Getting around traffic congestion

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Two views on fighting congestion today: The first comes from MARTA and its plans to promote real estate developments around existing stations. These will provide residential and business opportunities for citizens who really want to beat the vehicular madness by living or locating near MARTA. The second comes from a transportation think tank which reports that, while our traffic is awful, at least it’s predictable. If you’re flexible and plan adequately, you can find a way around the gridlock.

Commenting is open below.

Non-transit projects underway

By Keith Parker

In case you haven’t heard yet, MARTA is now open for business.

Of course, MARTA remains dedicated to its core mission of providing quality bus, rail and paratransit service to the metro Atlanta region as we’ve done for the past 34 years.

We also realize MARTA has an obligation – and an opportunity – to collaborate more closely with the private sector and other stakeholders to reposition the transit system for future growth and expansion.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Earlier this month, for example, MARTA teamed up with the Atlanta Regional Commission to host Development Day at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference center in Midtown. The event attracted about 250 residential and commercial developers, architects, engineers, local officials and the general public.

The participants learned about partnering with MARTA as we implement plans to convert acres of underutilized real estate we own near rail stations into transit-oriented developments, or TODs.

Cities such as Denver, Charlotte, Portland and Washington D.C. are also making investments in TODs by building communities which seamlessly mesh multifamily residential and retail complexes with existing or planned transit stations.

Many real estate experts predict that a larger proportion of future development will take place in, and around transit centers as a result of shifting demographics and growing concerns about the environment and quality of life. TODs are already gaining traction in other auto-centric communities similar to our own, including Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Reconnecting America, a national nonprofit group that advocates for coordinated land use and transportation options, estimates that the number of U.S. households located near transit stations will increase from six million today to as many as 15 million by 2030.

Because MARTA began laying the groundwork for its TOD program during the depths of the recession, we are now poised to take advantage of the next real estate development cycle. We have published comprehensive plans for all 38 MARTA stations and we are drafting a five-year strategic plan for future TOD projects  (www.itsmarta.com/TOD-real-estate.aspx).

Our ambitious yet realistic goal is to work with private investors, lenders and developers to initiate five TOD projects in the next two years.

The first stations on MARTA’s TOD list are King Memorial in downtown Atlanta and Avondale in Decatur. Next in line are MARTA-owned sites at Abernathy Road and GA 400; Brookhaven/Oglethorpe University; Edgewood/Candler Park; and Lindbergh Center.

MARTA also hosted a small business information day that drew 175 local business owners to MARTA headquarters. A diverse group of entrepreneurs raised questions and concerns about doing business with MARTA; they also learned how to become registered vendors and got information about the insurance requirements small businesses must satisfy to participate in our upcoming procurement opportunities and long-term capital projects.

In addition to TODs and other brick-and-mortar projects, MARTA is expanding its footprint in the digital domain.

Metro Atlanta is home to a robust, fast-growing community of high-tech companies, researchers, web-based startups and mobile app developers with whom MARTA is openly sharing our transit system data and other resources.

MARTA staff worked with this community on two recent events – Transportation Camp South and the Atlanta Cleanweb Hackathon – which focused on technology and new media platforms, such as crowd-sourcing, which can be used to address difficult business problems quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.

These initiatives, and others still in the pipeline, are only the beginning. MARTA is exploring other untapped sources of potential revenue and cost-savings – such as non-traditional advertising, in-station concessions and outsourcing – which can benefit MARTA’s existing customers while helping us attract new ones.

The reality is that conventional funding for all transit systems has become more challenging in recent years. That’s why MARTA is committed to finding innovative ways of improving our bottom line while upholding our historic commitment to improving the community we serve.

Keith Parker is general manager and CEO of MARTA.

Traffic’s horrible, but predictably so

By Tim Lomax

Road trips take longer in rush hour, we all “get” that. And we all know that traffic isn’t “average” every day; it varies a lot.

When you really need to be somewhere at a specific time — whether it’s a family dinner, a meeting, picking up a child at daycare, or a doctor appointment — you have to plan for the possibility of an even longer trip.

As bad as Atlanta’s traffic jams are, it’s even more frustrating when you can’t depend on how bad the traffic will be.

Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2012 Urban Mobility Report includes a measure of this frustrating “extra” extra travel time — the amount of time you have to allow above the regular travel time.

Our dataset from INRIX (a leading private-sector provider of travel-time information for travelers and shippers) catalogs many speeds for each piece of road during the year. These have been analyzed to identify the longest travel times — the ones that you have to plan around.

The planning time index (PTI) identifies the extra time that should be allowed to arrive on-time for a trip 19 times out of 20, meaning you should be late for work only one day out of the 20 workdays per month). So if your boss will let you be late to work one day a month, this measure gives you an idea of how much time you should allow to get to work. If the PTI for your trip is 3.00, that tells you to plan 60 minutes for a trip that takes 20 minutes when there are few other cars on the road (20 minutes x 3 = 60 minutes) to ensure you are on-time.

Our estimates show that while Atlanta’s freeways have the 7th-highest congestion ranking in the U.S., they are only the 21st most unreliable. So, the roads are very congested, but travel times are more reliable than many other congested regions.

Not exactly great news, but it shows what is possible when there is a focus on improving performance.

How does Atlanta improve? We recommend several strategies that focus on “more of everything.” Atlanta’s population growth will require more roads and transit.

Those systems also have to be efficiently operated; the Georgia DOT NaviGAtor system plays a key role in quickly clearing crashes and communicating problems.

Travel alternatives — options like flexible work hours and teleworking — will also play a key role for those who have the ability to do their jobs from anywhere. And developments that allow people to live, shop and work without auto commuting also offer attractive options for some city residents.

But, in all cases, the solutions need to work together to provide an interconnected network of mobility services that allow metro Atlanta residents to get to where they want to be in a predictable, and not overly long, time.

(More information about the TTI report at mobility.tamu.edu/ums)

Tim Lomax is senior researcher at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

15 comments Add your comment

Road Scholar

March 26th, 2013
3:20 pm

Our congestion is predictable? So is the air quality, and as congestion continues and gets worse…people are moving to Atlanta…..like it or not, we have to try/expand transit as a solution.

Chris

March 26th, 2013
3:09 pm

Timing red lights would be a commen sense cheap start

Andrew

March 26th, 2013
11:58 am

I think we’ve opted for the de facto transportation plan which is “Enjoy Your Car!”

Because there is almost zero relief coming your way.

zeke

March 26th, 2013
8:58 am

All it takes is a little common sense, knowledge of the area, and intelligence! I moved to Atlanta in the mid 80’s! Lived in Marietta and worked in Doraville! Only time I was ever delayed or late was when there was a big wreck on the perimeter! Then lived in Mableton and worked at the cnn center! Never took me more than 30 minutes to work, unless there was a major wreck on 20! You have to learn the area, the roads, and, if you do not have a reasonable sense of direction, USE A MAP!

the problem solver

March 26th, 2013
8:30 am

Is the Cotton Exchange still in business? This is the 150th anniversary year of the Battle of Gettysburg. The new exhibit will be open on the day of the start of the battle. None of the original participants will be attending.
As for Marta and the ongoing traffic problems. Houses were built in the suburbs without the infrastructure like roads and sidewalks to accomodate them. That is the root cause of the problem.
I think the solution to the traffic overload will solve itself. Commuters will finally resort to mass transit, move closer to their work or the places of business will move closer to the employees, so there is no problem.