Plans to promote walking, cycling, transit help Chattanooga win federal transportation award

By David Pendered

A plan to double spending on bicycle and pedestrian amenities by 2040, and add transit capacity, has earned a federal award for the transportation planning organization for Chattanooga, and its suburbs in Georgia.

Chattanooga Riverwalk, trestle

Chattanooga’s plans to double spending on bike lanes and walking paths, such as the Riverwalk, helped the region win a federal award for its transportation planning. Credit: iamfriday.me

“Building a world-class transportation system doesn’t happen overnight, and never by accident,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration announced Tuesday the Chattanooga-Hamilton County/North Georgia Transportation Planning Organization received one of this year’s eight Transportation Planning Excellence Awards.

“These awards recognize the critical role planning plays in meeting America’s future transportation challenges,” Foxx said.

The Chattanooga TPO was recognized for its 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, a $78 million effort to improve local transportation over the next 25 years, according to the statement. The north Georgia counties in the organization are Catoosa, Dade, and Walker.

The Atlanta Regional Commission creates an RTP for metro Atlanta.

The Chattanooga plan doubles bike and pedestrian funding, compared to the previous plan, while increasing roadway and transit capacity.

This was a direct outcome of surveys of Chattanooga area residents that showed 71 percent of respondents said they would consider bicycling and walking to more destinations if land uses were more friendly to those modes, according to the RTP.

Chattanooga Riverwalk

Chattanooga is planning to extend its Riverwalk to neighboring communities. Credit: timesfreepress.com

In addition, more than half the respondents said they would use transit if it were high-speed rail, or passenger rail.

Almost half the respondents said they would use transit if there were more routes, better frequency and real-time scheduling, according to the RTP.

At the same time, the RTP doesn’t back away from maintenance and construction of roads and railroads. The twist in the script is that the authors determined sidewalks and bike lanes are cost effective measures to improve mobility and quality of life:

  • “Freeways and railroads can carry huge volumes of traffic and contribute greatly to the economy, but safe and attractive walkways, bicycle facilities and transit lines are an essential part of a community that wishes to attract and retain families and employees that will ensure its prosperity into the future.”
Chattnooga RTP, base map

The Chattanooga planning area includes three counties in Georgia: Catoosa, Dade, and Walker. Credit: chcrpa.org

In particular, the plan was praised for recognizing that transportation funding from all sources – federal, state, county and city – is dwindling even as mobility needs are increasing.

The U.S. DOT statement says Chattanooga’s 2040 RTP, “represents the kind of long-term planning needed nationwide to help local and state officials make the most of increasingly limited state and federal funds,” according to the statement.

Here’s how the authors of the RTP addressed the funding issue:

  • “The growth rate of existing transportation funds at all levels of government has been lagging, at the same time that transportation needs continue to increase. This challenge is necessitating a more strategic, cost- effective approach to investing in transportation to support flexible, lower-cost ways to increase capacity on the transportation system. … The need to do more with less is not going away.”

The lead consultant on the RTP was Atlanta-based Cambridge Systematics, Inc., which worked with Gresham Smith and Partners; Kimley Horn and Associates; and RPM Transportation Consultants.

Cambridge Systematics is working with the State Road and Tollway Authority to devise criteria for distributing $75 million to transit agencies in Georgia. The Georgia Legislature provided the funding in its 2015 session and the funds are to be distributed in January 2016, according to SRTA Executive Director Chris Tomlinson.

 

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.

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