An Ambitious Rails-To-Trails Project: The BeltLine

September 6, 2013 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In June 2013, we highlighted Jacksonville's recently completed first dedicated urban bike path, the S-Line Urban Greenway. Now, we ask what could happen if Jacksonville attempted to take multi-use trail planning to a level that really stimulates urban revitalization? The Altanta BeltLine, one of the nation's largest, wide-ranging urban redevelopment and mobility projects underway, may provide us with that answer.

The Atlanta BeltLine was conceived as a 1999 Master's thesis by Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel. According to Gravel, "People want to live in a city where the design makes sense. It's not only changing the physical form of the city. It's changing the way we think about the city."

Needless to say, the BeltLine isn't the typical multi-use trail project many have grown accustomed too. It's evolved from a grassroots campaign to become the most comprehensive revitalization effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta. Intended to put Atlanta on a path to 21st century sustainability and economic growth, the BeltLine is a $2.8 billion plan to transform 22-miles of abandoned and active rail corridors into a network of trails, parks, and streetcar lines that encircles Atlanta's urban core and ties 45 neighborhoods directly to each other.

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What truly makes the BeltLine project impressive is its integrative approach to transportation, land use, greenspace, and sustainable growth.  As far as mobility goes, the project is designed to provide the first and last mile of connectivity for the region's multimodal transportation network. Furthermore, intended to connect 1,300 acres of parks, generate 5,600 units of affordable housing and 1,100 acres of remediated brownfields, support historic preservation and become a place for public art, it's a destination unto itself.

The BeltLine also benefits surrounding businesses. In a February 2013 New York Times article, a boutique that backs up to the BeltLine has seen their business increase tenfold. "It's unreal. We used to worry about homeless people back there and now it's like a boardwalk. We're planning a new entrance in the back, maybe a coffee shop someday. It's hard to imagine this was all an old railroad," says Skip Englebrecht, owner of Paris on Ponce.

Formed in 2006, the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) manages the planning, design and implementation of the project. The BeltLine's funding comes from a variety of sources.  The primary source comes in the form of a 6,500 acre Tax Allocation District (TAD), which is projected to generate $1.7 billion in bonding capacity over 25 years. The TAD is expected to cover the majority of the BeltLine's infrastructure costs. Since 2005, the TAD has generated $120 million.  

An additional $180 million has been generated from private and local government sources. Furthermore, $25 million in federal grants have been secured for the project. In August 2013, the community was notified that it would be awarded $18 million federal government grant to fund the construction of two additional miles.

Due to its high cost and the difficulty in assembling land and working around active rail lines, the Atlanta BeltLine is being built incrementally. Dedicated on October 15, 2012, the Eastside Trail opened as the first finished section of the Atlanta BeltLine.

Here's a look at this section of the BeltLine that runs from the tip of Piedmont Park to the Old Fourth Ward.

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