Shrugging Off Bad News to Get Where We Need to Go

Kevin GreenBy Guest Columnist Kevin Green
Executive Director of the Clean Air Campaign

With the headlines piling on more bad news, sometimes it’s tough to notice the good things. The dialogue about our bleak economy, mounting job losses and state budget crises commands our attention like a bad car wreck on the side of the road. There are certainly tough times ahead, much of which is beyond our ability to influence in the short term.

But let’s stop rubbernecking for a moment and acknowledge some encouraging developments happening right in front of us that we can help bring along. Here are five relating just to transportation:

1. Fundamental agreement on the need for more investment in transportation infrastructure for metro Atlanta and Georgia. Contrast the events of this legislative session with last year. Two transportation funding bills have already passed the state Senate and House, and with overwhelming approval. Out of 236 possible votes on the two constitutional amendments for the House and Senate funding bills, there have only been 17 “no” votes. While there is some daylight between these two approaches, there is an unprecedented level of agreement on the need for action. Hopefully, this leads to a successful resolution as the proposals head towards a House-Senate conference committee.

2. Environmental groups, transit advocates, chambers of commerce and road contractors working together as a statewide transportation coalition. Given the steady drum beat that has resulted, The Get Georgia Moving Coalition has proven you can get a lot done by building on areas of agreement, rather than everyone individually working their own agendas. The real work is yet to come, but the Get Georgia Moving Coalition has provided the forum for diverse groups to work at the same table to further their common interests.

3. Healthy transit systems increasingly viewed a vital piece of any transportation solution. The Transit Planning Board (TPB) has reached consensus on a regional vision for metro Atlanta endorsed by county governments, agencies and MARTA. Witness the public enthusiasm over transit for the Beltline long-term, the Brain Train, Atlanta-Griffin commuter rail, streetcars and more, and it’s clear that transit has gone mainstream. While we have a ways to go, the number of times we hear state leaders talk about transit as vital component of our transportation system these days is deafening compared to just a few years ago.

4. Demand management and land development strategies seen as cost-effective drivers for addressing traffic and economic development. Tough economic times also force us to realize that now is the time when we have to make the most efficient use of the resources we already have. It’s about supply and demand. Increasing supply requires money we don’t have right now and waiting years for new projects to come out of the ground. But demand-side strategies being implemented in the shared space between the public and private spheres that can bring relief to congestion without waiting – like telework, compressed work weeks, flexible work hours; alternatives to driving alone like carpooling and vanpooling. And employers and commuters are the ones in charge. A transportation study commissioned by the state last year identified demand management strategies as both cost-effective and critical to improving mobility. Land development strategies were similarly validated, where denser, live/work centers in appropriate areas leverage existing infrastructure and puts more housing closer to jobs.

5. Consensus on the need to plan and implement transportation better in Georgia. There were already an astounding number of transportation balls in the air before the recent proposal to restructure state transportation governance and the firing of the GDOT Commissioner. But whether you think we needed a new DOT Commissioner, streamlined procedures or an entirely new agency, there is unity around the notion that we need to do things differently to achieve better results.

There is an evolution taking place. Regardless of your political stripes, the economic collapse has given us the opportunity to question traditional approaches. This time of reflection has the potential to be transformative. Whatever happens, the needle is no longer stuck in the groove.

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