Apr 13, 2023 - News

Beltline's Eastside Trail transit plan rankles some residents

A rendering of a rail line and bike trail running between two tall buildings on the Beltline near Ponce City Market

Rendering: Courtesy of MARTA/YouTube

A plan to link the Downtown Streetcar to the Eastside Trail — the Beltline's first foray into rail — is meeting pushback as transit officials forge ahead.

Why it matters: The two-mile extension from Edgewood Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward to Ponce City Market would change the dynamic of using the popular Beltline trail and mark a new chapter of the project's lifespan.

  • Now that the project is closer than ever to becoming a reality, some residents and businesses are questioning its long-term effects.

Catch up quick: In recent months, a small group of residents along the Eastside Trail and allies have written op-eds, posted a petition, held a town hall and pitched public officials to raise awareness.

  • Critics including the Old Fourth Ward Streetcar Impact Team say Beltline rail could pose safety risks and construction headaches. They argue the streetcar could also ruin the experience of using the hugely popular and crowded path, they say.
  • They're urging MARTA to seek out different routes to avoid disrupting the popular walking and bicycling experience or consider spending the transit dollars somewhere else entirely.

Of note: A group of business leaders along the Eastside Trail including Mike Greene of Portman Holdings, the developer behind the Junction at Krog District, want to be more involved in the transit design, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports.

  • Greene declined Axios' request for comment, saying that "key people are really sensitive about this issue right now." He hoped "the atmosphere will be better" this summer for more discussions.

Yes, but: Built on the footprint of old freight lines that circled the city, the Beltline as we know it was originally dreamed up by urban designer Ryan Gravel as a transit project.

  • The Beltline without transit is a dream unrealized, advocates like Beltline Rail Now argue.

State of play: Mayor Andre Dickens and Clyde Higgs, the CEO of the nonprofit building the Beltline, say they're committed to rail. MARTA is moving forward with designs.

What they're saying: "Why would you run transit on a bad route and at the same time seriously compromise the wonderful park?" Hans Klein, a public policy professor at Georgia Tech and supporter of the resident and business group, told Axios.

The other side: Atlanta's can't fall farther behind on building new transit, BRN chair Matthew Rao told Axios.

  • A 180 from the city would tell residents that "elections don't matter. That private pressure is more important than the ballot box. That tax money promised for a project can be ignored or spent on something else.
  • "It would send the message that we can't trust our leaders to do what they tell us."

What's next: Rail opponents plan to continue speaking out at public comment at MARTA, City Council meetings.

A map of the proposed streetcar expansion along the Beltline's Eastside Trail
Map: Courtesy of MARTA

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