Sierra Club names BeltLine as one of nation’s best transportation projects

By David Pendered

The Sierra Club has named the Atlanta BeltLine as one of the best transportation projects in the country.

The BeltLine was included in the latest report of the national organization’s campaign titled, “Beyond Oil.” The campaign’s goal is to move the United States off oil in 20 years.

The Sierra Club of Georgia was among the earliest supporters of the BeltLine. During the recent campaign for a regional sales tax for transportation, the group opposed the tax – in part – because members thought the tax promoted sprawl and did not provide more money for the types of transportation options represented by the BeltLine.

Mayor Kasm Reed on opening day of the Eastside Trail

Mayor Kasm Reed rides along the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail on opening day, Oct. 15. Credit:

“We should heavily invest our transportation dollars in this kind of forward thinking, 21st century project,” Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia chapter, said in a statement announcing the release of the national report.

The BeltLine was included in a report titled: “Smart Choices, Less Traffic: 50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects in the United States.”

In introductory remarks, the report notes that some transportation projects continue a pattern of oil dependence and poor air quality, which is a result of tailpipe exhaust. One example cited in the report is the proposed Outer Beltway around Washington, D.C.

Atlanta’s BeltLine, on the other hand, is held up in the report as a good transportation project:

  • “The Atlanta Beltline, a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit by repurposing 22-miles of historic railroad corridors circling downtown Atlanta, will help to improve air quality.”

Kiernan described the BeltLine in broad language that invests the project with a lot of hope:

“Transportation infrastructure we build today will be with us for decades. We can and should demand the best use of our transportation dollars,” Kiernan said in the statement.

“The Atlanta BeltLine will give us the choices we need. The 22 miles of light rail and trails will help make getting to work, school, shopping and recreation without a car easier, make walking and biking in our city safer and increase our access to transit.”

The national report goes on to provide this description of the BeltLine:

  • “This project provides a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit by repurposing 22-miles of historic railroad corridors circling downtown Atlanta and remediating over 1,000 acres of brownfield.
  • “The beltline will reduce air pollution and improve public health through the use of efficient electric transit and attractive pedestrian and bicycle trails.
  • “The project has already resulted in new, denser living and retail development and further economic development is anticipated. Three trail segments connect four newly renovated parks. Additionally, affordable housing has opened along the corridor.
  • “However, much work remains and this comprehensive urban redevelopment effort will take another 20 years to complete. While progress has been made in terms of improvements to parks and some affordable housing developments, the transit line has a long way to go.”


About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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Burroughston Broch, do you ever have anything positive to say about anything that is ever posted here? Ever? You come across as an extremely bitter malcontent that hates every single thing about this place.


And Obama won by a respectable margin. Deal with it.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

 @atlantaguy I praise when praise is deserved. Praise is not deserved in this case.

I do enjoy deflating the ramblings of unfettered optimists who try to blow smoke in the public's eyes.

I am well aware that Obama won with10% fewer Electoral College votes than in 2008, and only 51% of the popular vote.

I have been dealing with it for four years and will continue for the next four.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{"Sierra Club names BeltLine as one of nation’s best transportation projects...Atlanta’s BeltLine, on the other hand, is held up in the report as a good transportation project."}}


The Atlanta Beltline is not necessarily as good of a transportation project as much as it is an exceptional DEVELOPMENTAL transportation project.


There's a definite difference between the two as make no mistake, (transit component of) the Beltline isn't being put in place to serve a dwindling MARTA mass transit ridership by way of a abandoned rail right-of-way that intersects existing MARTA rapid transit lines, but NOT at existing rail stations.


The Atlanta Beltline is being put in place to drive the development, re-development and gentrification of urban brownfields and aging, neglected and virtually-abandoned inner city neighborhoods

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

A transportation award for what transit? Not now, and who knows when?

This is as senseless as awarding President Obama a Nobel Prize for what he might do (and has not done 3 years later).


That's nice Sierra Club. Not enough to make up for working with the Tea Party to kill the T-SPLOST which would've been a catalyst for the very project you purport to support but nice. Deeds speak louder than words.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

That horrific T-SPLOST that the Sierra Club worked with the Tea Party to kill also would have enabled the construction of the Sugarloaf Parkway Extension in the abandoned right-of-way of the highly-controversial erstwhile proposed Northern Arc/Outer Perimeter highway.


The T-SPLOST would have also given unethical politicians at both the state and local levels across the region billions of dollars to blow out the window on many projects that were far from guaranteed to have even the slightest impact on our traffic congestion and mobility problems.


With the City of Atlanta being the ONLY locality in which the T-SPLOST earned a majority of votes in the Atlanta Region by a margin of roughly 57%-43%, a potentially transformational developmental project like the Atlanta Beltline would have best been funded with a SPLOST referendum that was up for a vote only within the City of Atlanta, by way of a special citywide T-SPLOST that would only pay for critically-important developmental needs within the City of Atlanta (like the Beltline and the Peachtree Streetcar) and would only be paid for by residents of the City of Atlanta.


The funding and the subsequent construction of the Atlanta Beltline and the Peachtree Streetcar could have conceivably already been underway if the T-SPLOST had been a local SPLOST that had only been put up for a vote within the City of Atlanta.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Based on what we now see, it will be a long time before the Beltline has a chance to earn the praise of this award. The City is pretty tapped for money - witness the $15-$20million/year of cash the Mayor thinks he could put towards paying for almost $1billion of accumulated infrastructure needs. Nowhere near enough - the list will get longer each year.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia


 The $1.7 billion of TAD revenues that will be allocated to fund the 60% of the cost of construction of the Beltline is best spent on completing the greenbelt/multi-use recreational path portion of the project as soon as possible.


Completing the greenbelt portion of the Beltline first will allow the project to attract increasingly heavy amounts of new development which will buildup the density of development and population that will be needed to sustain the rail transit portion of the project in the long-run.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia


Yes sir, there is a Tax Allocation District in place along the Beltline.


And though many people do view light rail and streetcars as being one and the same, there can be some distinct differences between the two as light rail often (but not always) operates with multiple railcars in its own right-of-way that is separate from automobile traffic at speeds of up to 65 m.p.h.


Streetcars, on the other hand, most often operate as a single railcar on the same roadway/within the same right-of-way as automobile traffic at speeds of no more than 30-40 m.p.h., though some streetcars do operate in their own right-of-way that is mostly, but not completely, separated from automobile traffic (like a "bus on rails" if you will-like the streetcars in New Orleans that operate heavily within the grassy medians of that historic city's grand boulevards).


The type of railcar that might be preferable for the Atlanta Beltline in the early-going might be a single streetcar on its own set of tracks that caters to commuters, but with a very-heavy touristy component that generates lots of tourist traffic as well.


And while San Francisco's cable cars are old technology at best, they are also vintage railcars that, on and along the routes they serve, generate a very-heavy amount of tourist traffic, something that Atlanta is having some problems generating and sustaining at the moment.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch  

 That's okay if rail transit is not necessarily implemented on the Beltline in the immediate future as a "go-slow" approach should be very much preferred in the midst of dwindling ridership numbers on the existing MARTA transit network.


A "go-slow" approach to implementing mass transit (specifically rail transit) is also very much preferred seeing as though the Atlanta Beltline is still very much in its extreme very early stages of existence.


At the moment, the Atlanta Beltline just simply does not yet have enough density of development or enough of a stable population density to support even a bare-bones minimal level of transit service, not to mention the much-higher level of transit service that has been envisioned to eventually operate on that corridor.


For now, the best thing to do is to continue to develop the multi-use recreational trail portion of the Atlanta Beltline which will be enough to generate development and redevelopment opportunities moving forward along the corridor.  

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

 @atlantaguy  @The Last Democrat in Georgia  

The key words are "eventually planned." Don't hold your breath about the White Elephant (sorry, street car) getting to the Beltline anytime soon.

As my grandfather said, "If wishes were horses, then beggars might ride."

atlantaguy 1 Like

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia  @Burroughston Broch

Last Dem, isn't there already a TAD in place along the BeltLine?


And sorry to nitpick, but Light Rail and Streetcars are basically one and the same. The Streetcar under construction now is eventually planned to link up with the BeltLine. Cable cars would be extremely expensive, and they're not for a place like Atlanta. It's old technology at best, i.e. San Francisco's historic cable cars. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia 1 Like

 @Burroughston Broch

 A (citywide and/or most certainly NOT a regional) T-SPLOST is not the only means of financing a developmental project such as the Beltline.


Absent a City of Atlanta-only T-SPLOST, the best options for Mayor Reed and the City of Atlanta to finance a potentially transformational developmental project like the Beltline at this point would be through the utilization of Tax Increment Financing (TIF-a portion of the property tax revenues from new development (and redevelopment) that pops up along the path of the Beltline).


TIF could be used to finance both the multi-use recreational path and the startup and implementation of transit service on the Beltline, which early on should consist of streetcar/cable-car service rather than the frequently-discussed light rail service which is currently proposed for the corridor.


Public-private partnerships (private financing and private investment) could also be used to finance the construction and early operation of (preferably streetcar or cable-car) rail transit service on the Beltline.


User fees (in the form of revenues from the farebox) could be used to fund the continuing operation and maintenance of rail transit service on the Beltline after ridership has risen to a sustainable level.