BeltLine Success a Symbol of a Changing Atlanta

With just two miles of an eventual 22 transformed from old rail tracks to trails, Atlantans are enjoying a taste of the planned $2.8 billion BeltLine. Despite its early success, the future of the ambitious project is far from settled.
February 16, 2013, 5am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Plans for the Atlanta BeltLine are certainly bold: the 22 miles of old railroad tracks planned for conversion into parks, housing, and public transit would be the most expensive rails-to-trails project ever completed. "It would add 40 percent more parks to Atlanta. Only 4.6 percent of Atlanta is parkland, compared with 25 percent in New Orleans and 19 percent in New York."

The first phase of the project, the two-mile Eastside Trail, has been popular with joggers, bikers, and commuters - a good sign in this notoriously car-dependent city. And the project has some influential backers, including Mayor Kasim Reed who's proud of the significance of the effort. “We are changing Atlanta into a city that you can enjoy by walking and riding a bike,” said the Mayor. “We have been so car-centric that you didn’t experience the city in an intimate way.”

However, as Robbie Brown reports, "[c]ountless obstacles remain — from purchasing land, digging up decades-old tracks and routing the trail around operating trains and freight yards. But the greatest challenge is financing. The city and a host of nonprofits have raised $350 million through private donations and property taxes on the $2.8 billion project."

"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."

If the boom in construction along the Eastside Trail is any indication, the project's momentum may be enough to drive it forward, despite the critics.

“People want to live in a city where the design makes sense,” said Ryan Gravel, whose graduate thesis sparked the project. “It’s not only changing the physical form of the city. It’s changing the way we think about the city.”

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Published on Thursday, February 14, 2013 in The New York Times
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