By Guest Columnist RAY CHRISTMAN, executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition

The Livable Communities Coalition and 30 partner organizations recently launched an education initiative designed to help our region’s economy and quality of life for generations to come.

On March 29, we launched what we’re calling the Fair Share for Transit Initiative, an initiative designed to make the case for significant new funding – a fair share – for public transportation as part of the 2012 referendum on a penny sales tax for transportation improvements in the 10-county region.

Fair Share is based on a widely held belief that maintaining and expanding our regional transit systems is critical for the metro Atlanta region’s continuing economic competitiveness, the growth of jobs, and our future quality of life.

Sound public transportation investment will help the economy, improve the environment, and bring about greater inclusion and opportunity for all residents. Done right, next year’s transportation sales tax referendum can start funding the integrated transportation network that will continue to keep Atlanta one of the nation’s most attractive regions.

Atlanta must have a first rate public transit network that serves the entire region. The world’s major metro regions – from Shanghai to Charlotte – are looking at ways to sustain and expand their transit systems. To remain globally competitive, Atlanta must do the same.

The Atlanta Regional Commission projects that our region will add 3 million people over the next 30 years, bringing us to a population of more than 7 million. While we need to fix and improve our road system, we will not successfully grow through road-building alone.

As the State Strategic Transportation Plan notes, the solution to our region’s mobility needs is a blend of transit and roads. We need a balanced approach in which transit and bicycle/pedestrian investments share priority with our roads.

Let me explain what I mean by this aspiration. A comprehensive transit system for the Atlanta region needs to include:

• New light rail serving both growing suburban counties like Gwinnett and Cobb and the city of Atlanta along segments of the Beltline;
• Extensions of MARTA’s existing heavy rail system at locations like I-20 East in southern DeKalb County;
• Bus rapid transit, to serve areas not served by rail lines;
• Local circulator streetcar and bus networks to serve especially dense areas, bringing people to jobs and to connector transit lines ; and
• Improvements to make local streets hospitable for pedestrians and bicyclists, and to provide safe routes to transit.

The Fair Share initiative, which is supported by recent polls and market and demographic forecasts, will work to ensure that a substantial portion of any new revenues for transportation – beginning with the potential proceeds of the 2012 sales tax referendum – go to public transportation projects and services.

Over the six months between now and October 15, when the list of projects for the 2012 sales tax referendum must be finalized, the Fair Share initiative will work to educate decision makers about the need for transit as it relates to our region’s future economic competitiveness, our mobility options, and the future job and quality of life opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

But we must also realize that this is just a beginning. We cannot solve all of the region’s transportation needs with the funding from this sales tax referendum.

However, we must start working now toward a long-term regional transportation vision that can accommodate future growth. This sales tax referendum is an important first step in that regard. It can serve as a model for how other future transportation investment decisions are made in the region.

Other U.S. and international cities are already building integrated transportation solutions today that can carry them forward 50, not just 10, years.

For Atlanta to remain competitive, for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow to continue to come here to create jobs, for our children and grandchildren to have economic and quality of life opportunities, we must build a transportation system that provides our citizens with choice and mobility.

And transit must be an important component of that system.

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  1. “The Atlanta Regional Commission projects that our region will add 3 million people over the next 30 years, bringing us to a population of more than 7 million. While we need to fix and improve our road system, we will not successfully grow through road-building alone.”

    Um, uh, Ray, you do know that the population of the Atlanta Region is approximately 5.7 million people, a figure which if three million more people are added would bring us close to within or just under the nine million mark? You know, 5.7 million + 3 million = 8.7 million, just like they taught us in elementary school? The Atlanta Region passed the four million mark around 12 years ago, just before the 2000 Census when our population was pegged at 4.1 million. If this kind of “fuzzy math” is in any way indicative of how our political leaders are going about making critcally important decisions, then I guess that we’re just all screwed!

  2. I do totally agree with you, though, that we really critically need transit projects to be a key part of any future regional transportation tax. I like the idea of having light-rail lines in densely-populated core counties, including Cobb and Gwinnett, as you mentioned, but only in heavily populated corridors, preferably on or along existing freight rail corridors like the CSX, Georgia Northeastern, Southern Railway and Seaboard Coast rail lines that run through established historical town centers in Cobb and Gwinnett and NOT on busy roads like Cobb Parkway, which would be better suited for selective increased bus service or Buford Highway, which might be better suited for heavy bus service, cable cars or trolleys.

    I don’t like the idea of running a MARTA heavy-rail or even a light rail line through the right-of-way along Interstate 20 East. Attempting to run a heavy-rail line through the middle of an interstate right-of-way is a huge waste of time and, especially, money. I understand the idea of trying to run rail line through a very heavily-traveled automobile corridor, such as I-20, to try an alleviate vehicular traffic on that corridor, but the major problem with that idea is that the existing development in an interstate corridor is based on catering to and serving automobile traffic and NOT foot traffic which means that the population density in an interstate corridor likely isn’t enough and may never be enough to serve a heavy-rail transit line. Commuter bus routes serving park & ride lots or perhaps maybe even bus rapid transit may be the most effective availble option to serve interstate & freeway corridors within the right-of-way.

    One very critical mode of transit that seems to be getting left out of the conversation thus far is COMMUTER RAIL! There’s no way in hell that this region can ever hope to solve it’s traffic problems if the policymakers and powers-that-be leave commuter rail on a comprehensive scale out of the equation. Commuter rail is perfect to help alleviate hellish morning and evening commutes on major highways like I-75, I-85 & I-20 because, as I mentioned before in regards to light rail lines, there are existing major freight rail and long-distance passenger rail lines that run parallel to the interstates and spur routes off of those interstates that run out from the city. The proposed “Brain-Train” commuter rail line that runs parallel to Hwys 29 & 316 between Atlanta and Athens and the proposed commuter rail line that runs parallel to I-75 between Atlanta to Macon are two of the best examples of commuter rail lines that run parallel to crowded area interstates.

  3. Yeah, Midtown_DD, that just occurred to me. I apologize for the harsh criticism that I leveled towards Ray’s way earlier. Thinking of the Atlanta Region’s transportation issues as only a ten county issue instead of an issue that affects much of the state above of the Gnat Line speaks to a much bigger problem which is the outright refusal or just plain inability of the state to engage in much-needed effective transportation planning. Many of the traffic and mobility issues that we see on our local interstates and freeways are not only generated by traffic from the ten-county Atlanta area, but are also from traffic that comes from all over North Georgia, the Southeast and the nation.
    Employees commute daily from as far away as Gainesville, Athens, Dalton, Middle Georgia (Macon & Warner Robins), Columbus and even Chattanooga to work at jobs here in Atlanta. Any “solution” to this region’s transportation issues must take into account those many longer-distance commutes and must have the state as a dependable partner for this to work.

  4. Yes, we need commuter rail, starting with the “Brain Train” and the line south toward Lovejoy.

    But there’s something else we need to be planning for: significant expansion of MARTA subway lines in the city of Atlanta. The existing MARTA heavy rail is a fragment of what will be needed in 25 years. For Atlanta to be the pedestrian-friendly, medium-density city that many Atlantans would like it to be, the subway system is going to have to expand. I say “subway system” because, while light rail and buses have their place in an expanded transit infrastrucure, those things tend to get stuck in traffic, while subways don’t. (And elevated rail tends to destroy pedestrian life.) The proposals to (a) run a line from Lindbergh to Emory, and (b) run a line from Garnett to Turner field, would be improved by seeing them as the beginnings a MARTA intown loop such as one finds in mature subway systems. Picture (for instance) Garnett, Turner Field, Grant Park, Glenwood Park (w/Beltline link), then one of the East Line MARTA stations (Inman Park or Candler Park), then Emory, Lindbergh.

    Anyone familiar with the city can picture other subway loops which make sense, and which reflect existing and emerging pedestrian-friendly areas.

    There will be the usual objections as to cost, but try to imagine what it’s going to cost Atlanta if we DON’T do this.

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