Atlanta’s multiuse trails create linear parks and alternative travel options in light of I-85 breach

By Maria Saporta

Transportation options.

Never have those two words held as much meaning for Atlanta as they do now. The Friday collapse of a section of Interstate 85 – has severed a key transportation artery for the region.

Immediately, and with good reason, there were pleas for us to get serious about regional rail transit – once and for all. A silver lining of this manmade disaster is the probability that transit will gain momentum during this transportation debacle.

But there are other options.

Rendering of PATH trail along the Proctor Creek Greenway near the MARTA Station (

Rendering of PATH trail along the Proctor Creek Greenway near the MARTA Station (Special: Proctor Creek Greenway)

We are creating a regional network of multiuse trails that do double duty. They provide an alternative way for us to get around – whether it be by bicycle, foot, roller blades or skate boards.

And they also create ribbons of greenspace in our region.

Coincidentally, the 2017 Park Pride’s annual Parks & Greenspace Conference on March 27 was themed “Connecting with Parks” – exploring the role trails can play in linking our region’s parks while offering people other ways to get around.

Atlanta is investing in these alternative modes of travel.

In November, City of Atlanta voters passed an additional half-penny sales tax to expand MARTA within the city. It will extend the Atlanta Streetcar a half-mile to the Eastside BeltLine, and several other transit expansions and improvements are on the drawing boards.

And voters also approved a .4 percent sales tax for other transportation investment.

The first project to be funded by the transportation infrastructure sales tax will be $3 million for the first phase of the seven-mile Proctor Creek Greenway, according to Stephanie Stuckey, the city’s director of resiliency.

Proctor Creek Greenway

Rendering of the Proctor Creek Greenway with the trail going under the James Jackson Parkway (Special: Proctor Creek Greenway)

The city is partnering with the PATH Foundation and the Emerald Corridor Foundation to build two new miles of trail that will connect with another mile. The hope is to complete the trail to the Chattahoochee River and continuing it with a bridge over the river.

 

The first phase of the Proctor Creek Greenway would begin on the western portion of the Atlanta BeltLine at Maddox Park, connect it to the Bankhead MARTA Station and then continue towards Grove Park.

“I see the BeltLine as my Interstate 285,” said Ed McBrayer, founder and executive director of the PATH Foundation, during a Proctor Creek Greenway public forum. “It is about alternative transportation. The fewer cars we have on the road, the better off we are. My trails are a lot cheaper than parking decks and a lot cheaper than widening highways.”

One advantage of building trails versus than trains is speed and cost. Construction on the Proctor Creek Greenway is expected to begin in the next couple of month, and the goal is to open the three-mile trail by the end of the year – while Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is still in office.

“This will be a linear park,” Stuckey said. “It will gives the public a trail access to the Chattahoochee River and a way to get over the Chattahoochee.”

Ed McBrayer Stephanie Stuckey

Ed McBrayer and Stephanie Stuckey at the Proctor Creek Greenway public meeting (Photo by Maria Saporta)

PATH and the partners have been designing a master plan for the entire trail, and McBrayer said the strategy is to make the first phase so appealing that the public will want it to be completed as soon as possible.

Several other trails also are being developed. The Atlanta BeltLine Inc. is building out the Westside Trail from Washington Park to Adair Park. It also is working on the southern extension of the Eastside Trail. Meanwhile, Buckhead is busy building out the PATH 400 trail, and McBrayer has already worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation to weave the trail through the Georgia 400 and Interstate 285 interchange.

The taxes passed by Atlantans in November also will enable the Atlanta BeltLine to acquire the property for the entire 22-mile corridor, according to Paul Morris, the Atlanta BeltLine’s president and CEO.

Becky Katz, the city’s chief bicycle officer, said it is time to view our streets differently.

“We have 1,600 miles of roadways in our city solely focused on one mode of transportation,” Katz said. “How can Piedmont Avenue feel like Piedmont Park? Let’s transform our roadways into something different. The city is growing and getting more dense. We need to use this right-of-way in a different way. When you walk down Peachtree Street, you should feel like you are in a public place. It’s about connectivity of how trails and green space are tied together.”

Parks & Greespace panel

Afternoon panel at Parks & Greenspace conference. Left to right: Tim Keane, Faye DiMassimo, Stephanie Stuckey, Todd Hill, Amy Phuong and Michael Halicki standing ((Photo by Maria Saporta)

Tim Keane, the city’s planning commissioner, has been shepherding the Atlanta City Design Project, an effort to plan for growth while protecting Atlanta’s natural amenities. Part of that effort will be to plan for how people get around.

“We are a region that’s been spending a generation focused on regional trips and not on local trips,” Keane said. “Atlanta has a bigger challenge than any other city in America. A great street is one where cars are going slow. We will be successful when we don’t need a bike lane because cars are going so slow.”

Meanwhile, McBrayer is busy developing off-road trails – providing an alternative way for people to get around. Over the past 25 years, the PATH Foundation has developed 260 miles of trails, and the organization has great plans for the future.

At the Park Pride conference, McBrayer made his own pledge: “By 2025, we are going to have the most trail connected city in the United States.”

In the meantime, we will maneuver our way around the rupture of Interstate 85 – trying out new ways to get around.

Proctor Creek Greenway

Master Plan for the Proctor Creek Greenway (Special: Proctor Creek Greenway)

 

Parks & Greenspace panel

Panel at Parks & Greenspace conference. Left to right: Nancy Rigby, Ed McBrayer, Rob Brawner, Paul Morris and Becky Katz (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

6 replies
  1. Betsy Eggers says:

    Excellent article, Maria, but it overlooks the multi-use trail-in-the-making that actually FOLLOWS I-85: the Peachtree Creek Greenway. From the BeltLine at Lindbergh MARTA station, the PCG parallels both the north fork of Peachtree Creek and I-85. Simple as A-B-C-D: Atlanta, Brookhaven, Chamblee, & DeKalb County. Atlanta has a section partly built; Brookhaven has secured funding & land; Chamblee has rezoned the 100 acres along its section to insure the Greenway’s construction at Century Center; and DeKalb & the PATH Foundation designed & approved the entire concept back in 2000. From Atlanta to the I-285 Perimeter near Mercer University, the Peachtree Creek Greenway is slated to be built as a linear park in an otherwise unbuildable flood plain. Commercial property owners recognize its benefit. Environmentalists welcome the protection that the Greenway will provide this overlooked urban waterway. And, some day, commuters will enjoy pedaling into Midtown!Report

    Reply
  2. Melanie Pollard says:

    Great article and opportunity for Atlanta to accelerate the much needed conversion to using the Beltline, Peachtree Creek Greenway, trails and public transportation to get to where we need to go. One thing that will be important for this to work is the preservation of our tree canopy. Without the shade of Atlanta’s world-famous urban forests and trees, it will be too hot to use for many during summer heat – which is starting sooner and lasting longer than previous years. There is a VERY important bill on the governor’s desk that needs watching carefully. A joint study committee will be examining Stream buffer protection throughout the state of Georgia- protection that currently safeguards an overwhelming number of high-value trees throughout the state.
    Learn more about this bill at https://www.facebook.com/AtlantaProtectsTrees/posts/1909875192582713
    A weakened streambuffer protection will result in the loss of more trees, more stormwater damage and threaten our creeks, rivers and clean water.Report

    Reply
  3. shirley franklin says:

    Thanks for this report. I am reminded of the extensive community engagement process of developing the Beltline plans from the start of the project and attribute the project’s success not merely to the brilliance of the design and implementation of the plan but to the extensive level of community engagement for the early 2000’s. Those engaged were from dozens of neighborhoods and every demographic of leaders and of the public. Enhancing this historic level of engagement as the city’s 50 year urban planning continues is worth the investment of time and resources. Both the city’s Clean Water Initiative (sales tax votes above 70% 4 times) and the Atlanta Beltline maintain high levels of public popularity for over a decade.Report

    Reply
  4. metitometin says:

    What about those in Gwinnett that want to go to Atlanta and vice versa? What about those in Cobb who want to go to the city and vice versa? It looks like we’re stuck using our cars for the foreseeable future because NO ONE is taking the lead on how to connect those counties to Atlanta with public transit or any other option than a car.Report

    Reply

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