I arrived at the Classic Center in Athens, GA by bicycle, likely the only person to travel to the 2016 Georgia Transportation Summit (GTS) on two wheels. GTS is a statewide transportation conference known more for emphasizing freight corridors, ports, and automobile traffic on fast moving state roads than pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. It is put on by one of our partners (Georgia DOT) as well as the Georgia Transportation Alliance (GTA), the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and the Georgia chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). To be frank, bicycle issues were rarely mentioned, but it was a hopeful sign that transit, particularly in the Atlanta region, received attention and was viewed as an integral part of the transportation network in Georgia.
Early in the day, attendees heard optimistic remarks from Keith Parker, MARTA’s CEO and General Manager; he spelled out MARTA’s future growth and recent funding victories. Though he did not explicitly mention the need for bike connections to transit, as bicycle advocates, we know that any discussion of transit in a region the size of Atlanta helps dispel the myth that the only way to get somewhere is in a car. Connecting to transit by bicycle could be a gamechanger for neighborhoods and cities in metro Atlanta, especially transportation underserved areas with low percentages of car ownership. MARTA rail expansion into Clayton County, with a number of cities like Forest Park with very high bicycle modeshare, is a prime example of this potential.
Interestingly, bicycle and pedestrian issues came up prominently during the main panel of the summit, just prior to lunch; the panel covered the post-election outlook for federal transportation policy. The panel was filled with transportation trade association policy experts based in Washington, DC. Ed Mortimer, the Director of Transportation at the US Chamber of Commerce, mentioned visiting the Beltline the day before the summit and essentially said this kind of project with walking and biking at the center is the future of transportation and development; he emphasized the need to tout economic development opportunities of bicycle and pedestrian projects with the new administration. We know that while these arguments are important, we cannot lose focus of equity issues in bicycle/pedestrian development, especially residential and cultural displacement. Another panelist followed up with how his teenage daughters in suburban DC are old enough to get drivers’ licenses but are simply not interested in cars – they want access to transit, biking and walking, ride-sharing, and connections to trains and airports to travel. Transportation choices and options are crucial to meeting the needs of people who have access to personal vehicles and those who do not.
Unfortunately, there was not a break out session that dealt with bicycles and only one that had any non-motorized component. In the middle of a workshop on pedestrian accommodations during bridge repair, the summit was interrupted by a tornado warning. I took advantage of my proximity to home and my efficient choice of transportation and pedaled home through traffic, thankfully beating out the storm and the cars.