MAKING THE ATLANTA BELTLINE WORK FOR EVERYONE

It’s been more than 15 years since the proposal for what is now known as the Atlanta BeltLine landed on my desk at Atlanta City Hall. What made that idea so appealing then is still relevant today – orienting density around a transportation corridor that runs on a track separate from automobile traffic and connects 45 neighborhoods through all quadrants of the city. Over the course of several years, my office held over 90 community meetings across Atlanta to get vital input into what the final project could yield. And the results of that community collaboration are spectacular!

The proof of concept is undeniable. The Atlanta BeltLine is redefining what we know is possible and reshaping how we want to live, work and play all across the city. It’s a project that has received international attention and has captivated nearly everyone who has experienced the fun of a walkable, bikeable urban environment. But like the straight line that gets a little out of plumb and soon leads to a different destination; if we aren’t careful, the Atlanta BeltLine risks getting off track.

Some early missteps have been made, like not creating and enforcing aggressive high-quality design standards for new development; not ensuring strong implementation of a real mix of housing choices along every part of the Atlanta BeltLine; unnecessarily removing trees and sidewalks on perfectly functional connections (like on Wylie Street in Cabbagetown) while not providing for sidewalks and pedestrian safety in high-use areas (for example at Krog and Irwin streets). In a single instance, the slippage might be inconvenient or overlooked, but in aggregate, these small decisions can contribute to bigger problems.

This tunnel along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail has the potential to become a catalyst for conversation, much like the Krog Street tunnel is for its neighborhood. Credit: David Pendered

Lee Woodsmall