The Reynoldstown Community Space during a recent planning session. (Photo by Atlanta BeltLine Inc.)

Many people know the Atlanta BeltLine as a wide path that connects some of the Northeast intown neighborhoods’ hot restaurants and shopping venues. But what many may not realize is that the BeltLine is more than just a conversion of abandoned train tracks into a walking path. In fact, the current trail is just one small part of a total re-imagining of Atlanta’s urban core industrial intown loop around the city’s center.

Here’s an aerial rendering of the entire BeltLine from 2013. The area highlighted in the neon green circle roughly marks the section most people are familiar with which runs between the Krog Tunnel and Ponce City Market. You can see Freedom Park and the Carter Center just below and to the left of the highlighted area.

Photo Credit: Atlanta Beltline Typologies, Revised 2013.

This map really helps illustrate the scale of the thing we call the BeltLine. It is not just a park but is a major citywide transportation initiative that has been in the works for decades. The original idea came at the end of the last century, 1999 to be exact, and it was slow to catch on. But as it gained traction and as Atlanta evolved into a hub of the Southeast United States, the project has taken shape. It has been a herculean endeavor involving dozens of neighborhoods, non-profits, city departments, state and federal agencies, multiple city-wide votes, and countless hours of work and money to get us this far. The vision — which always included a light rail component — is designed to make the BeltLine useful and accessible for everyone.

But without the rail component, it will remain nothing more than a linear sidewalk park.

So, before you say “NOMBY!” (Not On My Beltline Ya’ll) And before you join a fight to dismantle this beautiful idea, please take some time to understand it. Stick with me for a minute and let’s go back to when it all started being built. Back to when the walking path was a new thing. So many people at that time were disparaging about the idea. People would say The BeltLine with an eye roll, calling it, “a waste of time;” “a glorified sidewalk;” “another Atlanta boondoggle.”

Back then it was very similar to the rail discussion we’re having now. The cost to build was very high and the future value was a question mark — a projection – a vision — a dream really. The true worth of the BeltLine wasn’t readily apparent when you looked at a drawing or a study, attended a meeting, or even when you experienced your one neighborhood section of the path. Now that it’s taking shape, it’s easy to see that the Beltline was a good idea. It is a beautiful city asset and is the second most-visited attraction in Atlanta. It has triggered a boom in building and property values across the city core and has resulted in the creation of jobs, affordable housing, art exhibits, and gathering spaces.

Chad Polazzo is a life-long resident of intown Atlanta. He has a Master of Science in Organizational Behavior and has been a top ranked Realtor and investment consultant for two decades. He lives in Inman Park with his family.

It is loved by nearly everyone who lives nearby or has had the chance to experience it. But less than a decade ago, it wasn’t so. I used to run the newly named Eastside trail when it was dirt and crushed gravel and often, even on a beautiful Saturday, there was no one else there.

It wasn’t until enough sections were paved and landscaped and started to connect to each other that people started to use the trail to get to real destinations. Once it hit a critical mass the BeltLine became appreciated for what it offered. What it connected. Only then did any of us start to really understand all of the new spaces and lifestyle it helped create via a hidden pathway that cut through the core of our beloved city.

I must admit I felt a bit irritated when it got so crowded that running the BeltLine on a weekend felt like playing a game of frogger — dodging drunk tourists, dogs on long retractable leashes, people walking backwards to instaphoto their experiences, and e-bikers with Wi-Fi speakers. Who were all these people I suddenly had to share with?

And losing the gravel path has been a series of blows too. I loved having it all to myself, riding through what felt like countryside for miles without seeing another person. Hearing the rhythmic thump, thump, thump as I crossed the old historic wooden bridges, and feeling the solitude and chilly darkness as I traversed through muddy train tunnels. I didn’t want to lose that. And I mourn those losses.

The Atlanta BeltLine, shown here in Inman Park. (File Photo by Hannah Jones.)

But it’s not just about me. Alas, the BeltLine is not mine to enshrine in amber so that it remains the way I wish.

How many people will really travel the entire BeltLine loop once it is fully paved? The bulk of the micro mobility users and the walkers and runners will stick to shorter sections in their own neighborhoods. It’s 22 miles or so to do the full circle. So, if you’re renting a scooter, it would cost too much to ride it. If you own a scooter and average eight miles per hour it would take at least three hours. If you’re riding a bike you would need to dedicate a similar amount of time to ride the loop and that is if you don’t plan on stopping along the way.

Certainly, some will do it — but it will not be commuters, tourists, or people wanting to visit a brewery on the other side of town. It will be people cycling for leisure and exercise and people who run marathons. Without rail, those will be the only people who will do the full loop.

If you’re looking for a short, peaceful walk where you see grass and flowers and butterflies, those things will still be present after rail is in place on the BeltLine. Or you can walk on one of the spur trails that connect to the BeltLine all across the city. Trails like the Freedom Park Path which is practically empty most of the time and which would love your company.

And if you think to yourself, ‘Hey Chad, what about using micro wheeled shuttles instead of rail?’ My answer to that is: We have those already — they’re called cars and most of the paved sections of Atlanta are already dedicated to them. Twenty-five percent of downtown Atlanta is dedicated to parking them. Even more space is dedicated to driving them, buying them, cleaning them, repairing them, renting them… you get the point.

So if you claim that you want to fight crazy spending and government waste and environmental degradation and preserve tree canopy, how about speaking out and organizing against GADOT projects. Road boondoggles that go un-questioned and un-checked with unlimited spending — these are the projects that are the overwhelming majority of what we spend transportation dollars on. Fight that so we can open the way for alternative methods of transportation.

Dedicated rail is something that is a proven effective people mover and that can be made to integrate into the landscape. Rail technology is nothing like the 1900s trolley cars any more than your hybrid car is the same as a Ford Model T. The technology for new hybrid low-platform light rail is state-of-the-art and quite beautiful to behold when done right.

The BeltLine. (Photo by Emilia Weinrobe.)

So, for those of you who are mad/concerned/have questions/are confused about Beltline Rail — thank you for reading…. thank you for taking the time to stop and think about what it will be like once we have this light rail in place — I’m not talking about just a small section of “streetcar extension” for this first section on the Eastside trail but a full loop all the way around the BeltLine with spoke connections at MARTA heavy rail, Bus Rapid Transit connections, and a myriad of spur trails.

We’re talking about well-designed rail with neighbor input and oversight. Don’t think about the failed streetcar that doesn’t really go anywhere. Equating BeltLine rail to the Atlanta Streetcar project would be like thinking about the utility of building just a few miles of I-75/85 without the rest of it. Useless! I’d never drive on it because it couldn’t get me anywhere and I’d oppose it for sure!

But that’s not what this is. Like the small bits of BeltLine path that gradually were built one section at a time until they started to connect, this first rail section is just one piece of a big puzzle with a really beautiful picture at the end. Instead of being angry about losing a view or some of the informal crossing points, think about what it will be like once we can traverse the entire BeltLine on a bike, a scooter, on foot, on a unicycle, on a hoverboard, AND on a light rail car.

And here’s the thing: All these modes of transit will be able to be done at the same time even once rail is in place. The path is not going anywhere. Most of the BeltLine is already much less dense than the Eastside section AND rail will certainly take many of the walkers off the path because they’ll elect to ride. This will leave more room for walkers and riders.

Will it feel exactly the same as it does now? No. Will we sacrifice some things? Perhaps. But I’ve found that it’s easy to be upset about what you are losing when you don’t have a clear vision for what you are getting in return. As a realtor, I’ve notice that when someone sells a home and they want to hold out for an unreasonable price, it’s emotional.

It’s a for someone way to say, “I love my house a million dollars’ worth and other people should too! I’m mad at people for not seeing the value I see in my home.” When things are changing, and people focus on what they are losing it is only one piece of the whole. It’s not until we unpack the why we’re moving part and we look to the future to see the next place, the place we’re going to, that it becomes easier to let go of what we are leaving behind. Because — while the new place may not have the same things — there are new awesome things that come with that move.

It’s the same thing here with this BeltLine evolution. Our ~2-mile portion of the BeltLine is the most suitable for the first rail segment. It is the densest and most developed for mixed use. It’s the most connected to city infrastructure the city center. It extends an existing rail section we already have — the Atlanta Streetcar, which connects to our heavy rail system at Peachtree Center Station.

The view we see as we walk from Krog to Piedmont Park has evolved every year the BeltLine has been in place. It really feels like a brand-new city. And, yes, it will look and feel different once again when rail is in. It will require another adjustment.

Change is hard. And it’s much easier to fight and kill a visionary project than it is to build a world class game changing rail system in the center of an existing major city. So, let’s try fighting together to build this great thing and make it the best it can possibly be. Instead of fighting against the current and against the majority of this city who wants this to happen — let’s row in the same direction.

Will what we build be perfect? Of course not. But we must try because it’s the right thing for the city and we will all be better for it once it’s in and the dust has settled. It will be the thing that fundamentally changes Atlanta and the entire region by activating underdeveloped and unused industrial land that is suitable for density and adaptive re-use. It will connect a wide range of neighborhoods that have been historically separated by socioeconomic status and race. It will allow people to have affordable housing and transportation access to many more sections of the city to get to the jobs that we need to have done.

It will create something brand new that we don’t truly understand yet, but if you look at the big picture, the finished puzzle, it’s clear that it will be something great. I believe that it would be so much easier, better, quicker, and more fun if we worked on it together.

Join the Conversation


  1. You’ve made a good case. I think there’ll come a time when we think the Atlanta Beltline has done as much for the city as Hartsfield International Airport has done for the whole metro area. I do have one concern. That stretch of beltline you mentioned running between Krog Tunnel and Ponce City Market is often so packed, bike riders become a nuisance to pedestrians throng the sidewalk. I hope the rail line does not in any way reduce the sidewalk size. Wider sidewalk with a dedicated bike lane and added rail would be perfect.

  2. Sooooooo, spending approx $100 million/mile (today’s costs) seems like an effective use of limited funds to you for an aging-out and clearly inefficient modality? Going ever so slowly around a loop with stops every half mile or so is not efficient unless your residence and job just so happen to be on the line. Otherwise, almost any other method would be more efficient to get you where you need to go.
    Just because Ryan thought he had a nifty idea 24 years ago does not necessarily make it so. Let’s spend our limited funds efficiently and not go down this rabbit hole.

    1. Please provide a verifiable source for your $100,000,000 per mile cost. I know that the Atlanta Street Car is not a roaring success and that it has now been around for a decade or so, but when it was built it cost less than 20% of your figure per mile even being built through much more difficult surroundings.

      1. BRN, the interest group pushing for expanding the Atlanta Streetcar on the Beltline, “assumed” two years ago that the cost of construction for the 22-mile route at $2.5 billion (or $113.6 million per mile.

        BRN has called for funding the Atlanta Streetcar expansion with new loans and the diversion of additional public money from other priorities to pay for it. $2.5 billion/22 miles = $113.6 million per mile.

      2. Actually, it’s probably more than that, in current dollars. The “2.7 mile Atlanta Streetcar Loop” actually covers half that linear distance at a cost of $73m per mile, in 2014. It carries about 500 passengers per day (source: Wikipedia). MARTA’s estimate is $230m for the 2.2 mile Streetcar East Extension, and (for ABI’s preferred route, and excluding cars and yards/maintenance facilities) $350m for about 3.5 miles from Ponce de Leon to Lindbergh, and $305m for about 2.8 miles from Irwin St. to Boulevard. Because of the Hulsey Yard obstruction, there’s no possibility for a one-seat ride going south from Irwin. (source: MARTA SCE Extension Preferred Local Alternative, 2023; MARTA BeltLine Northeast/Southeast Segments Feasibility Study, 2021). Who knows what it would cost to traverse the NW quadrant, which lacks a continuous ROW and requires huge structures?

        1. Jeff is correct – $100M per mile would likely be a bargain, even if dirt started turning today. Count on it being close to double that amount per mile.

        2. The comment about transit through Hulsey Yard as “not possible” is false. It’s true that the site is owned by CSX and sale of the property is expensive and long term. It’s also true that planning studies commissioned by a public agency like MARTA and ABI cannot politically recommend a change of ownership or use for such a large site owned by a powerful railroad company. However, the Hulsey Yard Neighborhood Master Plan studied BeltLine transit routing through the site extensively with guidance from MARTA and ABI. The plan was ultimately endorsed by the City and includes several options for the transit routing. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No way.

      3. And the Streetcar which many of the people opposing the BL transit were in support of, on the Board of…. even though the Streetcar studies showed that the ridership was clearly not there. We rezoned the entire BL corridor to ensure transit oriented density and now it’s ready to go.

  3. If these BRN proponents would sign a petition that says they will pay operating costs for the rail system, then build it. Until operating costs are addressed, it is a blind vision that will saddle us with multi-million dollar annual deficits.

  4. Ryan Gravel’s vision of converting abandoned rail lines into multimodal trails connecting dozens of in town neighborhoods was laudable. While living in Inman Park, the Eastside trail is a great asset. This FIRST phase of light rail may be the ONLY segment. If that is the case, as it now seems, this would be a total waste of space and money – as well as being a disruptive construction project. Even now, the section through & beyond the Krog Street tunnel is problematic. If light rail will not complete the entire 22 mile loop, the Eastside trail would be better served by new lanes for bikes & scooters (which make weekend walking or jogging so treacherous).

  5. Like most of the folks who will comment on this interesting article, I have both a personal and emotional connection to the BeltLine. That’s what makes it special – and complex as it grows…and as the neighborhoods around it grow too, along with our city as a whole.

    But rather than being emotional, I choose to be curious. We moved here from New York City just a few years after the first segment of the Beltline was completed…but a decade after the HighLine opened. The similarities are striking – as Maria herself has written. But the BeltLine and the HighLine are not alone – the HighLine Network was started by the founders of the HighLine and now includes over 30 similar projects with a shared mission to: “create a world where people have access to vibrant public spaces that center local communities, build civic connections, support environmental resilience, and foster equitable community development.”

    The Atlanta Belt Line is no longer in this network. I’m curious – Why? I’m also curious, across these 3 dozen cities and projects of similar rails-to-trails projects, how many include light rail or other forms of mass transit? Spoiler alert- none. I’m curious – Why?

    Cities can and should be both functional and beautiful. Equitable and affordable. Sustainable and growing. But they can’t be all things in the exact same place. Lean into what makes the Belt Line special today and plan for its growth in a way that makes Atlanta special. And fulfill the other critical part of the initial vision for affordable housing.

    Rather than spend $100s of millions on transit, spend that money on a new incentive structure for affordable housing on the Belt Line (which was also part of the initial (unrealized vision). Spend money to build better connections with the 4 major access points to MARTA stations – to build ridership and use on our core transit asset.

    The writer admits that the Belt Line is already too crowded in places with “active transportation” users – bikes, scooters and walkers. Why not allow them room to breathe and use the existing rail right of way to separate “wheels from heels” – with all forms of wheeled transport on a separate right of way. Maybe even try some EV micro-mobility, self-driving vehicles that are cheap, scalable, and a technology from this century rather than two centuries ago.

    The writer also notes the average speed of bikers and scooters on the Belt line limiting its utility. I’m curious – how would this speed compare to a point to point streetcar with scheduled stops, street crossings, and other stops.

    I appreciate the article and the opportunity for conversation. But just as our city has grown and changed dramatically over the last 25 years, so too should the plans for the Belt Line. We can be flexible and innovative to build our city for the future without hewing to old ideas that were once inspired but now must be curious.

  6. To anyone who has stepped onto the Alanta BeltLine recently, the obvious beauty of this linear park is
    undeniable. This wildly successful and breathtakingly lovely green ribbon has become both a vital non-
    motorized commuter link and a major part of Atlanta’s cultural identity.
    So why would you spend nearly ¼ Billion dollars to remove trees and meadows and replace them with a
    40-foot wide, concrete and steel extension of the nearly empty Atlanta Streetcar? Apparently because
    “it has always been in the plan” – and maybe it just might help justify the failed streetcar.
    A better approach is obvious: enlarge the current BeltLine with a separate cycle-track. Thousands of
    faster moving vehicles would instantly exceed the most exaggerated ridership numbers ginned up to
    justify the streetcar, relieve overcrowding, and save the incredibly valuable tree canopy that now
    provides comforting shade to thousands. Let’s save our precious transit funds for more equitable uses,
    and let’s not “fix” something that is clearly not broken!

    1. Sorry but your “obvious” better approach for those under 50 does not look so “obvious” to those of us who are over 70 with bad knees! We pay taxes and need a way to get around too.

      1. Thank you, Ben Dooley. Not everyone wants or can afford to get on a scooter
        or bike to do grocery shopping,
        to transfer to MARTA to go OTP to work, to get somewhere faster than feet or wheelchair in rain, cold, heat.

    2. Development projects all around the BeltLine have to have alternatives to driving. We all love bikes and mobility but that is not the practical and inclusive solution to getting cars off the road. Consider just two major planned developments on the east side – at Amsterdam Walk and at Ponce. Combined, those two projects alone create 1,500 new housing units and a million SF of office, retail and other uses. The development of regional impact studies for those two combined estimate an additonal 5,000 cars/day on Ponce and on Monroe. To those opposing rail, are you really trying to make a case that a separate wider bike lane is the magic bullet to reducing car ownership for all that new development? No way man – we need light rail for those to work. I say that as someone who rides his bike to/from work on the BeltLine every day.

  7. Really excellent summary of a transformative public works project that will help ensure sustainability in a city that is going to have 8 million people by 2040. It’s easy to say no to something – not easy to have vision. Thank you.

  8. My family’s property line abutted the railroad tracks that you now call the Beltline. I still live in that home right on the west side Beltline. We kids played on the railroad tracks and the trestle crossing Hunter Drive (now MLK,Jr.) on our way to Washington Park. Everyday our house rumbled and shook as the freight trains sped by. We chased the trains with our dogs, waving wildly, and the conductors would always blow the whistle and wave back. That was my childhood when Atlanta was loveable and liveable. In their old age, my parents were relieved when the trains stopped running and their home stopped shaking. Now the world has discovered Atlanta with the dismantling of Brother J. Crow; many want to bring back the rumble and shaking of trains to our community. It’s enough that our property taxes have increased three to five times over thanks to the Beltline which is a wonderful resource. But then some want to ban or limit bikers like me from it, meanwhile I’m paying through the nose for it. I’m sure if trains come our property taxes will skyrocket again and I will be told how lucky I am, great market value of my home. The market place value of my home is meaningful to me only if I’m in the market to sell or borrow. I am in neither. I also don’t want the noise and numbers that trains will bring. I remember when a neon sign on Peachtree Street announced that Atlanta’s population had hit 1 million. We thought we were hot stuff. One million is a lot of people but it is also very liveable. 40 million is absurd and obscene. There are other beautiful places in Georgia and America with vitality where 35 million migrants can live besides Atlanta. 35 million can turn deserts into an oases so why is everyone trying to pack up in one space? Fortunately, given my current age, I will probably not still be alive (much less biking or riding the rails) when that obscene number becomes an unloving reality. And my house will not be for sale to anyone outside my family so stop texting and calling that you have “discovered” my house. It’s not lost. I live in it.

    1. I think you need to educate yourself on the streetcar. It’s not going to be some big rumbling mile-long freight train like used to pass. It’ll be quieter than the cars on the street on the other side of your house.

    2. Hi Paula. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership offers property tax relief for legacy homeowners along the BeltLine. This program is made possible by philanthropic donations so we can keep long-time residents in their communities and help them build wealth as their property values appreciate.

  9. @Ken Edlestein — the longer we wait the more expensive the project gets. The better question what’s the cost to the city in not moving forward with this project both from an easing congestion and public trust standpoint. BeltLine light rail was far and away the most popular piece of the 2016 transit TSPLOST overwhelimgly approved by voters. More recently, 16 of 25 city of Atlanta NPUs backed a petition in 2022 supporting BeltLine light rail. Nearly 30,000 signatures overall. This is the people’s project. @Walter Brown — It’s misinformation to say Streetcar East is the only stretch of BeltLine scheduled for light rail. Streetcar West has always been the next BeltLine segment scheduled for light railn per More MARTA. To say we can’t build light rail on the 17 or 18 miles of BeltLine corridor that’s been tied up is a lack of vision. The only thing stopping the city would be w lack of political will. Cities like Denver have build 20-plus miles of light rail in a decade. And Better Atlanta Transit proposes for the BeltLine — micro mobility (scooters, bikes, etc.) — is not mass transit. That’s a failure of imagination. To say what’s happened on the Eastside Trail is all the BeltLine can ever be. By the way, Better Atlanta Transit, is a misnomer. The group has no transit plan and isn’t advocating for transit.

    1. Typing on a laptop now not phone. Streetcar East is just the start. Streetcar West is next. To say the city of Atlanta can’t build 18 miles of light rail on the BeltLine “J” corridor that’s been tied up is a failure of imagination. Cities like Denver have built 20-plus miles of light rail in a decade. To say what’s happened on the Eastside Trail is all the BeltLine will ever be is signalling to Southeast, Southwest and West Atlanta that they don’t deserve first class transit and to be connected to job centers, recreation and healthcare. The name Better Atlanta Transit, is a misnomer. The group isn’t advocating for transit. Micro mobility (scooters and bikes) isn’t mass transit.

      1. Eric, of course BAT supports transit. We’d like to see transit dollars – including More MARTA – spent on projects with established ridership demand. A couple of possibilities: Hollowell/North BRT & Northside Drive BRT.

        Can we have a civil discussion about this without accusing each other of believing things that we don’t believe? How about you and I have a cup of coffee?

        1. Ken, we can have a civil discussion. You, did, however fire the first shots. “BRN an interest group……” Later falsely asserting BRN is looking to divert money from other transit projects to fund BeltLine light rail…..Hollowell North BRT and Northside Drive BRT aren’t on MARTA’s project short list. And what does established rider demand mean? Projects that you like? In the world we’re living in three BRT projects, all great, are moving forward along with Streetcar East: Summerhill BRT (broke ground a week ago), Campbellton Road BRT and Emory Clifton Corridor BRT. Happy to get coffee.

          1. C’mon, man. BRN IS an interest group. And it IS proposing to divert money from other transit projects.

            Read BRN’s own document (to which I linked). One example (of several): “Proposed Sources of $2.5 Billion for BeltLine Rail Construction Funding … More MARTA Atlanta Increase to 37% of Program (24%). Earlier Access – Debt Service Repayent ca. $930M.”

            And, yes, Hollowell North and Northside didn’t make the Tier 1 list. Exactly. There’s only so many pieces of the pie, and Beltline streetcar would gobble up 2.5 billion of them. That’s just math, my friend.

            I’ll email you separately about that coffee …

        2. Ken, I think the piece you’re missing is BeltLine light rail stands out above the other More MARTA projects in its ability to connect 45 neighborhoods and link up with MARTA heavy rail at four cardinal points thereby significantly expanding this city’s transportation infrastructure. It’s singular in that way. Of course, there’s other worthy MARTA projects — I support the BRT projects I mention below. Every major U.S. city with a strong transportation network has invested in heavy rail, buses and light rail. Why should Atlanta be different?……..About your labeling of BRN as an interest group, what then is Better Atlanta Transportation? BAT was formed two months ago, ostensibly to kill Streetcar East and BeltLine light rail. So can you blame folks for thinking perhaps its motives are disingenous. If BAT is so interested in transportation advocacy and transit alternatives where was it a year ago, five years ago, 10 years ago?……I look forward to connecting offline about coffee. I do enjoy your company. :}

          1. I’m faulting neither BRN nor BAT for being interest groups. That’s what they both are: 501c4’s formed to support particular public policy goals. (Note that I didn’t write “special interest,” precisely because that’s a more loaded term.)

            We formed BAT — or, speaking for myself, I helped to form BAT — because we didn’t see an independent voice advocating for resources to be directed toward transit projects that we considered at this point to be more beneficial and urgent for traffic and development patterns in the city, i.e. “better” transit.

            And we could see that the Beltline has already been proving itself every day to be a very practical, leading-edge light-individual transport corridor, particular for relatively short trips between the major arteries that DO need transit (e.g. North, Hollowell, Northside). Whether one calls that LIT “transit” or not, it is the greenest way to get people from point A to point B (greener than rail even!), and it should be encouraged — not further constricted by a rail line whose utility is questionable.

            Where were we five or 10 years ago? Well, can tell you where I was 18 years ago: I was writing the first editorial by major media IN FAVOR of the Beltline TAD. But even then I did raise questions about the viability of Beltline rail (link below).

            I do regret not having gotten re-involved earlier. Quite honestly, at some point, I (and I think many others) thought Beltline rail wouldn’t happen because the Beltline had prima facie defined itself in a way that made the argument for rail weaker.

            But BRN timed its advocacy well and deserves credit for helping to push through the More MARTA referendum. For the record, I of course was among the 71 percent voted for More MARTA as I suspect are all those who helped to found BAT. But I didn’t vote that way for the Beltline streetcar, which comprised only four(?) of the 73 projects on the list (now four of the 17 tier 1 & 2 projects).

            I can absolutely see how the late emergence of widespread opposition would frustrate those who have toiled so hard for Beltline rail for so long. But, honestly, I wish the advocates for transit on the Beltline would long ago have declared victory. I’m proud that we at CL pushed early and strongly for the TAD that made the Beltline possible. The NE quadrant and much of the rest of the Beltline have exceeded expectations for development and cultural transformation — AND it’s serving as a significant transportation corridor.

            If, as you say, “folks [think that BAT’s] motives are disingenuous,” I hope you can see from above that I and the others can be sincere and well-intentioned — even when we have a different view from yours. Perhaps, you can help create this civil dialogue by being a voice for concentrates on the actual issues rather than ad hominem attacks.

            (BTW, regarding that coffee: I appear to have lost your number or email. If you have mine, would you mind dropping me a line.)


  10. “the majority of this city who wants this to happen” – What is this statement based on? If it were true, we could knock (or could have knocked) this thing out quick with a ballot referendum and a general obligation bond that will have us all paying for it with property taxes. Instead, people keep saying how popular this is (without asking) while low-balling the price tag (so it sounds cheap) and choosing the most expensive funding modes available (so it won’t be cheap) in order to perpetuate a bureaucracy that hasn’t built any transit yet. Beltline trail (not rail, just trail) is pushing $20 million per mile in construction cost if we ignore land acquisition and the enormous overhead tied to ABI. The SSD was based on the notion that the project would be “completed” in 2030 with trail only (no rail), and that we needed more than all of the other identified funds to hit that mark. Thus, what was billed as conservatively being able to fund all of the rail in 2005, was revealed as being unable to fund any of the rail in 2022. Light rail projects can cost well north of $100 million per mile and there is no reason to think that this would be at the cheap end of the light rail spectrum given the various challenges that it would need to contend with. Also, there is the question of how one defines a mile of rail, since a two-way mile is two one-way miles. Is it a 21-mile rail line or a 42-mile rail line (MARTA and ABI appear to disagree on this point)? When this was mostly getting paid for with non existent “federal grants” and “unidentified funds”, it was easy to pretend that the local cost would be cheap. Some even claimed that it would be zero because of the special magic of TAD dollars. In reality, it is going to be somewhere north of $2 billion when the dust settles and it is looking more and more like it will come entirely out of the pockets of local tax payers if we decide to proceed. Similarly, it will come at the cost of $2 billion in other transit alternatives (i.e. those that actually connect origins and destinations) if we decide to proceed.

  11. I hate that the Beltline construction currently eviscerating the East side of Piedmont Park has destroyed so much green and so many trees . It looks like a suitable foundation for a New Monroe Drive . The second photo in your article illustrates this “vision” – wide swath of concrete with ZERO shade , barren , and destructive , such a sad cost . The Park needs every tree that can be saved . For everyone’s enjoyment , not just for a new front gate for the (private) Atlanta Botanical Garden .

  12. Another great argument for the beltline rail. Just a huge lost opportunity to not connect it all the way to limbergh Marta station on the first expansion. That would really provide change the accessibility of Atlanta for those not in a car. Also hope that the rail extension runs on grass 🙂

  13. Why is micro-mobility and bikes completely dismissed as a viable option for traveling on the Beltline? Nobody is traveling 22 miles from point A to point B, it’s a circle that is well within range of electric scooters. (Largest distance between point A and B is 11 miles in circular path with a circumference of 22!) The trees, shade, space to run and enjoy a day out with the family .. this is certainly happening and it’s not selfish to allow the people of Atlanta to have this space for generations. If you want to reduce car traffic, put transit in places where car traffic is most prevalent, not in the middle of a well maintained green space. You can continue to enjoy your runs on running path and use More MARTA funding for projects that have ridership studies, federal grants, help the largest number of residents who need transit most. A 35 year $4 billion project that starts with 1.4 miles in 2028 and doesn’t start another phase until 2035 doesn’t do anything for residents that need transit options today.

    1. Bikes are not dismissed as being viable transit…that’s literally what the trail portion of the beltline is for! But the “micro-mobility” options all have many more downsides than the streetcar extension does, and don’t meed actual needs.

      1. Fast convenient and low cost transit isn’t flawed at all. Many people in Atlanta who don’t own cars use a scooter for quick commuting. For $3 billion there can be free scooters and electric bikes scattered all over the city for free, for generations. You really think someone is going to wait on a streetcar to go from Ponce to Krog when it takes 5 minutes on a scooter?

  14. Chad,

    Thank you for this piece, in your heart, mind, and soul you love Atlanta. Thank you for reminding us why we decided as a city, in the largest public engagement effort we’ve ever seen here, to create The Atlanta BeltLine. Many cities have an oceanfront, harbor, or a river. Others have hills, mountains or valleys. We have a beautiful forest in intown Atlanta, AND we have The BeltLine. No other city is as fortunate to inherit from its industrial past the 22-mile loop that is becoming such an amazing place-by design. As you point out, what we have so far- and it is truly an urban development achievement- was always meant to be joined by streetcar light rail in dedicated green right of way, which along with the multi-purpose trail forms a greenway that no other city anywhere can have. It is a transit corridor with many park-like elements and a purpose to lift up people around the city, and that makes it like none other anywhere.

    This is one reason that many delegations from American cities and from foreign countries, most recently from Berlin, Germany, have come to Atlanta to study it. With the first section of BeltLine rail now in final design, much is still possible to make better and get right. It needs to be done with excellence. With concerted civic effort and political leadership, we CAN have grass tracks for the rail and preserve the BeltLine’s green vistas, we CAN have smaller profile streetcars that run on or off the overhead power cable, and we CAN fix the downtown streetcar so that as it is extended, it is a real connection to MARTA at Peachtree Center and functional as a first-class transit line. It’s worth remembering that the BeltLine trail costs 2 to 3 times per mile more than an ordinary sidewalk of similar width, because it is designed to such a high standard. We can do the same with the transit component. Let’s not forget the predictions of failure for the path, the fear of rampant crime and the suspicion that no one would use it. All not true in the end. If done right, BetLine rail will be a similar success.

    What is lost in the last-minute criticisms and fears is the boldness of vision that you, a native Atlantan, evoke in your piece, and the reasons the city created the BeltLine. The BeltLine project is meant to connect people of all ages, abilities, races, and economic status to each other and to places in the city they need and want to go to live, work and play. It is meant to do so in a way that is green, sustainable and has the potential to accommodate the tremendous growth in our population already underway. Only mass transit can provide the mobility for that growth and a car-not-required life, particularly for the occupants of the thousands of affordable housing units on and near the BeltLine. The presence of transit in the plan was a central plank in gaining the broad public and institutional support for the tax allocation district (TAD). The fact we could not afford to build the transit at the onset does not change that or the need for it.

    The BeltLine has ALREADY become, on the segment of it that is maturing on the east side, a 2-mile ribbon of origins AND destinations, and the population densities in several places along it approach 10,000 residents per square mile. BeltLine rail is similar in cost per mile to streetcar projects in other American cities, and it’s important to remember that the first 1.4 miles opening in 2028 is the first part of the larger loop and a broader rail network that connects to MARTA. As we have waited the cost has grown, as has the cost of all infrastructure, and the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets. The answer is to get on with it now and to find, as many cities before us have done, new broad-based funding formulas -for BeltLine rail and the other More MARTA transit projects.

    I like the way you close, with a call to come together to make this project the BEST it can be, to solve the problems and challenges of America’s most significant urban re-development project together. I believe that is possible. Not everyone will be happy with every detail, but as you point out, we will all one day be better off.

    Matthew Rao
    Chair, BeltLine Rail Now

  15. Having lived in 30307, I’ve been in many a room where wealthier Eastside Trail Atlantans candidly shared their concerns for sharing the Beltline with their neighbors to the west and south, rail or no rail. One woman literally told me she would not use the trail once English Avenue and Vine City brought their drugs and guns to the trail.

    It’s no surprise to me that the same Eastsiders speaking up on this thread suddenly bail on rail just as the south portion – where I now live – is finally about to be paved, connecting it to Grant Park and Inman Park once and for all.

    The Beltline I remember supporting was sold to us on the idea that light rail connecting poorer neighborhoods to prosperity was good for everyone. Decades later, fairness is literally around the bend. Finally access to jobs and affordable homes. Finally improved neighborhoods and the same kind of access to schools to help ground and invest neighborhoods in the Carver and Washington Clusters just like in the Jackson and Midtown Clusters. Yet suddenly folks are decrying the expense and the loss of this or that greenspace when greenspace preservation is already a significant part of the plan.

    Eastsiders on this thread, aren’t y’all the same people who screamed loudest against redistricting schools in 2012? The ones who would have rather died than revitalize David T Howard?

    I recall the Eastside Trail was barely under construction and anyone who had the audacity to speak to the viability of Howard and its Beltline access to surrounding neighborhoods and Midtown HS was literally called out for “making up words” like…. “walkability”. Of no surprise to anyone: the reopening of David T Howard as it was ultimately integrated alongside the Eastside Trail *exponentially* increased property values of vocal redistricting naysayers as far away as Candler Park and Lake Claire – immediately. Also of no surprise to anyone: those exact same naysayers, now enriched, are back on this thread to kill rail too.

    We will soon face Midtown and Jackson Cluster overcrowding conversations again – we have another opportunity to envision Beltline transportation fitting nicely with our schools (hello, Carver and Jackson are both adjacent to trail entrances) to help vision healthy futures for more kids, solve overcrowding, stem the threat of under-enrolled school closures, and simply benefit the most neighborhoods all around, or capitulate to fearful selfishness.

    Chad, thank you for your words. I hope more people will send a strong message to help assure the majority who supported their rightful access to transportation, jobs, housing choices, stable, inclusive neighborhoods and neighborhood public schools from the start can now get their due. It’s the least Atlanta can do.

    1. The pedestrian path was never controversial and has sparked billions in economic growth without rail. If you have a few outlier friends, it does not say much. The path is successful and there is no reason to ruin it. Rail will not help anyone trying to get to Howard Middle or Midtown HS but it will be a safety hazard for all the kids who currently walk to school. It will block numerous bus routes. You don’t have to be around the area in 1999 or 2012 to realize that rail is a bad idea in 2023.

  16. The belt line is crowded when the weather is good. It is deserted when it is cold or rainy or dark. What happened to all those “commuters” on those days? Are we saying they only go to work or shopping when the weather is nice? If we want people to be able to get around consistently without cars, we need to have light rail.

    1. Everything is empty when the weather is awful. Nobody goes out when it’s storming or icy freezing, even grocery stores where most people commute by cars to parking garages. Nobody is going to walk a mile and wait 20 minutes at a trolley stop in the pouring rain. Wait until the weather is clear and then go. Unfortunately $400 million for a rainy day trolley from Krog to PCM is pulling funds from transit projects in areas where people don’t own cars and need to get to work or doctor’s appointments in the rain. 90+% of residents along the Eastside Beltline have cars. This is the only route planned for 10+ years, or ever.

  17. The key observation of BRN’s 2021 Funding White Paper, which I helped write, is that the cities building bold transit infrastructure consistently rely on layers of local funding sources to reach a critical mass of combined purchasing power, and then often multiply that again by persisting through the steps necessary to win federal grants. They get there by rallying around a shared vision – like the Atlanta City Design, enshrined in the City Charter in 2017.

    The 2012 Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement was MARTA’s last effort to prepare BeltLine Rail for an FTA grant application. We didn’t have our homework ready to pursue the extra $8 billion made available just for new transit projects in the 2021 Infrastructure Act.

    All of the More MARTA projects need more funding partners so that all of the City of Atlanta half penny sales tax collected since 2017 will reach further, faster. Additional expansion funds might become available for other projects if, for example, Westside TAD (or Gulch Opportunity Zone, or Downtown CID, or GWCC Authority…) contributions to the Streetcar West Extension relaxed that project’s 100% reliance on More MARTA sales tax funds. That’s prudent diversification, not a defunding.

    The leading candidate to expand the purchasing power of the More MARTA sales tax for BeltLine Rail is the BeltLine TAD, which was originally established for that very purpose. The 2004 Redevelopment Plan optimistically projected that a mere 31% allocation of BeltLine TAD revenue to transit would generate over $500 million for BeltLine Rail by 2030 and still have over $1 billion left over for other amenities. However, ABI’s 2023 draft Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) update projects there to be only $700 million in remaining BeltLine TAD revenue through 2030, and commits nothing ($0) to the core transportation infrastructure of BeltLine Rail that is essential to truly affordable living.

    Alone, neither BeltLine TAD revenue nor More MARTA sales tax can leverage sufficient federal grants to build significant amounts of BeltLine Rail, but combined they could go a long way toward giving Atlanta residents a better way way to get around. On multiple occasions MARTA and ABI have promised to develop a “joint funding strategy” but we’re still waiting for the obvious answer: make transit the TAD’s spending priority. The More MARTA sales tax is not there to relieve the BeltLine TAD of its original mission, but rather to help finish the job together. Likewise, the priority for More MARTA expansion projects should be those that attract local funding partners other than the sales tax.

    1. We should not be pulling taxes from every possible source, impacting parks, services, education dollars to pursue a transit project that is way more costly than other transit projects. For example, there are several bus routes going from the Eastside Beltline to downtown, and cancelled BRT projects along North Avenue that would arguably be more efficient at a fraction of the cost. On a personal level, I wouldn’t pull funds from all sources from various accounts to buy a Lamborghini instead of an electric scooter when both would get me from Krog to PCM.

  18. The pro-streetcar folks seem to fancy themselves to be the embodiment of diversity, equity and inclusion. What they propose, however, would produce the opposite..
    The Beltline is already the epitome of diverstiy. Been out there lately? Adding a streetcar right on top of it (figuratively) would damage not only the Beltline itself but the diverse nature of it. Also, there’s nothing equitable about a plan to eventually run streetcars through neighborhoods of all income strata tearing up precious open space in the process. And putting up fences on both sides of the rail tracks for safety purposes would create separation, not inclusion.
    Elsewhere, arguing for a streetcar because it was part of the original plan from decades ago is silly. Aren’t we allowed to consider intervening developments and how they might affect the plan?
    Moreover, spending $230 million and up for a 2.3 mile tiny stretch of the streetcar line at the expense of more meritorious projects defies common sense.
    Finally, cutting down thousands of trees and ravaging open fields for what would be under-utilized rail lines and streetcars ought to enrage every environmentalist.
    In short, yes for smart public transit, but no for public transit that does nothing to alleviate congestion and severely damages, not enhances, the Beltline and surrounding space.

    1. The one aspect of diversity I certainly don’t see are people with disabilities and the elderly. The Beltline as it stands now is dominated by Millennials and their younger able-bodied siblings. The opening of the new 55-and-over tower next to PCM will bring a different demographic that is going to need other modes of transport beyond a bike or scooter. Even for those of us who are younger, if we’re using the Beltline to conduct our activities of daily living like grocery shopping, going to the cleaners, etc., and not just walking the dog and people watching, the last thing I want to do is trek around the Beltline with bags of stuff. Right now, the Beltline has a theme-park quality to the experience that focuses on leisure when it also needs to be a way people to get as many people as possible as quickly as possible from Point A to Points B and C.

      As for what the streetcar would destroy, the entire thing was built to make the implementation of the streetcar seamless without disturbing many (if any) trees that were planted. “Thousands” of trees are not in the way of the right of way set aside for rail.

      1. The 1.4 miles of proposed rail on the Eastside Beltline has 150 trees that would be removed according to the 30% design documents from MARTA. It would easily be thousands for the full 22 miles. The idea that it’s built for rail is not quite true. A lot of bridges in the way, uneven grade, tight spaces.

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