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Atlanta Beltline - Emerald Necklace

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I've read a lot about the Beltline, but I really don't understand what its main purpose is. For some people it will be bike trails and walking paths, others say it will be a new light rail system that circles the inner core of Atlanta, while others say it will just be additional park space. What is the real plan for the Beltline, because I think that a lot of people have completely incompatible views of what they are pushing for?

P.S.: The guy who made a fortune directing much of the building of Gwinnett County is a big investor in the Beltline, especially the northeast part which will be going through the most expensive neighborhoods. I have a feeling that he will come out of this deal a lot wealthier and the Beltline will be greatly influenced by his "needs."

Edited by Chachi

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The Beltline idea was inspired by the growing national trend of acquiring abandoned or hardly-used rail corridors and preserving the right of way--turning it into a linear park, greenway, intra-city transit, whatever... These are often called "Rail Trails", and there are several popular examples around. The idea uses 22 miles of existing ROW. There are several similar programs either built, being built, or proposed all over the country, and they are quite successful... Atlanta should be very confident in the potential outcome of the Beltline.

It works out great because often these corridors are in the middle of a developed city, and if the right of way is consumed by surrounding property, the cost to reacquire it becomes astronomical--they are essentially lost forever.

Rail Trails, even in linear park form, allow rail transit to be considered in the future if needed. At any rate, that valuable urban/suburban asset gets used instead of being left to rot or consumed by surround landowners.

The original Beltline proposal doesn't specifically say what mode of transit would be used (if just one mode at all)--the proposal is more about the need for Atlanta to get this land while they can. It suggests that the land can be used for greenspace, walkways, bikeways, and low-impact mass transit (like a light rail or trolley).

I believe it will be a mix of transit initially--a greenway (walkway and bikeway) will probably be a component throughout, effectively extending the range of MARTA by giving people a safe dedicated way to reach a station (aside from driving). I would also expect to eventually see some kind of light rail or trolley spurs initially branching off from the existing MARTA stops. In time it could become a complete light rail or trolley loop.

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The Beltline idea was inspired by the growing national trend of acquiring abandoned or hardly-used rail corridors and preserving the right of way--turning it into a linear park, greenway, intra-city transit, whatever... These are often called "Rail Trails", and there are several popular examples around. The idea uses 22 miles of existing ROW. There are several similar programs either built, being built, or proposed all over the country

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Actually this idea grew from a graduate thesis by a student at Georgia Tech in 1999. There had been several proposals for all or part of these rail lines in the past. I have no idea if he was influenced by this type of redevelopment happening elsewhere but after graduating he happened work on various mixed use projects along the path. He then got the idea to sentd out 50 letters of his idea to local officials and the whole idea has had incredible momentum since then.

I've read a lot about the Beltline, but I really don't understand what its main purpose is.  For some people it will be bike trails and walking paths, others say it will be a new light rail system that circles the inner core of Atlanta, while others say it will just be additional park space.  What is the real plan for the Beltline, because I think that a lot of people have completely incompatible views of what they are pushing for?

P.S.: The guy who made a fortune directing much of the building of Gwinnett County is a big investor in the Beltline, especially the northeast part which will be going through the most expensive neighborhoods.  I have a feeling that he will come out of this deal a lot wealthier and the Beltline will be greatly influenced by his "needs."

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The Beltline will be all of the above, linear green space with trails AND transit. Transit is the primary component for moving people around the city and connecting with marta rail lines.

The Gwinnett guy didn't invest in Beltline, he bought some property along the path with development potential.

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Hey y'all, first of all, I'm new here. My name's Ben, I'm originally from the Boston area (South Shore), but lived in Atlanta for the last 8 years. I've been in school in New York for a couple years now, though, and my parents moved back to MA a while ago.

There seem to be a significant number of people from the Atlanta area on this forum, which isn't surprising seeing as it's hard to live there and not get caught up in issues of urbanism these days. It's in such a state of flux right now.

I'm wondering if there's been any news on the Belt Line project (reclaiming unused freight rail right-of-way that circles the city and using it for light rail, for those unaware). I'm out of the loop (*rim shot*) up here and really hope it's going through for Atlanta. I have a love-hate relationship with the place. Parts of the city are wonderful -- Decatur, Midtown, the dense intown neighborhoods like Va-Highland and Inman Park (which has some of the most gorgeous Victorian houses ever) -- but it's so desperately in need of smart-growth initiatives. The whole region is in danger of being swallowed whole by sprawl; already it feels like the culture of the region is centered on the nouveau-riche tract-mansion mentality of Gwinnett, N. Fulton and Cobb counties. God knows what things will look like in twenty years at this rate -- subdivisions and eight-lane highways all the way to Tennessee and South Carolina?

Anyway, enough of that rant. Has the Belt Line been making any progress or has it been swallowed up by that bureaucratic paralysis that seems to stall every transportation idea that doesn't involve adding lanes on highways?

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I share a lot of feelings regarding Atlanta with you - I love the city but I hate the people here. But as for the Beltline - it's good news, studies are about to get really serious, the initial 'do you like this idea' study is over & there is overwhelming support. In a year we should be getting a very good idea what will be built, how it will be built, how long it will be built, & how to pay for it. As for paying for it - so far the ARC (Atlanta Regional Commission) has been very supportive of it, bumping it to a high priority project as MARTA is looking at how to run it. Also, we should be getting to ride on the first of the bike trail s by the end of next year, which is very fast turn around by PATH (the bike trail coalition) because everyone is demanding anything Beltline related receives top funding.

I admit, considering city politics & NIMBYism, I'm pretty optimistic this is going to happen.

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I share a lot of feelings regarding Atlanta with you - I love the city but I hate the people here.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Don't hold back now, let us know how you really feel. :)

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Don't hold back now, let us know how you really feel.  :)

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Wake county is more than 50% larger than Mecklenburg in geographic size so I'm not sure if it is a valid comparison.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Ok - that was a bit harsh, but I do admit I am slightly anti-social. That doesn't mean I don't like any of you all though :)

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I agree with Teshadoh that it will probably happen. I would never have believed it when I first heard of the plan, but I agree that the powerful people are increasingly getting on board. And the developers are smelling profits, and they have a great deal of influence in Atlanta. The sheer scale of the intown boom and population growth in the city proper in the past decade or so is winning over skeptics. I do think we are talking about years before any of us will be riding a light rail train around the beltline, though. This is going to be a looo.....ooong process. Dixiecupdrinking, I agree with your impressive of Atlanta. The areas outside the Perimeter are another world from the areas inside the Perimeter. Fortunately, the intown area is coming back strong now. The city is no longer declining in population. The only negative about that is when you see suburbanization of the intown area with the McMansions replacing historic bungalows, new residents chasing out long-time residents or nightclubs and generally sanitizing the urban edge out of neighborhoods, etc. At least a lot of the developers intown are trying (granted with mixed results) to follow a new urbanist vision.

Edited by UrbanSoutherner

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I agree with Teshadoh that it will probably happen. I would never have believed it when I first heard of the plan, but I agree that the powerful people are increasingly getting on board. And the developers are smelling profits, and they have a great deal of influence in Atlanta. The sheer scale of the intown boom and population growth in the city proper in the past decade or so is winning over skeptics. I do think we are talking about years before any of us will be riding a light rail train around the beltline, though. This is going to be a looo.....ooong process. Dixiecupdrinking, I agree with your impressive of Atlanta. The areas outside the Perimeter are another world from the areas inside the Perimeter. Fortunately, the intown area is coming back strong now. The city is no longer declining in population. The only negative about that is when you see suburbanization of the intown area with the McMansions replacing historic bungalows, new residents chasing out long-time residents or nightclubs and generally sanitizing the urban edge out of neighborhoods, etc. At least a lot of the developers intown are trying (granted with mixed results) to follow a new urbanist vision.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree with your last points, suburbanization of urban areas is a nationwide epidemic as a means to satisfy suburbanite 'urban pioneers' - as for other obstacles for the Beltline:

- correlate with freight rail

- correlate with future commuter rail plans

- plan a way to connect the Beltline north of Dekalb Ave & north of Memorial Dr near the Inman Park station - presently Hulsey freight yard is a massive obstacle.

But this week the Beltline backers are going to announce how the first two points - freight & commuter rail will function. It has been argued that their is enough ROW or land along the ROW to expand to allow both bike trail, light rail, & freight / commuter rail. Hopefully it is a viable one.

Edited by teshadoh

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From everything you read in the paper, it sounds as if the Beltline is a done deal. I had a meeting with concerned community leaders (including myself) and some very grave concerns were expressed. There was an article in the AJC about it on Monday:

AJC

Some of the concerns centered around the increase in density and the traffic that would come from those projects, however Scott Levitan the chair of NPU-E raised what I consider to be the biggest concern. The desire lines for transit in the city are centered around Peachtree St going north/south and 14th or maybe 10th street going east/west. Some of the principles in the Beltline movement, most notably Cathy Woolard, seem to want this project so badly that they are willing to drop projects such as the P'Tree streetcar. My concern is that the city will use up it's available TAD allotment with the Beltline and also that this brand new transit line will be built with no one to ride it. Currently there is not much development around the beltline ROW and it will be years before there is enough density around this land to be able to supprt the debt service through ridership. It comes down to this, we have limited resources and I believe that those resources would be better used building transit that people will actually use. MARTA was built in much the same fashion as the proposed beltline. Built on anticipation of future development. We see how that turned out. I support the idea of the Beltline in principle, but why must the city approve a TAD, in essence robbing it of future revenue, to build a transit line that serves very few so a few developers like Wayne Mason can get rich?

Thoughts????

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I'm not that in tune with the current situation on the Beltline, but here is my two cents.

Wayne Mason does own a large swath of land, so yes, this will line his pockets BUT.......having already assembled the land, it become a thousand times easier to sell to developers to build housing etc.

Deals typically fall apart in the assemly stage, but with the blank slate, and few landowners, this barrier is essentially eliminated.

The problem MARTA had was that it went to areas that were already semi-dense, which means there are LOTS of landowners......in this scenario, everyone thinks they can be the hold-out and get the big bucks. With that mentality, infill projects are a non-start.

The key to all of this IMO, is to attract tranist USERS to the new development. Here in the south, the liberal minded like to say they live the urban life-style but still manage to drive their SUV two blocks to the grocery store.....urban living has to progress from being a fad, to being a lifestyle, and if the people who buy along the beltway are committed transit riders, then its a win for everyone....otherwise, the neighborhood leaders are probably right.

Just some thoughts.

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Ryan - it took me a while to respond b/c the points you made are very valid & I still don't have an appropriate response. Though I disaprove of the current tower plan, I would support condo towers up to 10 stories, which might not satisfy you - since you are a resident of that area. As for the Belt Line itself, again - I support it & I know I would use it b/c I live relatively close & would provide an outlet to numerous sites - but I also know it will likely be 10+ years before anything is built on the southeast side.

So the real fear is - we sink all our money into something that might not be as successful as more streetcars (which I admit I would rather have a Ponce, Memorial, or Moreland streetcar) & could possibly provide ammo for law makers to halt any future plans. Also, especially the Va/Hi, Morningside, Anlsey Park area - I love that area of Atlanta, but I also view further densification as being a neccessity - in areas that can support increased car volume. Because realistically - most developments in Atlanta require car access.

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The biggest challenge the beltline has to being successfully isn't necessarily the height of the developments. It's the impact of those developments on the neighborhoods BEFORE the infrastructure is in place. You provide a valid point in the original post, that transit before development is likely to have a poor showing, and potentially crumble support for completing the transit portion of the beltline. Likewise, development (in the density needed to satisify developers profit margins) before transit dumps 1000s of additional cars into neighborhoods, which is the neighborhoods biggest fear. Not to mention, how it effects development. With no significant transit options available you can expect that developers will need a parking space per adult, vs a parking space per unit or less with a TOD.

I don't think the Beltline is necessarily going to kill the Peachtree Street car. I do think the Beltline is a great way to encourage redevelopment off of Peachtree street and provide additional transit options in the city, and could be a great piece of an overall transit picture. I've ranted on here many times that MARTA does not serve enough residential, and the beltline is the step in the right direction.

However, I've honestly got to say if they were ready to roll out a North Ave or Memorial street car, I think that would be a better use of our cities tax dollars. But honestly, I really think the state needs to give a little and get in the game on supporting some of these projects so it doesn't become a choice. Atlanta as a city needs transit options to better compliment what it has with MARTA and hopefully will have with suburban linked BRT and commuter rail down the road.

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Just a quick question.......how is MARTA funded? Does the authority have a taxing district that exceeds municipal borders, or is it reliant on Atlant and state funds only?

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Just a quick question.......how is MARTA funded?  Does the authority have a taxing district that exceeds municipal borders, or is it reliant on Atlant and state funds only?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

MARTA is funded by a 1% sales tax on Fulton and Dekalb counties. No tax districts, no state funds. MARTA's 1% sales tax in those counties expires in 2032 and the voters choose not to extend it, which means MARTA can not issue bonds against future revenues (since most bonds are 30 year bonds).

MARTA is not expected to fund either the Beltline, Peachtree Street car, or any of the other streetcar proposals I've heard of. All of them are looking for alternative funds (tax districts mostly).

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This is a bit dubious as to relevance, but I thought I'd point out that the Atlanta Beltline shares some similarities with the most successful and heavily used transit loop in the world: the Yamanote line in Tokyo. Most significantly, both are 22 miles long. Both are wider in the north-south dimension than east-west. Both are made up by joining together segments of other existing railroads rather than starting from scratch.

There are significant differences, however. The Yamanote line is a heavy rail line (actualy, regional rail, since it's operated by JR and other trains share the same right of way). The beltline will be much more human-scale, with LRVs or streetcars and numerous grade crossings. The Yamanote has 26 stations; the Beltline, as originally concieved, would have 45.

The Yamanote line has been in place for so long that Tokyo literally grew up around it. The city would practically grind to a halt without the Yamanote line, since it links so many of the most important districts of the city together.

While the parallel between Tokyo and Atlanta is a stretch, perhaps in time, Atlanta will grow up around the Beltline and it will become a similarly important asset to the city.

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The Yamanote line has been in place for so long that the Tokyo literally grew up around it.

I think you bring up a great point, one which is often lost on Atlanta politicans and boosters. Building transit first and controlling the development around transit is much better than attempting to provide transit to low density units or waiting until an area is developed. Although the beltline does have the advantage of not needing to worry about development building over the ROW for transit, it's still seems that Atlantans in general don't seem to understand the benefit of transit first.

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Uhm... Ironchapman, that's the same article that Celeste posted. It is actually through Planetizen - which is a planning news portal that selected the AJC article.

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In case you haven't been following the play-by-play, a bunch of the major Beltline boosters have gotten together and formed the Beltline Partnership with the mission of putting their heads together and making the project happen.

They have also produced a number of new reports and maps for your consumption, and posted some other reports that were pre-existing, but I hadn't seen yet.

Here is the latest map:

img_mapOverview.jpg

The reports include:

I really hope the Beltline happens. There is nothing else on the horizon that has this much potential to change Atlanta's cityscape forever. It could turn a lot of neglected and auto-centric parts of the city into vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly urban territory. Unlike decades past, people want to move in to Atlanta proper - lots of them just need something solid to grasp before they take the plunge. The beltline is that something. This will be similar to the way that Metrorail triggered an urban metamorphasis in the area surrounding Washington, DC.

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The entire Redevelopment Plan report is a 108mb download but it's well worth it. They have diagrams, perspective renderings, elevations, and before/after simulations of the urban form surrounding the 12 major redevelopment "nodes" on the beltline. The tallest building that they suggest around these "nodes" are from 10-15 stories, with 5-8 being the general rule. Sounds exciting to me, but...

So far, it's all just talk. Obviously a huge amount of time and money has gone into producing these reports, but it's all for nothing unless they can actually pull it off without a decade of delay.

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Here's something I just found. Anybody else seen it?

A panel of transportation experts has recently released a report that would question if the Beltline, or at least some portions of it, would get enough ridership to justify being built. However, this panel also expressed their support of creating a Tax Allocation District to fund the Beltline, something that our city council will be voting on whether or not to create next week. They argue that creating the Beltline because the parks, trails, and transit proposed in the idea would improve the city's quality of life greatly.

The AJC Article

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