By David Pendered

For 21 years, the Livable Centers Initiative has funded planning efforts to emulate a sense of small town connectivity in metro Atlanta’s sprawling array of homes, shops and work centers. The project list unveiled Wednesday maintains the program’s focus on solid planning practices, Dan Reuter, an LCI founder, said Friday.

The LCI has fostered a culture of bicycling in Midtown to the degree that bicycles are parked on the street, just as vehicles are parked next to a curb. Credit: David Pendered

“LCI is the key in metro Atlanta in trying to change our region’s very automobile-dominate place into one of creating these urban, sustainable, walkable places,” Reuter said. “The work is never done, but we have made tremendous progress since the program was started in 1999.”

This year, 10 grants valued at a total of $1.2 million will fund planning studies. Plus, ARC staffers will assist the City of South Fulton further its visioning for a town center concept. (See a map and list of projects below).

The Atlanta Regional Commission administers the LCI program in its role of disbursing federal transportation funds. An equity component was added to this year’s list of criteria and priorities for grants include:

  • Affordable housing – How will the program advance the Metro Atlanta Housing Strategy;
  • Creative placemaking – How will the arts community be involved in the planning process;
  • Green infrastructure – How will the project incorporate green infrastructure into transportation projects;
  • Smart city technology – How will technology enhance safety and mobility in the study area.
Dan Reuter

Reuter touched on the mythology of the LCI program. It has become much more than a federally funded transportation planning program launched by the ARC at the end of President Clinton’s administration. Reuter has since left the ARC, to start RSI, a consulting firm, and Tom Weyandt, the other credited cofounder of LCI, serves on the board of metro Atlanta’s transportation planning entity, the ATL.

LCI became the region’s premier tool to support planning efforts that helped manage growth. Traffic congestion still is common throughout metro Atlanta, but LCI grants are credited with helping induce development practices that lessened the impact of the region’s burgeoning population and the jobs that attract folks.

More than 120 communities have planning studies conducted through the LCI program, according to a statement from the ARC. Some $253 million has funded studies and construction of sidewalks and smaller improvements, such as turn lanes. The ARC has earmarked $343 million over the coming 29 years to build transportation projects recommended by LCI studies.

“We’ve done planning studies at every MARTA station, almost every historic town center, and at major job centers including Perimeter,” Reuter said. “Everything about how they managed and changed that center came from the LCI studies.”

Gwinnett County’s Satellite Boulevard could be reviewed as a potential transit route in two LCI’s grants funded in 2021. Credit: David Pendered
Gwinnett County’s Satellite Boulevard could be reviewed as a potential transit route in two LCI’s grants funded in 2021. Credit: David Pendered

Case in point: Perimeter is a Top 5 submarket for office space, with more than 23 million square feet near the intersection of I-285 and Ga. 400, and a related community of retail and residential space. Sidewalks crisscross the district because the Perimeter Center Improvement Districts implemented LCI recommendations to provide sidewalks to link offices and shops and residences.

“Everything about how they managed and changed that center came from the LCI studies,” Reuter said. He credited Yvonne Williams, the PCIDs former executive director who now leads the Macon Chamber of Commerce and Macon Economic Development Commission, with overseeing the implementation of LCI concepts at Perimeter.

Reuter said he marvels routinely at the potential to improve neighborhoods that seem to be complete. LCI can play a role in those improvments, he said.

“This kind of work doesn’t end,” Reuter said. “Midtown and Buckhead are done in some ways with planning. But I’ve spent a lot of time in both places in the past year and still see opportunities in those very dense places for opportunities for people to live there, to get around without a car. There’s still so much opportunity in metro Atlanta.”

The following is the ARC’s verbatim statement on this year’s recipients. Numbers next to cities correspond to numbers on the map by Maggie Lee:

2021 LCI Study Grant Recipients

NOTE: Specific grant allocations are subject to increase or decrease based on changes made by the LCI sponsor.

1) City of Alpharetta

Grant Amount: $160,000

  • The Alpharetta-South Main Street Creative Placemaking and Economic Strategy will take place along South Main Street (Hwy 9), from the Town Center, south to the city limits. This plan seeks to develop opportunities for safe walking and biking while promoting transit ridership. It also aims to examine opportunities for redevelopment that promote creative placemaking and the continued success of the Downtown Alpharetta LCI.

2) City of Douglasville

Grant Amount: $160,000

  • The Douglasville Town Center Implementation Strategy will update the Douglasville LCI to stitch together several existing projects to streamline them and set out plans of action, including the housing strategy work currently underway through ARC’s Community Development Assistance Program, a planned town green, creative placemaking, and upgraded connections to the Northside area.

3) City of Grantville

Grant Amount: $100,000

  • The Grantville LCI Plan will create a new study area within the City of Grantville, a small city on the southern border of Coweta County, as it looks to develop a transit connection to the Xpress commuter bus system and a revitalize its downtown.

4) Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District (CID)

Grant Amount: $220,000

  • The Gwinnett Place Mall Revitalization Strategy will advance a bold development plan for Gwinnett Place Mall that will explore how to integrate a potential county bus rapid transit route into a planned significant expansion of the Gwinnett Place Transit Center. The Transit Center is located on mall property and set for an upgrade to become the county transit system’s main hub. The LCI study’s goal is to support transit, cars, and pedestrians, improving both transportation and quality of life in the area.

5) Sugarloaf Community Improvement District (CID)

Grant Amount: $100,000

  • The Sugarloaf Transit Enhancement and Future Station Planning Study will further examine a planned BRT station stop at Sugarloaf Mall and multimodal connection to the Infinite Energy Center. The study will also explore short-term transit enhancements at the existing Park and Ride location near Sugarloaf Mall.

6) City of Hampton

Grant Amount: $80,000

  • The City of Hampton King, George, and Daniel Streets Revitalization Strategy will examine this set of streets near Downtown Hampton as the city looks to revitalize the area and improve transportation safety without displacing existing residents. This strategy will examine different so-called “missing middle” housing options that could be applied in this area.

7) City of South Fulton

Grant Amount: $120,000

  • The Old National Highway LCI Study Update will explore new transportation options and develop an economic development strategy for the corridor that includes creative placemaking.

8) Lilburn Community Improvement District (CID)

Grant Amount: $120,000

  • The Lilburn LCI Plan Update will focus on developing a walkable and vibrant downtown by updating its existing LCI Plan within the Old Towne Lilburn and the Downtown Development Zone to promote creative placemaking and diversity of housing options.

In 2021, ARC is piloting two new study types, focusing on (1) bus stop pedestrian safety and creative placemaking, and (2) LCI Scoping Assistance to prepare communities for a future LCI study. This year, there are three grant recipients in these areas:

9) Upper Westside Community Improvement District (CID)

Grant Amount: $64,000

  • This grant will allow the City of Atlanta’s Upper Westside CID to examine pedestrian safety and incorporate creative placemaking at existing transit stops along Huff Road and Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard.

10) Midtown Alliance

Grant Amount: $80,000

  • With this grant, Midtown Alliance will examine pedestrian safety and incorporate creative placemaking at existing transit stops along West Peachtree and Spring Streets.

In addition, ARC staff will assist the City of South Fulton on visioning of elements for its future town center.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written...

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