In 1973, the metro Atlanta region, like the rest of the country, was experiencing a bicycle “boom” brought on by skyrocketing gas prices and increasing environmental awareness. In response, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) became one of the first metropolitan planning organizations in the nation to develop a comprehensive bicycle plan, titled The Bicycle. In the 42 years since that plan, the region has experienced tremendous growth, and the bicycle plan has evolved from a bicycle plan into a bicycle and pedestrian plan. The challenges we face around highway congestion, rising gas prices, increasing obesity and lack of economic opportunity, however, are not that different than the challenges we faced in 1973.
ARC is currently developing a new vision for walking and bicycling in the region that will be captured in the Regional Walking + Bicycling Transportation Plan. Walking and biking are inexpensive, healthy and fun transportation options, and we hope to ensure through the plan that trips throughout the region will be safe, comfortable and convenient. Each walking and bicycling trip may not seem that significant, but cumulatively these trips add up to big benefits for our communities throughout the region.
We need your input to develop the vision for this plan, so on May 29, ARC is holding a Walk Friendly + Bike Friendly Community Forum to gather input and discuss opportunities and needs related to walking and biking. At the forum, you will hear from national walking and biking expert Mia Birk and learn how investing in walking and biking can make your community healthier and more economically competitive.
The first goal for the plan is to gather research and input that will give us a better understanding of how walking and bicycling can help the metro Atlanta region improve in the following areas:
Traffic Safety – While traffic fatalities have decreased over the past decade, pedestrian fatalities have increased in both real numbers and as a percentage of all deaths. Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities occur most often on high-speed, multi-lane roads that lack sidewalks, crosswalks or protected bike lanes. We will work to understand the locations and causes of fatalities and link them to proven engineering countermeasures.
Mobility (the ability to travel) – Our highways are well-known for congestion and our transit system — local buses, express buses and rail — is vital but often inconvenient in too many areas. We will explore how increasing connectivity and improving the comfort and convenience of active transportation can increase transportation options, improve access to jobs and services and increase transportation reliability.
Economic competitiveness – A growing body of data demonstrates that walkable urban places are becoming the new blueprint for community success. Metro Atlanta’s WalkUP Report, conducted in 2013 by Chris Leinberger, estimated that walkable urban places, such as Buckhead, Decatur and Perimeter Center, are increasingly desirable and command 112% higher rents than driving-focused suburbs. Premium bicycle corridors also attract visitors, investors and spending. Cobb County’s Silver Comet Trail attracts $50 million annually, and the Atlanta BeltLine has generated over $1 billion in private investment. These are enormous returns on relatively modest public investments. We will highlight where the region can replicate many of these successes.
Social Equity – The Atlanta region has the third lowest rate in the country for upward economic mobility, a fact that is exasperated by a lack of transportation options in the region. When car ownership is required to access jobs and basic services, it places a costly burden on low-income households. We will study how investments in walking, bicycling and transit can provide options and make transportation less expensive and more reliable for all households.
Once we have completed the research for the plan, our second task will be to use the research outcomes to develop a regional vision for improving walking and cycling within our metro communities and increasing connections across the region. This is a huge task for a large and diverse region. Our recommendations will likely include different things for different areas – dense networks in urban centers, scenic trails in suburban and rural areas and routine connections to regional transit – but the overall goal is to improve transportation throughout the region.
We hope you will contribute to the vision and join us on May 29 for the Bike Friendly + Walk Friendly Community Forum.
For more information, visit the ARC website or contact Byron Rushing, ARC Bicycle & Pedestrian Planner, at 404-463-3345.