Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Transportation funding: Are there any adults in the room?

Check out Maria Saporta's latest on the transportation funding stuff working its way though the capitol:
We probably have only one opportunity to pass a new transportation funding tool for our region. So it is critically important that we make the right choices for our future transportation needs.

Here is the problem. A possible bill to allow the region to vote on a one-cent sales tax is in the works, but an integral element of that bill is a project list of what transportation improvements the region could fund.

And it’s the project list that worries me. Will it include the kind of transportation improvements that metro Atlanta will need for decades to come?

Given the agencies and people involved in putting together the project list, my fear is that it will include the same-old, same-old — roads and more roads with some limited transit projects thrown in.
I don't want to comment just yet on whether it is a good idea to support a bill with a list in it - the devil is in the details, and we don't yet know what will get through the legislature.  However, I can't help but feel like this is indicative of a fundamental problem with how the state and region is governed.

There simply don't seem to be any adults in the room willing to make the tough decisions.  The political leaders have not realized that the rest of the Southeast has passed us by, and the private leaders haven't done much to help.  This isn't just all about politics - there aren't private leaders like there were in the 60's with Mills Lane and Robert Woodruff.

Listen to Hal Berry (again, from Saporta) talk about the competition:
“Nashville has become a great market for us,” Barry said. “Atlanta is sitting on its hands and feet on our problems. We are not getting it done on traffic.”

The economic development division in Tennessee also is “running circles” around Atlanta partly because it doesn’t have to deal the problems of a major city.

“Thy have a can-do attitude,” Barry said. Nashville also has a strong music industry, universities, the medical industry, and it is still small enough to get things done. “It reminds me of Atlanta several years ago.”
The region and state have been doing nothing for the last decade.  Sometimes I wonder if Atlanta will ever become the world-class city it aspires to be... certainly not if things keep going like they are right now.  We need leaders who can see beyond polls and tea parties, beyond identity politics, beyond short-term tactical calculations and ego games.  We need civic leaders who care about Atlanta.

But we are too parochial - Gwinnett won't work with Fulton, the House can't work with the Senate, and no one will work with Atlanta.  Georgia can't even work with Alabama and Florida to solve the water issue, which will put the kibosh on population growth anyway.

Sorry to be such a wet blanket.  You guys know I'm about as big a home-town booster as you can be... but at what point do you just throw up your hands and go somewhere else?  We are talking about a region with a stagnating job market, ineffective leadership, crippling infrastructure problems...

I don't think we are ever going to get to a point where I don't need a car to get around town easily.  And I want to live somewhere where that is a possibility.


  1. No I don't think so: not the ones who rely this boilerplate: "A greener, more sustainable city is a city that provides a multitude of transit options that promote walkable communities, a city that builds and repairs sidewalks, bicycle paths and lanes — creating urban areas are not dependent on automobiles." Nor the tiresome idea that if our legislators wern't so stupid we could be as cool as Portland. Portland isn't even as cool as Portland.

    Buford Highway has the only self sustaining public transit system and even they use the public roads.

    Anyway I have low tolerance for this stuff today. I'm sure I'll have better attitude tomorrow.

  2. RE: "I don't think we are ever going to get to a point where I don't need a car to get around town easily. And I want to live somewhere where that is a possibility."

    My family and I are in the same boat. We are currently planning to move out of Atlanta in two to three years so that we can live, and raise our child, in an environment that is walkable and that has more widespread diversity in transportation options.

    Being bound to individual car ownership just rubs us the wrong way. I prefer the freedom of choice found in so many other big cities that have extensive transit systems -- plus commercial and residential development that is intelligently connect by them.

    I had a lot of hope for Atlanta for a long time, but my hopes have faded. I'd love to be wrong in my pessimism, but city and state leadership don't seem to be interested in creating a cohesive plan for a truly walkable, livable urban core as a residential option for the growing number of people who want it.

  3. It's very sad. There's so much potential here, yet it's opposed by so many entrenched and reactionary forces. Like you, I want to believe, but it's getting increasingly easy to say, "Fuggedaboutit." An excellent and courageous post, Ben.

  4. Ben,

    It's somewhat difficult to say, but honestly, you probably should find somewhere else to live after you've finished your education. This city needs a lot more people like you, people who care and want to make it better. Realistically though, it isn't happening any time soon.

    I came here a couple years ago for a job opportunity. I knew Atlanta's reputation but thought, It can't be that bad. I've found it to be worse than expected. And when I'm truthful with myself, I realize that if I was more sought after in my field, I would have had opportunities elsewhere. And that's precisely the problem. The best and the brightest (in the non-ironic sense), the kind of people this city really needs to get better, rarely move here in the first place. So we have a handful of bright people trying to make a difference while the vast majority just get in their car and drive to work without a second thought. It feels hopeless. And I think the recent mayoral election proves that it is hopeless. There was not a single candidate who was an honest proponent of better urbanism, density, and alternative transit. It's simply not on the minds of most people here.

    Personally, I'm counting the days until I've built enough of a resume to get the hell out of here. I lived in a truly good city before coming here, and the happiness it brings is too valuable to give up for good. While you're here, Ben, you should do your best to make Atlanta a better place. But you only get to live once and given the opportunity, you should live somewhere that makes you happy.

  5. The city has a lot of unrealized potential, and it is frustrating to witness the slow pace of change. There a tons of areas that should have great transit and development and unfortunately many never will. But there are places in the city where it is possible to live without a car while making only relatively minor sacrifices (e.g., Midtown and some areas along Marta lines) so it's not all hopeless.

    What are the "truly good cities" that people are hoping to move to? I grew up here and have some desire to get the hell out and avoid running into people from high school who don't have real jobs. But I realize that Atlanta has a solid combination of big-city amenities, affordability, and good climate (notwithstanding the last 10 days). My concern is that all the U.S. cities with excellent transit and development are really expensive and/or really cold.

  6. It appears that the other primary hater of MARTA and all things transit related, Earl Ehrhart, has been knocked down several notches on the power scale. The new speaker has removed Rep. Ehrhart as head of the rules committee. Hopefully this is the start of the marginalizing of Rep. Ehrhart as he has been incredibly hostile and outspoken on his desire to prevent anything transit related from succeeding.

    As far as cities to relocate to goes, I've already decided to move to Vancouver in a couple of years. I was lucky enough to be there in August when they opened a new transit line and got to be one of the first to ride it. For a city of similar age to Atlanta, it seems like Vancouver is doing everything right: metro government, has the support of the province and the national government, long term planning, natural growth boundaries and a populous interested in something other than guns in bars and tax cuts. It certainly isn't perfect and there are still sprawl issues and automobile primacy but the metro is heading in the right direction to address those issues.

    The cost of living is much higher than Atlanta but only if one insists on owning a detached single family home. Multifamily housing, while still more expensive than Atlanta, is comparable to other cities its size. There are so many amenities that a smaller place is ok since you won't be home as often.

    The only real big downside is all of those fraking Cylons. Anyone who has been to Vancouver and watched the new series Caprica knows what I'm talking about. :)


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