Critical connectivity around Atlanta Airport: agent-based modeling to evaluate PRT scenarios for nearby residents

Comparing travel time in drive alone vs. public transit model between TAZs at the same distance.

(In Progress)

This work is developed with Dr. Perry Yang and curated through Aerotropolis design studio in 2020 and 2021.


An explosion of research in the past decades have popularized network science to inform urban science and planning (Batty, 2013; Bettencourt, 2013; Liang, 2021) and witnessed a massive development of connectivity infrastructures worldwide, such as high-speed rails and 5G internet (Garmendia, 2013; Qian, 2019). While connectivity is often associated with innovation, economic prosperity, and inclusive access, it also comes with costs. For example, transportation networks, such as highways, can either increase mobility access for people or torn up local communities, as evident in stories of 1960’s highway-led urban renewal (Gans, 1982). Similarly, nodes in the transportation networks can have both positive and negative externalities to locals. For example, airports as regional transportation hubs can serve distant travelers and increase a city’s position in the global economy, while creating a large and restricted land use barrier for the nearby residents to connect.

Our study focuses on Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL Airport) as a case study to examine the contrasting role of an airport at simultaneously mobilizing regional flows while inhibiting local flows in surrounding neighborhoods. ATL Airport is located at the south of Downtown Atlanta, bordering College Park, East Point, Hapeville, and Forest Park neighborhoods. Every day, on average 0.3 million passengers pass by ATL airport, making it the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic until 2019. 80% of the workers that commute to work at ATL airport come from areas not adjacent to the airport. Yet the communities nearby the airport are well below the median income level compared with other neighborhoods in metro ATL and most of them are concentrated with African Americans, a historical legacy that comes from racial segregation in a once divided Atlanta. To improve the neighborhood prosperity surrounding the airports and leverage new airport-centered development for the welfare of nearby residents, AACID (The ATL Airport Community Improvement Districts) has proposed combination of a Airport City Six West Development plan and a PRT (personal rapid transit) line to bring economic growth and mobility access to the airport area. The system is meant to be on-demand, autonomous, flexible (due to small capacity), and thus provide an alternative public transit option for air passengers and locals alike. However, it is unclear what travel demands will be generated from the new development plan and whether the new PRT line will be beneficial to the locals rather than solely serving the needs of the airport clients. These challenges make ATL airport the perfect testbed to address the duality of connectivity and provide an analytical example for future planners to think about problems alike.

Xiaofan Liang
Xiaofan Liang
City and Regional Planning PhD

My research interests include spatial social networks, urban analytics, and participatory planning.