Emory Report
April 17, 2006
Volume 58, Number 27


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April 17, 2006
Envisioning a new Clifton community

BY Nancy Seideman

Imagine a community connected by wide sidewalks and safe pathways, with reduced traffic and preserved natural spaces. A place where people can run errands, grab a bite to eat and enjoy getting out for a breath of fresh air during the workday without ever getting in their cars.

This is the vital, live-work-play environment Emory envisions and plans to encourage in collaboration with its communities.

Given the fact that 3,000 Emory employees live within a three-mile radius of campus, the distinction between internal and external communities has become blurred. So perhaps it is not surprising that, in seeking public input on the recent Campus Master Plan Update and transportation study, Emory staff found consensus on many issues that join the campus and Clifton communities.

Enough, in fact, to establish the Clifton Community Partnership (CCP).

The CCP serves as the framework for residents, employers, employees, businesses and local governments to share ideas and work together with Emory to create a lively economic, environmentally sensitive and social community.

“We all want a vibrant, livable, healthy environment,” said Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration. “In our public discussions over the past year, people have asked for safer roads and sidewalks, bicycle paths, fewer cars on the roads, more public transportation, and preserved and enhanced green spaces. In short, a people-oriented place. This is part of achieving the vision for Emory, but we have found that the desire and need for these quality-of-life enhancements extend beyond Emory’s core campus.”

These ambitious initiatives require significant commitments of funding from multiple sources, and political support as well, Mandl said.

“Emory is prepared to play a convening role, but we need everyone at the table,” said President Jim Wagner. “We are inviting all who have a stake in the future of the Clifton community to join in dialogue and partnership to help make this vision a reality.”

To encourage ongoing communication of ideas and feedback among stakeholders, Emory will unveil on April 30 a new, interactive, community-focused website at www.cliftoncommunityproject.org.

The site will report the CCP’s progress in achieving its objectives, which include:

Transforming Clifton and N. Decatur roads to increase pedestrian presence while reducing vehicular speed and maintaining urban design standards to improve the overall look and feel of the community.

Targeting locations for small-scale, mixed-use development of housing, retail and entertainment “activity centers” adjacent to campus.

Expanding the concept of transportation by providing more opportunities for employees to commute into the Clifton community other than by single-occupancy vehicles.

Emory, on its own and in partnership with the Clifton Corridor Transportation Management Association (CCTMA), recently expanded its free shuttle service to Decatur, and has announced plans by September to create Park & Ride lots and to expand free shuttle service into neighborhoods for commuting employees, neighbors and visitors. Emory also will introduce a loaner FlexCar program beginning this summer.

CCTMA and Emory continue to provide low-cost or free options for all CCTMA employees including free MARTA passes, van pool subsidies (including free parking) and free parking for certain carpool programs.
One of Emory’s major goals is to ensure every employee has an array of commuting options that provide free, frequent and reliable service and, once employees arrive on campus, that loaner cars are available for off-campus meetings, doctor’s appointments, family emergencies, etc.

Achieving this goal will take several years, and Emory cannot do it alone. Some elements require partnerships with county, state and federal agencies. But, given the rapidly rising cost of gasoline and the overall hassle of commuting via single-occupancy vehicles, many members of Emory’s community believe the University has a responsibility to do its part and to begin sooner rather than later.

With the recent and planned expansion of free shuttle service, the University is planning a reduction of its subsidy for faculty, staff and student parking, effective February 2007. At that time, Emory will raise parking rates an average of $25 per month, which is a little more than $1 per workday. Student parking rates will see a similar increase by August 2007.

The parking rates paid by employees will not be used to pay for anything other than the cost of providing parking, according to Mandl. These expenses include operations and parking-structure debt service.

However, the internal funds that now subsidize individual employee parking rates will be reallocated to support the CCP’s transportation components. Other funding sources include outside grants, reallocation of discretionary resources, private-public partnerships and governmental support.

Wagner said this redirection of internal resources is timely; Atlanta is more dependent on the single-occupancy vehicle than any other major metropolitan area, and while this is a multi-faceted problem, ignoring the University’s role in facilitating alternatives will not help move the city forward.

“With Emory making a major commitment to facilitate alternatives to the single-occupancy vehicle,” the president said, “we have a responsibility to align our internal resources with our fundamental principles of community and sustainability.”

Emory opened discussion about increasing parking rates in April 2005 with a letter from Provost Earl Lewis and Mandl to the community. The letter quantified the $1.8 million annual University subsidy for parking and indicated that, under Emory’s vision and the ongoing strategic planning, those funds might be redirected to support alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle parking.

Since then, there have been several internal discussions with different management groups, and Mandl said he has received valuable input from faculty and staff.

Emory’s leadership team, Mandl said, recognizes that an increase in parking rates may be a financial burden for some employees, even though the University’s fees are lower than those of many employers in the immediate vicinity and among peer institutions.

Several details of the plan are still being worked out, including the form of transition assistance for employees whose salaries are below a certain threshold. When the parking plan is finalized, Mandl said he will communicate directly with employees through an all-Emory e-mail.