Emory Report

Mar. 15, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 23

First person:

Foust wants to hear Emory voices support car alternatives

Two or three weeks ago, one more phase of the University's Master Plan inched forward-the project that includes constructing a parking deck at University Apartments and building a shuttle road and bicycle/pedestrian pathway along the edge of Lullwater.

At the same time, a chorus of opposition raised their voices. Students, faculty and staff who speak for protecting the environment and lobby for stopping unbridled development of buildings and roads, drew a line in the sand, saying, "Do not build a road through Lullwater Park! This is a sacred space. You are destroying one of the last nature preserves in this area."

I believe we are cutting down too many of the majestic trees Atlanta has been famous for. And I believe the history of Emory is replete with many examples of callous disregard for the air, land, water and forests we inherited.

But I also believe the opposition to this project is wrong. There is room for discussion on how the road is designed and what route it should take, but to say it should not be built just does not make sense to me. In protecting one environment, we will be sacrificing--disproportionately--other environments at and around Emory.

The "shuttle road plan" is more than a shuttle road. It is a plan to encourage more people to walk and ride bicycles to work and school. The parking office proposes installing bicycle lockers in the parking deck so that people can commute there and ride their bicycles the rest of the way. This project stands with the Asbury Circle renovation as a major effort to craft an infrastructure that gets people out of their cars--by shuttles, walking and bicycling.

It is a plan to offset other environmental impacts of vehicles coming to campus. The severe congestion on North Decatur Road between Emory and Clairmont Road will only get worse as the CDC and Emory increase the number of buildings and staff on their central campuses. One of the tenets of the opposition to this project is that shuttles could be scheduled to run through the intersection of Clairmont and North Decatur roads to campus. During rush hour, traffic is backed up about a mile at that intersection. It defies reason to think that 40 to 50 busloads of people could negotiate that traffic in the one or two-hour window available to commuters each morning and evening.

It is also a plan to share Lullwater with 3,000 people, twice a day. This could be the grandest of all entrances onto campus, and this short ride or walk could be an opportunity for decompression before or after work and classes. If Lullwater is a jewel--and I believe it is--it should not be reserved for the precious few.

However, there are a few myths we need to dispel in this discussion. The Lullwater we know today is not a pristine environment that we will be violating for the first time. It is the result of actions and inaction taken by those who went before us. For example, the park's two lakes result from damming up South Peachtree Creek and the watershed leading into it.

Our purpose should be to find the most appropriate and compatible coexistence with what is left. Our purpose should also be to repair what has been destroyed. And our purpose may be to ask something of Lullwater in the context of the whole microorganism that is Emory, its people, its neighborhood. I would hope that the conversation could be moved to the next level in a joint effort with University officials to lobby for what we want for ourselves.

Here's what I'd like to see:

  • An idea postulated about a shuttle service to several apartment complexes makes good sense. Would people be willing to pay $20 a month for a pass (which would be reduced from regular costs) to use the shuttle and MARTA to get to campus? We need to come up with shared costs that make everyone a winner.
  • I would lobby that, concurrent with this project, the University includes a major environmental restoration project and that as a matter of practice every funding proposal have a net zero environmental effect. Quantification of offsetting environmental impacts may be difficult, if not impossible, but the practice will do much to restore credibility in our commitment to an environment in which we all want to live.
  • If we are to make use of the railroad right-of-way, as some have proposed, then it should be transformed from a view of eroding gashes of red clay and crushed rock into something that is more like Lullwater. We often lose sight of the fact that people are part of creation too, and we are too quick to relegate ourselves to ugly venues in our rush to protect the environment.

Finally, I would lobby for all of us to become more personally involved in the broader questions relating to transportation alternatives. Where are the people who work, study and live here when MARTA issues come before the political bodies in Atlanta? Where are our environmental advocates when the Druid Hills Civic Association stands in the way of bringing rail to the Emory campus? Where are those who sit in their cars waiting during the rush away from campus when politicians vote against MARTA service to Gwinnett and Cobb counties? Why do we expect "Emory" to stand in the political fray alone? And why do we not have 5,000 people lobbying for other choices in our transportation infrastructure?

When we challenge the Emory administration, I think we are beating up on the wrong people.

Ron Foust is president of the Employee Council.

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