Oct 16, 2023 - News

New Beltline rail opposition group powers up

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A bold-named group of civic and business leaders is escalating a grassroots battle to block rail transit on the Beltline.

What's happening: A new organization announced this past week called Better Atlanta Transit wants to have a "public debate" over running streetcars along the popular Eastside Trail.

Catch up quick: After nearly two decades of discussing, planning and raising funding to build the Beltline rail, MARTA is on the cusp of actually putting shovels in the ground.

  • The first route of the overall vision calls for extending the Downtown Streetcar to Eastside Trail at Irwin Street and heading north toward Ponce City Market.

Yes, but: The 501(c)(4) group — which does not have to disclose its financial backers — says the rail would handcuff the city to an outdated and costly technology and ruin the linear park and trail system.

Details: They argue that the Beltline should invest in more bicycling, scooters and similar micro-mobility options along with still-developing technologies like autonomous vehicles.

In the weeds: Supporters include Renee Glover, the Atlanta Housing Authority CEO — who oversaw the agency's redevelopment of public housing into mixed-income residential complexes — and veteran nonprofit fundraiser and civic leader Ann W. Cramer.

  • Also on board is Sharon Gay, the former Dentons managing partner who's helped Beltline-adjacent developments like Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market.

Reality check: Mayor Andre Dickens and Beltline officials have stated many, many times that rail transit is vital for the Beltline to achieve its mission.

  • At a recent Beltline meeting, the AJC reports, Beltline transportation planner Shaun Green said autonomous vehicles won't have enough capacity to move Atlanta's growing population, especially along a project primed for dense development.

The other side: Ryan Gravel, the urban designer who dreamed up the city-shaping project as a graduate student at Georgia Tech, told Axios that rail transit is the "centerpiece of [the Beltline's] vision and funding."

  • "The trail is nice for trail users, but free-flowing, traffic-free transit on the Beltline is what makes the Beltline for everyone."

What's next: Better Atlanta Transit plans to hold forums, panel discussions, and town hall meetings and organize a "very active and organized grassroots effort."

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