By David Pendered
Just one number speaks to the reason traffic is again a major topic in Buckhead: The number of vehicles that every day drives along just one street lined with homes compares to almost the entire population of Decatur.
Buckhead’s posture with traffic is similar to any community struggling with mobility. The commonality of concern is one reason Buckhead advocates expect to face challenges to be heard in their emerging effort to resolve the entwined issues of mobility and housing costs – the later of which fuels traffic as workers commute from lower-cost areas.
The region has one significant distinction: Buckhead’s business and retail district is fairly isolated from highways, other than Ga. 400. Much of the access from I-75, I-85 and I-285 is along two-lane streets that pass through residential neighborhoods.
“You can get close, but you can’t quite make it,” Steve Dickerson said Monday of highway access to Buckhead’s business district. Dickerson represents the Buckhead, Central Perimeter and Cumberland/Galleria business districts as the District 3 board member of the ATL, the regional transit agency.
Another of Buckhead’s distinctions is its share of influential residents, including the elected occupant of the governor’s mansion – though there’s no reason to suspect Gov. Brian Kemp has involved himself in traffic congestion near the mansion.
The daily traffic count near the governor’s mansion in 2018 was 20,800 vehicles on a two-lane road with lots of intersections. The vehicles were counted near the intersection West Paces Ferry Road and West Andrews Drive, according to a report by the Georgia Department of Transportation. That compares to Decatur’s estimated population of 25,732 in 2018, according to a report by the Census.
Buckhead homeowners, who are working through the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, have been able to present their 18-point Transportation Resolution to agencies and entities that lead the region’s transportation and transit programs. The resolution observes that, “the combined travel of commuter traffic with existing residential traffic is causing Buckhead neighborhoods to be suffocated.”
Recipients include the ATL, the newly constituted regional transit agency; Atlanta Regional Commission, which guides federal transportation spending; Georgia Department of Transportation; MARTA; Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees Xpress bus service; Atlanta; Cobb County Transportation Department; and business entities including Buckhead Community Improvement District, Livable Buckhead, and Buckhead Coalition.
As Dickerson observed, the platforms and presentations are a start.
“It’s not necessarily saying any of these will be done,” Dickerson said of his own proposals, which parallel the neighborhood’s ideas. “I brought it to the folks at ATL and they’re starting some of the processes.”
One challenge Buckhead faces is that its expansion into a commercial powerhouse hasn’t been matched by a mobility program. Nonetheless, the distance of Buckhead’s business core from highways hasn’t impeded commercial construction. According to an office space report CBRE provided Monday, the Buckhead submarket ranks fourth in size along the spine of Ga. 400 and the Downtown Connector, including:
- Central Perimeter – 21.8 million square feet;
- Buckhead – 15.9 million square feet;
- Midtown – 17.7 million square feet;
- Downtown – 17.5 million square feet.
Few who work in Buckhead call it home. A full 92 percent of Buckhead workers reside outside the region and 70 percent of all workers drive to work, according to a report this month from Livable Buckhead, which has launched its own effort to address mobility and housing costs.
Mary Norwood, chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, on Monday released the council’s updated mobility platform, Transportation Resolution. She said the platform has one main purpose in terms of mobility in Buckhead.
“We want to make it so that Buckhead is the place where you have the best possible experience to get to work everyday,” Norwood said.
Dickerson said he’s reviewed and approves of each of the council’s 18 recommendations. Dickerson said semblances of the concepts are contained in his own position paper, Solving ATL Congestion, which he said he presented to favorable response from the ATL board.
The council’s platform calls on a total of 10 governments and entities to consider further study of 18 suggestions on three subjects:
- Provide affordable workforce housing, involving an employer-assistance program;
- Increase transit options, including greater Xpress bus service;
- Enhance neighborhoods, to include adopting Vision Zero policies and economic incentives such as congestion pricing and parking taxes.
The congestion pricing idea has generated some negative remarks as an effort to build a wall around Buckhead neighborhoods. The potential fee already has been identified as a possible solution by the Atlanta City Council. The council adopted Jan. 7 a resolution that called on the city’s Planning Department to study “cordon pricing” in a feasibility study that’s to, “address commuter traffic issues in Northwest Atlanta, and for other purposes.”
Nor is the concept new in Atlanta. It stirred a lively debate when promoted some 20 years ago by C.T. Martin and Jim Maddox, when they served on the Atlanta City Council. The issue then involved a source of funding to maintain Downtown streets and bridges.