The Livable Communities Coalition

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

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Now’s the time to make transit a priority

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman.

The Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable is working towards developing a final list of transportation projects. Their charge is to determine which projects ensure a strong transportation vision for the region prior to next year’s transportation sales tax referendum.

The Livable Communities Coalition argues that transit is essential to that vision.

The Livable Communities Coalition launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative in part because metro Atlanta residents have started to demand more transit. Polls have found public attitudes have shifted, making it clear that it is time to look at options beyond roads in resolving our traffic woes.

Fair Share for Transit has found many supporters throughout metro Atlanta who share the belief that transit is essential to providing relief and to building a strong future.

Among the more than 70 organizations that have pledged their support for a Fair Share, there are some of the usual suspects: the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Citizens for Progressive Transit, Environment Georgia and the Sierra Club.

Then, there are the not-so-usual suspects like AARP Georgia, Cherokee County Transportation System, the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, and John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods that demonstrate broad-based support for a more significant transit presence in the region.

Metro Atlanta has changed a lot over the last 50 years; it’s clear the region needs to build a transportation network that will serve the region well for the next 50 years.

Let’s be honest: Transit has been neglected for years while, roads have continued to get more than their fair share.  We need roads and a public transportation network that offers a viable alternative to congested roads.

Fair Share for Transit’s list of recommended projects is our effort to identify the transit projects that promise the most bang-for-the-buck for the region by enhancing our existing transportation network with strategic transit investments.

Whether metro Atlanta voters will favor a 1-cent sales tax remains unclear; but, the success of the referendum depends on many variables, including selecting a final project list that offers the most promise to relieve congestion, promote growth and enhance quality of life.

The Livable Communities Coalition and its Fair Share for Transit supporters feel a roundtable decision to assure a strong transit future would be appropriate, given the historic under-investment in transit and the constraints of the gas tax, which is designated for roads and bridges only. The Transportation Investment Act is about building a strong transportation foundation for the future not possible through existing means.

There’s nothing arbitrary about investing in and expanding our transit assets to better serve the entire region.


Get a move on, or keep on keepin’ on?

Former Atlanta resident Curtis Mayfield once sang Keep On Keeping On.

Metro Atlanta now ponders whether it can afford to keep on keeping on when it comes to its transportation investments.

The Civic League for Regional Atlanta hosted a town hall Saturday focused on metro Atlanta’s transportation future.

The process mandated by the Transportation Investment Act calls for the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable to deliver a draft “constrained list” by Aug. 15.

Earlier this summer, the roundtable voted to have the Atlanta Regional Commission winnow the $23 billion list into an $11.5 billion list.

If the transporation tax referendum passes next year, it is anticipated it will generate $6.1 billion to improve metro Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure during the lifetime of the tax.

The list the roundtable produces for the Aug. 15 deadline will be their first stab at a generating a list that meets that $6.1 billion revenue projection.

According to Atlanta Regional Commission external affairs manager Kathryn Lawler, the roundtable has spent the summer listening to residents through a series of telephone town halls.

The roundtable has also heard from other constituencies, such as the Livable Communities Coalition and its Fair Share for Transit stakeholders. Fair Share for Transit originally called for a significant transit investment of 40 to 60 percent at its March launch.

More recently Fair Share for Transit delivered a white paper to the roundtable that calls for 66 percent of the projects on their draft list to be transit projects.

The Civic League’s Get a Move On town hall provided another opportunity for metro residents to deliver their message to the roundtable; yet, it remains unclear whether a true transit vision will emerge from this process.

Let’s not presume the worst: a reality check

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority released its cost estimates on the projects the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable will consider for the final project list.

Rather than clarify the picture, the agency’s estimates complicate the decision-making process for the roundtable.

Of particular concern to transit advocates is the impression GRTA’s numbers create: mainly, that transit projects are defined by cost overruns.

GRTA staff justify their decision to build in 30 percent cost overruns into their estimate by pointing to Denver’s experience in constructing its light rail line.

While it is true that Denver experienced cost overruns, it is misleading to suggest that cost overruns are part and parcel to transit projects.

The organization, Light Rail Now, points to a 1999 Government Accountability Office report that shows 60 percent of light rail projects had been completed on time and within budget, and that 79 percent had been completed on time and within 7 percent of projected budget.

Impressively, St. Louis constructed $355 million and $335 million segments of MetroLink on-time and under budget.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit accomplished similar results with the construction of their North Central and Northeast lines.

A University of Florida study reveals that construction delays and cost overruns are typical of highway construction projects, too. The University of Florida points to a number of problems from design to bidding, delaying completion and causing cost overruns. They recommend utilizing performance-based contracting standards to keep projects on-time and on-budget.

Part of the work that is taking place right now is to identify the projects that are best-suited in terms of planning, design and performance to be included in the final list. Arguably, it distorts the process to presume cost overruns on projects that best meet these criteria. After all, cost overruns are caused by the unexpected.

Meanwhile, the roundtables has asked GRTA to re-evaluate their criteria.

The roundtable also found it problematic that GRTA applied 20 years of operations and maintenance to the transit projects included on the list. The agency applied this standard even though the lifetime of the proposed transportation tax will only be 10 years.

It appears the summer of listening, as Atlanta Regional Commission external affairs manager Kathryn Lawler has described the roundtable’s work, must now compete with the politics that are inevitable as the project list gains definition.

Each county – and city – in the 10-county region has its defined interests in the project lists, but the message all along has been developing a list that works for entire county and is sufficiently appealing to voters to ensure the work that needs to be done to move the region forward.

To help that effort, there needs to be a commitment to presenting information that represents an accurate accounting of building a transportation network that includes pedestrians, cars, bikes, buses and trains.

Fair Share for Transit has made the case that the transportation investments the region needs right now are transit projects. We have shared our recommendation that the roundtable include $4 billion-worth (or 66 percent) of transit projects on their final list.

We cannot afford politics to get in the way of building a true regional transportation network. But, first, we must get the right list that communicates that vision.

There are lessons to be learned from Denver, but the lesson should not be that transit is inherently more prone to cost overruns.

Misery loves company

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

Last week, Atlanta Regional Commission staff released its draft list to the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable.

While the roundtable members ultimately will be the final decision-makers, the Atlanta Regional Commission staff list will offer some hints about the roundtable’s thinking.

To this point, roundtable members have argued the importance of getting the right list before voters prior to the summer 2012 referendum.

It has become clear that the roundtable believes transit must be part of the solution. The big question is: how much?

The Livable Communities Coalition launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative to help answer this question. The Livable Communities Coalition and its Fair Share for Transit supporters believe that in order to make a true difference in the region a fair share for transit has to be anywhere from 40 to 60 percent.

We have had transportation policies that have helped the region grow, but we have grown without looking sufficiently towards the future.

While our sprawling 1950s approach to growth attracted employers, created jobs and provided homes with modern comforts, our regional prosperity has come at a price: our traffic problem has made us miserable.

(Interestingly, a recent New York Times article explores how European policy-makers have developed defined policies to make drivers miserable. It is important to note that their approach is rather deliberate because at the same time they make drivers miserable they focus on creating viable alternatives for travelers by increasing bicycle lanes, investing in enhancing and expanding transit, and pursuing a seemingly radical idea of closing some roads to vehicles altogether. Here in metroAtlantawe have achieved a similar result through a different methodology.)

But now is the time to shape a different future.

Regionally, the anecdotal evidence shows us that we need much more than roads to ease our commutes. In fact, aUniversityofTorontoreport provides the empirical evidence that road-building creates more traffic, according to a recent NPR report.

The Transportation Investment Act enables the region to chart a different course in which cars and trains don’t compete against each other.

If metro Atlanta chooses to pass the referendum authorizing a 10-year 1-penny sales tax for transportation improvements, it will move the region forward by enabling integrated transportation investments. In short, it is our opportunity to create a true transportation alternative. It is becoming clear that we can never build enough roads. But we can provide alternatives.

We can set aside our misery, but we need to put in the work now.

The Livable Communities Coalition has done its homework to encourage a true regional conversation about our transportation future. With help from our partners, the Coalition has developed its own list of projects that we feel will maximize the region’s transportation investments.

While misery loves company, it’s bad policy if it does not offer options. It’s time metroAtlantamakes transportation investments that are deliberate and designed to enhance quality of life across the region.

Become a fan of Fair Share for Transit

Roundtable works towards draft list

The Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable received Thursday the Atlanta Regional Commission’s staff-developed transportation project list. The roundtable had requested the agency staff to narrow the $23 billion unconstrained list down to an $11.5 billion project list.

Significantly, the ARC staff list includes $5.5 billion for transit projects.

The roundtable must now pare the ARC list down to $6.1 billion, the amount of revenue projected to be generated by the 1 penny sales tax over its 10-year life.

The Livable Communities Coalition launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative to make the case that the region must use this
opportunity to enhance and expand transit.

From the outset, our goal has been to ensure that 40 to 60 percent of the projects on the final list are transit projects.

We are pleased to see a significant commitment to transit in the ARC staff list. We hope that the roundtable members share a similar commitment to transit as they work towards generating their $6.2 billion draft by Aug. 15.

The roundtable has found through poll data, focus groups and telephone town halls that there is a public appetite for more transit options through rail, bus, bike – and by foot.

The Livable Communities Coalition – along with its Fair Share for Transit partners – will evaluate the transit and safe-routes-to-transit projects included in the ARC staff list. Through that process we will generate our own list of projects that we think will help the region enhance mobility, quality of life and its economic competitiveness.

Yesterday’s list is a good start because it reflects a serious commitment to those principles. And now, the devil will be in the details.

Other responses from around the community:

Cut Road Widening, Not Transit Projects

Rebecca Watts Hull, Executive Director Mothers & Others for Clean Air

It is wonderful to see such strong public support for transit expansion with the TSLPOST funding. Metro Atlanta residents clearly want the opportunity to spend less time trapped in their cars.

At the same time, our health leaders know that many of us, who struggle to squeeze exercise into our busy schedules, would benefit from a brisk walk to that new light rail station, rather than a sedentary car commute. They also know we will all breathe easier when (if?) metro Atlanta FINALLY meets federal clean air standards, and that we cannot get there without reducing vehicle miles traveled.

Given the overwhelming public support for more transit options and the clear public health need for car alternatives, why, then, would ARC staff cut Gwinnett’s light rail line and the Griffin commuter rail line on the TSPLOST list?

Given how far behind Atlanta’s transit system has fallen in relation to other large metro areas, we need to keep as many commute alternatives as possible on the TSPLOST project list.

The 10–year tax will not be able to support every transit project on the unconstrained list, but these projects certainly should take priority over road widening projects, many of which do remain on the list.

Atlanta’s experience very clearly demonstrates that new lanes fill up within a year, leaving residents and commuters with just as much congestion and even worse air quality. We urge ARC staff and the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable to consider impacts on air quality and public health as they evaluate the revised project list.

An Open Letter to the Roundtable

Eric E. Jacobson, Executive Director, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities


Pat Puckett, Executive Director, Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia



Dear Atlanta Regional Roundtable Member:

On behalf of the State Independent Living Council of Georgia (SILCGA) and the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), we applaud your work on behalf of transportation improvements for the Atlanta region.

You and the staff of all participating agencies have worked tirelessly to develop meaningful investments for the people of our region. These investments if approved by the region’s voters will pay dividends in the years ahead in employment and economic development, livability, and opportunity for all our citizens. Thank you for your efforts on our behalf.

We have communicated our thoughts and concerns regarding the development of projects to you in past meetings of the Regional Roundtable.

We now request that you give high priority to transit expansion, improved access to transit, and mobility-enhancing projects which are on the attached list (with supporting rationale provided).

This requested list of projects would provide balanced improvements for all areas in our region, make transit more widespread and accessible, and link all these efforts through a mobility management system which would benefit every element of our community.

What we heard from the areas of the country which have experienced transportation referenda at the Roundtable meeting on July 7 convinces us that a list like the attached would “sell” in our region.

And, more importantly, this list would benefit everyone in the region through economic growth and accessible, widespread transportation improvements to put Atlanta at the forefront of positive transportation development.

Thank you for your consideration, and your hard work!

Summer of listening informs transportation priorities


ATLANTA – With nearly 1 million residents reached over through a series of tele town halls, the process mandated by the Transportation Investment Act reaches a critical point at which the region’s wishes must be tempered by reality.

As Georgia Department of Transportation planning director Todd Long voiced last week, it is time to get real, “roll up your sleeves and pick projects.”

The Atlanta Regional Roundtable members then voted to assign the task of winnowing the unconstrained list to Atlanta Regional Commission staff.

On July 7, Atlanta Regional Commission staff will present their draft transportation list, reflecting their work in paring the $23 billion unconstrained list down to $11.5 billion- worth of proposed projects.

From there, the Roundtable will have to roll up their sleeves and pick projects.

Each of the tele town halls yielded information that should give the Roundtable members direction – and some political cover.

During the Fulton County tele town hall, an informal poll showed that 24 percent of respondents favored improvements to the I-285 and Georgia 400 interchange, 51 percent favored establishing transit in the BeltLine corridor and 25 percent expressed neither is important.

Clayton County residents participated in the last tele town hall and showed a strong preference (65 percent) for restoring bus service in the county.

Similarly, DeKalb County and Cobb Country participants favored rail expansion. Even Gwinnett County fell in line.

These informal results affirm what many other polls have found:  metro Atlanta residents have come to accept that transit is important to the region’s future.

The challenge for the Roundtable will be to select the right transit projects that offer the most promise to the entire region while also serving the entire region.

Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker seems to understand that point well.

“What I learned very quickly [as mayor] is that we [residents of Johns Creek] are really part of a bigger eco-system – that eco-system being metro Atlanta,” Bodker said during the Fulton County tele town hall. “I believe all of our quality of life will collectively be improved if we can fix the system and make it work better.

That’s my goal in this process.”

If the Roundtable selects the right projects for the October 15 deadline, then metro residents may pass the one-cent sales tax in a vote scheduled for summer 2012.

If the Roundtable does not, metro Atlanta’s world-class transportation aspirations will collapse, for a skeptical public is already wary of another tax.

As a WSBTV poll shows, currently only 33 percent of metro Atlanta residents favor passing the tax.