Last week we launched our "Essential Transportation" campaign calling for the City of Atlanta's fiscal year 2021 budget to prioritize urgent transportation needs. The young Atlanta Department of Transportation (ATL DOT) presented its first full budget request at a briefing to Atlanta City Council, which we live-tweeted. We need your help! Take action to support Essential Transportation then join us for a virtual budget watch party June 2nd at 6:15 pm (Facebook event coming soon). Read more for what the ATL DOT highlighted from their budget request.
ATL DOT is slated for $44M in the City's draft budget. From their budget briefing slides, here are some of our takeaways.
"Proposed Budget Changes"
- Note Parking will move under Planning & Strategy. That's interesting because we have long felt off-street parking should be a bigger revenue source for sustainable transportation, through increased fees or taxes. Atlanta's parking rates are still relatively low compared with other cities.
- We're happy with the idea of getting rid of pavement repair techniques that don't seem to work anyway, but we have questions about the residential speed table re-evaluation. Speed tables have their place in traffic calming, but it should be a simpler and faster process to get them installed, and they should be used as a safety measure based on data, not installed upon request only.
- Utility work so often tears up new sidewalks and LIT lanes, so we definitely want stricter enforcement of permitting. This will help preserve both public funding and trust in the City's oversight of our streets.
"Proposed Operational Changes"
- Naming an internal staff member to champion Vision Zero and another to push for ADA compliance sound like good ideas as long as they have enough power and influence to spread those approaches--safety and accessibility--even when they're not in the room. Everyone at the ATL DOT must be all about safety and access.
- The Vision Zero Task Force must be inclusive and include diverse community members as well as professionals from different sectors (transportation of course, but also public health, schools, etc). Given that Atlanta's Vision Zero program hasn't been developed yet, and therefore hasn't taken a position on the role of enforcement, the task force must include members who represent over-policed, under-served communities.
- We like seeing partnerships with local students called out and want more details on this. Part of our ask for the budget is to define the role of the school that will pilot Safe Routes to School and to designate funds specifically to projects that will create safe access for kids walking and biking to school.
"Key program 2 – RENEW | TSPLOST"
- Reduced sales tax revenues are simply a reality in these times but should concern anyone who participated in the 2018 "rebaselining" process for the Renew/TSPLOST funds. We will keep an eye on this and share opportunities to continue advocating that sustainable transportation modes be prioritized if/when projects have to be cut.
- "Implement value management program to address cost" - we want to hear more about this but it sounds like a step towards getting program costs under control. The millions spent on consultants so far are dollars under one expensive bridge. Keep an eye on this aspect--we need the ATL DOT to do whatever it can to reduce project costs as they try to do more with less.
- Leadership matters so we'll also be closely following the new hires slated for this fiscal year. We would like to see some notable hires from other cities so we can bring a healthy mix of people with local knowledge and people with new ideas.
- Key metrics
- Asphalt paving is listed first, at nearly 110 miles. That's a lot of miles. Anyone who rides something with wheels knows our pavement is in terrible shape, so let's take this opportunity to restripe streets with LIT lanes and add tactical sidewalks through these paving projects. This is a big opportunity if the City takes it!
- Sidewalks are traditionally shown in LF, or linear feet, but it's always worth translating into miles. 2,396 LF of new sidewalk comes to under a half mile. 30,792 LF of sidewalk repair = 5.8 miles. It's clear we need new funding sources for sidewalks AND new ways of building them faster and cheaper if we're ever going to catch up to the need. It's also important that sidewalk funding be spent taking car ownership and existing sidewalk coverage into account. Southwest Atlanta and Buckhead both have low sidewalk coverage compared with the rest of the city, but Southwest has a much lower rate of car ownership and more people who rely on the bus. (Of course, there are also people who live in Southwest Atlanta and commute to Buckhead businesses and end their trip with a walk from transit. Both areas need safe spaces to walk and use wheelchairs.)
- ADA ramps are much-needed and finally getting some attention in recent years. Lawsuits and consent decrees have something to do with that but the result is what residents need.
- Finally, bike lanes. New bike (& scoot, what we often call LIT) lanes are listed at 28 miles plus 3.86 miles of "enhanced" lanes. Please, ATL DOT, no more sharrows. Reflectors and delineators would be great and some could be added through a tactical urbanism permit that allows communities to undertake and maintain small projects that increase the safety of existing infrastructure.
"Proposed Operational Change"
- Funding a More MARTA liaison is not a new idea; in fact, the City had someone in this role previously. We do believe it was important to have clear communication with MARTA about the City of Atlanta's priorities and needs.
- BUS LANES--yes, please! Bus riders shouldn't have to sit in car traffic now (or ever) and bus lanes help a great deal. They clearly show the City's prioritization of modes. They won't all be easy, but as development along Memorial Drive shows, they are a lot easier to install before a corridor becomes congested than after. The trick here will be working with MARTA to assess which bus routes are here to stay, as MARTA works to recover from the pandemic.