All The Cool Kids Are Doing It (Driving Less)

A report released  by U.S PIRG,  Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy, tells us what the kids are doing these days.  Apparently they are walking more and driving less; they are less likely to own cars and more likely to take transit than previous generations.   The study attributes this change in part to economic pressures (gas is particularly expensive when you can’t find a job) but also to a fundmental shift in lifestyle choices.   Examining the study, Richard Florida finds further proof for a theory from his book The Great Reset:

“Whether it’s because they don’t want them, can’t afford them, or see them as a symbol of waste and environmental abuse, more and more people are ditching their cars and taking public transit or moving to more walkable neighborhoods where they can get by without them or by occasionally using a rental car or Zipcar.”

Consumer preference and lifestyle decisions are key drivers shaping growth, development, and the demands on our transportation system.   And the vision for how our communities should look like is changing, particularly among the younger demographics analyzed in the report.  A suburban house with two cars in the garage may have been the ideal in the past but young people today don’t aspire to that same vision.  The first time home buyers of today and tomorrow are dreaming of walkable, mixed use communities served by public transit. 

 Real estate developers have figured this out already; our transportation system needs to adapt as well. 


Emory’s Newest Class: TIA 101

Tomorrow night, Emory University is hosting an informational event on the Transportation Investment Act for members of the “Emory community.”  (Click on the thumbnail for the full flyer).

 Emory has 14,000 students.  It employs about 25,000 people.   One million people drive to Emory and use the visitor parking every year.  So it comes as no surprise that Emory is concerned about transportation.  But what is unusual is the initiative Emory is showing by holding this meeting to educate their community about the TIA and encourage them to make an informed decision on July 31st.   

Which raises the question: why isn’t everyone doing this?  Georgia Tech, Georgia State, the community and technical colleges – they all need to make sure that professors and students can get to class.  Employers – from Coca Cola and Home Depot to down to small businesses – should all be concerned about whether their employees can get to work.  Entertainment centers – the Georgia Dome, the aquarium, the High Museum – all rely on transportation for their customers.  And every person stepping on an airplane needs to understand what transportation means for the airport.

We don’t need all these entities telling us how to vote.  But transportation affects nearly every facet of our lives and the TIA is a major decision on transportation in the region.  Now is the time for community leaders to help shape transportation in Atlanta by educating their constituents (employees, customers, students, members, etc…) about the upcoming referendum.  

Education on the TIA should be happening everywhere, not just in college classrooms.

A Visionary In Our Midst

Streetsblog has posted a list of 11 Visionary Bureaucrats, profiling officials who are “bringing American cities and towns into the 21st century when it comes to transportation and planning policy.” They stretch the meaning of bureaucrat to include Atlanta’s own Ryan Gravel for his work to shepherd the Atlanta Beltline from thesis to execution.

Congratulations, Ryan!

Become A Walking Know-It-All

The online magazine just concluded a great series of articles on walking. Yes, four distinct pieces on that mode of transportation almost everyone uses daily without a second thought.

Map of Walk Scores for Metro Atlanta

The series guides us through the “Crisis in American Walking;” the science and planning that give rise to how we walk (or why we don’t);  why the website Walk matters; and offers some possible solutions.  And just for good meaure, Slate threw in a bonus article on why all the pedestrian-friendly cities seem to be in blue states.

Of note for metro Atlanta, the series also discusses the Raquel Nelson incident from last summer but was published before the situation was tragically repeated again this year.


Vision of Transit in the TIA

By now you’ve probably seen or heard the ads by Tranform Metro Atlanta and Citizens for Transporation Mobility on the transportation sales tax vote this July.  And you might have used the Atlanta Regional Commission’s mapping tool to see what projects are in your area.

Citizens for Progressive Transit "Voters Decide 2012" Map

But the folks at Citizens for Progressive Transit have taken a different approach.  CfPT has prepared a stylized map of what the region’s transit network would look like if the TIA projects are added to the existing MARTA and streetcar networks.  The map underscores that the TIA project do not exist in isolation but instead build upon the existing transit system to connect the region via transit service.

Click on the image for a full size copy of the CfPT map.

[A revised version of the map was added on June 4, 2012]

Death of the Exurbs: Four Perspectives

 Last week the Census Bureau released a new block of data, the dryly named “2010 Census Summary File 2.”  The file contains all sorts of data but of particular interest is the county by county population data.  Across the country and here in Atlanta, the data shows a clear trend of slower growth on the exurban fringe compared to the established suburbs and urban core.   This trend is a reversal of the growth pattern that created the sprawling Atlanta region as we know it today.

Various commentators have put their own spin on the data but they all reach the same conclusion:  we are witnessing the death throes of exurban growth.    

  • The Brookings Institution graphs the comparative growth in urban, suburban, and exurbs in a number of Sunbelt cities;
  • USA Today uses a fancy map to compare 2006 and 2011 growth rates;
  • ABC takes a more anecdotal approach with this story and cites Pike, Barrow and Paulding as some of the counties experiencing the sharpest reversal in growth patterns in the country;
  • NY Times goes with an editorial.

[Make that five perspectives: the Washington Post ran this blog post on the Census data and what it means for the exurbs.]

If you want to crunch the numbers yourself, Summary File 2 is here.

HOT Lane Tolls Continue To Rise

Like the spring temperatures, tolls on the I-85 HOT lanes continue to rise.  The AJC reports that toll price for the southbound lane reached the $5 mark for the first time this morning.  Prices are likely to continue rising this summer – GDOT’s modeling for the project estimated that tolls for the project could eventually reach $6.

Scoping Out the MMPT

The Federal Transit Administration and GDOT announced that they will begin preparing an Environmental Impact Statement for the Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal planned for downtown Atlanta.  An EIS is the environmental review document required by federal law for this type of project, and the first step in the EIS process is to define the project’s “scope.”

Scoping meetings are scheduled for the following dates:  

  • April 24, 2012  (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.)  Georgia Railroad Freight Depot, The Freight Room, 65 Martin Luther
    King Jr. Drive SE., Atlanta, GA 30303;
  • May 1, 2012  (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)  Georgia State University Student Center, Court Salon, 44 Gilmer
    Street, Atlanta, GA 30302;
  • May 3, 2012  (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.)  Antioch Baptist Church North, 540 Cameron M. Alexander Blvd. NW.,
    Atlanta, Georgia, 30318.

 These meetings will be a great opportunity to see what the MMPT is all about and provide input on what you’d like the project to be.

Bullish About Rail

When Warren Buffett purchased the freight rail company Burlington Northern Santa Fe in 2009, many financial analysts scratched their heads.  At the time, the economic recovery was going nowhere and the once mighty rail industry was facing increasing challenges, having lost significant market share to highways over the years.  There were whispers that Buffett had lost his Midas touch.

However, looking at the prospects of the rail industry today, it appears that Buffett sniffed out a golden opportunity three years ago.  International trade expanded last year for the second year in a row, with exports increasing 14.5 percent and imports increasing 13.8 percent.  Over the same period, rising fuel costs made highways less cost-effective because hauling freight on highways is three times less fuel efficient than hauling freight on rails.  The combination of these factors caused freight volumes, which hit lows in 2009, to increase steadily.  Experts are now predicting that freight volumes could increase by as much as 80% by 2035. 

Because of these factors, the private sector is now more bullish than ever about the prospect of rail in the United States.   S&P Rating Services predicts that the private sector will invest approximately $13 billion in rail infrastructure in this year alone, and CSX, one of two major Class-I railroads providing freight service in Georgia, recently announced plans to fill over 300 jobs from Maryland to Alabama.   In addition, Norfolk Southern, Georgia’s other Class-I freight provider, is planning to invest heavily in the Crescent Corridor, a 2,500-mile rail network from Louisiana to New Jersey.  Private sector investment in rail isn’t limited to just freight rail either — Florida East Coast Industries is planning to spend over $1 billion on track upgrades so that it can launch passenger rail service on freight lines between Miami and Orlando.

It looks like the rest of the private sector is finally catching up with Warren Buffett.

New Direction for New Starts

The Federal Transit Administration recently requested comments on proposed changes to the New Starts and Small Starts programs.  SELC’s comments on the proposed changes are here

Charlotte's Lynx Blue light rail line, recipient of a $193 million New Starts Grant

For Atlanta and other fast growing cities in the Southeast, one particularly important theme in the proposal is how the New Starts program would treat reductions in trip distance.  A number of the proposed changes would place greater emphasis on reducing VMT and use VMT reductions as the basis for quantifying other benefits.  For example, a project’s VMT reduction would be used to calculate its environmental impacts, its economic development potential, and its safety performance. 

Atlanta’s per capita VMT is among the highest in the country, so we have plenty of opportunities to reduce VMT.  And with the Beltline, the streetcar network, and other light rail projects all potentially in the queue for New Starts funding, these policy changes to emhasize VMT reduction could be a positive development for Atlanta.