How Downtown Atlanta Aims to Drive Alternative Commute Options

Incentives, Education, and Even Zoning May Play a Role

A MARTA train moving along beside 1-20

Imagine an Atlanta that, as it grows, expands its mobility options to better accommodate movement in and around the city, beyond driving alone in a car. Although the reality of COVID has significantly changed commuting habits, it’s important for us to plan for a region that accommodates 2.9 million more residents and 1.2 million more jobs by 2050 without significant roadway expansion.

Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) has put such imaginings to paper with a study about what planners call Transportation Demand Management, or TDM for short (planners love their acronyms!). Think transportation alternatives like walking, bicycling, carpooling, transit, or teleworking.

The study, funded by a $100,000 grant from ARC’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI), looks at mobility alternatives from a policy perspective in the City of Atlanta. Midtown Alliance and Livable Buckhead participated in the study along with CAP, and the recommendations apply to areas in the city limits. Atlanta is fourth nationally in travel commute times and nearly 70 percent of all trips are taken by individuals who are driving alone.

“To continue to grow sustainably while developing livable neighborhoods, we will absolutely need both TDM and enhanced smart commuting infrastructure,” said Shayna Pollock, Managing Director, Transportation at CAP. “The City is growing rapidly, so we have to ask ourselves where and how we want people to live.”

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the study:

Driver’s Ed

It turns out, many people simply don’t know enough about ways of getting to work besides driving in their car. The study recommends reaching out to employers and employees to educate them about their commute options and ultimately change driving habits.

Leaders can also incentivize and reward these changed behaviors. Georgia Commute Options is an initiative that offers consulting and other services for employers to encourage telework or alternatives to driving. The programs also offer incentives for employees that choose to bike, carpool, or take transit to work.

In the Zone

Zoning – don’t yawn! – is often a barrier to behavior change. People may have second thoughts about, say, biking to work if there’s nowhere safe to park their bicycle at the office or their apartment complex.

The CAP study led to new guidelines that outline best practices for new office, hotel, and residential developments in the city. Some are optional and some are required, depending on the type of development. A few examples include:

  • Onsite bike storage
  • Reduced parking supply
  • Bus stop infrastructure
  • Onsite shower/locker facilities
  • Onsite commuter information
  • Subsidized transportation options

Cost of Parking

The low cost and widespread availability of parking downtown, the study says, encourages solo car commuting. The CAP study in turn has led to a feasibility study of a possible parking tax in the downtown area.

So, one way to drive commuters toward alternatives (pun intended!) is to make sure they are the more economical option – or at least on a level playing field.

What’s Next?

As we adjust to a new reality, Shayna Pollock believes it will be more important than ever to keep TDM at the front of the discussion. “While we’ve made great strides in teleworking since the crisis began, I don’t think it’s a one-size fits all solution.”

CAP hopes that the city’s new Department of Transportation will continue to support TDM throughout the city.

“The study really built a platform for TDM advocacy, and we are continuing to pursue the paths to make comprehensive TDM policy a reality.”

LCI also funds other local projects that help increase mobility options, encourage healthy lifestyles and provide improved access to jobs and services. In May 2020, ARC announced $1.4 million to fund 11 new studies in metro Atlanta. Follow us as we bring you more planning and development updates from around the region.

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.