On July 31st, Atlantans will vote on the Atlanta Beltline and Transportation Referendum mentioned in Part 1 of my post Get Rid of Gridlock. We struck down a similar measure in Tampa/Hillsborough County over a year ago. There are many who criticize Tampa residents for not being forward thinking and not caring about mass-transit. I’m not one of those, I think everyone in Florida realizes how useful a regional transit system would be, they just want it to make common sense first and be done right. Here are four reasons in my opinion why the pitch for a tax might work in Atlanta and didn’t work for Tampa:
1) The BeltLine is truly visionary, they have done a great job with videos, renderings, and maps communicating what the BeltLine will be. Progress is already being made. They are turning vacant land into parks along the BeltLine so people can begin to imagine the possibilities. Runners are already having races along the BeltLine. The project is also very innovative, and a fascinating reuse of existing infrastructure that yearns for revitalization.
2) As mentioned above, Atlanta has been able to collaborate across 10 counties to come up with a plan and a referendum. The Tampa Bay Area has not been able to do that, with authorities in every county butting heads against each other and regional authorities that couldn’t get consensus from the counties. On Hillsborough County alone there were at least 4 groups involved in the lobbying for the tax and they did a pathetic job of creating one coherent vision with one common set of renderings/maps. And that was just Hillsborough County.
3) Atlanta already has the experience of MARTA and its citizens rally around mass-transit in theory especially due to Atlanta traffic. Atlanta sees the future and wants to grasp it. It is part of the culture. There seems to be less of a concern for frivolous spending in Atlanta and more of a sense of trust in local government and public/private partnerships. Recently, local media and government cracked down on the spending/accounting of the BeltLine team before anything egregious happened. All parties are working together on transparency, and that will be critical.
4) None of the plans for light rail in Tampa Bay made any sense financially, although no public transportation plans ever really do in terms of dollars and cents. The value of course are in the long term intangible benefits for future development and economic growth that can only be estimated, and in my opinion this was not done effectively by the agencies involved in Hillsborough County.
I think Tampa has a lot to learn from cities like Atlanta about collaboration, innovation, and planning. In this case though, I think the team in Atlanta could learn some good lessons from what did not work here in Tampa.