One of the first of many public meetings on Atlanta’s new transportation plan was held Feb. 21 in Buckhead, where residents voiced a mix of skepticism and hope for more details and action.
Dubbed “Atlanta’s Transportation Plan,” the effort is an update to the Connect Atlanta Plan, which was adopted in 2008. The city’s needs have changed greatly since then, Planning Commissioner Tim Keane said. The economy is far different today, population has increased and development permits are being issued more often.
Paul Moore, a consultant working with the city, presented the plan’s basic concepts for the 30 people who went to the meeting at the Atlanta International School. Actual project proposals will come later.
The public had a chance to ask questions and express what they think the plan should include, as well as use interactive exhibits to mark with stickers what improvements should be a priority.
One of the main focuses outlined in the plan is reducing the reliance on cars as people’s main form of transportation. Cars are a much less efficient use of space on roads than public transportation or biking, so Moore said a priority would be making buses and MARTA more convenient and improving bike paths. Adding sidewalks in needed areas is also part of the plan in the hopes more people will begin walking instead.
The Atlanta area is expected to grow by 2.5 million over 25 years, Commissioner Keane said. “We think that the city’s growth over the next 25 years will be much more substantial than it has been the last 25 or 50 years,” he said.
“The reality is that it is very important that many, most or maybe all of those 2.5 million people drive a lot less than we do or the congestion will be unbearable,” Keane said. “We will not grow and the city will not thrive if we don’t ensure a lot of the people coming here do not drive.”
Moore said the plan will also adapt to and anticipate new technology including self-driving cars and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
Among the interactive exhibits was a list asking attendees, “Which of the following would discourage you from driving?” Some of the choices included increased gas prices, decreased parking, traffic calming and reduced speeds and increased parking rates.
Another exhibit asked, “Which of the following would encourage you to use public transportation, bike or walk?” Some choices included reduced prices of public transportation passes, working from home benefits, convenient and secure bicycle parking and better wayfinding signs for biking and walking.
Sales tax increases that were approved by voters last November provide an opportunity for infrastructure improvement most cities do not have, Moore said.
Voters approved a 0.5 percent increase in the existing MARTA funding tax and a 0.4 percent transportation local special option sales tax. The TSPLOST will last for five years and is estimating to bring in $300 million for infrastructure improvements, like streets and sidewalks. The 40-year MARTA tax could raise an estimated $2.5 billion.
Because they already have the funding necessary to make the improvements, Moore said the implementation of this plan will happen more quickly than the 2008 plan. Once they submit their recommendations, Moore said he expects the changes to start being implemented almost immediately.
Henry Schwab, an architect who said he has been involved with these issues in Atlanta for the past 45 years, said he doesn’t feel like this plan will be beneficial to the city.
“I’ve heard the same speech for the last 20 years,” Schwab said. Even if he did believe the city would implement the changes the plan outlines, he said, doesn’t believe they would be beneficial.
Rebecca Kim, who lives in Buckhead and goes to college for city planning, said she thought the changes would benefit the city, but wants to hear more specific ideas.
“Right now, it doesn’t seem very specific,” Kim said. “I do like the vibe of what they are saying, such as wanting to expand bicycle paths and things like that, but are they actually going to do it and how long will it take?”
Planners will hold several more meetings in the next coming months before they submit their recommendations to the city in October. There will also be pop-up meetings in places like malls and student centers, which the department hopes will make voicing concerns more convenient for the public.
For those that cannot make it to meetings or pop-ups, the Transportation Plan website has a survey available to the public. The website will also soon have a way to upload pictures of problems, such as damaged roads, and a map that users can add pins to areas that need improvement, Moore said.