Working to improve Atlanta's quality of life through smart growth
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ATLANTA – The Atlanta Regional Commission launched a series of tele town halls this week to educate metro residents about the Transportation Investment Act and solicity their thoughts about the region’s transportation priorities.
Monday’s town halls targeted residents of Henry County and Douglas County.
According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, more than 70,000 residents received a phone call Monday night with 9,632 Henry County and 5,600 Douglas County residents actually participating in the hour-long calls.
The full audio from each town hall is available on the Atlanta Regional Roundtable Web site.
“Not everyone can come to a public meeting,” Norcross Mayor and Regional Roundtable Chair Bucky Johnson said. ”This technology allows us to come to the public. We encourage everyone who is called to participate in shaping our transportation future.”
The last tele town halls will be held June 22 and will target Fulton and Clayton residents. The Atlanta Regional Commission expects the calls to reach more than one million residents in the 10-county region.
There are no silver bullets; nor are there silver bullet trains.
That is the crux of a recent Economist blog that responded to a Businessweek article about the emergence of Megabus service. Businessweek suggested Megabus may be a free market response to limited long-distance travel options that will revolutionize the industry and undermine the President’s ambitious plans to develop a high-speed rail network.
As The Economist blog notes, government subsidizes many of forms of transportation and has most notably subsidized air and ground travel at far greater rates than rail service.
Much has been made ofFlorida’s rejection of federal money to jump-start high-speed rail in the state. In the final analysis, it may very well not make the most sense to try to subsidize high-speed rail inFloridawhen other travel corridors in the Northeast, theMidwestor even other part of the Southeast have a more pronounced need.
Both the article and the blog look dubiously at the proposedTampatoOrlandoproject.
The lesson in this media tit-for-tat is that government does play an important role in identifying transportation priorities that help keepAmericaon the move. The key is for government to take a balanced approach based upon what meets the greatest need in particular corridor. Most likely, a blend of approaches will be needed.
While high-speed rail has generated a lot of headlines nationally, metroAtlantais having its own conversation about its transportation future.
My organization, the Livable Communities Coalition, has launched its Fair Share for Transit initiative to help prepare metroAtlantafor the looming transportation vote.
The referendum, scheduled for summer 2012, will ask voters whether they wish to use a one-penny ten-year sales tax to fund transportation improvements throughout the region – or not.
We feel there is a general consensus in the region that we can no longer afford to move about the region on our existing transportation network.
Moreover, our own poll conducted in 2010 shows there is support for an appropriate blend of transportation solutions.
Our Fair Share for Transit is focused on ensuring that transit would receive significant financial support in the event the referendum passes. In our view, a Fair Share for Transit means anywhere from 40 to 60 percent. Improving areas around transit centers by making those areas more walkable should also be included in that 40 to 60 percent.
This process brings to mind the Dyson vacuum cleaner commercials in which the company’s found James Dyson articulates quite brilliantly his company’s mission: “Solve the obvious problems others seem to ignore.”
There are a lot of obvious problems in our current transportation network. Delivering a more sophisticated transit system to the area is one obvious problem we can address, so let’s chip away at the obvious problems in order to make metro Atlanta greater.
The Metro Area Is Growing
The Atlanta region is expected to grow by more than 3 million people over the next 30 years. Almost half of this will come from the children of current residents. The additional growth will come from new residents attracted by the region’s mild climate and strong economic opportunities.
Population growth generates jobs and incomes, property values rise and tax revenues increase. But we must make good decisions about how we grow.
Just recently USA Today explored these issues in an article about Sunbelt cities, now grappling with the consequences of the housing bust and expectations for continued growth over the next 25 to 30 years. The recession has offered these “sunburnt” cities an opportunity to consider newer models that maintain and enhance their competitiveness in attracting new residents and businesses. Planning experts have started to argue that less is more.
Metro Atlanta finds itself in a similar predicament in planning for the expected growth. Just over the horizon the metro area will have the opportunity to pass a referendum that will allow the 10-county area to impose a one-cent sales tax to support transportation projects throughout the region to help relieve congestion and promote the area’s health growth.
The region’s growth and development involve many choices: where people will live, how the transportation system will work best, how to balance economic and environmental needs, and how to create communities where all citizens can attain the highest quality of life.
The Way We Grow Matters
Currently, Atlanta is the least densely developed region in the top 15 U.S. metro areas. Many current zoning regulations restrict the development of diverse and affordable housing near jobs, forcing “spread out” growth. This pattern is detrimental to our quality of life. It creates a lack of affordable housing near job centers, increases traffic congestion, and creates the need to build new infrastructure – straining our air, water and financial resources.
We Can Change the Way That We Grow
Growth doesn’t have to be something that just happens to us. We can harness the vitality of our region’s growth, and choose to create the highest quality of living for all of us and strengthen our business environment by accommodating growth in different and better ways.
By embracing smart growth for the region, we can create more housing choices closer to jobs, reduce traffic, increase our tax base and preserve green space.