Press Releases

SMARTRAQ Study: Walkable neighborhoods cut traffic

ATLANTA ? People would drive less, generate less pollution and be more physically active if their communities were more walkable ? and consumers in Atlanta want that choice.

Those are the findings of SMARTRAQ (Strategies for Metro Atlanta?s Transportation and Air Quality), one of the largest, most comprehensive planning studies ever undertaken for a major metropolitan area. The findings were released today at a forum entitled ?Meeting the Market: New Opportunities for Building Healthy Communities.?

About a third of metro Atlantans living in conventional suburban development said they would have preferred a more walkable environment, but apparently traded it off for other reasons such as affordability, school quality or perception of crime, according to the study.

As many as 55 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to live in a community that affords shorter travel distances to work, even if it meant smaller residential lots.

Begun in 1998, SMARTRAQ explores how neighborhood design affects driving, transit usage and physical activity -- and how these factors may affect our personal, economic and environmental health. This research is critical in light of explosive growth in the region. Metro Atlanta?s population doubled over the last 20 years, with another 2 million expected in the next 20 years.

?As our region grows, we have to offer more choices to stay competitive.? said Sam A. Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. ?Atlanta is leading the nation in attracting young professionals. But they increasingly demand more compact and walkable communities.
The SMARTRAQ research shows that other demographic groups want these choices, too.?

According to the study, a significant proportion of suburban Atlantans would prefer to live where they don?t need a car for daily activities.

?We are seeing this kind of shift in attitudes all over the country,? said Chris Leinberger, a Fellow at the Brookings Institute. ?Up to 40 percent of households want the choice of higher density, walkable communities as an alternative to suburban-style development where every trip involves a car. And they?re willing to pay for it ? sometimes 20 percent to 50 percent more.?

Larry Gellerstedt, president of the Office/Multi-Family Division of Cousins Properties, Inc. and chairman of the Livable Communities Coalition, said real estate developers across the country are acting on this business opportunity.

?But it?s about more than just economics,? Gellerstedt said. ?Communities benefit in many ways from creating these compact, walkable communities and investing in a variety of transportation options, from roads and parking decks to sidewalks, bike lanes and transit.?

The findings also are in line with other studies that show a clear link between walkable neighborhoods and health benefits such as increased physical activity and reduced rates of obesity and the chronic diseases associated with obesity.

?People with similar preferences walk more and drive less when located in a more walkable environment,? said study author Dr. Lawrence Frank, formerly a professor at Georgia Tech and now a professor of Sustainable Urban Transportation at the University of British Columbia. ?That?s important information, especially as health care costs associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyles are increasing at an alarming rate across the nation.?

Elke Davidson, Executive Director of the Atlanta Regional Health Forum, agreed.

?Our region?s health is not determined in the doctor?s office, the hospital or the pharmacy alone,? Davidson said. ?We know from other research that 70 percent of a person?s health status is determined by a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors, including stress, physical activity and healthy eating choices. SMARTRAQ just confirms that the way we manage our region?s growth will have significant implications for the region?s health.?

The SMARTRAQ study spanned the environment, health, transportation and land use. It points to the need for an alliance between these disparate arenas to address the complex problems facing Atlanta and other growing regions.

Other Key Findings

SMARTRAQ research marks the first time that the Atlanta region can quantify the impact that neighborhood design and walkability has on:

  • Auto dependence: Walkable neighborhoods are associated with daily vehicle mile reductions of 30 percent weekdays, 40 percent weekends
  • Air pollution: Each step up the five-part walkability scale is associated with a 6 percent reduction in NOx and a 3.7 percent reduction in VOC (ground-level ozone)
  • Discretionary income:Residents in the Atlanta region spend an average of 19 percent of their net yearly income on transportation
  • Physical activity: 37 percent of people in high-walkability neighborhoods met the U.S. Surgeon General?s recommended 30 minutes of daily moderate activity, compared to just 18 percent of residents living in the least walkable neighborhoods

Components of the SMARTRAQ Research Program

The program consisted of five key components designed to draw a rich portrait of the region:

  • Construction of a regional, 13-county land-use database
  • A travel survey of more than 8,000 households
  • A sub-survey of physical activity of 1,000 people in different households
  • A market survey of 1,500 people in different households
  • An outreach program to public and private sector actors in planning and development.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce ? with our 4,000 member companies that collectively employ more than 700,000 workers ? is a catalyst for a vibrant metro region.Over the last 140 years, the Chamber has been bringing the region?s leaders together to tackle the issues that matter most to the business community: improving quality of life, promoting economic growth and making Atlanta a brand name that means opportunity.

The Atlanta Regional Health Forum (ARHF) is a multi-sectoral nonprofit organization working to build healthier communities in the metro Atlanta region by integrating public health issues into local and regional planning.ARHF believes that our region?s health is not determined in the doctor?s office, the hospital or the pharmacy alone ? we must build communities that promote access to healthy food and physical activity, offer efficient transportation options, provide clean air and build social capital.ARHF works in four main program areas:Building the Evidence Base, Education and Capacity-Building, Data, and Policy Advocacy.ARHF seeks to address the health impacts of the built environment at the household, neighborhood, city/county and regional levels, and works in partnership with the Atlanta Regional Commission, local jurisdictions (both Dept.?s of Planning and Public Health), the Centers for Disease Control, area universities and neighborhood groups, among others.

The Livable Communities Coalition is a diverse network of leaders, community and economic development experts and resources, aligned to help communities address the opportunities and challenges of growth and development.The Coalition serves as a catalyst for thoughtful, inclusive decision-making about community growth and development.It bases all of its work on four principles:

  1. Supporting greater densities and mixed use developments in appropriate areas, especially in our region?s centers and transportation corridors.
  2. Doing a better job of integrating our transportation investments with appropriate land use.
  3. Increasing housing choices by removing barriers that artificially restrict the market.
  4. Guiding how ?Greenfield? land is developed, promoting more land-efficient development, water resource conservation, open space preservation and infrastructure optimization.
Further Reading

Chris Leinberger: The Structural Shift in Building in Metropolitan Atlanta

Chris Leinberger Interviewed about Tyson's Corner, VA on NPR