Editor’s Note: Sandy Springs Together periodically publishes letters or comments from community members who raise a concern we feel should be considered by the broader community.
BY MARY BARON
If I told you that a new residential development is coming to Sandy Springs, I bet some of you would quickly think, “We have too many people here already and traffic will just get worse!”
But let’s be honest. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and ignore the inevitable — Sandy Springs is growing. Development is on it’s way.
The question to ask ourselves in the face of this growth is whether we will continue with the same development plans that have caused our traffic congestion or are we willing to look to new and creative solutions to alleviate it.
Your reaction to this development is understandable as traffic is worsening every year and adversely affecting our quality of life. At Sandy Springs Together we understand these concerns. We love our city and our dream for it includes manageable transportation. It’s necessary to look at how we got here and explore how smart development can improve our traffic problems.
The way the Atlanta area has developed for the past several decades, with single family homes built on large lots in subdivisions outside of urban areas, has led to a more spread out pattern, pushing people further out into the suburbs. And most of Sandy Springs — 85% — is zoned for single family detached homes.
In addition, a lack of affordable housing has priced many people out of the city. This has led to automobile dependency, putting an enormous number of cars on the road. Every work day 102,000 people pass through our neighborhoods to get to their jobs here in Sandy Springs.
Commute times are longer, air quality is worse, family time is sacrificed.
What would it be like if our residents could walk or travel a short distance to the places of employment? Wouldn’t that cut down on the traffic? Studies show that it would.
This sprawling pattern of development results in higher financial costs and growing inefficiencies.
The Atlanta metro area was once considered to be one of the most affordable cities to live in because of our lower housing costs. But when we add transportation costs (gasoline, car purchase, insurance and maintenance) we are now one of the most expensive.
According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, residents in the metro Atlanta area spend an average of 63% of their income on housing and transportation. This makes us the fifth most expensive city to live in the United States.
The Interstate 285 and Georgia 400 interchange project presently underway is estimated to cost $800 million. Proposals to expand the lanes at the top end of I-285 and on GA 400 are estimated to cost billions more. These expenses for building roads are passed along to us as taxpayers and there is no guarantee that they will improve traffic in the long run. In fact, according to the Sierra Club, studies show that increasing road capacity only leads to more traffic and more sprawl.
At Sandy Springs Together, we appreciate the beautiful single-family home neighborhoods in our city and recognize the value they add. For many people, owning a home in one of these areas is the embodiment of the American dream. But we also recognize that attitudes are shifting, and increasingly people prefer other housing options.
Young people and seniors, in particular, are looking for lower maintenance homes and wish to escape the confines of their cars. Communities where residents can walk to jobs and amenities are becoming trendy and more desirable.
If done thoughtfully, including residential components to future developments, could reduce traffic and commute times. When different land uses are integrated rather than separated, with residential and commercial side by side, as is being done in many mixed-use developments, people can live closer to work and other amenities and spend less time in their cars.
Including affordable housing in the plans, so that people don’t have to travel such long distances to work in our local businesses will also alleviate the problem.
We know that reducing the number of cars on the road and the amount of time we spend driving is a challenging issue and will take a variety of approaches.
So what are some of the solutions?
- Preserving the apartment communities already existing in our city in order to maintain housing affordability, at a scale that addresses future growth so that people who work here don’t have to drive long distances to their jobs
- Easing zoning restrictions in certain areas to allow for more density in housing
- Creating mixed use developments with affordable housing components so that people can live, work and play in one place
- Adding bike and pedestrian lanes
- Creating a conducive environment for mass transit
We have many options available for planning a city that work for everyone.