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Atlanta shouldn't allow bad traffic to cause brain drain

New college grads could opt to go elsewhere if metro Atlanta doesn't embrace transit

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As a senior at Georgia Tech and a rising young professional, I'll soon be making the decision of where to live and work. As is typical of Generation Y, I want connectivity and outstanding urban quality of life. I'm not alone and metro Atlanta leaders should take notice.

Gen Y does not want to spend two hours in traffic every day just to get to work. Gen Y doesn't want to drive 'til we qualify just to afford a McMansion. We won't continue spending 29 percent of our incomes on commuting.

Simply put, we don't want the suburban lifestyles of isolation, car-dependence and sprawl that baby boomers have facilitated for the past half-century. We want sustainable, equitable, efficient and extensive transit options. If we don't find it, Gen Y will not hesitate to leave metro Atlanta upon graduation to live in world-class cities.

This would be a tragedy. Young people who logged long hours at Georgia State University, Emory, Georgia Tech, Morehouse and other metro Atlanta colleges and universities — a good number of whom benefit from the Hope Scholarship, one of the most extensive state-sponsored scholarship programs in the country — would look elsewhere. If the region fails to seriously address quality of life — which means tackling the car-dependent environment — metro Atlanta could experience a significant "brain drain" effect. If you want to retain this generation of educated, hard-charging young professionals, you need to create an urban environment that's worth calling home.

Although it lacks geographic features such as a major river or port, Atlanta has a lot going for it: the weather, the country's busiest airport, SweetWater Brewery, Georgia Tech, Piedmont Park, entertainment venues, modern architecture and a diverse population. But I simply cannot deal with the lack of transit.

There have been some good first steps. The Atlanta Beltline, if done right, could add thousands of acres of new park space to Atlanta, boost transit and make the city more walkable. Another is next year's vote for a 1-cent sales tax that would fund new road and transit projects in the 10-county metro region.

The transportation tax vote has the potential to make or break metro Atlanta's future. As a region, we have the opportunity to start fixing our lack of transit, as well as pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure. Maybe then we can convince young people that metro Atlanta has equal — scratch that, better — quality of life than can be found elsewhere. Passing the transportation tax must be our "Plan A" because there is no good "Plan B."

Gen Y may lack experience and we may be naively optimistic about many things, but the opinion of the young voters is extremely important. We are the leaders of tomorrow. While we might not be outspoken on the matter, we certainly do care.

Listen to the voice of the student-age population. There is an urban revival rising up in our generation. Create a metro region that doesn't simply slap Band-Aids on bottlenecks. Let's set ourselves up for a future of long-term, sustainable prosperity and development.

The nation is watching Atlanta to see how we address our congestion and connectivity issues.

Jonathan Weidman plans to pursue a master's degree in regional and city planning, but hasn't chosen his school yet.

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