding
    real estate development.
  • Without the boost that only TIA can provide, Atlanta will increasingly compete at a disadvantage for jobs
    and young professionals with those cities that have found a way to build rail transit.
  • Since the lion’s share of non-TIA funding over the next decade will likely go to roads, only TIA allows
    the region to make significant progress on transit in the foreseeable future. Even with $4 billion in
    transit spending, transit will account for just 25 percent – 30 percent of the region’s total transportation
    spending over the next decade.

In addition, all signs indicate that transit is vital to a winning proposition next year. Recent public comments at Roundtable meetings, polls, surveys, focus groups and town halls confirm the public’s interest in transit.

A special tax should produce special results. Voters will know intuitively next year that we cannot make a difference in metro Atlanta’s traffic congestion if we do not do something different. With the population of greater Atlanta (20 counties) predicted to grow by 2.8 million by 2040, it should be clear to everyone that we’ll never have room for roads big enough to carry half again as many cars as we have today. That’s something that competitor cities and other major U.S. metro areas have realized, including Charlotte, Dallas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and even famously sprawling Los Angeles.

With your vote tomorrow, please send to the full Roundtable a draft list that makes it clear that our region intends to address tomorrow’s needs as well as today’s.

Thank you for your leadership and hard work.

Ray Christman

Executive Director, Livable Communities Coalition, on behalf of Fair Share for Transit and its 81 member
organizations

Transit: It’s fair and equitable

The task of identifying the region’s transportation priorities is a difficult one. As much as there has been a call for a spirit of regionalism during this process, the looming deadline to develop the draft final project list and the task of creating a vision that will appeal to voters in next year’s referendum challenges that spirit.

Despite those challenges, at Thursday’s Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable meeting, the roundtable executive committee selected in a 3 to 2 vote the following 6 transit projects for final consideration for the final project list:

  1. Clifton Corridor MARTA service at $700 million;
  2. Atlanta Beltline streetcar at $600 million;
  3. Atlanta to Cumberland northwest corridor light rail at $825 million;
  4. MARTA state of good repair at $500 million;
  5. Restore Clayton County bus service at $100 million;
  6. I-85 northeast corridor preliminary study and planning at $100 million.

With the Aug. 15 deadline looming, the politics of this process have begun to emerge. Several roundtable members voiced the concern that the process mandated by the Transportation Investment Act must yield a project list that not only appeals to voters but offers enough of a vision for the region to ensure next year’s referendum passes.

For Nathaniel Smith, founder and convener of Partnership for Social Equity, it is critical that organizations and citizens remain involved to ensure the roundtable process delivers solutions to all parts of the region.

“All communities are not created equal,” Smith says. “There are opportunities for us to strengthen communities that need additional help.

It is transportation that decides who the winners and losers are in the region.”

Even though the task for the day was limited to transit, the conversation strayed into questions about the intent of the Transportation Investment Act and revived debate about the regional good.

The politics of decision-making, as the roundtable approaches the Aug. 15 deadline raises concerns about the ability of the roundtable members to deliver something to their constituencies. At this time, the referendum will be held next summer, when many of the members of the roundtable will also have to survive primary elections.

The stark reality of voter reaction seems to weigh on the minds of roundtable members, especially those who represent areas on the outer edges of the region.

During the public comment period, several interests urged the roundtable to consider other transit projects, such as the Griffin commuter rail line an expanding transit service along Interstate 20.

Transit advocates continue to tout the long-term economic benefits of transit.

State Rep. Roberta Abdul Salaam is encouraged to see Clayton County bus service reon the roundtable’s initial transit list. More important, though, she desires for the roundtable to establish a vision where transit and roads not only peacefully co-exist but also ensure metro Atlanta remains competitive for the next several decades.

“If you are stuck on Georgia Highway 85 for any length of time, you have the same need for an outlet for transportation, public transportation as everybody else does,” Abdul Salaam explains. “The decisions they make now are going to affect the entire state for the next, 15, 20, 25 years or more.”

Roundtable considers options, demurs on commuter rail

At the Aug. 4 roundtable meeting, Georgians for Passenger Rail argued that the Griffin commuter rail line should be considered for the draft project list. According to a spokesman, the line meets all of the roundtable criteria for project selection. If the debate at Thursday’s roundtable is any indication, the group must still refine its vision, which will largely determine whether rails or roads will define metro Atlanta’s future.

DeKalb Commissioner May directs comments to Roundtable

DeKalb County Commissioner Lee makes the case to the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable for transit in the I-20 corridor at Thursday’s roundtable meeting.

During the meeting, the roundtable executive committee voted in favor of including 6 transit projects on the draft final project list. The process mandated by the Transportation Investment Act requires the roundtable to deliver a draft final project list by Aug. 15. The roundtable must deliver a final project list by Oct. 15.

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