A study released late last week by the Atlanta Regional Commission and Georgia Tech says that metro Atlanta is setting an example for the rest of the country with its development of walkable urban places - or, as they're referred to in the report, "WalkUPs."
The study conducted by Christopher Leinberger, a Brookings Institution fellow and smart-growth booster, focuses on more than 25 such areas in the region and the development of real estate surrounding them. He says "Regionally significant WalkUPs will be the primary location of economic growth in metropolitan Atlanta."
Trapped inside your house or office and wanting to watch (co)lab, the inaugural day-and-a-half conference aimed at helping "today's executives and tomorrow's leaders from our business, education and civic communities connect, communicate and collaborate on issues vital to a thriving Atlanta region?" You know, the one featuring Mayor Kasim Reed, the New York Times' visionary mustache Thomas Friedman, Atlanta Beltline CEO Paul Morris, and many more? Here's a livestream feed. The conference kicked off this morning at 12:30 p.m. and continues throughout the day, including labs this evening, and tomorrow.
Mayor Kasim Reed has penned the foreword to the latest city-themed edition of the "Harvard Law & Policy Review."
Reed's intro to the biannual academic publication teases to numerous articles in its latest installment, titled "Progressive Cities: Innovative Solutions to Urban Problems." But he also tries to make case about how Atlanta is a city where those solutions are being tested. Beneath the academic journal's wonkish jargon, Reed gets real honest about the current state of Atlanta through both commonly known factoids about the city and some striking tidbits that are less known:
Atlanta is a key example of urban growth and renewal over the past decade. The city is home to approximately 422,000 residents, with a population of almost 5.3 million in the twenty-eight-county metropolitan area. We have the world's busiest passenger airport with more than 95 million passengers per year and an annual economic impact of $32 billion; the nation's fourth largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies; and more than fifty-seven colleges and universities in Atlanta and the surrounding area. Our future is bright in many regards: per capita income in the city increased by one percent over the past decade, even though it declined by a dramatic twelve percent statewide. Among young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, sixty percent are enrolled in college. However, we also must address areas of concern. Atlanta has the highest income inequality of any city in America. The city's high-school graduation rate is a dismal fifty-two percent. Nearly twenty percent of our children grow up in extreme poverty.
Upon entering office, Reed said that he needed to earn the public's confidence by providing basic services, fixing the city's finances, reducing crime, focusing on youth initiatives, and improving customer service. But first he needed to address other issues first:
In some instances, the city has been able to do this with "road diets." They take one lane of automobile traffic and turn it into a bike lane or widen the sidewalk. This might upset drivers, who might lose a lane that allows them to buzz past a slow motorist. But it gives other people who don't drive another option to get around town. And more fixes are on the way.
This is not good news to Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a free-market think tank. In an op-ed in Sunday's Marietta Daily Journal, Dodd wrote that these road diets are depriving motorists of valuable lanes that will ferry them, as they drive by themselves, from point A to point B.
The Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association recently sent out an email to members reporting on the city's "plan for short to long term streetscape improvements (on Peachtree Road from Martin Luther King Jr. to Marietta Street), including landscaping, art, lighting, a road diet and more."
Perhaps the question nobody is asking here is, "What is the right size?" And more important, "Why worry about road diets?"
Here's why. It's a nip here and a tuck there, but the insidious "livability" approach to transportation should worry commuters, given that metro Atlanta drivers are clamoring for congestion relief, not streetscapes, art or roadway reductions.
Bicycle lanes are a noble goal, but not a transportation/commuting priority in a climate of shrinking dollars. According to the Census Bureau, in 2010, an estimated 0.53 percent of American workers commuted by bicycle; in Atlanta, it was 0.9 percent. (The city claims the 2012 share is 1.1 percent. If true, that's a whopping 22 percent increase in bicycling commuters!)
Even as transportation funds shrink, these ambitious plans, along with an ever-costlier streetcar project, are reducing vital road capacity in a city that barely kept up with it before[.]
This "insidious 'livability' approach" might not make the lives of people commuting in and out of the city any easier but it could help Atlanta residents. And what's so wrong with that? As Atlanta grows more dense, we can't continue to accommodate more cars. The impact on traffic should be considered, sure, but that alone shouldn't dictate whether the projects move forward or not. We need more bike lanes, better transit, and safer sidewalks.
I think what's really been bugging me about Dodd's column is this line: "metro Atlanta commuters are clamoring for congestion relief." Then she focuses on the city's efforts.
I can understand a suburban commuter wanting traffic congestion relief. But when what's considered "congestion relief" for someone in Gwinnett County affects the quality of life for Atlantans, that's a problem. Are suburban motorists' dreams of shaving a few minutes off the trip time between I-75 and their Downtown office more important than those of Atlantans who might not want mini-highways outside their apartment building?
A Sidewalk Task Force co-chaired by Atlanta City Council members Natalyn Archibong and Carla Smith held its last meeting in May. Participants recommended changes needed to enable the City to repair more broken sidewalks.
Please join us on July 30 to learn more about Atlanta's current sidewalk maintenance program and changes recommended by Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza and PEDS CEO Sally Flocks. Recommendations differ, so each will give brief presentations. Following that, Councilmembers Archibong and Aaron Watson will join Mendoza and Flocks for a question and answer session with the audience.
PEDS and the City of Atlanta want to hear from people who live, work or play in Atlanta, so the forum will provide plenty of time for comments or questions from the audience.
If you're a Facebook kind of person, here's the event page. The fun starts at 6 p.m. in the Old City Council chambers.
Krugman focused on how metro Atlanta's sprawl and lack of public transit makes it harder for people to travel to work:
When the researchers looked for factors that correlate with low or high social mobility, they found, perhaps surprisingly, little direct role for race, one obvious candidate. They did find a significant correlation with the existing level of inequality: "areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility." This matches what we find in international comparisons, where relatively equal societies like Sweden have much higher mobility than highly unequal America. But they also found a significant negative correlation between residential segregation - different social classes living far apart - and the ability of the poor to rise.
And in Atlanta poor and rich neighborhoods are far apart because, basically, everything is far apart; Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren't. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can't get there.
Buh-buh-buh but we're building toll lanes! And... something else someday?
This year, in what will be executive director Amir Farokhi's final summit as GeorgiaForward's executive director, the organization is gathering public officials, academics, nonprofits, and wonks from across the state in Midtown.
The two-day "Homegrown: Strengthening Georgia from Within" forum, which kicks off on Thursday at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, focuses on how the state can use its strengths and explore new ways to become more competitive and improve its quality of life. Worth noting: Former Mayor Shirley Franklin will be stopping by.
If you're interested in seeing sprawl Las Vegas, Houston, or even the proliferation of irrigated crops in Saudi Arabia, go here. Athens, Ga., is somewhat fascinating as well. Juneau, Alaska, basically hasn't changed in the last 30 years. (H/T The Atlantic Cities)
Two tech companies, Gnip and Mapbox, recently plotted more than 280 million tweets from Android, iPhone, Blackberry, and other mobile devices to show the places where people use Twitter across the globe.
There are plenty of interesting takeaways from Atlanta's map. Lots of iPhone users are sending 140-character messages throughout Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, and at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Android owners are a bit more scattered around the metro area and apparently aren't afraid to tweet behind the wheel, as seen by the highways outlined in bright green. And just about no one tweets from a Blackberry.
It's an incredibly detailed map that's easy to get lost in for a few minutes - be sure to check out other cities including New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C., to see how they compare to Atlanta. (H/T brunksondikes and /r/GaTech)
TransportationCamp South brought together a collection of "thinkers and doers" for a "unconvention" on transportation and technology. The daylong event held at Clough Commons covered everything from sidewalk talk to robot cars (yes,robot cars).
And it was a resounding success. The six-hour Saturday summit was the first in the Southeast and much larger than even the organizers originally expected.
Approximately 200 people traded ideas with other wonks and sat in on sessions about drafting a MARTA Rider's Bill of Rights, using mobile phones to pay for bus fare, building guerilla bicycle and pedestrian projects, crowdfunding transportation improvements, and much, much more. There was even a seminar about transit pick-up lines.
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