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.

LOCUS

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.

LOCUS

15 communities selected to receive free smart growth technical assistance

A view of downtown Oklahoma City, OK by Flickr user Becky McCray. Oklahoma City is one of 15 communities selected to receive free technical assistance this year.

Smart Growth America is pleased to announce the 15 communities that have been selected to receive this year’s free smart growth technical assistance. Stretching from Maine to Washington State, these communities represent major cities, suburban communities, and rural towns, showing that all types of communities are interested in using smart growth strategies to build stronger local economies, create jobs and improve overall quality of life.

Technical assistance

LOCUS President Chris Leinberger promotes increased transit investment in Georgia

Last Wednesday, LOCUS President Christopher Leinberger traveled throughout the Atlanta metropolitan region meeting with political and business leaders to lend support for the upcoming Transportation Investment Act referendum and to advocate for public transportation’s unique role as a driver of the region’s economic development.

In 2010, Georgia lawmakers passed the Transportation Investment Act, which calls for a statewide vote on whether to raise sales taxes one cent in order to fund mass transit, road, and other transportation projects in the state. The legislation divides the state into 12 regions and allows elected officials from each region to choose certain transportation projects to be funded by the tax. Currently, regions are compiling their list of transportation projects to be placed for a vote in 2012 voters.

Joined by Ray Christman, Director of Livable Communities Coalition at a Georgia Passenger Rail Coalition sponsored press conference in downtown Atlanta overlooking the future Multi-modal Passenger Terminal, Leinberger delivered a presentation on the latest trends in real estate and how demographic shifts are pushing demand toward transit-oriented, walkable development, which, as Leinberger concludes, is the next critical component of metro Atlanta’s economic development portfolio.

LOCUS

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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Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads

Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.

State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.

Click here to read the full report, state-specific data and view the interactive map.

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U.S. mayors say no to new revenue for transportation without reform

Crossposted from Transportation for America’s blog.

A supermajority of America’s mayors surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors are clamoring for a reorientation in our nation’s transportation policy toward fixing what we have and investing in new options.

Ninety-eight percent of mayors identified affordable, reliable transit as crucial to their city’s recovery and growth, according to a survey of 176 mayors unveiled this week by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (right) on behalf of the Conference.

Commanding majorities favor an increase in the federal gasoline tax, but only if more funding is allocated to transit, biking and walking, and local governments are given greater discretion over project selection. Eighty-percent said new highway projects should be a low priority, preferring to focus on repairing and maintaining what we have. Federal financing tools like Build America Bonds or the TIFIA programs receive the support of 75 percent of mayors.

The mayors also agree with T4 America that finding new revenue sources for a larger transportation bill without changing any policies is a non-starter. Just 7 percent of respondents said they would support a gas tax increase without a shift in priorities.

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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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New report reveals smart transportation spending creates jobs, grows the economy

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” to win the future. To rebuild America, he said, we will aim to put “more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.”

A new report from Smart Growth America analyzes states’ investments in infrastructure to determine whether they made the best use of their spending based on job creation numbers. Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation evaluates how successful states have been in creating jobs with their flexible $26.6 billion of transportation funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Those results should guide governors and other leaders in revitalizing America’s transportation system, maximizing job creation from transportation dollars and rebuilding the economy.

According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that spent their funds predominantly building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs.

As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains, investments in transportation create jobs in the short term and longer term economic prosperity too:

Injecting money into transportation projects, the thinking goes, is an especially potent jobs-creation tool because it not only puts construction workers and contractors to work quickly, it also lays the groundwork for future economic growth and development. Obama predicted the transportation money alone would put hundreds of thousands of workers on the job.

As “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus” explains, not all transportation projects reap these benefits equally:

[S]tates spent more than a third of the money on building new roads—rather than working on public transportation and fixing up existing roads and bridges. The result of the indiscriminate spending? States missed out on potentially thousands of new jobs—and bridges, roads, and overpasses around the country are still crumbling. Meanwhile, the states that did put dollars toward public transportation were richly rewarded: Each dollar used on transit was 75 percent more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work.

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