The Livable Communities Coalition

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

Category Archives: Aggregation

New year begins amid uncertainty about region’s future, transportation


Mayor Kasim Reed asks, “Really?!”

At this morning’s roundtable meeting, the conversation about GRTA prompted Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to comment on the roundtable’s priorities. Read more in the SaportaReport.

Anti-transit myth #4: Transit does not relieve congestion

Myth 4: Transit does not relieve congestion.

Excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

Transit can and often does relieve congestion. St. Louis’s MetroLink light rail line provides a good example. MetroLink’s singe 18-mile [line] carried 14.2 million passengers in 1999. According to a 1997 riders’ survey, 69 percent were commuting to work. Most were doing so in rush hours, when highway congestion is at its worst. And only 27 percent of MetroLink’s riders either did not drive of had no car available.

The fact of the matter is that some kinds of transit have a strong effect on highway congestion, but other kinds do not. In general, buses running on city streets have little effect on congestion, because they do not prove a better level of service than the autos that impede their flow.

One study after another shows that high-quality transit, especially rail transit, can reduce congestion.

And what about the myth that a rail transit line has less capacity than a single lane of freeway or even a major arterial road? The facts are clear enough:

The basic problem with urban/suburban freeways is that they take a up so much space for the capacity they deliver. At 1500 cars per lane per hour, a six-lane freeway’s maximum capacity is about 11,000 people per hour…within a 300 foot right of way. Urban rail systems can deliver as much more capacity in 100 foot or less [right of way]. The Dallas light rail line when completed to Garland and Richardson will be able to deliver at least 20% more hourly capacity than a six lane freeway (13,760 people per hour) at 14% less capital cost per mile. Heavy rail systems like the Washington Metrorail have five times the capacity of a six lane freeway in about one third the space and cost about the same per mile as the Century Freeway in Los Angeles.

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

Poll shows growing support for transit

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

Independence. Choice. Control.

For many of us metro Atlanta’s traffic woes have limited independence, choice and control in our everyday lives.

In a recent article by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ariel Hart, a poll shows residents of metro Atlanta are eager for more transportation choices.

The article cites changing attitudes towards transit in Atlanta’s suburban communities.

A big question in this time of economic uncertainty is whether the area is willing to pay for a more sophisticated transportation network that includes a greater share for transit.

The Livable Communities Coalition takes the position that the area is ready to make an investment in its future. Polls conducted by the Livable Communities Coalition in 2010 and by the former metro Atlanta Transportation Planning Board in 2008 help show this is a distinct trend.

The good news is that metro Atlanta has an opportunity to assert independence, choice and control through the Transportation Investment Act, which will allow voters in the ten-county area to either approve or reject a proposed one-cent sales tax that would help critical transportation improvements throughout the region.

Of course, voters will want to know whether transportation improvement projects can deliver on the promise of enhanced mobility.

As we speak, transportation leaders elected by us are evaluating the projects submitted by communities throughout the region to determine which projects should be included in a final transportation list. This will be the list available to voters prior to the summer 2012 sales tax referendum.

The Livable Communities Coalition seeks the time permitted by this evaluation process to facilitate a region-wide conversation about our transportation future. Accordingly, we have launched a public education initiative we call a Fair Share for Transit.

We feel that a significant commitment to transit is what this region needs to build a foundation for a strong future and to help everyone in the region have more independence, choice and control than we currently have.

As State Rep. Mike Jacobs noted at our launch, the success of the transportation referendum depends on our ability to ensure the right projects end up on that final list. Let’s make sure your voice is heard by pledging a transit receives its fair share.

Time to talk: Mobility dollars and cents

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

Now that the most recent tax season has just ended, we can begin to get to the dollars and cents of the Transportation Investment Act.

Local governments throughout the region submitted their transportation wish lists to the Georgia Department of Transportation on Mar. 30.

And, as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ariel Hart notes in her Sunday article, our regional leaders seem to recognize the value of transit in delivering a fair share of the solution.

Metro Atlanta is not alone in pondering a different transportation. Cities in America’s heartland like Indianapolis and Kansas City have begun efforts to bring transit to their communities. Then, there are other cites like Charlotte, Dallas, Denver and Houston who have recently introduced new transit service – to acclaim.

We, at the Livable Communities Coalition, firmly believe that metro Atlanta must have a first-rate public transit network that serves the entire region and helps us compete nationally and internationally.

This is not a head-in-the-clouds aspiration; rather it is firmly based in the reality that metro Atlanta must have unified transportation planning that increasingly offers choices that help make our lives easier, more enjoyable and more profitable.

Let’s also be clear. We will have to pay for a new transportation future that better integrates our roads, buses, trains – and our desire to have better, more walkable communities.

That’s why the unconstrained list is so important.

First, we must identify the potential projects that promise to deliver value. Then, the Regional Transportation Roundtable is charged with the responsibility of identifying the projects that promise to deliver the most value.

The next few months will offer us the opportunity explore the merits of the projects included in the unconstrained list and evaluate whether they will deliver on the promise of value. That process has already begun with Ms. Hart’s coverage in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

If metro Atlanta demonstrates it is serious about its transportation future by selecting the right projects, we feel voters will support that kind of investment in the future – a future firmly based in a comprehensive transportation network that includes transit service that is easy to use and convenient to an increasing number of destinations.

AJC editorial board endorses regional transportation sales tax

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

IN THE NEWS – When I get to the office on Monday mornings, I make a habit of reading the headlines and the editorial sections from some of my favorite news sources and from others which I consider required reading.

This week I was glad to see an op-ed from The AJC editorial board endorsing the idea of a regional transportation sales tax.

As some of you may already know, our local governments – both cities and counties – have been working to provide an “unconstrained” list – unconstrained, at this point, by dollar spending limits – of transportation priorities to respond to the mandate in lastyear’s Transportation Investment Act.

Specifically, that mandate requires the region to develop a final transportation list prior to the referendum scheduled for summer 2012. That referendum will provide voters an opportunity to approve or reject a one-cent sales tax intended to fund transportation improvements throughout the region.

The AJC editorial board correctly notes that the region must seriously address its transportation problem in order to help the region remain competitive. They are also correct in calling for the kind regional cooperation that has not existed in the past when it comes to the issue of transportation.

The op-ed is silent, however, on the need for transit to be a significant part of any regional transportation-improvement effort. We think that’s crucial. On Mar. 29, the Livable Communities Coalition and 30 partner organizations launched our Fair Share for
initiative to make that very point. In our opinion, a Fair Share for Transit on the final transportation list would include – at a minimum – 40 percent for transit or transit-related projects.

It is still early in the conversation, and we may still find that The AJC editorial board agrees with us. In the meantime, I applaud the editorial board for identifying what’s at stake for all of us in their editorial. I hope a future editorial will tackle the importance of seeing a very significant share of funding – a fair share in our view – dedicated to public transportation, bike and pedestrian improvements.

To learn more about a Fair Share for Transit or our launch event, please visit us online or become a “fan” of the Livable Communities Coalition on Facebook.

USA Today profiles “Sunburnt” cities

Even cities like Ft. Worth have discovered the value of transit in increasing mobility and promoting economic development.

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.

No good deed goes uncontested

Critics are grumping about news of the long-awaited return of streetcars to Atlanta streets.  One observer writes, “Honk if you’ll still be stuck in traffic after we build this.”

Well, of course.

Atlanta’s first modern streetcar line is slammed by some because the $72 million streetcar line will run only between Centennial Olympic Park and the King Center and draw only 2,600 weekday riders.

But then that’s the funny thing about networks, including transportation networks.  One link doesn’t make a network.  Yet there is no other way to begin.  Metro Atlanta has to start somewhere.

Atlanta’s first modern streetcar is meant to be a link, connecting to the future streetcar line that will run north-south along Peachtree Street; to the BeltLine along Edgewood Avenue; and to other lines yet to be designed, all the while delivering riders to destinations along its route and to MARTA rail and bus stops.

Colleagues in cities like Portland tell us that their first links were criticized, too. Kudos to Mayor Reed, to Central Atlanta Progress and to MARTA for their vision and for securing the grant that enables the first step.

It’s not about one link.  It’s about the network.