National spotlight for Atlanta’s proposed BeltLine, which is converting old rail lines to multi-use paths

From the NYT’s BeltLine Provides New Life to Railroad Tracks in Atlanta –

The Eastside Trail, as the path is known, is one of the first legs of an ambitious proposal that has been in the works since the early 2000s — to transform 22 miles of vine-covered railroad into parks, housing and public transit around Atlanta.

“We are changing Atlanta into a city that you can enjoy by walking and riding a bike,” Mayor Kasim Reed said. “We have been so car-centric that you didn’t experience the city in an intimate way.”

But the Eastside Trail is only a start. And while some civic boosters, among them Mr. Reed, are calling for the pace to accelerate (he wants to see the entire loop paved and streetcars installed within a decade), the fulfillment of the grand plan, called the Atlanta BeltLine, is not assured.

In part because of suburban resistance to the BeltLine, the Atlanta region last year rejected the T-SPLOST, which would have guaranteed $600 million for the project. The T-SPLOST vote revealed something of a transportation divide between the city of Atlanta and the metro area suburbs. I thought that Atlanta’s project list for the sales tax was appropriately balanced to meet the desires of various areas, but it was primarily the suburban voters — the ones who frankly had the most to gain from passage of the tax — who rejected it. So now Mayor Reed and other BeltLine supporters have little money for the project, but they’ve also been liberated from having to compromise with the suburbs.

Some object to the Beltline on design grounds. Again from the article:

Critics have urged that the project be scaled back. The city’s biggest transit challenge, they argue, is not beautifying in-town neighborhoods but reducing gridlock from the suburbs.

“The BeltLine doesn’t go where people want or need to go,” said Michael Dobbins, an architecture professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has studied the project’s feasibility. “The parks and trails are great, but it makes no sense to add streetcars while traffic elsewhere is so bad, especially in this economy.”

But supporters point to signs of progress: 60 acres of parks have been built and five miles paved for bike baths in the past five years. Thousands of people walk and bike along the Eastside Trail, which runs from the city’s largest park to the historically black and rapidly gentrifying Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born and lived.

The BeltLine may not go where some people want and need to go, but it’s clear from development noted along the route that the new connections will change what some want and need. Just a glance at the map suggests so many possibilities for how Atlanta can become a little less car-centric and create more ways to connect the urban residents who have chosen to live in the city:

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There’s much more about the BeltLine on its official website.