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.