Will Decatur’s new apartments increase traffic?

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 1, 2014
Another rendering of the Place on Ponce project, provided by Carter USA

Another rendering of the Place on Ponce project, provided by Carter USA

There are several apartment projects in the works in Decatur.

The Place on Ponce, located along West Ponce de Leon Avenue, recently started leasing the first 28 of 234 planned units. The Trinity Triangle project at East Howard and Trinity Place is expected to get underway soon. It will add 210 apartment units to the city. There’s another apartment development at 160 Clairemont that’s currently under construction, which will have 167 apartment units.

The construction has created short term inconveniences, blocking sidewalks and detouring roads. But what about the long-term impacts?

A reader asked us this question:

Has the city of Decatur conducted any traffic studies for the apartments that are going up? If so, where may I locate them?

For an answer, we asked Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne, who oversees community and economic development for the city. Here’s what she had to say:

We do not usually conduct traffic studies for this type of development. Typically traffic studies are conducted to support a road widening which is not something we would pursue downtown. However, during the plan review process, circulation and transportation facilities for pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and transit are reviewed.

Streets can be modified in accordance with the adopted Community Transportation Plan which contains a Complete Streets policy. In the case of an urban center with a variety of transportation options like downtown Decatur, mixed use developments, particularly those with a residential component, have very limited impact on traffic.

The point of a higher density mixed use center like downtown Decatur is to create opportunities for fewer car trips. In fact we found that traffic counts into and out of downtown Decatur actually decreased after our last development cycle when we added 600 new condominium units in the downtown district.

The market for these types of apartments currently under construction is primarily young professionals and this age group is trending toward much higher use of transit and alternative transportation options and remarkably less dependence on cars and even car ownership. By comparison, a similarly sized office building typically generates 6 times the amount of automobile traffic than a multi-family residential building because office buildings contain more people per square foot than a residential project of equal size.

National market research is showing a continuing movement into higher density urban areas at record numbers with the trend being driven by both Millennials and Baby Boomers at opposite ends of the age limits and representing our two largest population groups. This inward migration is a result of a very conscious decision by both of these age groups to live in areas with access to transit, walkable activity centers and a desire to be less car dependent.

This cycle is predicted to last for another 50 years as the Millennial generation opts for urban lifestyles over long car commutes. This fact is supported by reports showing that the number of automobile drivers and the number of car miles driven has been dropping steadily in this country since 2000. As we work to continue to develop places like downtown Decatur where driving isn’t a necessity and other transportation options exist, we expect that automobile counts will be flat and/or decline and transit use, cycling and pedestrian counts will continue to grow.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

  • blackbird13

    Thanks for the thorough reply. I’m glad to hear where the leadership’s mindset is on this, and I hope they do all they can to make it easier for people in Decatur, especially downtown, to ditch their cars as much as possible.

  • PJ

    Excellent explanation by city officials! This is the kind of leadership that makes Decatur residents proud.

  • SM

    I’m sorry, the explanation is valid if we had an efficient transit system to transport these young professionals around Atlanta but we don’t. I think it is going to be a nightmare in downtown Decatur once these apartments are completed. It is already so incredibly congested. Unfortunately, most of these apartment dwellers will get in their cars to go to work, to come home and to run their errands thereby choking our town even more so with traffic. I hope beyond hope I’m wrong but I’m afraid it is inevitable.

    • tracie sanchez

      and all the young professionals i know much prefer to use transit/bike/shared rides to work even if outside our city and into the ITP area. have you heard that ATL has the fastest growing community of bike commuters in the nation? believe it and check out the work of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. its a brave new world.

  • Catie

    I heard 5 have been leased so far.

  • Peripatetian

    Would you mind listing the specific developments you’re referring to and the before and after traffic counts? I’ve not seen that information.

  • SM

    Actually, I would like to see the traffic studies they puported to have conducted after the addition of the 600 condominiums. I have lived in the City of Decatur since 1988 and the traffic in town is far worse than it use to be. There is no comparison.

  • Andrew

    For those who asked: From 2000 until before the current wave of construction, Decatur added just over 800 housing units to downtown. At the onset (2000) our cumulative daily traffic count across primary DOT check points was 95,400. 13 years later, with all units completed, our cumulative traffic total is 86,550. Here’s the breakout, which comes directly from the DOT:

    Clairemont N @ Great Lakes
    2000 = 19,900
    2013 = 19,640

    West Ponce at Post Office
    2000 = 10,800
    2013 = 8,720

    Trinity @ Twains
    2000 = 18,300
    2013 = 11,540

    Commerce @ Fellini’s
    2000 = 10,900
    2013 = 12,140

    Commerce @ Decatur Cemetery
    2000 = 11,100
    2013 = 14,530

    East Ponce @ Mountain View
    2000 = 11,200
    2013 = 8,730

    Candler @ ASC
    2000 = 13,200
    2013 = 11,250

    • blackbird13

      Considering how much of a destination Decatur has become, not to mention the increase in population, these numbers are remarkable. Can we chalk it up to Decatur simply following the national trend of a decline in driving? Whatever the reason, we should be able to expect continued progress in this area as ridership of MARTA is finally on the rise again after years of decline, partly attributable to the excellent leadership there over the last couple of years.

      • Peripatetian

        One possible partial explanation is that some of those drivers are simply taking alternate routes. Those are not the only roads drivers use to get into, out of, or move through Decatur, but maybe they’re the only places DOT does counts because they’re state roads. (That’s one reason the city’s own counts could be extrememly valuable.) Data from only three checkpoints may not represent overall situation. And volume is not the only factor that produces congestion (or perceived worsening). Decatur’s traffic calming efforts (road narrowing, addition of bike lanes and pedestrian crossings) may reduce speeds but increase travel times.
        But thanks, Andrew. At first glance, numbers seem very odd to me. No appreciable decline on Clairemont but nearly 7,000 decline on Trinity? Would really like to know know the dates, time spans (one-day count or daily average over a week, for example), conditions (construction nearby), etc. for each count and counts on other streets. Maybe counts for more years from 2000 to 2013 would be more representative of trends. Happen to have a source (web link) for any more detailed info?

        • blackbird13

          “Data from only three checkpoints may not represent overall situation.”

          You need to scroll down in his post to see the rest of the checkpoints.

          • Peripatetian

            Thanks. Missed that “see more”

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