By David Pendered
Metro Atlanta leaders have voted to continue the region’s tradition of dreaming big when it comes to civic improvements. This time, the plan is a comprehensive approach to make it safer to walk and ride bicycles.
The board that oversees the Atlanta Regional Commission on Wednesday approved the “Walk. Bike. Thrive!” plan to improve bike/pedestrian options. The approved plan is the result of a year-long study that updates the ARC’s 2007 bike/pedestrian plan.
Of six newly approved objectives, one of the more sweeping proposals is a stated desire to link the major trail initiatives that are being developed throughout the region.
These trails are being built by a number of separate entities. Advocates typically note that their particular trail is near another major trail and the two eventually will connect together. But, typically, trail development hasn’t reached the point where it’s necessary to begin planning for how the trails will actually connect.
This plan aims to address both existing gaps and that last-segment connectivity. Once this work is complete, the region is to have about 225 miles of linked trails.
Here’s how ARC’s overview of the new plan characterizes the regional trail network:
- “On a larger scale, ARC and its regional partners will focus on building a connected regional trail network that would link the Silver Comet Trail, Big Creek Greenway, Arabia Mountain Path, Atlanta BeltLine, and others. We’re closer than you think to having one of the most comprehensive trail networks in the nation.”
ARC duly noted that these networks have been developed over many years through the efforts of local organizers. The draft version of the “Assessment of Regional Traffic Patterns and Existing Conditions” observes:
- “In the last few decades communities across the Atlanta region have built trail segments that have driven new private development and provided safe and accessible places for people of all ages and ability to be more physically active and socialize. Linked together these segments can become a regional trail network.”
The regional trail network and the remaining five goals are to be funded by ARC’s long-range mobility plan, titled “Atlanta Region’s Plan.” The plan was adopted in 2015 and extends through 2040.
The plan provides the bike/ped plan with more than $1 billion in anticipated federal, state and local funding. The price tag of the entire mobility plan is $85 billion.
“Metro Atlanta residents, from Millennials to Baby Boomers, want more opportunities to travel without hopping in a car,” Mike Alexander, director of ARC’s Center for Livable Communities, said in a statement. “This plan provides a roadmap to help our region meet this demand and create healthier, more livable communities.”
Here are quick descriptions from the ARC if the five other components of new bike/ped plan:
- Make targeted investments to make it easier for people to get more places without driving.
- Popular destinations, such as schools, parks, transit stops, and regional office and retail hubs, are all too often cut off from existing sidewalk and trail networks. Targeted investments can make it easier for people to get more places without driving.
- Increase bicycle ridership by making biking safer.
- Just 5 percent of all trips taken in the region are by bicycle or on foot. This number could increase with measures designed to make cyclists feel safer and more comfortable, from building bike lanes and multi-use trails to installing traffic calming measures.
- There’s huge potential: 42 percent of metro Atlantans live within a five-minute bike ride of a trail and 33 percent live within a five-minute ride of a transit stop.
- Encourage more designated ‘Walk-Friendly’ and ‘Bike-Friendly’ communities.
- Increasing the number of people walking and biking in the region requires a multi-pronged, holistic approach that includes improved infrastructure, robust educational outreach and increased public safety measures.
- ARC’s bike-ped plan encourages communities across the region to strive to become designated Walk Friendly and/or Bike Friendly communities. These programs provide a roadmap to help communities improve conditions for walking and bicycling.
- Emphasize the economic value of quality bike/ped networks.
- According to a 2014 report by George Washington University, 50 percent of all income property developed in metro Atlanta since 2009 was in walkable, urban places. Numbers like this demonstrate the value of building bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as key elements of a successful, competitive community.
- Allocate $1 billion in long-range plan for bike/ped infrastructure.
- ARC and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) are focused on making biking and walking safer through metro Atlanta and the state of Georgia. ARC’s The Atlanta Region’s Plan allocates more than $1 billion in federal, state and local funds over the next 25 years to building and improving this infrastructure. This plan highlights routinely unsafe conditions found throughout the region and will help local, regional, and state agencies collaborate to identify and improve unsafe corridors.