Ballot measure offers Atlanta an alternative to gridlock


Traffic jam in Atlanta. Photo by Flickr user Matt Lemmon.

Though it won’t come as news to residents – or anyone who has visited the region – metro Atlanta has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. The worst, in fact, according to a 2006 ranking by Forbes. Metro Atlanta residents spend an average of 43 hours per year stuck in traffic, costing individuals an estimated $924 per year in lost productivity and wasted fuel. Moreover, years of auto-oriented suburban growth and lack of investment in the regions’ MARTA transit system means that commuters looking for an alternative to the gridlock are largely out of luck. The region’s rail system currently serves only a small percentage of metro Atlanta’s 4.1 million residents.

That could soon change, however. In what is being billed as a watershed moment for metro Atlanta, voters in the 10-county Atlanta region will go to the polls on Tuesday, July 31, to vote on a referendum to raise an estimated $7.2 billion for transportation projects aimed at relieving Atlanta’s congestion and building out its transit network. The Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) would raise the region’s sales tax by 1 cent for ten years. 85% of the funds raised would be spent on a list of regional transportation projects developed by a “regional roundtable” of elected officials. Approximately 52% would go to transit projects, including an expansion of the MARTA heavy rail system and the Beltline Light Rail. The remaining 15% would go to each county for local projects.

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Breathing new life into a symbol of Atlanta’s past


A rendering of the Atlanta BeltLine project. Photo courtesy of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. / Perkins + Will /  Field Operations. Used with permission.

Despite its reputation as a sprawling capital of the New South, Atlanta, GA is a city with a rich history and industrial legacy. Now, as part of the massive Atlanta BeltLine project, historic buildings that encapsulate the city’s past are being repurposed to meet the growing demand for walkable urbanism in the region. One such example of this type of revitalization is the Ponce City Market, which will restore the expansive Sears, Roebuck & Co. building in Atlanta.

The project is being developed by Jamestown Properties and Green Street Properties, and will bring new life to 1.1 million square feet of the old building which has been largely unused for over 20 years. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Sears, Roebuck & Co. building was built in 1926 to provide space for the company’s regional offices and a retail store. The building was expanded several times and even hosted farmer’s markets, but it closed in 1987. The city of Atlanta later purchased the building, but after renovations were delayed, sold it to a developer in 2006.

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Smart growth news – February 1, 2012

National News:

Transportation bill throws bones to GOP base
Politico – January 31, 2012

No earmarks, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, cutting Amtrak’s budget, forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and ending mandatory spending on bicycle and pedestrian paths — what’s a diehard Republican not to like?

LaHood announces fourth-round funding of TIGER program
Jacksonville Business Journal – January 31, 2012

The next round of TIGER funding, called TIGER 2012, will make $500 million available for surface transportation projects having a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or region.

Obama to Detail Housing Refinance Plan
Time – February 1, 2012

Obama on Wednesday was to draw attention to a proposal he outlined in his State of the Union address to allow homeowners with privately held mortgages to take advantage of record low rates, for an annual savings of about $3,000 for the average borrower. Obama was detailing his plan during a visit to a northern Virginia community center.

Chart of the Day: A Nation of Renters
The Atlantic Cities – January 31, 2012

Renting is on the rise – the number of housing units occupied by renters rose by 749,000 in the last quarter of 2011, according to the Commerce Department. According to this graphic, renters have surpassed buyers. Home ownership rates are also falling, at its lowest level since 1998.

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Smart growth news – August 16

Regional transportation list approved
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 15, 2011
Five mayors and county commissioners from across the Atlanta region made history on Monday, agreeing unanimously on a $6.14 billion list of transportation projects to be built across 10 counties, and paid for by the region as a whole if approved in a 2012 referendum.

EPA to help Lincoln spruce up
Omaha World-Herald (Neb.), August 12, 2011
With assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency, Lincoln city planners hope to transform the aging neighborhoods south of the State Capitol into a green and pedestrian-friendly place to live, work and shop.

Appealing remakes: Towns seem energized by revitalization
The Patriot-News (Pa.), August 16, 2011
Planners strengthened town-and-gown connections by reducing travel lanes to slow down drivers and encouraging the redevelopment of storefronts near the college. In addition, new businesses as well as a garden area appeared along the corridor. Now students and alumni alike know a walk is a journey into a resurgent downtown.

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The Ford Foundation hosts Just City: a forum on metropolitan opportunity

Today in New York, The Ford Foundation is holding a 75th anniversary event to explore how fairness, opportunity and equity can serve as defining features in the development of megacities and metro regions this new era of urbanization. The event includes speakers working on all kinds of issues related to cities, including mayors, transportation experts, academics, artists, business leaders, journalists, governors and federal lawmakers.

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Atlanta sees rising demand for smart growth

A demographic shift is happening in Atlanta: young, educated professionals are moving in to the city and bringing economic development with them. This new wave of talented workers isn’t looking to live just anywhere though. As an article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains, these new residents want to live in neighborhoods close in to the city, with apartments in walking distance to pubs, shops and restaurants. This emerging, economically powerful demographic wants smart growth features.

The article comes in the wake of CEOs for Cities‘ recent report The Young and the Restless in the Knowledge Economy, which explains that Atlanta is not alone in this trend. Young, talented workers are flocking to areas that use smart growth strategies – and employers are following them. As Joe Cortright, senior research advisor explains, “If you have [young, educated professionals], you attract employers and grow your economy. If you are attracting them, it’s usually a sign that your community is getting stronger.”

The fact that young, talented workers are moving to town centers and urban cores across the country is a major shift from the trends of the last generation, and one which CEOs for Cities believes will be crucial for the U.S. economy in years to come. Creating places where the vanguard of the 21st century economy want to live and work – places that are walkable with transportation options and shops and jobs – is helping Atlanta thrive, and it is a model for other regions across the country to follow.

Young professionals lead surge of intown living [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/13/11]

An energy has taken hold in the city of Atlanta, driven by young, college-educated professionals who want – and can afford – a lifestyle rich in variety, diversity and excitement, all close to home. They are moving in by the thousands, transforming abandoned warehouses into lofts, vacant lots into dog parks and communities long in decline into neighborhoods of choice.

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Livable Communities Coalition launches Fair Share for Transit campaign

At a rally yesterday in downtown Atlanta, the Livable Communities Coalition (LCC) launched its Fair Share for Transit campaign. Speaking at the rally, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed voiced his support for the initiative which is designed “to explain the benefits of and need for significantly increased investment in transit service for the metro Atlanta region.”

Atlanta is in the process of identifying major transportation projects for the region for the next decade, and Fair Share for Transit wants to make sure transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects are included. LCC Executive Director Ray Christman explained these transportation choices will help Atlanta economically: “We have to invest now in transportation alternatives that will boost the region’s economic competitiveness, help attract good jobs and improve the region’s quality of life.” Fair Share for Transit backers include private business groups and representatives of the health, disability, social equity, environmental, transit, bicycling and pedestrian communities. More than 20 businesses and groups have signed on to the campaign to date.

The Georgia General Assembly recently passed the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, and next summer residents of Atlanta’s 10-county region will vote whether to raise sales taxes one percent for 10 years in order to finance a number of much anticipated and much needed transportation projects. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, today “is the deadline for MARTA, the Atlanta region’s 10 counties and its cities and towns to get their desired projects to the state.” MARTA is not expected to set priorities until this summer, after the projects are initially reviewed by the state Department of Transportation’s director of planning and area elected officials. The campaign will continue until October 15th, when the final list of projects is announced.

Fair Share for Transit supporters include Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Buckhead Community Improvement District, Cherokee Area Transportation System, Citizens for Progressive Transit, CHA, Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Atlanta Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism, Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Georgians for Passenger Rail, Georgia STAND-UP, Georgia Transit Association, Hedgewood Realty, Henry County Chamber of Commerce, Resources for Residents and Communities of Georgia, RouteMatch Software, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Sustainable Solutions Georgia.

Formed in 2005, the Livable Communities Coalition is the Atlanta region’s smart growth advocate and catalyst. It unites nearly 60 organizations working to change the way metro Atlanta grows by focusing on land use, transportation, housing, and conservation of open green space and natural resources. Member organizations include regional leaders in the areas of aging, building and development, business, urban and landscape design, government, housing, planning, sustainable development, the environment, and transit and transportation alternatives.

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Forget homes and plastic surgery, new online video series promotes an "American Makeover"

The makers of a viral sensation from last year (Built to Last) are back with a new video series that takes a hard look at America’s collective frustration with sprawl and the smarter alternatives for growth and development happening in communities across the country. “With ugly sprawl everywhere you look in America, it’s time for a … Continued

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