Create a City of Atlanta Department of Transportation for a cohesive transportation planning and project delivery process that better leverages resources.

The increased demand for transportation options and the desire for context-sensitive approaches to transportation infrastructure that prioritize safety, equity, and accessibility requires a new approach to how we plan and deliver projects. The creation of a City of Atlanta Department of Transportation (ATL DOT) is fundamental to meeting these demands. Creating an ATL DOT would restructure our current transportation, public works and planning tools in order to better leverage resources and streamline project delivery.

Since the ATL DOT would govern the full lifecycle of transportation projects — from planning, project identification, project funding, and project design, to implementation and maintenance — an ATL DOT would have the capacity and, thus, the responsibility, to work strategically.

Currently, Atlanta’s transportation planning and services are distributed primarily between the Department of City Planning (DCP, formerly Department of Planning and Community Development) and the Department of Public Works (DPW) Georgia Department of Transportation, the PATH Foundation, and the Atlanta Beltline. In general, DCP, through its Office of Mobility Planning, is responsible for transportation planning, while DPW is responsible for approvals, operation and maintenance of transportation facilities and infrastructure.

According to a recent study conducted by Georgia Tech graduate students, the absence of a centralized transportation department in the City of Atlanta cleaves the transportation roles in half, forcing the two departments to operate under unclear divisions of responsibilities and scope. Handing off transportation projects from DCP to DPW is often not a clear-cut process, and interdepartmental communications and collaboration tend to be ad hoc. This lack of definitive oversight leads to backlogs, conflicting priorities, and confusion over jurisdictions that may hinder the ability to effectively devise and implement cohesive transportation strategy for the City of Atlanta.

Image: City of Oakland Department of Transportation Strategic Plan

The question of whether to create a centralized transportation department is not new. The City of Atlanta can learn from other cities that have recently restructured their transportation governance in order to improve project delivery and policy implementation.The City of Oakland (population 420,005; San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland metro population 8.8 million) successfully created an Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT) in June 2016. The concept of OakDOT was formally introduced in Spring 2015 and championed by the newly elected Mayor. The City of Pittsburgh (pop. 303,625; metro pop. 2.3 million) commissioneda study to explore alternatives of new transportation agency structure, as well as Denver and Wichita have also commissioned studies.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition recommends that elected officials:

  • Review the study commissioned by City Council Member Andre Dickens as soon as it’s published to create a sound strategic plan that addresses financial budgeting and staff realignment, ensures public transparency, and captures organizational and institutional knowledge, as well as clearly outlining a transition schedule.

  • Immediately appoint an “Interim Director of Transportation” whose tasks include setting up the department with minimal political pressure and after 9 months appointing a permanent Director, whose task would be to oversee the above mentioned strategic plan, facilitating communication within existing departments, and engaging employees and stakeholders in the process of governance restructuring. The Director of Transportation will report to the Mayor and Chief of Staff and will lead both the reorganization process and the newly created Department of Transportation.

  • Ensure a cohesive vision and clear goals for transportation are set to direct the works of ATL DOT.

  • Ensure clear performance metrics and benchmarks are established to allow effective evaluation of the ATL DOT’s works and accountability.