"transit-oriented development" and "magical" in the same sentence
May 8, 2014 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Can Atlanta Go All In on the BeltLine?
That magical TOD experience came courtesy of the BeltLine: Atlanta's multibillion-dollar, 25-year project to transform 22 miles of railroad and industrial sites into a sustainable network connecting 45 inner-city communities. The project envisions wide walking and biking paths, access to nearby neighborhoods and businesses, parks and green space, and new homes, shops, and apartments.
posted by davidstandaford (25 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
While the project is exciting, and as an Atlanta Tax-Payer, really worthwhile to fund, it got lumped in with T-SPLOST which was a terrible funding vehicle (you should pardon the expression) because it didn't do enough for public transporation, and instead, concentrated more on adding freeways and roads (which usually just ADDS to traffic congestion.)

At any rate, this project would be fantastic, and it would open neighborhoods in the city and connect them to jobs downtown, and it would be magical.

I've been hearing about it for at least then years now, though. I reallly hope they get it going. It would be a real asset to the community.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:55 AM on May 8, 2014

FYI: TOD is the acronym for Transit-oriented Development, which is the idea of focusing dense, mixed-use (commercial/residential) development around transit (bus or rail) stops, to maximize transit use and reduce reliance on privately owned vehicle (POV) use.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2014

This was an awesome idea that started to gain traction a little before I moved from Atlanta (once again: Cabbagetown represent!) and I would really like to see it happen, if only because it would be a boon for a lot of my ITP friends who own/rent homes near the Beltline.
posted by Kitteh at 9:18 AM on May 8, 2014

The BeltLine has the potential to cross the literal barriers that have separated Atlantans and thus begin to break down far more complex social barriers.

Which is the biggest obstacle to it being built, if you know anything about Atlanta/Southern politics.
posted by Roentgen at 9:30 AM on May 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

I took part in the 2012 Lantern Parade and it was magical. Each day on my way home (my commute sadly requires a car for now) I pass through 10th & Monroe and there are so many cyclists, pedestrians, and pets. It's really great!
More pedestrians in Midtown is great to see and the Ponce development looks like it is coming along well.
posted by pointystick at 9:34 AM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I live near the part of the belt line that is completed and it's always a bustling hub of activity.... Whether they can finish it for the rest of the city is the question. And as cool as it is, if we don't get some REAL, decent money to beef up our pitiful, public transportation system, Atlanta is going to be in real trouble soon. I have a friend who's convinced the downtown connector is actually a wormhole to LA. It's that bad. ATLa is our not so loving nickname for itp traffic.
posted by pearlybob at 9:39 AM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The images of this remind me of the Bristol-Bath Cycle Path in the UK, which I used to live near.

It was the first major cyclepath established by Sustrans in the UK, also on the track of an old railway, and it's now 15 miles of wide, well-kept pathway through city, countryside, then city again, as you walk, cycle, whatever as long as there's no petrol involved, between Bristol and Bath. It revels in its heritage and feels more like a long, narrow park in places.

The idea of more like this, connecting within and between cities, is just so great. I really hope this takes off, and that we get more of them in the UK. Sustrans is doing great work in that regard, long may it continue.
posted by greenish at 9:57 AM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is so cool. I've been thinking about moving back to ATL, where I grew up, but the thing that stops me most is the traffic. Thanks to the traffic and post-segregation bussing systems, it used to take at least an hour, and often two, just to get between my home and my high school -- this is one way. I didn't know how to drive back then so it didn't impact me too much, and then I moved to NYC where I still didn't know or need to drive. Nowadays I drive, but I'm not such a fan of daily driving. Luckily, I'm in such a small town that if it takes 15 minutes to get somewhere, I think, "Woah, that was quite a trip!" I cannot fathom having to concentrate on driving for a minimum of 2 hours every single day. My mom would regularly end up in the car for 4 hours over the course of a day. (As a single mom, working full time and getting a PhD -- I have no idea how she did it either.)

In the Atlanta I'm used to, it takes AT LEAST 15 minutes to get anywhere thanks to 90% of people living deep in the heart of a network of cul-de-sacs, bordered by a main road with so much traffic you have to wait 5 full minutes at a red light so you can turn onto a street where the cars are craawwwling, until, voila: it somehow took you half an hour to drive 2 miles (.4 miles as the crow flies!)

I would move back in a heartbeat if I could afford ably live, work, and recreate while keeping driving to a minimum. Atlanta has so much great stuff and such a great culture. It is such a shame that they didn't plan ahead as far as the sprawl, but I very much hope they can do something substantive to change that, something that will impact the majority of Atlantans both inside & outside the perimeter, not just a privileged few in your Buckheads, Cabbagetowns, Atlantic Stations, etc.
posted by lesli212 at 10:12 AM on May 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, the traffic. That's what I do not miss. And, Georgia politics has swung far to the right since I left.

This is a wonderful project. The spooky condemned land for the Presidential Parkway, where entire houses were boarded up and covered in kudzu, made a fine park/trail complex after the shoutin' was all over, and many other areas could be so transformed. Atlanta has a lot of kind of interstitial dead space rights of way, and it would be brilliant if they could be a part of an ambitious vision like this.
posted by thelonius at 10:39 AM on May 8, 2014

I hope they carry it through. I'm thrilled it's kept momentum. I volunteered with Trees Atlanta in 2007 when they and other partners did the "Great Green Mile" project, clearing kudzu, wisteria, and garbage from the first mile of the beltway. Good times.
posted by solotoro at 10:44 AM on May 8, 2014

Having seen the transformation the High Line made to the Meatpacking and Chelsea neighborhoods in New York City, it is exciting to see a similar effect in Atlanta.

The challenge for Atlanta is that it is a developer friendly city with seemingly little zoning controls and mediocre results with other TOD projects (see Lindbergh City Center, with its freestanding Chili's, Long Horn Steaks, Dunkin' Donuts and Pike Nurseries all located on parcels adjacent to a major transit station and built as part of the TOD redevelopment). The city and Beltline have addressed zoning with the BeltLine Overlay District [pdf], but the city council has allowed big box stores to be located along the Beltline.

The transportation component (light rail) of the BeltLine has not been funded, and looking at the 22-mile loop, any transportation would not come near major residential and job centers in downtown, midtown and Buckhead. The soon-to-be-operational Atlanta Streetcar may provide a transportation link, but for now is more of a downtown tourist attraction circulator. Ironically, the development that the Beltline has spurred has also increased automobile traffic in those areas.

Hopefully Kasim "Mayor McStadium" Reed and Governor Nathan "Bad" Deal (the clowns from the ice storm) will be replaced by stronger leaders that can work at a local, state and federal level to ensure that the BeltLine achieves its full potential.
posted by Frank Grimes at 11:22 AM on May 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Roentgen: "The BeltLine has the potential to cross the literal barriers that have separated Atlantans and thus begin to break down far more complex social barriers.

Which is the biggest obstacle to it being built, if you know anything about Atlanta/Southern politics.

Hopefully, this project won't end up as another MARTA: "Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta" situation.
posted by lesli212 at 11:48 AM on May 8, 2014

lesli212, you might want to explain what you mean by that.
posted by chrchr at 1:01 PM on May 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

That's the classic Atlanta/Georgia racist term for MARTA.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:25 PM on May 8, 2014

I live right next to the park in the main image in that article! Crazy! Anyway, I have only lived in Atlanta couple of years and it seems like there's so much potential for the Beltline. Even the section of it I live by has had a definite increase in the last year, and new developments in the area will probably push that much higher (or fail miserably), so hopefully it does get completed.
posted by polywomp at 1:42 PM on May 8, 2014

Here's the problem with living in town. Even if you're only a few miles from your job, the little poky streets, one-way, busses etc can turn a 3 mile commute into an hour long slog.

A belt-line, trolley system would actually make it practical to live and work downtown.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:46 PM on May 8, 2014

Haha sure, explanation for those who don't know the Atlanta/Southern politics that Roentgen was referring to:

The "Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta" backronym is not so much a racist term, though people certainly use it that way. It's more a shorthand way of referring to how the original plan for MARTA was gutted by southern special interests, aka, racist interests, so the city has ended up with a basically useless subway.

See, in the original MARTA plan, MARTA connected many more neighborhoods around metro Atlanta. The short version is, voters in white districts didn't want to pay for MARTA, and they didn't want quick access routes between their neighborhoods and black areas. That's why it's got that east/southwest emphasis, neglecting the north and southeast of Atlanta. I think they built some stations in north Atlanta after I left, and whites fled from half the areas that don't have MARTA stations anyway, so it's not quite as clear. Anyway, that's why MARTA links downtown with some of the least desirable areas of greater Atlanta, ie, where the poorer, blacker, people lived when this was all shaking out.

I really hope the reverse of this doesn't happen again: Now that white flight is reversing and whites around the country are moving into urban areas and seeing the value of public transportation, I hope that Atlanta doesn't get a transit system that links only the "better"/"whiter" areas of town, neglecting everyone else. Ironically, when the idea for MARTA was first being developed, this was exactly the fear of black leaders, who had to agitate to make sure black neighborhoods were included in the planning.
posted by lesli212 at 2:02 PM on May 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

FWIW - a related story: folks in Washtenaw County, MI voted on Tuesday in approval of a millage increase to expand Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority services across Ann Arbor and the neighbors to the east Ypsilanti and Ypsi Township.

There have been steady advances in the area of TOD, including the recent installation of (yet another) shopping front by a bus stop and a couple of nice nearby parks.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:03 PM on May 8, 2014

I just hope Atlanta learns from Toronto's 'stubway' disaster. Some insane amount of money was spent, and at no stage in the process were local shopping and job opportunities.

Instead, we have clusters of new condo towers (which, honestly, probably not a bad investment if you're building a subway station across the street) filled with people who have to drive everywhere because there's nothing within walking distance of any of the stations, except the one at Fairview Mall.

And now we've got a whole bunch of stuff rolling out for public transit; the Crosstown LRT is under construction, people are finally talking seriously about the Downtown Relief Line (which needed to be started 20 years ago but spilt milk etc), streetcar tracks are being revitalized to handle our new low-floor super-modern-Euro-looking streetcars.

Of course, we have a municipal election in five months, the day after which I'd expect much to be cancelled. Same as Transit City (a brilliant and cheap! plan) was killed right after RoFo was elected.

So go Atlanta! Build the city of the future please so we can point to success and say "why the fuck are we not doing this?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:01 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it opens up more options for overflow hotels during DragonCon, I'm all for it.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:26 PM on May 8, 2014

I'm curious as to how the Beltline project will play out, but I think Burns believes too much of the received wisdom about MARTA. The fare hikes and schedule cuts she cites as reasons people don't trust MARTA are are directly attributable to the fact that the State of Georgia doesn't contribute one thin dime to the operation of the oldest and most used mass transit system operating in the capital and environs. The entirety of the money it takes to operate MARTA comes from federal grants, rider fares, and the 1% sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb counties and the city of Atlanta.

MARTA has since its inception been deliberately sabotaged. As Michael Wall wrote in Creative Loafing in 2006,
Today, MARTA is a shadow of what it was intended to be. When the transit system was originally conceived in the 1960s, it was envisioned as an efficient and expansive web of bus and rail lines that would put MARTA on par with transit agencies in the nation's major cities, such as Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. One of the ways MARTA aimed to do that was to serve five counties.

But residents of three of those counties -- Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton -- voted against the 1-cent sales tax that would have funded MARTA's rail and bus service there. According to Bullard, the suburbanites who rejected MARTA "didn't want any part of it, because for the mostly white, suburban counties, MARTA stood for 'Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.' And anybody who says that's not true is not really living in reality."
posted by ob1quixote at 12:51 AM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I heard the other day that whites are no longer the majority in Gwinnett - blew my mind. That's where all our neighbors moved just after my family moved into our neighborhood! (As helpfully explained by a neighbor's child to my family in front of her mortified parents: "Well, the neighborhood is changing, so my dad says we have to move.")

It blows my mind that greater Atlanta is now somehow more diverse yet also more politically conservative than it was back in the 80s/90s. It will be really interesting in this milieu to see how this BeltLine project shakes out.
posted by lesli212 at 6:32 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I teach at a college in Gwinnett County (okay, it's the only college in Gwinnett County). Our student population is crazy diverse (no one "major ethnic group" makes up more than 35% of our population) and reflects the fact that Gwinnett has changed from White Flight Central to among the most diverse counties in the entire country.

And yet we still have the public transit designed for White Flight Central.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:30 PM on May 9, 2014

Late to the party, but I've had all sorts of internal conflict over the potential and problems of transit oriented development. Gen Fujioka's piece "Transit-Oriented Development and Communities of Color: A Field Report" covers many of my concerns.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:05 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

The concerns in spamandkimchi's link seem pretty plausible to me.

I came to Atlanta at about the same time as did Renee Glover, the head of the Atlanta Housing Authority who oversaw the destruction of most of Atlanta's public housing. Now Techwood was nothing like paradise as I recall, but the problem was that the people who were removed from those projects were very often flat-out displaced and abandoned.

I now live in southwest Atlanta. I've attended multiple Invest Atlanta seminars, and what left me leery of them is the way that the speakers would talk about the plans that the city has for the neighborhoods, but never mention any benefits for that land's current residents. The Beltline might be good for the city as a whole, but from where I sit it seems poised to kick off a huge wave of gentrification that "fixes" Atlanta's inequality contrasts by displacing the poors.

Atlanta might be "The City Too Busy to Hate," but it's got indifference to spare.

posted by tyro urge at 4:24 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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