Friday, July 29, 2011

Starting Big

The big news yesterday was adoption of "Plan 2040" by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). This is the long range, 30 year transportation project and program list as well as the 5-year list of stuff that will actually be built before the next plan update. The cool kids refer to the long range plan as the LRTP and the 5-year project list as the TIP ("Transportation Improvement Program").

The use of the word 'improvement' in transportation proposals has actually been a bit controversial, and is discouraged. After all, a change to a particular road may function as an improvement for, say, semi trucks but actually degrade conditions for, say, walking or bicycling. Or vice-versa. It's best to leave such subjective terms out of the project description.

The LRTP and TIP have been narrowed down from a large list of nearly every project that has ever been proposed. The current plan, which seeks to be comprehensive, also has land use forecasts and recommendations, and supplementary programs such as aging services. However, ARC does not control land use or offer any direct services. These functions are all conducted by city and county governments. It will take a bit of political maneuvering to bring this part of the plan to fruition.

The ARC board voted in favor of the plan, with two exceptions. One of these was the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed. I should point out here that representation is geographic, not population-based. Although he represents more people than any other city and many counties in the region, his vote is no more powerful than the City of Waleska (population 644). The dissenting votes were cast by members who thought the amount of transit in the plan was insufficient.

ARC staff were unable to state exactly how much transit funding was in the plan. There is no transit capital in the 5 year project list. Over the 30-year planning timeline, about 20% of the capital projects are for transit, 77% is roadway capacity and managed lanes, and just 3% is allocated to all other projects including pedestrian, operations & safety, capacity conversion, bicycle, and miscellaneous projects. The portion of funding going to programs and maintenance is a little more balanced in terms of transit share, but no better for bicycle and pedestrian projects. Those projects are mostly classified as 'travel demand management', meaning that they are intended to alleviate congestion by reducing car trips. But what about simple access and mobility for people who already can't or don't drive? By some estimates, that's about 30% of the population, when you consider children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, people who can't afford to own or operate a car, not to mention people who have chosen not to drive in order to obtain health or economic benefits. Maria Saporta has ongoing coverage of the issue in her online column.

How would you determine the right amount of transit funding? The right amount of funding for bicycle infrastructure? Will spending billions of dollars to widen roads improve quality of life, health, safety, or economic stability in our region?    

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


If you have been following this blog in the past, you noticed that my posts became less frequent and then stopped entirely. There were a number of reasons for this - I added new work and family commitments, lost my camera, and just didn't really feel like many readers were getting the message I was trying to convey.  Not to sound cynical, but after 5 years of cycling around Atlanta in dress clothes I had hoped that thousands of other people would realize it was doable and fun, and try it for themselves. And yes, we've seen an increase in bicycling for transportation. We've seen bicycles become trendy. We've seen more women and less spandex. But it's not enough in my opinion.

So, if you will bear with me, I'm changing the purpose and format of this blog. I'm going to focus less on my day-to-day observations in the city, and more on the things that could lead to big changes. Transportation funding. Zoning changes. Plans and policies. And because I am a scientist at heart, I am going to back it all up with tidbits of information that I find in my daily research. Stay tuned.