November Update from the ARC Regional Transit Committee

Did you know that the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has a Regional Transit Committee (RTC) that meets every other month to talk about regional transit planning, funding and governance?

The RTC met last week to discuss grants, marketing, the regional transit website, and fare collection. Currently, the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) are working together to administer the GO! Transit Capital Program, offering $75 million in General Obligation bond funds for transit capital projects. Applications are due January 31st, 2016 with awards in the summer. SRTA has long had funding available for road projects through the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, so we are happy to see a program for transit. The RTC approved a resolution for the ARC to apply for funding for regional bus stop signage on behalf of the regional agencies. If awarded, the grant would fund updates to signage for MARTA, Cobb Community Transit, Gwinnett County Transit, and GRTA. We look forward to seeing improvements to transit in Metro Atlanta as a result of this program.

ARC is also working on marketing regional transit, focusing on those who live within walking and driving distance of regional transit services. The campaign will market to Millennials in particular as a target audience. The goal will be to get potential transit riders thinking about the possibility of using transit and then to direct them to the regional transit website AtlTransit.org. The AtlTransit website is a joint effort of metro Atlanta’s transit agencies to provide a unified resource for transit customers. The site launched late last year and has seen recent updates, including real time arrival/schedule information, simplified fare and transfer information, and improved trip planner information. It will also be linked with the unified bus stop signage so that riders can use their phones to get information on the next bus arrivals. Improvements are still in the works, and we look forward to seeing how the site can make it easier to plan trips between multiple transit agencies.

You can explore the AtlTransit website here.

Georgia Transportation Summit 2015

The Transportation Funding Act, House Bill 170, was at the forefront of the discussion at the Georgia Transportation Summit last week. The mood among many transportation officials was celebratory, praising the state legislature for their leadership in passing the bill to add nearly $1 billion in new transportation funding. The event brought together over 700 attendees to hear what transportation initiatives are in the works for the state and Metro Atlanta. Presentations by GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and GDOT Chief Engineer Meg highlighted how significant the new legislation will be to the state’s transportation network.

But will House Bill 170 be the magic bullet for transportation in Georgia? While it is certainly a huge step forward in improving our transportation network, some panelists suggested that we cannot rest on our laurels. There is still work to do, particularly in the realm of transit. David Allman, Chairman of Regent Partners, said the critical next step to follow up on the success of House Bill 170 will be MARTA expansion. Panelist Craig Lesser of the Pendleton Group spoke from an economic development perspective, saying access to MARTA is critical for business in Metro Atlanta. The next panel, featuring MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe, discussed expanding freight and commuter mobility. Ashe highlighted the fact that companies such as State Farm, Mercedes Benz, and Kaiser Permanente have chosen to locate near MARTA and described expansion plans, including the Connect 400, I-20 East, and Clifton Corridor projects.

Among the breakout sessions was a presentation by Keith Parker, General Manager and CEO of MARTA, about MARTA’s success in focusing on an improved customer experience. Now that MARTA has gone through rebuilding efforts and has turned a budget shortfall into a surplus, he discussed plans for expansion potentially funded by an additional half penny sales tax so that the Atlanta region can attract federal matching funds for transit expansion.

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Advance Atlanta goes to camp

On Saturday, September 26th, Members of Advance Atlanta attended TransportationCamp South at Georgia Tech.   TransportationCamp is an “unconference” where sessions are proposed and led by attendees.  Advance Atlanta hosted the “Let’s Advance Atlanta” session, focused on sharing ideas and collecting feedback from fellow transit advocates.

The day started off with an inspiring presentation by MARTA CEO Keith Parker.  Sessions at TransportationCamp covered a variety of  topics, ranging from “A Brief History of Atlanta Freeways” and “Bike Infrastructure Abroad” to numerous sessions on transit including “Transit Equity,” “Let’s Make Buses Sexy,” and “MARTA Army.”

Danielle Elkins began the “Let’s Advance Atlanta” section with a 5 minute pitch on the coalition to Advance Atlanta. This was followed by a group discussion on Advance Atlanta’s role and tactics to work with other transit advocates across the region. We recognize there are a lot of excellent organizations doing incredible work in this field – many were in attendance at Transportation Camp. We look forward to collaborating and sharing information with all of you.

We want to thank those who attended our session and provided valuable feedback. We have made a lot of great connections. We are excited about working with new partners and mobilizing metro Atlantans in support of a unified regional transit system.

How can you get involved with Advance Atlanta? Help us increase awareness of our cause, please invite 10 of your friends to sign-up for our newsletter at AdvanceAtlanta.com/connect

Keith Parker, GM/CEO of Marta, kicked off Transportation Camp with a speech to participants.  Keith Parker, GM/CEO of Marta, kicked off Transportation Camp with a speech to participants. Danielle Elkins kicking of the Danielle Elkins kicking of the “Let’s Advance Atlanta” session

To Connect the Region, Let’s Advance Atlanta

The following article was published in the Saporta Report on September 21, 2015. 

In 1837, when the stake was driven in the Georgia ground to mark the founding of “Terminus,” the city that would become Atlanta began its life as a transportation hub. Today, the home of the world’s busiest airport still thrives as a center for transportation, but its local and regional roads are known more for traffic congestion and conduits for sprawl.

This reality impedes the ability of metro Atlanta to retain residents and companies, as well as attract new residents and businesses to our region.  It makes us less productive workers, less healthy people and less happy residents.

According to the latest Metro Atlanta Speaks survey from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), transportation challenges are a top concern for metro Atlanta residents, but the region also benefits from several positive ingredients: strong workforce density; a multi-centered, cultural renaissance and our transforming – but still skeletal – MARTA transit system.

We need to build on our strengths. Citizens around the region are ready to embrace smart solutions to better connect our lives and ease our stifling congestion. Currently, the areas of the region experiencing the greatest economic growth and rise in property values are prospering due to their proximity to transit. The developments around the Sandy Springs and Dunwoody MARTA stations, including the recently announced Mercedes-Benz and State Farm headquarters, are a prime example of this trend.

Across the country, both Millennials and Baby Boomers are voicing their desire for access to transit and walkable communities, and companies are seeking to recruit and retain top-tier talent by locating their offices in the kind of walkable communities that attract young workers.

We believe that if metro Atlanta is to remain competitive into the future, we will need to provide residents with a comprehensive transit system capable of moving people efficiently through the five core counties of Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton.

That’s why we have founded the Coalition to Advance Atlanta, a grassroots movement of advocates for a comprehensive regional transit system, capable of serving residents of the five core counties.  This coalition is informed by an understanding that legislators don’t make decisions in a vacuum.  The purpose of the Coalition to Advance Atlanta is to demonstrate to our legislators through organizing, grassroots advocacy, media activities and citizen-lobbying that metro Atlantans are ready for comprehensive and connected regional transit.

We can already see the region’s attitude toward transit shifting. In 2014, nearly 75 percent of the Clayton County electorate approved a referendum to expand MARTA into their community.  In Gwinnett County, a Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce poll revealed 63 percent of potential voters supported the expansion of MARTA into their community and 50 percent of those polled said a one-percent county sales tax should fund the expansion.  This emerging popular support needs to be managed and effectively communicated to decision-makers.

The Advance Atlanta coalition will be composed of all segments of the Atlanta region’s population. The coalition will work to harness the many, diverse voices of metro Atlantans, who want to live in a region that will not be undermined by congestion and inadequate infrastructure.

For too long, the debate surrounding comprehensive transit progress has been framed in a manner that pits us against each other.  Whether young vs. old, conservative vs. liberal or urban vs. suburban, these classifications are harmful and these debates fail to illuminate the universal benefits of transit.  The truth is we can no longer view ourselves as independent counties and cities when it comes to transportation and economic development. We will succeed or fail as a metro region.

To build that infrastructure, we need to develop a vision that can be translated to policy, increased funding and ultimately, timely construction. The Coalition to Advance Atlanta seeks to unite citizens’ voices in a shared vision to do just that.  As 2015 comes to a close, and 2016 offers the potential of a ballot initiative for additional MARTA funding in Fulton and DeKalb counties, we will be working hard to unite supporters of regional transit and to provide a platform for those who wish to join the conversation.

The Coalition to Advance Atlanta is just getting started. We invite all metro Atlantans to join us at  advanceatlanta.com.