Archive for June, 2010

5% Day at Whole Foods Market Briarcliff


Shop for a cause at Whole Foods Market Briarcliff! On Wednesday, June 30, Whole Foods Market will donate 5% of their net sales to the Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition. Funds will be used for the continual development of the Confluence Trail system along the North and South forks of Peachtree Creek. Stop by the Briarcliff location to show your support and help raise important funds for the LLCC!


June 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

Atlanta leaders hope streetcar proposal will win in second round of U.S. TIGER grants

Maria Saporta

Maybe the second time will be the charm.

The City of Atlanta hopes the federal government will give its streetcar plan a green light during the second round of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants.

City leaders are presenting their revised streetcar proposal to the Atlanta City Council this week and need the full council’s approval before July 16 when pre-applications are to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Atlanta and Georgia did not fare well during the first round of TIGER grants — when $1.5 billion were distributed to transportation projects across the nation. In the first round, the federal government was offering 100 percent of the funding.

This round is not quite as generous. Only $600 million will be

Read more…

June 16, 2010 at 5:53 pm Leave a comment

Opportunity exists to create a regional transit system; new leaders at the helm

— from – Maria Saporta

A transit evolution is underway in metro Atlanta.

But what form it will take is still a mystery.

What key regional leaders do know — the status quo is no longer acceptable.

The incremental progress for transit is literally running on parallel tracks.

On one track is the state legislature and the state government. After several years of inaction, the state legislature passed a transportation bill that will permit regions to vote on a penny sales tax two years from now.

The bill was flawed, however, because it singled out MARTA — stipulating that none of those sales tax revenues could go to existing MARTA operations. The bill also mandated a new governance structure for the MARTA board and established a transit subcommittee to review how the region will invest in transit and who will make those decisions.

On the second track is the multi-year effort to create a regional transit plan and governance body — a process driven by leaders from the Atlanta region.

That effort, currently known as the Regional Transit Committee of the Atlanta Regional Commission, held a daylong retreat on June 2 when several ground-breaking developments occurred that could have a major impact on where we go as a region.

The goal for the retreat was to come up with a governance structure for transit in the region and to elect a chairman and vice chairman.

But perhaps the most significant development that occurred at the retreat was when MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott and Kirk Fjelstul, interim director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority urged the group to be bold.

Up until now, the consensus has been to create a new regional transit oversight committee enabling each of the operators — MARTA, Cobb County Transit, GRTA Xpress buses and others — to keep their autonomy.

In short, under this model, there would be no consolidation of individual transit operations and therefore limited opportunities for operational cost savings. That means each entity would continue to have its own human resources, legal, finance, security departments.

“We have got a real opportunity and a platform to really consider transit governance,” Fjelstul said. “We want to make sure that with the transit funding we have, the public needs to have confidence that we will spend it well.”

Scott said this was an opportunity to truly integrate regional transit.

Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, admitted that the reason the umbrella model had been proposed was because there was “a certain amount of comfort” to keep each entity intact.

But with GRTA and MARTA leaders urging for greater consolidation, Leithead said it was time to revisit the issue.

“If those two most significant agencies would like to do something more bold, more aggressive and more significant, we can do that in this room,” Leithead said at the retreat.

Although proposing a consolidated metro transit agency wasn’t on the agenda of the Regional Transit Committee work session, the idea and the opportunity is real.

And now the metro leadership to help mold the future for transit in the region is in place.

At the retreat, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was elected chairman of the transit effort, and Gwinnett County Chairman Charles Bannister was elected vice chairman. The balance was both symbolic and significant. A mayor and a county chairman. A MARTA jurisdiction and a suburban county. Two localities that have transit and need more.

And both Reed and Bannister, who served together in the legislature, acknowledge that the transportation bill just signed by the governor did not do enough for MARTA and transit.

In an earlier conversation before he was elected chairman, Reed was asked whether he agreed with critics who believe MARTA was shortchanged in the transportation bill.

“I think the criticism is fair,” Reed said, adding that the bill is helping MARTA in the near-term by removing the restriction that half of its sales tax revenue must go to capital and half to operating for three years.

“We now have the opportunity to move the conversation around MARTA, and in subsequent years improve the legislation,” Reed said. “In another legislative session, you will continue to improve the bill.”

After the retreat, Reed said: “I’m just ready to go to work. I think this is a strong partnership, and I want to be a strong partner to the region.”

Bannister said it was “time to get something done.” The region has spent years talking about transit, and Bannister said that “I would like to pick it up a notch and move forward.”

Specifically, Bannister said the transportation bill needed to be improved. “Certainly we’ve got to do more for transit in another bill,” he said.

The retreat also agreed on a governance structure for a new transit agency — even though this proposal did not take into account what a consolidated transit system could look like.

The group agreed that the 20 counties that are included in the “Concept 3” regional transit plan would be eligible to be part of the new governance structure.

But to have voting rights, all representatives on the new board would have to have to meet some “pay to play” standard For example, a county would have to have put in place some kind of funding for transit to have a vote on the board.

The group also decided that each participating county would select a mayor from that county to serve on the board. Plus, the mayor of Atlanta automatically would be on that board.

Lastly, the board would include an appointee by the governor, the lt. governor and the speaker of the house. There was some discussion about whether the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation would have a seat on the board.

The sensitivity on this issue is that the State of Georgia, with the exception of GRTA buses, has not provided regular financial support to the region’s transit operations, particularly MARTA.

The RTC group also is studying how to design a weighted voting system so that the more populated counties that contribute the most to transit will have a proportional voice on the board.

At the same time this work is going on, the legislature also has its transit governance subcommittee, and it is unknown how much coordination there will be between the legislative efforts and the Atlanta region’s efforts.

But Leithead he sees both efforts melding into one rather than ending up in a head-on collision.

“The Regional Transit Committee and the legislative Transit Subcommittee will collaborate because there’s so much overlap,” Leithead said.

But the real opportunity that is unfolding is that the Atlanta region is starting to think about consolidating all our disparate transit agencies into one integrated system — fulfilling the original vision of four decades ago when MARTA was supposed to be a five-county transit agency.

“I think there will be a commitment to have a fully integrated transit system,” Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said after the work session. “I think there will be a commitment to do this, but there will need to be a transition plan.”

At least now we have a courageous goal to work on — creating a regional Atlanta transit system once and for all.

June 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

Workforce Housing: Rules Have Changed, Game Remains the Same

— from the Livable Communities Coalition

Jobs are scarce.  Houses are empty.  Why are we talking about workforce housing again?

Fair enough question–one the Livable Communities Coalition anticipated as it presented its study of workforce housing in DeKalb County to the public on May 24th.  After all, the plummet in housing values and scores of partially developed lots around the County suggests that housing affordability is no longer an issue for everyday working households.

So to get things started, the Coalition presented its point of view:  the lull in a once-frenzied housing market is actually the perfect chance to step back, assess, and plan ahead to accommodate housing for the people needed to make DeKalb (or any major urban county) hum–firefighters, teachers, police officers, recent graduates, young professionals, nurses, airline agents, even  seniors.

Turns out that was a no-brainer for the people in the audience, who understood a lack of workforce housing affects people of all incomes–especially by way of traffic congestion.  Workforce households generally  earn $33,000 to $66,000 a year in DeKalb–enough to own a reasonable home, or rent a decent apartment.  But DeKalb’s rather limited housing options for those working in such jobs often prevent them from benefitting as residents themselves, particularly without the high-cost barrier of long commutes.

So what is DeKalb to do?   The answer sounds more appropriate for environmental problems, but it applies just the same:  Recycle!

Considering today’s limited resources, A New Roadmap for Workforce Housing in DeKalb County‘s main message is clear:  Use what you already have! Comparing DeKalb’s existing issues against its desire to decrease traffic, attract business, and adapt to changing socio-economic realities (such as an aging housing stock, retiring baby boomers, tighter credit, and higher gasoline prices) some of the report’s recommendations include: 

·       Invest in housing rehabilitation programs that educate and support homeowners and landlords on home maintenance and repair, so workforce units are not lost to decline.
·       Incentivize workforce housing construction around some of DeKalb’s most valuable but under-utilized assets:  its MARTA stations.
·       Provide down-payment and home rehabilitation assistance programs for qualified workforce families but require this assistance to be repaid for re-use by others.
·       Establish a land bank so that abandoned properties can be revitalized for workforce households.

The report, numbering over 100 pages, contains many other recommended strategies, and will be presented to the DeKalb Coutny commissioners on June 15.  Look out for it on the Coalition’s website in the coming weeks.

June 8, 2010 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

City needs parking policy that promotes people-friendly streets

Filed under: Guest Columns — Maria Saporta @ 6:20 am
By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS: a Georgia Tech professor of architecture and planning who also served as the city of Atlanta’s commissioner of planning, development and neighborhood conservation from 1996 to 2002. Dobbins also is author of a new book: ‘Urban Design and People.’
Parking is about a lot more than storing cars and generating revenue.

Parking, and in the current situation on-street parking, is about access and walkability, retail, restaurant and residential viability, and altogether the character – the attractiveness and functionality – of the more intense parts of town.

Various studies have confirmed the common sense that cars parked at on-street parking spaces provide a positive frame for a good quality pedestrian environment. They enable not just real and perceived access for car passengers but they also protect pedestrians, streetlights, trees, and sitting places from the rush of curbside traffic.

For retailers, restaurateurs, and other businesses, they provide the promise and often the reality of more convenient access from which their businesses benefit. For urban dwellers, they provide parking for residents and their visitors, conveniences that complement other amenities for those choosing to live in urban scale communities.

For those businesses, residents, and visitors who choose to imbibe in urban life, then, supporting that choice becomes an important policy matter for local government. Leading up to the Olympics and for the most part ever since Atlanta has retooled its policy mix to support and encourage those who want to make the urban choice, whether for locating the workplace or the home or for shopping, entertainment, or cultural and sporting events.

Zoning overhauls, development incentives, streetscape and wayfinding improvements, locating venues for broad audiences, and other initiatives have provided the base from which the city has stimulated its ongoing turnaround. It has attracted to its diversity of places the people, employers, and attractions that have lifted it out of its suburban-driven, white flight decades of decline.

To now make parking policy choices that reverse this progress, very likely for lack of understanding the larger implications, would be a significant setback. It would fly in the face of the policies that have made the city an ever-improving environment to attract the growing markets of seniors, empty-nesters, jaded suburbanites, and people moving from other places who are finding positive choices in the city.

Even so, the government — our representatives in our collective ownership of the city’s streets — is responsible for their management and collecting the revenue generated by the use of the streets for parking.
As many businesses have correctly pointed out, however, the current parking arrangement directly threatens their prospect for generating revenue, much of it taxable at one level or another.

The city has responded, wisely, by declaring a moratorium on the privatization agreement that they entered into last year, with a view toward reviewing and hopefully reworking that agreement.

At least two tracks should be taken in this review: 1) how to establish a parking policy that will reinforce, instead of threaten, its urban-friendly policies that have been successful from the mid-nineties; 2) generate a cost-benefit analysis of the current parking contract that takes into account not just the narrowly conceived parking revenue/enforcement arrangement but also estimates the certain declines in overall revenues that maintaining the current contract would cause.

It would appear that what happened is that the deal struck took into account neither of these lines of analysis. Instead, the machines and their two hour limit and 24/7 enforcement seem the simplest and most remunerative for the private partner. One size fits all, even though the streets and their use for parking are widely variable.

The city must see the people, the owners of its streets, as customers with varying needs and in the context of attracting ever more customers instead of closing the gate to them. Such a comprehensive analysis might lead to a whole different approach to the more complex problem.

For example, areas with substantial retail, restaurants, in-and-out businesses, and residential densities could use more on-street parking not less. This could be accomplished by opening up and metering “no parking” streets for parking during the off-peak hours that presently bar parking – even Peachtree Street.

Except during the peaks, there are few if any streets in the higher intensity parts of the city that have traffic congestion problems. Yet because of their very densities and diversity of activities, such streets could generate considerable parking revenue. To compensate for the heightened enforcement required during the peaks, the penalties could be more severe, using high fines and towing to cover the costs.

Regardless of the outcome of that idea, the 24/7 enforcement is a killer — the City should get rid of it, unequivocally. No one will come to eat, entertain, take in events, or even choose to live in an environment so draconian. It is killing the very street life that makes a city a city.

Surely the fancy new toll machines are sophisticated enough to program much more time-sensitive collection and recording apparatus to turn the whole of the parking enterprise into one that is sensible and welcoming, while still generating greater parking revenues than in the past.

The enforcement period should vary, like for peak hours, and its baseline should allow parking without fees from something like between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. For a city that wants to attract people, the goal should be to balance people’s access needs with legitimate and appropriate penalties for abuse of the access system.

Parking policy is vital to Atlanta’s future as a place of urban excellence.

June 7, 2010 at 8:56 pm Leave a comment

Good neighborhoods have lots of intersections

Grist admin avatar badge avatar for Jonathan Hiskes by Jonathan Hiskes

It’s a little counterintuitive, but it turns out that having lots intersections is really important for neighborhood walkability and transit use. A new study on Travel and the Built Environment by planning scholars Reid Ewing and Robert Cervero finds that “intersection density” is the single most important measurement for understanding what keeps folks out of cars.

Pedshed summarizes:

Of all the built environment measurements, intersection density has the largest effect on walking – more than population density, distance to a store, distance to a transit stop, or jobs within one mile. Intersection density also has large effects on transit use and the amount of driving.

Visually:maps(Larger version)


These images represent the same total area, yet differ vastly in how well streets connect to each other. More connections=more walkable. This is why Dave wants fewer dead ends in his own neighborhood when he puts on his city planner hat.

More good summary, with a slightly different focus, from Kaid Benfield, an influential Smart Growth blogger at NRDC:

The study’s key conclusion is that destination accessibility is by far the most important land use factor in determining a household or person’s amount of driving.  To explain, ‘destination accessibility’ is a technical term that describes a given location’s distance from common trip destinations (and origins).  It almost always favors central locations within a region; the closer a house, neighborhood or office is to downtown, the better its accessibility and the lower its rate of driving.  The authors found that such locations can be almost as significant in reducing driving rates as other significant factors (e.g., neighborhood density, mixed land use, street design) combined.

The clear implication is that, to enable lifestyles with reduced driving, oil consumption and associated emissions, environmentalists should continue to stress opportunities for revitalization and redevelopment in centrally located neighborhoods.  As Ewing and Cervero put it:  ‘Almost any development in a central location is likely to generate less automobile travel than the best-designed, compact, mixed-use development in a remote location.

Benfield mentions a point I’ve been trying to address: “It also makes me wonder why more environmental groups, clearly incensed at BP and the Gulf oil spill, aren’t paying more attention to land use.” He’s right — transportation and land use are what climate policy looks like outside our front doors.

June 7, 2010 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

American Makeover: Sprawlanta

American Makeover is a six-part web series on new urbanism, the antidote to sprawl.

Episode 1 was filmed on location in Atlanta, Georgia and Glenwood Park, a new urbanist influenced neighborhood near downtown Atlanta.

Watch Video

June 4, 2010 at 6:38 pm Leave a comment

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