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Atlanta, Georgia Summary

Discussion Summary

During the Atlanta workshop, the discussion focused on the Federal government's role in helping to advance livability, along with regional/metropolitan planning organization issues. Key discussion points included:

As a result of this initial workshop, subsequent workshops focused on exploring these ideas more thoroughly. The meeting structure included a number of presentations on regional practices, as well as a significant amount of brainstorming, facilitated discussion, and idea sharing. A summary of activities and key outputs at each location follows.

Picture of people talking together around tables at the Atlanta Regional Livability Workshop
Atlanta workshop discussions.

Workshop Specifics

Loudermilk Center
Ann Cramer Room
40 Courtland Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30303

Date / Time:
April 5, 2011 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Welcome and Introductions

Shana Baker from FHWA's Office of Human Environment welcomed participants and provided a brief overview of the day's goals. Ms. Baker reiterated that FHWA is focused on livability as part of comprehensive planning efforts to generate a framework for transportation decisions that result in safer and more convenient transportation options.

Representatives from the regional HUD/DOT/EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities also gave opening remarks. Steve Luxenberg, Director of Program Development at the FHWA Georgia Division Office, highlighted the importance of partnership and breaking down traditional silos, as well as the benefits of supporting communities that offer a variety of transportation choices. Tom Thomson, the Deputy Regional Administrator for FTA Region 4, spoke on the funding opportunities available for supporting livable communities (e.g. urban circulator program, bus livability program, and TIGER I and II). Mr. Thomson also noted Region 4's current outreach efforts, which include an information toolkit on the Sustainable Communities Initiative. Angie Billups, Project Officer for EPA Region 4, spoke on the benefits of integrating environmental considerations into other efforts such as transportation and housing. Ms. Billups mentioned EPA is currently focusing on, such as land revitalization and re-use, green space enhancement, water quality improvement, and brownfields redevelopment. Facilitators, managers from ICF International and Renaissance Planning Group, and all participants introduced themselves.

Setting the Stage for Livability:

Harrison Rue from ICF International reviewed the purpose and outcomes of both the overall project and the day's workshop. As the majority of participants indicated they had read the background paper developed for this project, The Role of FHWA Programs in Livability: State of the Practice Summary, Mr. Rue provided a brief overview of the paper's content. This overview included a brief review of the Sustainable Communities Partnership and the livability principles, components included in the definition of "livability in transportation," benefits of incorporating livability, overall research findings, and a review of state of the practice examples from areas that have successfully incorporated livability into a variety of efforts.

Identifying Challenges to Livability:

A facilitated large group discussion was held and participants were asked to focus on the following three questions:

  1. What are the big challenges to implementing transportation solutions that advance livable communities?
  2. What is one solution that has worked for your agency?
  3. How do the challenges and solutions differ in:
    1. Urban, suburban, and rural contexts?
    2. Local, regional, and State agencies?

Participants identified five main categories of challenges, as well as potential solutions that could be used to overcome some of these challenges:

  1. Interagency/Inter-jurisdictional Collaboration
    • Many barriers exist in trying to develop a true regional partnership where support for cross-regional project implementation is included. Oftentimes plans are developed with cross-regional input, but the projects contained in these plans are not ultimately implemented due to lack of support and funding priority.
    • Local governments do not always support regional livability through project selection or land use changes. It is challenging to change "business as usual."
      • At both the State and local level, bicycle and pedestrian projects are often viewed as nonessential project components rather than as mandated aspects of comprehensive project development.
      • Complete streets projects do not often receive full funding. Instead, only essential road elements are funded and the livability concept behind the project is not fully implemented.
    • There is a disconnect between engineering and planning, both in their respective discipline's perspectives and in communication between departments.
    • Even with the recent partnership efforts at the Federal level, silos remain. This is particularly an issue when it comes to funding for livability projects, which cut across agency focus. Instead of being able to apply to one source, agencies must apply to numerous funding sources. Not all agencies, particularly at the local level, are able to devote the staff resources necessary to apply to the numerous funding sources required to receive full project funding. Funding does not necessarily reach projects that will provide the greatest community benefits. One of the greatest barriers to breaking down these silos results from the fact that organizations are primarily concerned by their own budget.
    • There is often a disconnect between how roadway purpose and function is viewed by local planning agencies as compared to regional planning organizations. Oftentimes, local agencies will plan with the livability principles and interagency partnership in mind while regional planning organizations will remain siloed in their efforts. By focusing on partnership opportunities between local agencies and regional organizations, livability projects could be advanced.
    • Railroad companies are not willing to share control over rail line corridors. Many of these corridors either run directly through, or could be directly involved in, neighborhood redevelopment efforts. These corridors could be used to help improve access and provide avenues for alternative modes of transport.
    • A significant roadblock facing project implementation includes a lack of communication between State DOT personnel assigned to a project and the local government staff member who has developed a project. This is particularly true for small projects. Part of this issue may stem from a lack of enthusiasm on the part of State DOT personnel to push these projects through, as they have not been as intimately involved in the project development as the local staff member. Some State DOT representatives expressed frustration with identifying appropriate staff contacts associated with and accountable for small projects.
    • Local regulations can conflict with one another, particularly where planning and environmental regulations overlap.
    • State politics can serve as a barrier to project implementation at the local and regional levels.
    • Not enough attention and resources go toward improving the standard of living in communities that have not taken any steps toward being livable communities. Instead, much attention continues to be placed on those areas that have already begun to take steps in this direction.
  2. Zoning and Land Use Changes
    • Many areas primarily implement use-based zoning. Gaining staff approval and changing these regulations to allow for a new way of doing things (i.e. form-based), has been challenging.
      • One participant highlighted the resistance of his local Public Works Department to update design standards to meet livable streets criteria.
      • Particularly in urban environments, developing projects that meet the criteria imposed by land use separation, has been difficult.
    • Form-based zoning is not well understood by many areas, and therefore is not being implemented.
    • Simplifying smart growth concepts so that they can be implemented by any region—even those without a land use code, as concepts such as form-based codes can be difficult to implement.
    • Land use planning efforts have not been successful in many areas.
      • Generating a State policy around land use planning could help remedy some of these negative outcomes.
      • One-way street directions have resulted in irreversible, negative consequences in a number of downtown areas.
  3. Plan Implementation (including plan/project disconnect and incorporating livability into existing planning processes)
    • While it is relatively easy to develop and compile plans, it is difficult to gain the necessary approval and funding from management to implement plans and their proposed projects.
      • Engineering standards often generates issues for receiving project approval.
      • For Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) projects in particular, there is often a narrow window of time between when a project is included in a plan, approval is received, and funding becomes available.
      • For complex partnership projects included within the TIP, there is a longer approval time, and more funding is generally required. A number of organizations noted that projects are often moved forward more quickly when using local funding rather than TIP funding.
    • There is a disconnect between what is contained in a plan and what is ultimately implemented. The public often raises concerns about projects that were discussed and vetted at public meetings, yet not ultimately implemented by the time the plan is adopted at the State level. There is a disconnect between the visioning process, the funding process, and the project design generated by engineers.
    • There is a disconnect at many levels of government in understanding the relationship between plan development, the TIP, and project development. There is a perception that these efforts are unrelated, when in fact they are directly related. Amongst policymakers in particular, there is a greater focus on individual projects rather than interconnected networks. In some cases, planning is viewed as a detriment to economic development. Rectifying this misunderstanding presents a significant challenge.
    • Sidewalks and bike lanes are often not considered at the early stages of developing the concept for a roadway improvement project because local comprehensive or transportation plans are frequently not consulted by the DOT engineers, and there is typically little information provided regarding bike/pedestrian facilities within roadway projects in the TIP. The need to add a sidewalk or bike lane may not arise until the first public meeting, which is typically not held until later in the process once the concept report and environmental document have been approved and preliminary plans are complete. To add a sidewalk or bike lane at this stage would require redesign of plans, resubmissions of environmental and ROW documents, and increased costs, potentially delaying the project a year. Therefore, DOTs resist making the changes, and bike/pedestrian elements are often left out of the project. Integrating sidewalk and bike lane construction into earlier phases of preliminary engineering phase is critical to providing complete streets.
    • Current planning processes do not fully account for identifying a vision for corridor planning that incorporates the livability principles. This generates a process where livability components are not incorporated at any stage of the process, as by the time that project engineers become involved in the process, the focus is on technical road components.
    • Individual landowners retain significant power over planning decisions. If a person does not want to sell their land to accommodate a project plan, the planning agency has no power to force their decision.
    • Environmental justice issues can generate a "Not In My Backyard (NIMBY)" effect for livability projects. For example, constructing a high-speed rail line that will border existing personal property lines, or infill and density development within existing neighborhoods.
    • Interstate roadways are becoming increasingly clogged, which has generated higher traffic levels on a number of US routes, many of which pass directly through local downtown areas. Higher congestion within small downtowns conflicts with livability principles.
    • In a number of areas, regional planning organization (RPO) authority does not extend far. In some instances, RPOs are limited to safety project scope and implementation only.
    • There is a lack of affordable housing in accessible locations. Housing tends to be more affordable beyond city centers where land is cheaper; however, these areas are also the least accessible.
    • Concerns over liability, more so than safety, drive decisions.
    • Difficulty implementing livability-type projects with federal funds: Local governments often have a lack of staff or lack expertise to implement a project using federal funds. The process is overly complicated, requires highly specialized consultants (not just for design, but for environmental process, ROW acquisition, project management) that it is not cost-effective to use federal funds for projects under $500,000 and yet local governments don't have the local funds to do it on their own. The federal and state DOT requirements seem unnecessarily cumbersome for small projects, taking 5-8 years on average) to implement a project that would take the local government 18 months-2 years. Because of slow project implementation, the "livability" momentum built up during the planning process is lost, the public develops a cynical view of government, and from a more tangible standpoint, these delays can tie up millions of dollars in the TIP year after year when projects are not authorized, preventing new "livability" projects from being funded.
  4. Developing Performance Measures and Demonstrating Benefits
    • Developing performance measures that reflect agency performance is challenging, as each agency measures "success" differently. In trying to develop a standard measurement system for a regional or partnership effort, agency needs can be in direct competition with the needs and desires of other agencies. As such, developing performance measures should be an iterative process, with some level of guidance provided at the Federal level.
    • Develop comprehensive performance measures that account for multimodal travel. These performance measures could focus on connectivity, mode choice, and/or network choice. Ultimately, these performance measures should be used to develop a framework for evaluating projects as they relate to enhancing a multimodal network.
    • Developing performance measures for roadways, particularly as it relates to capacity. There is a potential conflict between providing multimodal options and constraining the current roadway capacity.
    • The positive health effects and economic benefits of livable communities need to be marketed more fully to better understand the variety of co-benefits that come from following livability principles. The World Health Organization developed an index to measure the economic benefits that result from increased activity. When this index was applied to regions within the US, areas that promoted walking and biking demonstrated the greatest economic benefits.
    • While it is relatively easy to estimate and/or predict a project's dollar cost, defining value, particularly over the long-term, presents a significant challenge. Comparing benefits and costs of transportation projects that incorporate livability components is particularly difficult when the benefits cannot be estimated in terms comparable to that of the project cost.
    • In rural Alabama, one of the biggest challenges over the past 15 years has been overcoming the mindset that concentrated commercial development will reduce business visibility and customer access. Many businesses stress the importance of having highway frontage for high visibility and two driveways for easy customer access.
    • Road redesign projects that reserve one lane for walking and/or transit may be viewed negatively and perceived as money wasted on a design that incorporates an empty vehicle traffic lane. The public may react negatively to this as well.
    • The traditional definition of "road functionality" is no longer relevant. Particularly as it relates to livability, the traditional definition does not capture multimodal use. In some areas, road functionality must also take into account heavy freight traffic as well as multimodal use. Ultimately, each locality should determine what "functionality" means locally and incorporate this understanding into future planning efforts.
    • While the mindset of elected officials and general public (who may vote on transit funding) is that the roadway network is a free market product that is funded by the roadway users via the gas tax, there is a lack of understanding about the amount of local tax dollars that go into road building and maintenance. People think that transit is far more expensive to the taxpayer than roadways are.
    • Many transportation models are not sensitive to land use or urban form influences on travel behavior, and do not account for bike/pedestrian trips.
  5. Transit Project Implementation
    • Transit project development presents a number of challenges related to inadequate funding, developing effective Transit-Oriented Development, and identifying the type of transit from which a community will benefit most effectively.
    • There is a need for more public transportation service in rural areas.
    • Transit faces many institutional challenges and barriers to implementation. These challenges are compounding as budgetary concerns grow, particularly given the high costs beyond transit project construction that are associated with transit maintenance.
      • In Georgia, money from a regional sales tax would go toward paying for transportation; however, identifying the percentage of money that would be dedicated toward transit as compared to other modes remains in question.
      • When compared to the level of dedicated highway funding, transit funding is extremely low. There is significant inequality among mode funding. There is a misconception that roadways are a "free market" product paid by the users through their gas tax, and transit is wholly subsidized. There is a lack of understanding that most of the roadway network is paid for by local property tax money and it does not support itself, and there are greater environmental costs associated with our roadway network, which is also not covered by the gas tax. These views affect how transit is funded, in GA in particular when it comes to support for state funding and voting for the regional sales tax.
    • Transit routes in the US often extend for significant mileage and are planned so that they accommodate riders and minimize the distance they are required to walk from their origin to their desired transit station. In Europe, transit routes are planned so that riders are required to walk to the nearest transit station. Transit has tried to become too convenient and the network is suffering as a result. Accommodating riders and route convenience is also present in the school bus system. Because of this route structure, and in addition to the fact that buses use a large portion of the available roadway, a paradigm shift should be considered for how school bus routes are operated.

A summary of the solutions that participants mentioned are listed below.

Overcoming Challenges:

Three of the workshop participants presented on successful livability efforts within their organization, allowing all workshop participants to see and hear about successful livability examples in their region. Three of the workshop participants presented on successful livability efforts within their organization, allowing all workshop participants to see and hear about successful livability examples in their region. Jane Hayse from the Atlanta Regional Commission presented on metro Atlanta's long-range plan, Plan 2040. Emphasizing the livability framework on which the plan is based, the associated work plan for project and program implementation, and the associated funding. In particular, Ms. Hayse focused on program implementation for the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI), which ties land use plan implementation to transportation project funding Mary Blumberg from the Atlanta Regional Commission presented on the agency's efforts to accommodate its aging population through the Lifelong Communities effort. Much of this effort is focused on providing accessible transportation and housing options, expanding access to services, and encouraging healthy lifestyles. Amanda Thompson from the City of Decatur, GA discussed how her city used the LCI grant funding that it was awarded in 2002 to improve the city and access to its transit station. Using its existing town center and by focusing on building community, the city redeveloped its surface parking lots and added housing units, retail businesses, and restaurants. The redevelopment efforts have attracted new businesses and generated job opportunities. Norm Steinman from the City of Charlotte, NC presented on the City's efforts to incorporate the Centers, Corridors, and Wedges concept into their planning efforts. The City used this approach to plan a transit system based on available funding resources, develop urban street design guidelines that will promote complete streets, develop thoroughfares, evaluate bicycle and pedestrian Level of Service using a new method they are developing locally, accommodate growth, evaluate preferred block length, and survey the community to gain input on preferred projects.

Participants were divided into five groups for an hour-long small group discussion. As there were a significant number of Federal participants at the workshop, half of the Federal representatives were asked to form a group together. The Federal group was asked to examine challenges and solutions, and answer the questions below from a Federal perspective. Those Federal representatives that did not participate in this Federal-only group chose another participant-majority group to join. Participants and other Federal representatives in the participant-majority groups were asked to consider examples where they had overcome a project challenge and use that experience to answer the following questions:

Each group provided a quick summary of their discussion.

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4

Federal Observers/Group 5

Regional Livability Planning Strategies:

Two of the workshop participants presented on their organization's success in developing and implementing livability planning strategies at a regional level. Tom Thomson from the Chatham County-Savannah MPO presented on redevelopment efforts by the City of Savannah, GA to expand the 1770 Oglethorpe city plan centered on public squares while providing incentives for mixed use development. Brian Leary from Atlanta Beltline, Inc. discussed how they are using the 22-mile loop of railroad beltline land to create new park and trail development, brownfield redevelopment, light rail and streetcar transit construction, affordable housing development, a jobs training program, and local art sponsorship. Mr. Leary also presented on a separate effort, Atlantic Station. As a transportation control measure, the brownfield redevelopment project is a walkable area and demonstrates air quality improvement through reduced vehicle miles travelled. The project is currently 40% constructed and has already surpassed its original air quality measure goals.

Whit Blanton from Renaissance Planning Group presented on the concept of a "Regional Livability Plan," and the strategies that have proven most effective in supporting regional livability. In examining those areas that serve as best practice examples of regional livability, Mr. Blanton identified three common plan elements: (1) regional analysis, scenarios, and goal setting, which have been used to assess issues such as transportation choices, affordable housing availability, and also to develop performance measures so that planners could more effectively measure livability; (2) policies and plans that have been used to identify areas for implementation and opportunities for collaboration; and (3) programs, which have included educational elements to explain the connections between livability and existing community components, and avenues for exploring and developing collaborative efforts. As many of these elements are present in existing planning requirements and processes, participants were asked to identify frameworks within these processes where regional livability planning efforts could operate. In addition to the plans mentioned in the presentation (long-range transportation plans, comprehensive plans, regional visioning efforts, regional environmental greenprints and watershed planning, and regional transit plans), participants mentioned economic development plans as a potential opportunity for integrating livability considerations.

During an information large-group discussion, participants discussed materials that would be most useful for them in their efforts to successfully implement regional livability, particularly as it would relate to communicating the importance of livability to decisionmakers and policymakers. These included the following:

Participants broke into the same five groups for an hour-long small group discussion on the following questions:

Each group summarized their discussion, and the main points of each summary are listed below.

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4

Identifying Opportunities:

Harrison Rue reviewed some successful communication and outreach efforts to identify some of the options available for messaging and marketing the concept of livability. Successful communication and outreach efforts have included fact sheets, summary brochures, summary posters, Web 2.0, and social media. Considering these efforts, participants were asked to reflect on the following questions in a large-group setting:

A summary of the discussion is included below.

Closing and Next Steps:

To finish the day, the facilitators and FHWA staff thanked participants and explained the next steps in the creation of the supporting guidance materials for organizations around the country that are interested in pursuing or advancing livability in transportation efforts in their community.

Evaluation Forms:

Most participants felt that they were well informed about the workshops. They generally agreed that the facilitators were knowledgeable on the topics, and that they presented the information in an organized manner. They felt that the workshop information discussed was useful, the format of the workshop was logical, and their participation was worthwhile. There was greater variability in the responses on how the workshop would help support FHWA's training and support, as participants were less sure on workshop goals. Some specific requests include:

As a result, several changes were made to the Kansas City meeting preparations, including more emphasis on the workshop goals and desired outcomes, added more case study presentations, and clarified the breakout sessions more clearly. Some of the sessions were also changed — shortened the breakouts, added additional smaller exercises, and provided more facilitator guidance — help make the workshop more stimulating. They also presented some results from the Atlanta meeting for response from the Kansas City participants.

Workshop Particpants

Participant Organization
Amanda Thompson City of Decatur, GA
Amy Goodwin Atlanta Regional Commission
Angie Laurie Central Atlanta Progress
Ashby Johnson Houston-Galveston Area Council
Bob Cambric South Florida Regional Planning Council
Brian Leary Atlanta Beltline, Inc.
Byron Rushing Georgia DOT
Catherine Ross Georgia Tech Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development
Daniel Robinson City of Suwanee, GA
Darrell Howard Birmingham MPO
David Baird Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency
Dawn Landholm East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission
Gina Mitteco Houston-Galveston Area Council
Jane Hayse Atlanta Regional Commission
Julie Hunkins North Carolina DOT
Kaycee Mertz Georgia DOT
Kris Krider Kolbinsky Krider Design
Lauren Blackburn Town of Davidson, NC
Lisa Riegel State of North Carolina
Mark Kirstner Piedmont Triad, Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Project
Mark Pleasant South Carolina DOT
Mary Blumberg Atlanta Regional Commission
Norm Steinman City of Charlotte, NC
Paul Black Land of Sky Regional Council
Pat Steed Central Florida Regional Planning Council
Rick Bernhardt Nashville-Davidson County
Robin Romeo Louisiana Department of Transportation
September Barnes Triangle J Council of Governments
Ted Tarantino Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA)
Tom Thomson Chatham County-Savannah MPO

Federal Participants

Participant Organization
Andrew Edwards FHWA — Georgia Division Office
Andy Johns FHWA — Ohio Division Office
Angie Billups EPA
Ann-Marie Day FHWA — Georgia Division Office
Candace Rutt Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Claiborne Barnwell FHWA — Mississippi Division Office
Carlos Gonzales FHWA
David Harris FHWA — Alabama Division Office
Elizabeth Martin FTA — Region 4
Emma Newsome HUD — Field Policy and Management
James Setze FHWA
Katherine Hebert Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Shana Baker FHWA — Office of Human Environment
Steve Luxenberg FHWA — Georgia Division Office
Tom Thomson FTA — Region 4
Unwanna Dabney FHWA — North Carolina Division Office
Yolanda Morris FHWA — South Carolina Division Office

Consultant Team

Consultant Organization
Elizabeth Wallis ICF International
Harrison Rue ICF International
Kathleen Rooney ICF International
Whit Blanton Renaissance Planning Group

Livability Examples Provided by Atlanta Participants

In order to draw on the vast experience and knowledge of the selected participants, participants were asked to send the facilitators relevant information on best practices related to livability within their communities prior to the workshop. This information, along with the information that regional representatives presented during the workshop, are listed below. This information serves as an informal collection of examples that could be used in future guidebook/primer efforts when discussing best practices and developing case studies.

HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
Updated: 10/20/2015
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