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Thought Leader Design

Pass T-SPLOST, Then Maximize Opportunities

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In the final part of this series on urban design, Perkins+Will principal David Green discusses how the region can maximize its opportunities to improve transportation and the health, safety and welfare of its citizens if it passes T-SPLOST. 

We are voting on the transportation referendum on July 31.

It is almost certain that the result of the vote will have far less impact than is projected by either side of the debate. If it fails, we will continue to muddle through, as we always have, failing to fulfill much of our potential. If it passes we will surely make a mess of it, as we tend to do: the results will be less beneficial than promised, and we will most likely not learn much from our mistakes.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. While it is true that there is little opportunity in the failure of the referendum, there is much opportunity if it passes: if we can apply some key accountability measures over the next ten years. Some will argue that these measures are not allowed due to restrictions embedded in the referendum, but this is simply not true. In fact, the law requires that each of the recommendations below is included in the process.

This view from 1910 shows how visionaries anticipated Atlanta would look 100 years later, in 2010. They believed citizens would rely on mass transit, but were a bit off in their visions of dirigibles and boats as modes of transportation.

1. Clearly articulate measurable goals. The referendum as a whole, and each individual project should be required to have specific outcomes as targeted goals. The three categories are health, safety and welfare. As such each project should reduce unhealthy and unsafe conditions, as well as promote economic vitality. For example each project should reduce asthma and airborne particulates, increase pedestrian activity, and reduce vehicle-related injuries and deaths. In addition projects should have a clear budget that aligns with its stated goals. There are a number of measureable goals that could, and should, be added to the list above, and with technical tracking capabilities today this is a relatively simple process.

2. Set criteria for returns on our investment. Each project should have a measurable return on the investment, and each should be designed and funded relative to this return. Ultimately we want to utilize our resources (spend our money) in ways that are going to maximize the benefit to the greatest number people.

A street view of downtown Atlanta in the 1940s. The first streetcars in Atlanta, pulled by horses, started operation in 1871. The first electric line started in 1889 and ended in 1949, when trolleybuses took over.

3. Track project performance. Each project should be tracked to ensure that it is performing in the manner that was originally projected. The value in this process is that is allows us to understand what works and what doesn’t work. Without tracking performance, decisions will continue to be made based on faulty modeling and educated guesses. It also requires that we are truthful about the efficacy of projects, regardless of our position on various modes of transportation. It is the only way to provide true accountability across the board.

4. Modify projects based on items 1 – 3. Both current and future projects should be modified to respond to project tracking. If we see things aren’t working as planned, projects underway or completed should be modified (utilizing the methods above), and future projects should be redesigned or cancelled, as appropriate. This will require modifications to our current capital planning process, but it is the right thing to do.

It’s a little known fact that MARTA proposed a transit station at City Hall East in 1961. Now, 50 years later, we may finally see this vision realized.

This isn’t all that different from the way we run our own 401(k)’s. We set a goal for retirement, we have a method for measuring returns, we track performance, and we modify our investments when they aren’t meeting our goals. When we have less money, we make individual sacrifices so that we can keep contributing. There is no reason these principles should not be true for us as collective citizens, as they are for us individually.

On November 22, 1926, the Supreme Court told us to go forth and plan, but as we did, to make sure that every decision made benefitted the health, safety and welfare of the general public. This is pretty good advice, and we would be well served by following it. Finally.

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