A 17-point list of ways to reduce cut-through commuter traffic is in the works at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, prominently including affordable housing, express buses and tolls on local streets.
The draft resolution on transportation issues, presented at a Sept. 12 meeting, largely mirrors a previous BCN discussion in May. (See below for the full text of the resolution.) As in the earlier meeting, there was support for many of the proposals and particular criticism about the “congestion pricing” tolls on residential streets, though BCN chair Mary Norwood pushed hard for it as part of the strategy.
City Councilmember Howard Shook called the toll idea “interesting,” but added, “We’re not going to be able, politically, to put up a wall around Buckhead.”
“We can put up a fence,” Norwood replied. “A fence with a lot of holes in it.”
The resolution’s language can still be changed and two-thirds of the neighborhood associations that make up the BCN must vote to approve it before it can be formally acted upon. The resolution is intended as recommendations that the BCN can advocate to transportation agencies and elected officials. Among those attending the meeting, held at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, were representatives from the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Atlanta-regional Transit Link Authority.
Robert Patterson of the North Buckhead Civic Association, one of the BCN members working on the resolution, described its approach as a “three-legged stool” of strategies under the categories of more affordable housing, more transit options and enforcement and safety improvements on residential streets.
The affordable housing section has only one recommendation, an “Employer-Assisted Workforce Housing Program enable Buckhead’s workers to live within Buckhead.” That largely refers to a study recently conducted by the nonprofit Livable Buckhead.
The transit options section includes ideas as big as new rail lines and as small as shelters at bus stops. The most discussed item is a push for express buses from Cobb County to MARTA’s Lindbergh Center Station, running on what is now the I-75 HOV lane. Patterson said that Buckhead is the only major job center in the area to lack express bus service, unlike Downtown, Midtown and Perimeter Center.
The entire goal is reducing and mitigating outside traffic on neighborhood streets. The recommendations aimed directly at those streets are also wide-ranging, from traffic-camera ticketing to “extensive networks of sidewalks and bike lanes.”
The tolling of neighborhood street is mentioned in two of the eight recommendations in the category, as are “parking taxes.” The congestion pricing would apply during rush-hour on two-lane neighborhood streets.
Tolling is used in business areas of some major cities, including London. The earlier Buckhead discussions drew opposition from such leaders as Sam Massell of the Buckhead Coalition. At the BCN meeting, several attendees also questioned tolling, particularly from the viewpoint that it amounts to wealthy residents attempting to impose a fee on service workers.
“To put a tax on them to get to their jobs is something to be thoughtful about,” said resident Sadler Poe, adding that commuting workers would have limited options for getting through southern Buckhead.
Norwood dismissed the criticisms, saying congestion pricing is “very important to me personally” and that she is “going to work very hard” for it if the member associations approve the resolution. She called it a key tactic to “deal with our suffocation” as part of the overall multi-prong strategy, which the BCN is calling “Let Buckhead Breathe.”
In an interview after the meeting, Norwood emphasized the tolling would work in concert with the alternative option of new express buses, which she said could get commuters to Buckhead so fast it would feel like they arrive with a “boom.”
“You’re talking about the future of ‘boom!’” she said.
Two audience members also suggested attempting to work with the traffic app company Waze to avoid directing drivers onto residential streets.
Shook told the attendees that the Buckhead business district could roughly double in density under current zoning and that many ideas for reducing or mitigating traffic are “tough choices” with trade-offs. He touched on another form of congestion pricing, paid parking in the commercial district, and noted it could push parking out into neighborhood streets. “I can try to end free parking [in the business district],” he said. “That will be World War Four, Five, Six and Seven.”
Shook suggested that traffic mitigation experiments focus on the “spine” of Peachtree Road, but Norwood said residential streets should be the priority, noting that the neighborhoods are the BCN’s focus.
Norwood’s own neighborhood of Tuxedo Park recently raised about $50,000 to conduct its own traffic master plan, she said.