Published on March 1st, 2016 |5
Transportation future: transit, walking, bicycling outpace new roads
What you will hear is a discussion on expanding mass transit, walkable communities and biking—including adding bike lanes to existing major roads throughout communities. After all, Durrett is a member of the MARTA board and an avid bicyclist.
The mid-February panel discussion, at the Atlanta Board of Commercial Realtors, did not favor those who get in a car to drive a block to get their nails done or buy a loaf of bread.
“A lot of transportation and open-space projects are set to begin in 2016,” Durrett told the audience of more than 70 on Feb. 17. “Everything is making existing roads more efficient. Creating new roads is not something we are getting involved in.”
Walkability. That is the key term. “Property values in walkable markets are on the rise,” said Durrett. “If something is walkable it should be transit accessible and bike friendly as much as possible.” He pointed out cars spend 95 percent of their time asleep.
“Never has so much been going on in the 20 years I have been involved with transportation,” Durrett said leading into the introduction of the panel members: Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission; Keith Parker, CEO of MARTA, and Becky Katz, the city of Atlanta’s Chief Bicycle Officer and the first in a major U.S. city.
Katz is making the rounds, meeting with community and professional organizations to promote biking as a major alternative way to get around.
Since her appointment in October by Mayor Kasim Reed, she has addressed the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, Buckhead Business Association and the Board of Commercial Realtors forum,
to mention just a few.
Most of the panel’s emphasis was on the premise that Millennials are shaping the future of metro Atlanta’s roads, rails and trails. Thus residents should expect to see more bikers and pedestrians, more buses and ride-share services, and possibly more heavy rail.
“The people who are driving the economy and will increasingly be driving the economy — and even people as old as I am — value these things,” said Durrett. “They don’t value long commutes. They don’t value being in their cars as much as we are today.”
Hooker pointed out statistics to back up Durrett’s point. “In 1983, 90 percent of 19-year-olds had a driver’s license,” Hooker said. “By 2014, 69 percent [did], and that number is dropping.”
The Atlanta region will be spending a great deal of money improving existing infrastructure and building new connections, Hooker said. He added that the master transportation plan also includes funds for “trying to give people more options for non-single-occupant vehicle mobility, whether ride-share, van pools, car pools, bicycling–which increasingly is a mode of choice for commuting, not just recreation.”
He said ARC’s research shows 84 percent of residents want expanded transit, 83 percent want thoughtful growth, 79 percent want active modes of getting around and 58 percent want more managed driving lanes.
Parker followed by saying MARTA is looking for ways to capitalize on those new options. “We’re trying lots of different things,” he said.
“We are going to be one of the first systems in the nation to look at connected vehicle technology where our buses can potentially talk to each other, and to stop lights, and other vehicles on the street,” Parker explained.
“We think we’re going to be one of the first agencies that will go all-in on autonomous vehicles at some point,” he said. “We think we can be the ones to own those vehicles. Where that first or last mile of connectivity doesn’t make sense to extend a bus route or try to extend a rail route, [you can] instead have an autonomous vehicle that you could connect to by using your MARTA app.”
Speaking of the agency’s gains in recent years, Parker pointed out that MARTA is second only to Maryland’s system in lowest incidents in major crimes. He said MARTA has a $2.6 billion economic impact on the region and supports up to 20,000 jobs. Its access to the airport is best in the U.S. and third best in the world.
Parker said MARTA has the best smart restrooms at its rail stations and is experimenting with mobile ticketing with smart phones. It is adding Wi-Fi on its buses and trains. And, MARTA is looking at a variety of bus sizes to provide more flexibility in servicing routes.
Parker told the audience the half-cent tax presently under consideration at the Georgia Legislature could generate about $4 billion, which could provide dramatic improvements to the rail and bus systems. However, Connect 400, the effort to expand MARTA heavy rail to Windward Parkway in Alpharetta, is dead, according to sources within MARTA and the Georgia Senate.
Katz told the crowd that Atlanta was taking measures to encourage bicycling as a means of commuting.
“All of you can wear exactly what you’re wearing right now, get on a bike, and get where you’re going,” she said to the suit-and-tie crowd of Realtors.
She said top priorities included safety measures and new bike lanes, which she said “are good for business, encouraging people to slow down and check out shops they might otherwise drive by.”
Katz said increasing commuting options would benefit more than just young people.
“There’s a lot of talk about millennials, the ones who want options, but I actually think secretly the baby boomer generation is driving a lot of this conversation and then ‘blaming’ the millennials,”
Advocating creating a safe structure for biking in the city and region, Katz told the audience, “This is not visionary. It is realistic. We can do this and we will do this together.”