By Joe Seconder
Tuesday I attended a Public Meeting of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable in Cobb County regarding the proposed 1 percent 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. 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, $278 million 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 and 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 percent 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 and biking make up 12 percent of all the trips in the U.S. Sadly, they account for 14 percent of all fatal traffic crash victims on our nation's highways, and yet only receive 1.2 percent 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 percent of trips within the U.S. are less than two miles. Bicycles use no gas or cause pollution. In Metro Atlanta we had 30 days of Code Orange smog alerts this summer. When I moved here in 1984, we didn’t have any. American's obesity rate has doubled in the last 15 years; 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's 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 and 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. The widening of Johnson Ferry Road south of the Chattahoochee River took 20 years to happen 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. 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 the low cost of living. Yet, I’m expected to pay for their commute every morning. 30 percent 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 our infrastructure then. We need another Billy Payne to bring us all together again on this effort today.