Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Comments from Cobb's Transportation Roundtable Public Meeting

Last night I attended a Public Meeting of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable in Cobb County regarding the proposed 1% sales tax in 2012 to fund $6.1 Billion in transportation projects in the Metro Atlanta area over a ten year period. I was one of seven random people chosen to speak for two minutes at the end. Here's an article from last night. Some people quoted in the story must think there's some type of conspiracy theory going on, because six of  the speakers last night spoke in favor of it. The county previously held other smaller local-based town hall meetings that  I did not participate in. At those, apparently many were opposed to rail and transit. Anyway, had I had four minutes to speak last night, here's what I would have said:

The Cobb Complete Streets Policy – unanimously adopted by the County Commission in January, 2009 states:

"Safe access for ALL users – including motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users, including individuals with disabilities and senior citizens, in the planning, design, construction and operation of streets with its jurisdiction."

The Cobb County Bicycle/Pedestrian Plan was adopted in 2010.

In the Cobb 2010 SPLOST, $278M is budgeted for roads. Unfortunately, zero is budgeted for on-street bicycling facilities.

Think bicycles shouldn’t be on the road because they don’t pay for them? Think again. We’ve been heavily subsidizing motor vehicles to use public roads for decades. Most bicyclists I know are white collar professionals, paying property, income and sales taxes. AND they drive cars & pay fuel taxes, too.

Do you know where the funds come from to pay for the roads? Revenues from motor vehicle fuel taxes and other fees only account for just over 50% of the cost of building and maintaining roads and bridges. The remaining amount comes from property taxes, general fund allocations, bond issues, etc. It has been the government's role at all levels for the past several decades to heavily subsidize and reallocate wealth to support motor vehicle transportation. 

Walking & Biking make up 12% of all the trips in the US, sadly account for 14 percent of all fatal traffic crash victims on our nation's highways., yet only receive 1.2% of the total Federal transportation funding. A pedestrian or bicyclist death or injury affects us all, especially one that could be prevented through better engineering and design by accommodating all users of the road network.

Nearly 25% of trips within the US are less than 2 miles; bicycles use no gas or cause pollution; in Metro Atlanta and we had 30 days of Code Orange smog alerts this summer. When I moved here in 1984, we didn’t have any. Georgia's obesity rate has doubled in the last 15 years; and bicycling is a great way to get a bit of healthy and family-friendly exercise.

In Georgia, bicycles are defined as a vehicle, are legally protected and are able to use the publicly owned right of way on our roads -- which we all own together.

Across the region, you're finding parents and elected officials coming together to add bike lanes and paths so their children can choose to walk or ride their bike to school via Safe Routes to School programs. That makes one less car on the road in the morning if the parent normally drives their child to school. Multiply that times the thousands of parents each day driving their kids back & forth to school across Metro Atlanta, and that adds up to REAL dollars we're sending to the Middle East each day to feed our fuel addiction.

As Sam Olens says, we need to work as a REGION. Look at widening Johnson Ferry road south of the River. It took 20 years to happen. Just because it was in a DIFFERENT county?

When you go on vacation – say overseas - where do you say you’re from? People say Atlanta. Not East Cobb. We need REGIONAL leadership and planning. Not just focused on “my” neighborhood. I work from home, so why should I be concerned about needing regional transit? Yet we are all related by cause and effect. 

Do we want to become a world class city? Then we have got to have a world class multi-modal transit system. For examples in the south, look at Charlotte and Dallas. They’re passing us by with transit. Denver just received $1 Billion in Federal transit funds.

We are so connected. People move to Cherokee or Forsyth, because of low “cost of living”. Yet, I’m expected to pay for their commute every morning. 30% of pollution is caused by motor vehicles, which contributes to asthma. Asthma is the number one cause for admission into Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Milton Friedman uses the term “Neighbor Effect”. If your economic activity has a negative impact on me, you need to pay for it. So think again, if your transportation activity has an impact on others. The answer is clearly YES.

Do you know what’s at the bottom of every GDOT stationary? “Georgia is the 6th fastest-growing state in the nation, yet 49th in per capita spending on transportation.”. We must do something now.

Metro Atlanta rose up and secured the 1996 Olympics. We added heavy rail connections with MARTA. We improved – a bit – of our infrastructure then. We need another Billy Payne to bring us all together again on this effort today.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why do Parents Drive their Kids to School?

The following are my thoughts concerning a posting from the Dunwoody Talk Blog entry regarding traffic backups caused by parents driving their kids to & from school:"A Problem that Needs Fixing"

I respectfully disagree with the basis of your argument on this human-made problem. It completely misses the cause that parents drive their kids to & from school voluntarily. That's it. Do we a society need to reallocate wealth to encourage this behavior? 30 years ago, this was unheard of.

On this Constitution Day, this is an interesting debate in the role of government and our publicly-funded education system. Is it an essential role of the school system or the local municipality to reallocate wealth & resources to manage this human-made problem? What offsetting reductions in government services or funding have been identified to pay for this? My DeKalb School & county taxes are high enough, thank you.

Recently, I've met a couple of parents that habitually drive their kids EVERY DAY to & from school, leaving their cars idling & spewing carbon dioxide into the air for our children to breathe. Another DES parent who volunteers with their Safe Routes to School program told me that parents have SCOLDED HER when she asked them if they would turn off their idling cars. She's now so intimidated and threatened, that she's not saying anything to these parents any longer.

We have had over 30 days of smog alerts in the Metro Atlanta area this year. When I moved here, we didn’t have ANY smog alerts. Now people are just taking them as a matter of fact and a bygone conclusion. Our children are getting asthma at an alarming rate and that smog is an asthma trigger. Asthma is one of the most common chronic illnesses in children and the #1 reason for admission to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Cars cause up to 30% of the smog & pollution we breathe each day. Following Milton Friedman's Neighbor Effect, if an economic activity has a detrimental effect on another, you need to pay for it. And I guess the price of gasoline still isn’t high enough to make behavior change and to consider an alternate than driving your child to school.

What has happened in the past 30 years that this “parent-driving” is such a necessary regular routine? It was an extremely rare and special occurrence for a parent to pick up a kid when I was in school in the 70's. As you have evidenced locally, nationally, up to 25% of rush-hour traffic can be attributed to parents driving their kids to school. Instead of immediately looking for government to step in and spend taxpayer funds to increase motor vehicle capacity and throughput, encouraging this behavior, how about putting together other ways of allowing children to walk/ride their bikes or take the bus to school? Apply some type of carrot/stick method to positively encourage NOT having parents drive their kids to school every day.

As Pattie mentions, what's worse with DES, is that the principal HOLDS BACK kids that want to walk or ride their bikes to school UNTIL THE END, adding insult to injury. After all of the carpools & buses have left. Flip this around, please and REWARD those good kids and their parents that encourage this healthy activity.

Woodland is over in the city of Sandy Springs, where their annual budget is $78M, or $829 per capita. Dunwoody's annual budget is $20M, or $434 per capita. Please don't compare our rich neighbors in Sandy Springs to Dunwoody for funding and expenditures.  
The answer is developing a strong Safe Routes to School program, applying the tenets of Complete Streets and applying a carrot/stick to ENCOURAGE taking the bus, walking or riding a bike and DISCOURAGE parents from driving a motor vehicle on to school property.

FYI, about Georgia Law and riding a bike on the sidewalk:
During the 2009 session, Georgia legislators passed Senate Bill 196 to amend Title 40 (motor vehicles and traffic). The amendment allows local governments to let children 12 and under bike on sidewalks, and states that no others can operate vehicles on sidewalks (a bicycle is legally defined as a vehicle in Georgia). Other aspects of the bill increase the fines and jail time for motorists who seriously injure cyclists or pedestrians.
(40-6-144) "Except as provided by resolution or ordinance of a local government for sidewalks within the jurisdiction of such local government authorizing the operation of bicycles on sidewalks by persons 12 years of age or younger, no person shall drive any vehicle upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or duly authorized driveway."

What the Dunwoody Ordinance has to say:

I did a text search in our Dunwoody Code for “bicycle” and did not find anything specifically mentioning authorizing riding a bicycle on the sidewalk if they are over the age of 12, etc.

The closest thing I could find was in  Article I, Section 30-5 Skateboards and Bicycles

“Whenever any person is riding a bicycle or skating upon a sidewalk, that person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signal before overtaking and passing the pedestrian.”


Friday, September 16, 2011

Senate Passes Transportation Bill - Including Transportation Enhancements

Yesterday, the Senate passed a clean extension on the Transportation Bill with a large margin of 92-6, keeping the important Transportation Enhancements.  This means that all current transportation funding and programs will continue to March 31, 2012 — the date the extension expires. During this time we will have much work to do to ensure that bicycling is included in either a long term transportation bill or another extension. Both GA Senators voted "yea" on the clean extension. Give them a call & say thanks!

Chambliss: (202) 224-3521
Isakson: (202) 224-3643
Say hello to keeping things like the TE grant for nearly $500k that Kingsley Elementary received for their Safe Routes to School program, helping kids to be able to walk or ride their bike to school.

Say hello to keeping things like the TE grant that we got for Dunwoody Village Parkway to redesign a 4-lane 25 MPH motor vehicle-only "speedway", into a Complete Street accessible for ALL users, to include pedestrians and bicyclists.

Oklahoma Senator Coburn spoke on the Senate floor demanding that Transportation Enhancements be stripped from the Extension of the SurfaceTransportation bill. Coburn "agreed to drop his opposition in exchange for assurances that a highway program that funds bike paths and other "transportation enhancements" will be eliminated at a later point." We'll see what happens come next March...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Time to Take Action — A Major Attack on Bicycle Funding

House Republican response to passing a “clean” extension to the Federal transportation program includes an explicit demand that funding for bicycling and walking infrastructure be stripped out of the program.

The following message is extracted from Andy Clarke, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists:


The current transportation bill that funds highway, transit and bike/pedestrian improvements across the country basically expires at the end of this month. Congress either has to write a new law (highly unlikely) or agree to continue or extend the existing program for a set period until they write a new long-term law for the next five or six years. And, they can either pass a “clean” extension – not changing anything, just continuing what we’ve had since 2005 – or they might try to change a few things along the way.
Senator Coburn (OK) has said he won’t agree to an extension unless funding for bike projects is stripped out. Representatives Boehner and Cantor have basically said the same thing in the House. Yes, folks, they are willing to hold the entire transportation program hostage – infrastructure spending and millions of real jobs – to get rid of bike projects.
Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved their extension bill. It’s clean. Most likely, Coburn will try to force a vote on the floor of the Senate next week to strip out the popular transportation enhancements program…which funds the lion’s share of bike and pedestrian projects around the country. So, if you’ve ridden on a bike trail or bike lanes, or used a bike rack on the front of a bus in the last few years…the chances are you’ve seen the program in action. And if Coburn, Cantor and Boehner succeed, we’ll see a dramatic drop-off in bicycling safety improvements.
Why would they do this, I hear you ask. After all, bike projects create jobs; bike projects improve safety; more bicyclists means less congestion, cleaner air, less oil consumption, fitter and healthier American’s. It’s baffling. It’s not like the transportation program is going to be cut by the amount they strip out for bike funding…no, the money still gets spent but it will likely buy us another mile or two of freeway instead of thousands of small-scale, labor-intensive bicycling and walking improvements.

Equally, the enhancements program is hardly eating up a massive chunk of the transportation program. Even though Cantor and Boehner like to leave the impression that it’s ten percent of the transportation program…it isn’t. Not even close. It’s ten percent of one of dozens of programs that make up the overall program. In fact, enhancements account for barely one percent of Federal transportation funds.

Another myth you’ll hear – most likely from Coburn’s camp – is that states will still be able to spend their funds on bicycling projects if they choose to do so. While that’s technically true, the reality is that most states will stop spending a dime on bike projects overnight. Utah has already stopped their program in anticipation; they just can’t wait!

We have to stop them. We need to save cycling! Go to our on-line advocacy center right now to contact your members of Congress. Tell them you support continued dedicated funding for bicycling and walking projects, and you support a clean extension to the transportation bill.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Patience, Grasshopper

Let there be light
One of the reasons my wife and I chose to live in our neighborhood was that we could WALK to something. We live within a five minute walk of an array of shops, restaurants, a grocery store and local markets. About 200 feet from the entrance to my neighborhood is a 4-way stop sign intersection. At nighttime, the intersection was pitch black. Many times, vehicle drivers only come to a rolling stop, especially at night when they don't see any bright headlights coming in the opposite direction. Otherwise, it's a mesh-mosh of vehicles playing chicken with each other, seeing who gets to go first after getting to the stop sign. It's tough enough for vehicles, let alone a poor pedestrian attempting to make the crossing. 

Earlier last year I spoke up about adding pedestrian safety features this intersection. I met with city staff and discussed with a couple of council members. Just in the last day or two we now have a nice, well-lit illuminated intersection, thanks to the Dunwoody Public Works Department, namely the Director, Michael Smith. Mr. Smith worked over several months of following-through with Georgia Power to make this happen.

Like to walk safely somewhere? Considering moving to a new neighborhood? Consider your Walk Score. Ask new developers, municipal planners, zoning and elected officials to ensure they have policies and budgets in place to support your ability to walk instead of being held hostage to a motor vehicle, stuck in the 1950's. I know there's some people that think that Atlantans won't ever leave their cars. But every day people are proving that false. We just need to keep up with concepts such as Complete Streets and continue retrofitting our communities. It's a generational initiative to be passed forward.

Ask, and maybe eventually you'll receive. Just complain and not engage, and nothing will happen. So just have some patience, be reasonable and understand that you're not going to get everything you ask for all the time. But this is sure nice to see.