Growth along the top end of I-285 is a good sign of recovery. It also raises questions of how well prepared we are to handle it. Now’s the time to begin talking about best practices going forward.
There are some problems that are actually nice to have. This certainly holds true when it comes to challenges caused by growth and economic development.
When jobs and prosperity are being created, that makes it a lot more palatable to deal with issues that need to be addressed.
That’s the case for what we’ll call the Northern Arc. As in the wide, top-end stretch of I-285, roughly between I-75 on the west and Spaghetti Junction on the east. That 13 or so miles of broad interstate represents a microcosm of Atlanta’s strengths and, yes, weaknesses that came into being as we struggled to keep up with growth here. The former is easy to address; the latter, not so much.
Over time, we hope to discuss on this page other slices of this vast region that stand out as a result of the opportunities and weaknesses they present to the larger Atlanta Inc. brand.
The top end of I-285 is a good place to start, based on recent events that thrust this portion of the region into the spotlight.
The announcement of the Atlanta Braves’ impending move to Cobb County got us thinking about this neck of the metro area. The size of the Braves’ stadium project and associated development is eye-catching, no doubt, but there’s a lot more going on along this portion of I-285.
Multi-family and single-family housing construction is underway at a pace not seen in a half-decade. State Farm not long ago announced plans to build at the Perimeter, near both I-285 and a MARTA rail station. Hopes are being renewed for the old General Motors plant site along another MARTA line, in Doraville, hard by Spaghetti Junction.
Things are happening — fast. Which makes it important that we get right the things both huge and tiny that will be needed to effectively handle all this growth.
Part of the formula for success, we believe, comes from getting smart people talking about these things early on. Much as I-285 encompasses multiple cities and counties and enables mobility between them — much of the time, at least — we believe solutions and input should likewise flow easily between borders. Anyone doubting this should count how many local jurisdictions they travel through in a given week.
As plans progress for projects like the Braves stadium, the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange and other work, we thought it worthwhile to ask some sharp thinkers to share their thoughts on what the region should be addressing now at the top end of the Perimeter.
Their responses are below. We think you’ll agree the points they raise represent a conversation well worth having. Let’s make that happen.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.
I-285 work good for Northside
By Jane Hayse
The top end of I-285 is one of the most vibrant areas in the region. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) estimates that more than 200,000 people rely on this 13-mile corridor between Cumberland and Doraville every day, commuting to and from jobs, making deliveries, running errands or just passing through.
The Northside has witnessed explosive growth over the last several decades, a trend that shows little evidence of slowing.
The Atlanta Braves are building a new baseball stadium and an adjacent $400 million development of retail, restaurant, residential, hotel and office space near Cumberland. To the east, the former General Motors assembly plant in Doraville is now under contract by a private developer, with several exciting ideas being considered for reimagining this 167-acre site. At the “buckle” along the I-285 arc, State Farm recently broke ground on a 2.2 million-square-foot development that will add 3,000 employees in the Perimeter Center area over the next 10 years.
At the same time, as more jobs and people move into an area already experiencing significant congestion, the region faces challenges in funding new transportation investments. A recently announced plan by state officials to overhaul the interchange at Georgia 400 is a good start. Projects along I-75 and, longer term, I-285, will add managed lanes and improve key interchanges.
Though funding has not yet been identified, new transit in the area is a must. State Farm’s decision to locate its new facility adjacent to the Dunwoody MARTA station demonstrates that major companies understand and appreciate the value of public transportation as an option for both employees and visitors. In addition to roads and transit, we must find creative solutions — pedestrian and bike facilities (such as the PATH 400 Trail), teleworking, carpooling and more — to give people options for getting around as they reside or do business in the corridor.
ARC estimates the number of jobs within three miles of I-285 between I-75 and I-85 will increase by almost 85 percent by 2040. That increase makes the need for new infrastructure even more imperative. The Atlanta Regional Commission will continue to work with partners in the public, private and civic sectors to make sure that the Northside corridor continues to thrive.
Jane Hayse is director, Center for Livable Communities of the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Coming, going on Northside
By Catherine Ross
It is impossible to ignore the explosive growth occurring on the Northside of metropolitan Atlanta, especially between I-75 and I-85 along the I-285 corridor.
Recent initiatives in this area will exacerbate the already congested corridors. These include the relocation of the new Braves stadium to Cobb County, the State Farm development, the redevelopment of the old General Motors Doraville plant and the redevelopment of Roswell Road.
This area is highly congested and has one of the densest concentrations of jobs in the metro area. To facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods and improve the connectivity in the area, there must be a greater diversification of modes of travel along the corridors.
Currently, there are a number of proposals that seek to improve transportation. These include roadway improvements, expanded bus services, managed lanes, truck-only toll lanes, light rail transit, bus rapid transit, and other transportation alternatives.
The proposals are in different stages of conversation and implementation. Given the recent announcement of the Braves’ move to Cobb, businesses, residents and visitors are wondering what all of this will mean for their quality of life and the travel experience.
Some are voting with their feet.
No doubt some projects will improve the economy of the region. However, the larger question is whether they will provide travelers more and improved travel options or reinforce the already congested conditions.
Several questions should be answered.
What kinds of modal shifts can be made under constrained traffic conditions?
Will there be an adequate density of safe, reliable transport options — to include roads, transit, pedestrian ways, cycling, exclusive right-of- way travel and circulator services?
Can we increase connectivity, and offer specialized transportation options to ensure reliability and mobility?
It is increasingly clear that one mode does not fit all in the diversified land-use found on our Northside.
Catherine Ross is the Harry West Professor of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech and deputy director of Tech’s National Center for Transportation Productivity and Management.
We need to look beyond sprawl
By Brent Buice
I grew up in Cobb County, played football there and learned to drive a car there, and I remember – not fondly – that driving a car was the only choice I had for getting around.
When I moved to Athens as a freshman at the University of Georgia, I knew within weeks that it was a special place, a place I wanted to put down roots. Nearly 20 years later, I still call Athens my home. I never once thought about moving back to Cobb.
The main reason I didn’t want to go back home is simple: There’s not much “there,” there. Because of sprawling land-use patterns and a car-dependent transportation system, residents are forced into car ownership and expense, even for a trip a half-mile down the road. Athens appealed to me, and still does, because it is relatively walkable and bikeable, and transit is an option.
My family, and the majority of people in the generation behind us, are looking for these kinds of places — places with distinctive local character and a high quality of life that includes safe, welcoming transportation choices.
It is dismaying to read that Cobb isn’t interested in expanded transit, and that there are already serious issues to creating a people-friendly atmosphere near the planned Braves stadium near Cumberland Mall. The future for Georgia is in the creation of more dense, pedestrian and bike-friendly communities, where cars are one of several options, rather than being the only feasible means of mobility.
Millennials want human-scaled development and neighborhoods linked by “complete streets,” with ready access to reliable public transportation. Indeed, to be economically competitive, Georgia must wean itself from decades of over-investment and subsidy in sprawl and reliance on one (very expensive and inefficient) mode of transportation.
Our neighbors in Memphis and Chattanooga get it. An increasing number of Georgia’s communities get it — Athens, Columbus, Milledgeville, Rome and Savannah, to name a few. For metro Atlanta, including Cobb County, a balanced approach to transportation planning and intelligent land use is essential if the region wants to improve its quality of life and increase its competitive edge.
Brent Buice is executive director of the nonprofit Georgia Bikes and a member of the 2014 class of Young Gamechangers, a GeorgiaForward program enlisting the state’s brightest minds under 40 to address a community’s policy challenges.