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BeltLine DeRailed

June 28, 2010

[Perkins + Will]

Beltline makes strides one park, path at a time,” trumpeted the AJC on June 4th. Twenty days later, they had a short article about the redevelopment for City Hall East, which is great and all, and ties into the BeltLine in some way, since it’s right next to the tracks and will play a part in making the “live” part of the WORK|LIVE|PLAY mantra a reality.

But wait! Two days prior, on June 22nd, Ariel Hart wrote that Georgia had millions in federal transit funds expire and “Of that money, $980,000 was intended for part of the Beltline.” On June 21st, Andisheh Nouraee expressed his feelings in a FreshLoaf post, stating “It’s dispiriting that the city has made so little progress with the Beltline project that a short bike trail is considered a huge breakthrough.” And it really is.

When I moved here, I’d heard buzz about the BeltLine, about a (light rail) train that would encircle the city, and I was excited. I viewed it as the transit rider’s perimeter, and it gave me another border to be elitist about. Great, let’s get this shit done, I thought then. Ten years, Mayor Reed said last year. Shit. I’ve currently got a bet going with several people that we won’t see rail until I’m forty five and not living here anymore, having made it big in something and retired to a small island. I’d come back to visit when it opened, I figure. Now, I don’t know if I’ll ever be back once I leave.

I still get excited every once in a while when I hear about a tour or little celebratory festivals, but I know that I have no reason to, that disappointment will creep in. Because the developments aren’t enough to satisfy me, nor what I see as the needs of the city. A fucking bike trail, I think. What the fuck about the actual rail?

According to my friend/source who likes to walk along abandoned tracks and then complain about it, who sent me a very long email (that I’ll pick and quote from as the BeltLine “developments” continue):

No tracks. All the steel and most of the wooden ties have been uprooted, at least from Dekalb to just south of Ponce. (I stopped south of Ponce because I didn’t feel like crossing the precarious bridge there. I’ve done it before, but I didn’t see the need to do it today.) Most all of the ties are in refuse stacks along the trail, presumably to perpetuate arson. The Ponce rail overpass is “open but not open”; they don’t block it off, but they put up little realtor-type yard signs asking people not to cross it.
Where would the streetcar go? I never realised how narrow this tract of land truly is. Of course there are answers to this question, but if this was to be the ONLY land allotted for the project, then the streetcar would generally have to hug the western side of the property I think, and even then the amount of park land would be incredibly meagre, and pretty much untenable for certain stretches. If they bought out all the Rathbun’s crap up past Irwin, repurposed Paris On Ponce as a station-type building, etc., then it becomes much more doable. As it stands, this’d be a skinny park without the actual Beltline, and with it… fugghedaboudit.

(Read C’s full, unedited email here)

The previous rail is probably too old to have been used, with the wrong standard of spacing or something to that effect, so it makes sense that the rail would be torn out and new track would be laid (hehee) once construction and implementation began for the route. But after looking at the Project Overview Map for that section, it remains unclear as to where the rail will actually be. The key notes both “Trail” and “Corridor” but there’s no distinct markings for the proposed rail line or any stops. According to Wikipedia:

The original focus of the BeltLine thesis was on establishing a light rail link around the central portion of the city. MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, has undertaken an Inner Core Study to determine the best transit opportunities in the Belt Line area. The study includes the Belt Line proposal, a “C-Loop” proposal that would rely largely on highway and street right of way, and several other potential alignments to determine an optimal transit proposal.

I’d really like to get my hands on that study. At this point, it seems that the rail is long-forgotten aspect of this whole BeltLine idea, and the focus has instead shifted to parks and trails. Great for pedestrians and cyclists (once it’s finished), I suppose. But what about the rail? Parks and trails don’t make a city great, nor more convenient for the majority of it’s residents. In cities where parks are famous, like New York’s Central Park, transit is long-established and can be considered a reliable fact of life. If Atlanta plans on being the Cultural Capital of The South, the focus needs to shift from parks and art, and toward moving the people who live and visit here, moving them toward the optional parks and art. Furthermore, I feel that the in-the-meantime focus on art and parks is ultimately a distraction from the truth: We have been derailed.

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