Atlanta as a Global Platform: International Lessons for Atlanta’s Transportation System
Atlanta is looking to international cities as models for its transit systems. Editor’s note: This
Editor’s note: This commentary by Jorge Fernandez, consultant at The Pendleton Group, is published as part of the firm’s annual sponsorship of Global Atlanta and is the third in the series on Atlanta as a Global Platform. The first two installments looked at how companies use the city as a global base and why (according to two ambassadors) Atlanta matters so much in global relational map. Read the third and final article below.
How often have you or your colleagues complained about Atlanta traffic? Have you ever skipped a business meeting because you didn’t want to fight traffic? What happens if potential investors begin to do the same?
Whether we like it or not, economic development is reliant on effective transportation systems. And vice versa – well-developed transit systems can encourage investment.
For Atlanta to continue to attract business and investment – especially international business – people must be able to move efficiently around the city, from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, to downtown corporate headquarters, to suburban offices.
Atlanta has much to learn from other cities around the world about developing effective transportation systems that encourage economic development, and among our consultants and within our international work at the Pendleton Group, we’ve seen smart transportation planning in action, both locally and abroad, that could help Atlanta accelerate inward investment and bring more of the world’s best and brightest to our city.
Atlanta’s transportation evolution
Some 20 years ago, parts of the metro Atlanta area began work on transportation systems that encouraged healthy economic development, according to Pendleton consultant and former mayor of the City of Decatur, Bill Floyd.
Decatur began to rate its streets, intersections and sidewalks according to ease of use for commuters. The goal was to make the transportation experience on local streets as enjoyable for walkers and bikers as it was for drivers. The study also included a health component, striving to encourage new development that was more walkable and, thus, healthier.
The transportation evolution stories of other cities around the world have served as good lessons for Atlanta, according to Miles Shephard, vice president of business development North America for international engineering and architecture consultancy, IDOM.
With one of its North American offices in Atlanta, IDOM has advised Atlanta on the adoption of worldwide trends in designing and operating public transit systems.
“Atlanta is a growing city, and it’s a city with a traffic problem. More can be done to help people get out of their cars and into public transportation,” Mr. Shephard said.
Our teams are doing more. IDOM has been working with Pendleton and Atlanta’s various public transportation actors to improve transit systems in the metro area.
“Our working relationship with IDOM is invaluable for learning from the firm’s global experience,” Mr. Floyd said.
IDOM has been involved in some of the most innovative transportation systems around the world, from Asia (New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam) to the Middle East and North Africa (Saudi Arabia, Algeria), from Europe (Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Spain) to Latin America (Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador).
Each of these transportation systems has lessons that can be applied to Atlanta while ensuring that the character remains “100% Georgia.”
Lesson #1: Integrate different types of transit.
A success factor for urban transportation systems is the combination of different means of transport into an integrated network. Cities including Zaragoza, Barcelona and Bilbao in Spain, Lund in Sweden and Sydney and Melbourne in Australia have implemented integrated systems that combine light rail, metro, buses and bicycles, resulting in improved economic development.
Bilbao, Spain, home of the Guggenheim Museum, is a particularly successful example. IDOM helped extend Bilbao’s metro system from the city center to outlying suburbs, created a tram to link parts of the inner city, connected bus rapid transport (BRT) to all areas and installed cycling lanes throughout the city to attract the public to tourist sites and urban green spaces.
Lesson #2: Safely integrate transit into urban life.
Bus rapid transport (BRT) and light rail transit (LRT) integrated beside car lanes, pedestrian ways and cycling lanes can provide great opportunities to reconfigure streets beyond simply designated lanes for public transport.
Transportation systems can be integrated into the urban fabric with a series of interventions including green spaces and safety measures.
Safe urban transit depends on streetlight priority planning and traffic microsimulation to provide sustainable solutions for congestion and increased public transport speed.
Lesson #3: Use sustainable and environmentally efficacious transit.
Public transit is a sustainable alternative for cars on urban roadways, as it:
- Reduces noise and vibration
- Reduces ambient temperature by installing grass around tracks
- Reduces pollution by using electric vehicles
- Reduces carbon footprint, as trains emit 3.5 times less carbon dioxide per kilometer than road transportation
- Increases efficiency, as trains require 3.5 times less land per passenger than cars
Lesson #4: Make transit widely available.
Not only do efficient transit systems serve popular areas, but they can also transform less-desirable parts of a city, making them more accessible – and ripe for investment.
Light rail has rejuvenated areas across the world, increasing property values and general prosperity.
The Dockland in Portland, Oregon, for example, has been completely revitalized due to light rail, as was the docklands area of London in the 1980s. For Manchester and Sheffield in the United Kingdom, light rail has been particularly successful in restoring commercial prosperity to decaying towns.
Lesson #5: Introduce light rail.
Light rail construction, though expensive, is an opportunity to remodel and reprogram Atlanta’s streets as car-less. A rail system would shift traffic from cars to public transportation, cycling and walking.
IDOM is an advisor to major international clients for LRT planning, systems design and community and urban design outcomes. The company has brought more than 1100km (about 683.51 miles) of light rail to 55 international cities, plus 350km (about 217.48 miles) of metro rail with 280 stations to 25 cities.
IDOM has helped cities like Dublin, Ireland; Tenerife, and Vitoria, Spain; Naples, Italy; Ayacucho, Colombia and Odense, Denmark, attract economic development opportunities by implementing LRT into their urban transportation systems.
In Dublin, the government tackled the city’s congestion problem by investing in a light rail system. The Luas LRT is less expensive than a metro system and provides better service than buses. Travel times are reduced because Luas’s tracks are separate from other rail or roads. The electric Luas is also an environmentally friendly mode of transport, greatly reducing emissions at street level.
Lesson #6: Form unified transportation districts.
Connecting various forms of transit means crossing jurisdictional lines. A key to a successful public transit system in Atlanta – and funding it – is developing relationships among regional transit authorities.
Forming a unified transportation district – for example, from Truist Park stadium in Cobb County to the Doraville MARTA station in Fulton County – is easier said than done. Each of these destinations is in a different jurisdiction.
Peachtree Corners’ technology park is in a similar predicament; companies there need transportation to and within the park, but that would require buy-in from multiple transit authorities. Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners, a public-private partnership that attracts technology startups and other companies, has been experimenting with ideas for autonomous shuttles and other transportation innovations that would transport people for the “last mile” from public transit stations to and within the park.
The same issue exists for the so-called “Top-end 285,” a transportation corridor that cuts through Fulton, Dekalb and Gwinnett counties, connecting the cities of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Norcross. Planners will need to come up with a funding mechanism that serves the mutual interests of all districts involved.
MARTA’s progress and changing perceptions of transit
If Atlanta learns from the experiences of international cities and follows the advice of international consultancies, it could become a model for transportation efficiency that promotes economic development.
MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority system comprised of heavy rail rapid transit, light rail and buses in Fulton, Clayton and Gwinnett counties, is a major advantage because it is an existing, high-capacity metro system.
“From our experience, it is vital to change the image of public transportation.” -Mr. Shepard from IDOM
MARTA understands its role in international development in Atlanta and continues to assist in transit-oriented development (TOD) around existing and potential new stations in expanded areas, according to Mr. Floyd, who serves on MARTA’s board of directors.
Atlanta has plans for streetcars and a BRT system called the “Next Generation Bus Project” that will use designated street lanes and feed into the MARTA line. MARTA is already planning BRT in various parts of the metro area, including Summerhill, Campbellton and Clayton County.
A recent trial run called “MARTA Reach” used a small connector bus, which could be accessed via an app, to transport riders to the nearest transit rail station.
MARTA’s biggest efforts today are in making the “last mile” shorter. MARTA is involved in ongoing discussions with Uber and Lyft about ways to involve those services in connection with transit.
These and other programs will help determine the future of on-demand transit in Atlanta, Mr. Floyd said.
Atlanta’s success with public transit, however, ultimately depends on changing people’s perceptions of public transportation, Mr. Shephard asserted.
“From our experience, it is vital to change the image of public transportation. Transportation is for all, and good design can help bring all members of the public together, improving mobility to all parts of the city,” he said.
Atlantans must embrace the concept of public transit and be willing to get out of their cars. If we can create an urban transportation system that works, we are certain they will.
Contact Pendleton Group to learn more about our work to enhance economic development in Atlanta and throughout Georgia.
For more on our transportation initiatives, contact Mr. Floyd at [email protected] or Mr. Shephard at [email protected].