Around 100 participants showed up Thursday evening in Norcross for the Just Transportation Forum to discuss what Gwinnett County and the larger region needs to do to improve the way locals get around town.
Particularly, the topics discussed included how the region needs a better mass transit system with more buses and an extended transit line; sidewalks; how the Transportation Investment Act could help the region; and how transportation directly affects job growth and economic development.
"Transportation can either become a barrier or a gateway to opportunity, point blank," said Nathaniel Smith, founder of Partnership for Southern Equity. "Public transportation creates 31 percent more jobs per dollar than new roads and bike path projects create 46 percent more jobs than road-only projects."
The PSE, a regional network of organizations committed to promoting balanced growth and shared prosperity throughout the metro Atlanta region, hosted the Gwinnett forum. Taking place in the in Norcross, it's the fourth PSE conversation in a series of five, already covering Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties.
Mayor Bucky Johnson, state Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth), former Director of the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation Brian Allen and other community members were in attendance as panelists, sharing their bit on the issues and answerings participants' questions.
In the forum, about a dozen tables were spread out so that guests can discuss four PSE questions with their table mates. The questions were: how to increase residents' involvement in transportation project proposals; promoting transportation methods; how transportation needed to improve; and what needed to be done to support the Transportation Investment Act, which would allow a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects that will be voted on in July.
The ways we improved transportation was the most talked about issue. Almost everyone voiced opinions on how we need more sidewalks and more buses in more areas, and the service time for buses need to be extended.
"There was one guy who would came all the way from Fairburn, go to College Park, came up to Doraville [and] take the No. 10 [bus]. He would have to leave his house at 3 o'clock in the morning," said the Rev. Harriet Bradley, a panelist for the Gwinnett forum who said she regularly rides the bus. "And that was to get to a job."
The Rev. Bradley also noted that the bus doesn't even travel on the weekends or after mid-evening, posing a huge problem for those who don't have a car. Another participant expressed how many wanted to come to the forum but couldn't because their only way of transportation is through the bus, and the bus doesn't run when the meeting planned to end at 8:30 p.m.
The evening also held much conversation about the Transportation Investment Act, which will be voted on in July. If passed, the act will allow a one-cent sales tax for ten years to fund transportation projects.
"This is planting seeds for the future," said Mayor Johnson. "It's going to give us some latitude to increase and expand and front that system for ten years."
Many on the panel and in the room agreed with the TIA, but certain participants thought differently.
"There's almost no aspect that I really like," said Dominic Perello, a maintenance electrician for Sears Logistics Services Inc., "but the rest of the country knows that we have a transportation issue. It'll be on the front page if we don't vote this in. That'll give them a clear message that we know we have a problem, and we don't care to fix it."
When it came down to it, it was clear to everyone that the issues of the evening weren't just from someone going from point A to point B; it's much bigger than that.
"We're competing for jobs," said PSE board member Charles Walker, "not with Fulton County, not with Cobb County. We're competing with Charlotte. We're competing with New York. We're competing with London. So when we're thinking about opportunities not just for us, but for our children, what will they inherit? What kind of transportation system will they inherit?"