Community Organizations Urge CDC to Prioritize and Protect Transit As Safe, Equitable Public Good
As our society starts to re-open in ways that keep people safe, the undersigned organizations believe we should focus on supporting those disproportionately impacted by both COVID-19 infections and the economic harm inflicted by the pandemic, which have hit communities of color hardest. Yet the CDC’s “COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings” released last week include a disturbing willingness to give up on ensuring transit is safe for riders and operators, the majority of whom are people of color.
The CDC guidance from May 28th recommended: “for employees who commute to work using public transportation or ride sharing, consider offering the following support: offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as offering reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides.
By June 1, the CDC had added “biking and walking” to “driving or riding by car either alone or with household members” and removed the reference to reimbursing parking. They also added a link on “how to protect yourself when using transportation” with more neutral guidance on all kinds of transportation.
Any guidance from the CDC that tells people to stay away from public transportation is not the answer. What’s more, it’s irrelevant to the lives of the many who rely on transit. Transit is a public good. Our society should focus on protecting it, not telling people to avoid it.
It is imperative that we invest in making transit safe for riders and operators. Anything less undermines the dignity of the essential workers who use transit and who operate transit. Many people don't have another option. Sixteen percent of Atlanta households don’t have access to a motor vehicle. The families residing in these households include our frontline and essential workers.
What’s more, by riding transit people contribute to a social benefit --- better air quality. COVID-19, a respiratory pandemic, is made even more deadly by a reliance on driving alone. Particulate matter in the air kills, and it kills people in low-income communities of color at higher rates.
For the CDC
- CDC’s guidance on protecting yourself when using transportation includes all modes: “Public transit, rideshares and taxis, micro-mobility devices, and personal vehicles.” Their guidance to employers reopening office buildings should do the same. Transit is not inherently unsafe.
- If office buildings can be made safe enough for employees to return, transit must be given the same or greater consideration. In other cities around the world, densely-packed transit systems have continued to operate without increasing the number of cases, seemingly due to widespread adoption of face masks.
For transit agencies, including MARTA
- MARTA recently cited concerns about enforcement and political debates among reasons not to require riders wear masks, but masks should be encouraged and even provided. Transit agencies should ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is widely available to transit riders and operators: for example, through mask and glove dispensers and hand sanitizing stations at all entrances and exits and on platforms. They should launch public awareness campaigns to encourage mask wearing. Emerging research is showing that awareness and changing expectations to normalize mask use have the benefit of being more effective than enforcement.
- They should provide operators and other personnel access to sick leave and policies that encourage them to stay home if they feel sick and make sure those who keep the system clean have plentiful cleaning supplies and equipment. Transit agencies can also take the lead in creating an innovation market for sanitation and cleanliness.
- When too many buses come in a row or are too far apart, it becomes harder to social distance on transit. Cities should invest in bus lanes to keep buses moving, as well as other transportation infrastructure that prioritizes essential workers.
- Companies and large employers should use their influence and connections to support the necessary investments to make transit safe for everyone.
- They should also adopt policies that actively foster sustainable transportation options, including biking, walking, and riding transit, for their employees and commit to making sustainable transportation the first choice in commuting for their companies.
About the Partners
- TransFormation Alliance, a broad partnership of organizations from the private, public and nonprofit sectors dedicated to creating thriving, mixed-income communities anchored by transit and linked to all the opportunities and amenities that make Atlanta great.
- Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy organization dedicated to creating an Atlanta where everyone moves safely, easily, and sustainably throughout the city.
- MARTA Army, an independent grassroots action group, committed to enhancing the ridership experience on public transit here in Metro Atlanta.
- Central Atlanta Progress, a private nonprofit community development organization providing leadership, programs and services to preserve and strengthen the economic vitality of Downtown Atlanta.
- Thread ATL, a non-profit that aims to influence Atlanta’s planning and design decisions toward a greater focus on good urbanism
- PEDS, dedicated to making streets and communities in Georgia, safe, inviting, and accessible to all pedestrians.
- Generator, bringing people together to generate ideas that shape the future of cities.
Join us in urging the CDC to include all modes of transportation in their guidance to employers reopening office buildings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the critical importance for people working essential jobs and getting to essential services to have safe, convenient, and affordable transportation options. Yet cuts to transit service mean options are even more limited than before the pandemic.
More and more Atlantans are turning to biking and walking to get where they need to go. Unfortunately, our city lacks a safe and connected network of spaces for these essential forms of transportation.
Join us in calling on the City of Atlanta to fully fund and rapidly build already-planned projects with community support and to prioritize first- and last-mile connections for those who continue to rely on transit, especially frontline and essential workers, who are disproportionately people of color and women. Atlanta’s recent adoption of Vision Zero shows the City is committed to getting to the goal of zero traffic deaths--these investments would be a strong immediate step in that direction.11 signatures
This campaign calls for the City of Atlanta to
- quickly install 80-100 miles of infrastructure for light individual transportation (LIT: includes scooters and bikes) from pre-existing plans already vetted through community engagement, such as the Quick-Build projects of 2017, the Action Plan for Safer Streets, Cycle Atlanta 1.0 & 2.0, Renew Atlanta, TSPLOST, etc.
- provide urgently-needed safe spaces for people walking or using wheelchairs, starting with any gaps in the sidewalk network along remaining MARTA bus routes and on streets accessing those bus routes, and Safe Routes to School so children can walk and bike safely when schools do reopen. Since it can take years to get sidewalks built, consider "tactical sidewalks" using less expensive materials to provide some protection now.
- empower communities to creatively improve safety on their streets through their own interim projects by establishing a city approval process, or tactical urbanism permit. Additionally, create a small grants fund so under-resourced neighborhoods have equitable access to the process.
We urge the Mayor and Atlanta City Council to ensure the new Atlanta Department of Transportation (ATL DOT) has sufficient funding through the FY2021 budget to do this work in-house using City of Atlanta staff, not expensive contractors, using methods and materials that are fast and cost-effective.
Paying for it
The new Atlanta Department of Transportation draft budget is listed as $44 million (650-page City of Atlanta draft budget is here). By way of comparison, the Office of Transportation formerly housed in the Public Works Dept. had an FY2018 budget of $46 million according to the ATL DOT Feasibility Study. That office is just one of three units being combined into the ATL DOT, the others being the Office of Mobility Planning and Renew Atlanta/TSPLOST.
The ATL DOT’s strategic plan released in fall 2019 prioritizes safety, equity, and mobility for all Atlantans--FY2021 will be year one of implementation.
Changes we want in the FY2021 budget
- Accelerate timeline of Mayor’s Action Plan for Safer Streets: the official announcement from 2019 stated projects would be complete by the end of 2021, yet the ATL DOT budget narrative says three years from now--2023.
- Fund 80-100 miles of LIT lanes and sidewalk repairs to meet the needs of essential workers and trips and provide a timeline.
- Address where the 3.5% of the General Fund set aside for infrastructure maintenance per ordinance 14-O-1513 appears. Designate those funds for safe space for walking & wheelchair use.
- Designate Tuskegee Airmen Academy (TAG) as the City’s pilot Safe Routes to School program and allocate $450,000 for safety improvements to facilitate safe walking and biking to school
- Add tactical urbanism permit to “Proposed Program Highlights” and add small grants fund
- Show the remaining Council District pots of Renew Atlanta funding and spend it on tactical sidewalks
There are communities in the city of Atlanta with almost no sidewalks at all. Often, these are the same neighborhoods that have been most harmed by transportation projects such as highways splitting their neighborhoods in half. This is partly due to redlining policies that imposed structural racism on neighborhood development. Communities with lower sidewalk coverage also have higher rates of walking and riding transit, are disproportionately located within the High Injury Network, and have a larger share of Black residents. These neighborhoods are also home to many people with essential jobs who rely on transit.
Picture it: you rely on transit, the bus route that is three blocks from your house is cut, you are now walking further to catch the bus, maybe carrying groceries or with your young child or both.. As you are walking, the sidewalk suddenly ends. You are now in the street, sharing the road with vehicles that were not anticipating you being there. Your essential trip to the grocery store or work has become more dangerous than fellow Atlantans who can count on sidewalks to reach their destinations.
Safe Streets for All means all types of safety for all types of users in all of Atlanta. The built environment can reinforce a sense of belonging and provide a way to protect vulnerable road users. Yes, protect those who walk, bike, or use a wheelchair. But also protect Black and Brown people, women, and transgender residents that face varying safety concerns while walking and biking that are not a reality for others. Having neighborhood sidewalks as an Atlanta resident should not be among their concerns. Let’s build sidewalks that will create neighborhoods that can sustain growth, development, aging in place, and the inclusion of many different types of users.
As we have said before, the time is overdue to prioritize safety and ease of movement for our community members who have been denied safe and complete streets for decades.
How to share this campaign on social media
We need your help to amplify this call for the City of Atlanta to prioritize safe, convenient, and affordable transportation for essential workers and trips.
- Use #EssentialTransportation and share this campaign on your social media platforms.
The City has an opportunity to show its commitment to #VisionZero by accelerating safety projects, so no one dies trying to get somewhere. Help us hold the City of Atlanta accountable for following through on its plans.
AARP Georgia, Helping Georgians aged 50 and above live their best lives.
American Heart Association of Metro Atlanta, a relentless force for longer, healthier lives in our community.
PEDS, dedicated to making streets and communities in Georgia, safe, inviting, and accessible to all pedestrians.
Georgia STAND-UP, a Think and ACT Tank for Working Communities, organizes and educates communities about issues related to labor unions, transit equity, affordable housing, & economic development.
TransFormation Alliance, a broad partnership of organizations from the private, public and nonprofit sectors dedicated to creating thriving, mixed-income communities anchored by transit and linked to all the opportunities and amenities that make Atlanta great.
ThreadATL, a non-profit that aims to influence Atlanta’s planning and design decisions toward a greater focus on good urbanism
Mayor Bottoms' announcement that Atlanta has entered "phase 2" of reopening notes she directed the Chief Operating Officer to work with the Atlanta Department of Transportation to "develop a plan for Atlanta’s streets. This plan recognizes the role of the City in the economic recovery of local businesses and the ability to use public space to support quality of life during the reopening."
The plan is slated to include several items from our list above, including:
the evaluation and the development of administrative actions to create “tactical sidewalks” to improve mobility in communities to essential services;
the evaluation and development of recommendations concerning the potential creation of a safe community streets permitting process which would support traffic calming in neighborhood streets;
It also includes "the evaluation of potential temporary road or lane closures to create more pedestrian and cyclist space for improved safety and access...the development of a street closure plan to create more public space in support of Atlanta's communities which are practicing social distancing."
We don't view street closures as the right move during a pandemic or even particularly effective, but lane conversions to create safe space for people on foot, bike, scooter and wheelchair have long been a big part of our work, so we see lots of opportunities here for a productive discussion!
How to stay involved
- Learn more about the City’s priorities by attending the Live Public Hearing & Virtual Town Hall Meeting on June 2nd at 6:15 pm.
- Sign up for updates below so we can call on you to support the campaign’s next steps--because this is just the beginning!
Margaret Mullins donated 2020-02-13 16:35:28 -0500