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Beltline Visionary Calls For Transit Options, Cap On Sprawl

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Whether the relatively brutal winter events of 2014 will evoke change in metro Atlanta's transportation habits remains to be seen, but it's a safe bet government officials and local scribes will keep trying to parlay Atlanta's two-inch-snow malady into a call for large-scale alternate transit — and a control on sprawl. The latest voice in this cacophony is a familiar one: Ryan Gravel, the urban designer whose Georgia Tech master's thesis hatched the Atlanta Beltline idea back in 1999. In an AJC op-ed titled "A need for more choices" Gravel analyzes the embarrassing, metro-wide clusterfuck that was Snow Jam 2014 and spouts more quotable one-liners than leather-era Eddie Murphy. "The collective 'we' of regional Atlanta should own up to our problem. After all, isn't this exactly what we wanted?" Gravel writes. "We built a car-dependent region because we wanted it, and the events of Jan. 28 simply underscore the inherent consequences of those decisions." He argues that finger-pointing in the wake of Winter Blunderland was never aimed at the true culprit: ourselves. And he's only getting started.

The piece is behind the AJC paywall, but it could be worth the single-day price of admission. Gravel gets gravely hypothetical and asks what would have happened if the minor snow event was instead two feet of snow, a terrorist attack or major chemical spill? What if the roads were off-limits for a week, a month? Then what? "The distances most people live from where they need to go, and the disconnected nature of our roadway network, would leave most of the region stranded," writes Gravel. "Most of our region is built around a system that is incredibly inefficient for emergency response, and also for day-to-day matters like going to work or school, or conveying water, electricity and other utilities to our spread-out way of life."

Oh, snap.

Later, Gravel's focus shifts to what might be a tougher beast to tackle: unbridled sprawl. "The best way to protect the quality of life in communities defined by sprawl would be to stop building more of them," he writes. Instead of outward growth, Gravel calls for "creating a more diversified transportation system through transit investments in the compact parts of the region that can handle more growth."

In related news, Metrostudy has found that housing starts were up 67 percent last year compared to 2012. With 491 new houses started in the last quarter of 2013 alone, Forsyth County is leading the way.

· A Chat With The Guy Whose Thesis Birthed the Beltline [Curbed]
· A need for more choices [AJC; subscriber]
[Photo courtesy Ryan Gravel; aerial view via NBC Charlotte]

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