Atlanta’s proposed transportation department to be a horn of plenty for mobility

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s proposed stand-alone transportation department is expected to salvage a mobility system that’s so systemically broken the city has a long history of farming work to outside entities – including the Atlanta BeltLine, Midtown Alliance and Central Atlanta Progress.

DeKalb Avenue

This section of DeKalb Avenue has few options for bicyclists and pedestrians. The sidewalk can be shared, but there is no physical barrier next to the street and the southern edge rolls down a hill toward active railroad tracks. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The city handed off the work because it was viewed as beyond the city’s capacity to plan, manage and deliver, according to a consultant’s report.

That said, the report from the Atlanta office of WSP also found plenty to praise about recent efforts to improve mobility by the departments of planning and public works.

These improvements appear to have influenced suggestions that Atlanta proceed with deliberation and caution in creating a new department, replete with its bureaucratic trappings. The department is to solve a problem based partly in what city officials told the consultant was as a need to improve, “coordination and collaboration among City departments, regional transportation agencies, and CIDs [self-taxing community improvement districts].”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has put the full force of her office behind the formation of a new department – one that would report exclusively to the mayor and have no direct accountability to the city’s COO or Atlanta City Council, under the current proposal.

The proposed transportation department would centralize the city’s work to seek funding to design, build and maintain public roads, streets and sidewalks.

The department is to manage the local, state and federal funding for this work, including that of sales-tax funded Renew Atlanta program. The consultant said the city’s fundraising abilities were a “success” that brought in more than $500 million in transportation funds from 2010 to 2016.

Atlanta’s proposed transportation department would be responsible for maintaining streets as well as creating safe spaces for bicycling. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The first vetting of this proposal is scheduled for April 22 at a work session of the council’s Transportation Committee.

Included in the discussion is likely to be the consultant’s observations of the Department of City Planning and Department of Public Works. The two have devised, and in some cases implemented, reorganizations intended to achieve results similar to those that are to be vested in the proposed transportation department.

Planning was highlighted for creating an Office of Mobility. It’s to focus on congestion mitigation, streetscape planning, and bicycle/pedestrian programs.

DPW won kudos for a reorganization that would bring under one umbrella what WSP described as a, “transportation-focused structure for DPW similar to Departments of Transportation in other cities across the nation.”

Here are three examples of mobility work the city could have handled but elected to hand off to partners, according to the WSP report:

Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

Ponce de Leon

Adjacent to the Atlanta BeltLine, this section of Ponce de Leon Avenue remains a bee hive of activity where pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles seek to coexist. Credit: Kelly Jordan

  • “ABI’s creation as a separate entity to deliver high-profile, priority capital projects was seen by some interviewees as reflecting a lack of confidence in DPW’s ability to deliver capital projects. According to its current management [report dated March 2018], ABI was created because DPW did not have the capacity to deliver the Atlanta Beltline program.”

Midtown Alliance

  • “An example of a project undertaken by a CID that was well-within the City’s purview to implement, operate, and maintain is the Midtown Alliance’s Midtown Traffic Operations Program … that sought to reduce traffic congestion and improve access and safety for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists through traffic signal improvements. Funded by GDOT [Georgia Department of Transportation], MTOP has improved peak travel times on average by 28 percent in the ten major corridors at the end of year one (2013) simply by fixing malfunctioning signals, optimizing the existing signal timing and conducting regular maintenance.”

CAP/Atlanta Downtown Improvement District

  • “Similarly, CAP/ADID’s Traffic Signal System Upgrades & Retiming Project addressed traffic signal improvements within downtown Atlanta, including equipment modernization and development of new timing and optimization plans. A 16- intersection demonstration project concluded in July 2010, followed by downtown-wide improvements within key downtown corridors improving up to 65 additional intersections.”

 

Decatur Street, DeKalb Avenue

Atlanta’s proposed transportation department is to resolve issues such as those along this section of DeKalb Avenue that include an uneven sidewalk; uneven asphalt at the crosswalk; no handicap track at close end of sidewalk; rutted sidewalk leading to the north. Credit: Kelly Jordan

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 for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

1 reply
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    Eric Ganther says:

    Great article David! Atlanta’s new Department of Mobility is a fantastic opportunity to both improve transportation outcomes and to restore faith in city government. Because most of us go somewhere every day, we are constantly reminded of broken sidewalks, rough streets, aging signals, and limited bike/scooter lanes. To succeed, ADOM will need the full support of the Mayor and Council. It will also need more money soon. A congestion fee (as you pointed out in your April 4 article) is a great way to raise money and discourage unnecessary driving at the same time. A parking tax is another highly effective strategy. None of this will be easy and we’ll need everyday citizens to act like owners of the entire city, not just a tiny slice of it. Good luck and godspeed to ADOM!!Report

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