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Friday, December 10, 2010

Beltline eastside trail: Good news... and bad news

Posted By on Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 2:25 PM

Last night was a busy one for transit wonks.

In addition to the streetcar hearing, Beltline officials held a small powwow in Old Fourth Ward to brief residents about construction on the project's 2.5-mile bike trail between 10th and Monroe and DeKalb Avenue. (For artist renderings of the trail, visit our August post about the project.)

A quick rundown of what was discussed, what bad news was delivered, and what comes next for the $2.8 billion project's segment, is after the jump.

DETAILS: Construction of the 14-foot-wide trail is expected to begin in late January and will last, officials hope, seven months. Astra Group, the construction firm that helped build the soon-to-open Historic Fourth Ward Park near City Hall East and the Masquerade, will lead the project. The concrete path, which will be dyed to reduce glare, will hug the eastern portion of the corridor, leaving room for future transit. A two-foot-wide "shoulder" will be reserved and possibly padded in the future to accommodate joggers.

The "lion's share" of plantings along the trail will be on the eastern side, partly so future construction crews won't have to rip up trees when transit is eventually built. (When's that gonna happen? Beltline officials are thinking five to seven years along the northeast segment. More on that later.)

The public can access the trail at both endpoints and several spots along the way. Those familiar with this area of the Beltline know it dead ends into DeKalb Avenue, a busy thoroughfare used by cars zipping to and from downtown. Trees and a stone dust surface will be installed to allow cyclists and joggers to slow down or gather before pouring on to the street. The same concept will be used at 10th and Monroe. The public will also be able to access the trail at Greenwood Avenue, Somerset Terrace, Irwin Street, McGruder Street, John Wesley Dobbs Avenue and Airline Street.

Cyclists and joggers should be pleased to know the trail will connect with the Freedom Park path, providing easier connections to Candler Park and Decatur. Interesting factoid, according to some cyclists in attendance: A bike ride from DeKalb Avenue to Piedmont Park could take as little as seven minutes.

SOME DOWNERS: Thanks to funding issues, Beltline planners who attended last night's meeting said they couldn't offer as much public accessibility as they'd like. Plans for ramps and stairs at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Virginia avenues could cost an estimated $2 million, which ABI can't afford at the moment. Plus, visitors won't have direct access to Historic Fourth Ward Park's five-acre first phase, which features a pond and amphitheater, without navigating some roundabout way. (And even that will be a challenge, considering there's no access at Ponce or North avenues.) Trust for Public Land owns a small parcel between the project corridor and the greenspace and hasn't granted access. Also, no public restrooms are planned along the trail.

NOT A DOWNER, BUT WORTHY OF A MENTION: The historic (circa. 1906) bridge over Ponce will probably have to be removed, "de-leaded," repainted, and re-installed. So don't freak out when you're driving or cycling along Ponce and something seems amiss.

ONWARD TO THE FUTURE!: Beltline officials are keen on the idea of connecting the northeast segment's future transit line with the downtown streetcar. (Our editorial board, which to my knowledge hasn't bugged project officials' phones, suggested the very same strategy.) The only problem is that the Beltline runs underneath Edgewood Avenue. The city plans to demolish and rebuild the Edgewood Avenue bridge and Beltline officials would like to be involved. They hope the city will allow them to help design the new bridge so future Beltline transit could connect with the streetcar. UPDATE, 2:45 p.m. A Beltline spokesman tells us there's also the possibility of connecting with the streetcar at Irwin Street.

Also, take a look at a Beltline map and you'll notice that the project makes a quick turn at DeKalb Avenue, where it's blocked by active freight rail, the elevated east-west MARTA line and Hulsey Yard. This spot is one of the Beltline transit component's biggest obstacles. Project officials are looking at several options, including going around (via several different routes) or — wait for it — under. Crank up the tunnel-boring machine, honey!

Beltline officials plan to apply for a transportation enhancement grant to extend the bike trail to Glenwood Park, make streetscape improvements along DeKalb Avenue, and improve the lighting in the Krog Street tunnel.

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