Friday, January 11, 2008

Grant Park-area stakeholders get peek at Beltline

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2008 at 11:01 PM

click to enlarge draftplan.jpg

Beltline planners presented the latest vision for the Southeast Study Area of the public works project to the public last night. The area in question -- essentially the lower-right corner between I-20 and Hill Street -- is home to Grant Park and ripe with pockets for development. As coffee-sipping residents and stakeholders milled past the easel-supported maps in Zoo Atlanta's ARC Building, planners and study-area consultants were nearby to hand out Post-it notes for comments and to answer questions.

People in attendance said they are optimistic about the Beltline, and were more than willing to dole out their input, ranging from everything to parking for a proposed amphitheater to the location of a maintenance facility for whatever transit mode planners decide to implement. The vagaries of pro/con arguments about the project itself have given way to more specific examples of what people want to see. Comments posted on the maps and charts focused more on the details -- "Trolley YES! Heavy-rail NO!!!" read one comment card -- rather than generic suggestions.

The working draft of the Southeast Study Area now places several activity hubs -- including retail and employment centers -- near the proposed transit line. Others would be located closer to Chosewood Park and Englewood Manor. The business community has already shown a great interest in the area surrounding Boulevard Crossing Park, a 21-acre chunk of greenspace south of Grant Park that will be one of several new parks created because of the Beltline.

Planners presented stakeholders with three different concepts for the greenspace, and said people have been leaning in favor of a plan that balances urban and nature elements -- an amphitheater and a great lawn reminiscent of Central Park's Sheep Meadow, for example -- more than the other visions that focus on active and passive recreation, respectively.

Also on hand: representatives from Trees Atlanta, a self-explanatory nonprofit spearheading a "museum of trees" along the project, and officials from Atlanta Beltline Inc.'s Affordable Housing Advisory Board. James Alexander of the board said it is now beginning the discussion phase of determining how the $42 million guaranteed over the project's first five years would be used to create affordable housing.

When queried about which transportation features posed the biggest challenge to the Southeast Study Area, John Funny, a transportation consultant working on the project, said it was the resident response to the idea of a tunnel. The proposed layout includes only one at-grade -- or street-level -- crossing, and the rest of the proposed transit would pass through a tunnel constructed to accommodate the surrounding trails and park space. Residents, Funny said, were concerned about possible crime and vandalism that tunnel may attract. Planners think the development -- both existing and new -- and the number of people around the area would deter crime.

Funny -- which is a great name -- raised another question currently being debated by the city and the Georgia Department of Transportation: Just what is Boulevard? It's an interesting give-to-get issue. The city says Boulevard is a collector street, meaning that it accepts traffic from major roads and then disperses it to side streets. DOT says it's a "minor arterial." That classification means certain speeds have to be established to keep traffic moving through the area. If residents want the street to have more traffic lights or other features aimed at slowing motorists down, Boulevard must be classified as a "collector." But in doing such, it loses the eligibility for federal funds that only a "minor arterial" can claim.

A roundabout -- a large, multilane traffic circle that helps handle flow and traffic speed -- is proposed for Englewood and Boulevard. Also being discussed are chicanes -- strips of grass or blockers jutting out into the road -- but only along side streets.

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