The population of the Atlanta region is expected to rise by at least 2.5 million people by the year 2040, bringing the total number of residents to more than 8 million, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. Transportation and housing needs will have to find ways to accommodate that increase, but how?

That was one of the questions raised during an Oct. 2 transportation panel discussion at Perimeter Summit in Brookhaven, organized by the Perimeter Center Community Improvement Districts’ commuting program and the Urban Land Institute.

Denise Starling of Livable Buckhead speaks at the Oct. 2 transportation panel. (Kevin C. Madigan)

Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead and moderator of the event, said that when it comes to quality of life, the concepts of supply and demand in the context of transportation need to be balanced as well.

“The supply side is the stick-to-the-bricks of transportation,” she said. “It’s the whole network of ways to get around – roads, trains, buses, bikes, feet and yes, even those pesky scooters.

“When we try to fix transportation, we tend to default to looking at the supply side. We don’t hear about the demand side,” she said. “So where has that gotten us? Roads are clogged, trains are sort of full, sometimes, and buses are largely empty. The system is out of whack.”

Starling said 92% of the workforce in Buckhead comes in from somewhere else. “Residents leave, workers come in. We have to look at housing as one of our potential transportation strategies.”

Her organization and the Buckhead Community Improvement District recently issued a study linking a gap in affordable housing to the neighborhood’s ever-increasing commuter traffic.

Stan Wall of HR&A Advisors said housing is tied to transportation because people often can’t afford to live where they work.

Cousins Properties, which owns such office buildings as Buckhead’s Terminus and Sandy Springs’ Northpark towers, offers amenities at its locations “so that the worker doesn’t have to go back out after reaching work,” said Rhonda Tompkins, a director at the company.

She cited the onsite availability of “ATMs, fitness clubs, dentists, light cosmetic procedures, nail salons, shoe shiners, dry cleaners, nearby trails, cafes and common areas with WiFi.” Some of Cousins’ buildings – including Northpark — are near rail lines, which she called “an awesome asset.”

“The reality is we need to find somewhere for these two-and-a-half to three million people to live and to work,” said Gerald McDowell, executive director of the Aerotropolis Alliance. “We are running out of room in north metro and downtown. We have a solution, and that is south metro. That’s the missing piece. I believe we can create relief for north metro and downtown, and transit and transportation is the vehicle that will help us do that.”

The Aerotropolis Alliance is an amalgamation of the Airport West and Airport South Community Improvement Districts. The area around Atlanta’s airport has roughly 90,000 acres available for development, according to McDowell.

“You will always be able to justify additional investments for infrastructure in north metro and downtown, and no one would argue that we need that at 285 and 400,” he said, but “if we can figure out how to build infrastructure in south metro, we can create a more competitive region that would impact and improve communities and attract families.”

Starling noted that property developers such as Tompkins and Lynn Lewis of Hines also appear to be travel advisors to their clients. “Right now construction on 285/400 is a bit of a challenge so we constantly educate our customers (on transit alternatives) to make things better. My motto is look before you leave,” Tompkins said. “It’s incumbent upon us to be the conduit of information,” said Lewis.

Several panelists pointed out that fees from parking garages have been decreasing, signaling fewer cars in general use, a trend Tompkins did not seem to welcome. “It’s a major part of our income,” she said. McDowell suggested offering amenities at parking garages too. “It goes back to mixed-use developments – live, work, play – and incorporating our lifestyles with alternative transportation,” he said.

“People are taking other modes of transportation, and not contributing to carbon,” said Lewis, who uses Uber to get to the airport. “The more convenient we make alternative transportation, the better.”

–Kevin C. Madigan

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