Sept. 18--Martha Brown, 66, a former Atlanta resident, moved to the Marietta area two years ago to escape urban crime and find suburban calm. But she relies on mass transit, and in some of Atlanta's suburbs, that's a problem.
To visit her daughter in Henry County she takes a taxi, three buses and one train, just to meet halfway. She had to give up regular attendance at her home church, because Cobb transit doesn't operate on Sundays.
Mobility is "vital to my living, to my independence, " Brown said.
Atlanta's suburban population is changing. But according to interviews with residents, elected officials and metro Atlanta planners, many of these new suburbanites will need or desire transportation options -- mass transit and walkable communities -- that the region does not have serious plans to fund in the coming decades.
Older people, low-income residents -- Brown is both -- and immigrants represent a growing part of the metro Atlanta population. It's a historic change that is permanently altering this Southern capital, and even nudging at its deeply rooted suburban car-centric culture.
And in the long-haul game of building transportation, time is running out.
"Will our transportation infrastructure be prepared to handle that demographic from a suburban perspective?" said Dana Lemon, a state Transportation Board member who represents a suburban swath stretching from Henry to Cobb counties. "If you were asking me that question now, the answer of course would be no."
A doubling of retirement-age residents by 2025, many of whom will be unable or unwilling to drive as they age. They'll be coping with a medical system that is increasingly outpatient, requiring some form of transportation to get to and from appointments.
An exploding population of suburban poor. It's risen by 249 percent in the last two decades, expanding 60 percent faster than the rest of the suburban population -- often without the money to keep a car. In 1990, 7 percent of residents in Brown's census tract were poor. Ten years later, 12 percent were. In 2010, 24 percent were.
A rising immigrant population, sometimes able to afford cars, but often expecting more options than that. Regional figures show an increase of nearly 100,000 immigrants in metro Atlanta in just the last six years. Six counties in the 10-county area are majority-minority, with Hispanics, blacks and Asians out-numbering whites.
The continued influx of young, educated tech savvy workers who federal statistics suggest are less apt to apply for drivers' licenses; according to an Oregon researcher, they prefer a more walkable lifestyle. The number of these workers has slowed recently, but they've been an important part of metro Atlanta's economic growth.
To be sure, metro Atlanta will remain overwhelmingly car country for decades to come; on that the statistics are clear as well.
A key question is what to do about the part that wants another choice.
"Transportation is definitely a barrier for the families that we serve, " the working poor trying to get or keep a job and get around, said Lee Freeman, project director at the Marietta-based Center for Family Resources, which assists some families with transit passes. "The routes have been cut, they don't run on Sundays. They don't run a third shift, and some of our families work midnight to 7. Families are having to walk long distances to get to a bus."
The suburban need is not only for transit, but for walkability -- the sidewalks people take to get to the bus stop, or just to get to a nearby store.
"It's partly changing demographics, both immigrants and different nationalities, and it's also the aging population, " said Kim Conroy, Gwinnett County's director of transportation. "We have over $100 million in requests for sidewalks right now, " an amount the county can't possibly fill. "As good a job as Gwinnett did in building activity centers, shopping centers and roads in the 1980s and 1990s, the concentration wasn't as much on sidewalks."