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More transit oriented development can benefit Atlanta region
Douglas Sams | Atlanta Business Chronicle


A MARTA train takes commuters by a Perimeter office building.

Atlanta’s renewed population and job growth in the wake of the recession will require the public and private sectors to create more regional transportation initiatives — including ideas centered on transit oriented development.


That’s the conclusion of a new report from Cushman & Wakefield, a global commercial real estate services company.


Its findings show more Atlanta residential development is clustering near transit.


Of the 9,200 multifamily units under construction, more than 8,000 units are located within a one-mile radius of at least one MARTA rail station or major transit hub, according to the report. The trend is not only happening in urban areas. On the Atlanta Perimeter, State Farm InsuranceCo. is developing an office campus around the Dunwoody MARTA station, where it may eventually house up to 8,000 employees.


New development is also starting to sprout around the Atlanta Beltline and the Atlanta Streetcar route across parts of downtown, the report said.


Atlanta has earmarked $61 billion for transit-oriented improvements, but 70 percent of the investment is targeting the existing transportation facilities, according to Cushman & Wakefield.


Some major projects are yet to be funded. For example, MARTA plans an extension of the Georgia 400 rail line to Alpharetta, but the project is costly.


The light rail option is the most expensive at an estimated $1.8 billion. A heavy-rail extension could be built for $1.6 billion. A bus-rapid transit option is by far the least expensive at $473 million.


Atlanta continues to rebound from the worst recession to affect its economy in decades.


The downturn hit real estate and financial sectors especially hard, but over the past three years investment has started to flood back into region, particularly for urban apartment projects and trophy office towers.


The Atlanta Regional Commission is forecasting 1.5 million additional jobs in metro Atlanta by 2040. Since 2000, Atlanta’s population has grown by 32 percent (1.4 million) — the highest percentage growth out of the 10 markets featured in this report, said John O’Neill, Cushman & Wakefield’s senior managing director and Atlanta Market Leader.


The report also looked at urbanization trends in the central business districts of Boston, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, D.C.


For Atlanta, a renewed commitment to transit oriented development by both the public and private sectors can move the region forward, attracting business and new residents, O’Neill said.


Transportation spending on rail and bus transit, biking and walking are “the most important infrastructure investments North American metropolitan areas can make,” said Christopher Leinberger, chair of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at The George Washington University School of Business.


Walkable development with a mix of residential units and street-level retail is occurring in both cities and urbanizing suburbs, he said.


Challenges remain, however, including aging or insufficient infrastructure and a lack of funding and cooperation between public and private sectors, according to the report.