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Monday, February 28, 2011

Where do you want Beltline transit to go? Here are planners' ideas.

Behold! One of the segments above — or maybe a slight variation — might become the first Beltline transit segment
  • Atlanta Beltline Inc.
  • Behold! One of the segments above — or maybe a slight variation — might become the first Atlanta Beltline transit segment
Elected officials in metro Atlanta are drawing up lists of projects they want to receive funding for what's been called the largest investment in roads, bridges and transit metro Atlanta's seen in decades — a one-cent sales tax voters will decide next year and that, if passed, could generate an estimated $7 billion over 10 years for news roads, bridges and transit.

And Beltline bigwigs want at least one of the project's future transit segments to have a shot at that cash.

To improve their chances, project planners have made the radical decision to veer from the Beltline's familiar leaf-shaped loop and propose a transit spur into Midtown and downtown. The move drastically changes the Beltline's reach — and just might impress state and elected officials who will decide which transportation projects receive funding from the tax. (More on why Beltline planners chose those spur routes, which are part of the city's transportation plan but have not undergone extensive analysis, later in the post.)

Among the concepts under consideration: Light-rail from southwest Atlanta to Georgia Tech; Streetcars zipping from Midtown to Piedmont Park and north toward Lindbergh; and a transit line that, in addition to linking with the downtown streetcar, would connect Glenwood Park to the Bank of America Plaza.

On Feb. 17, residents gathered at City Hall for the first of several "citywide conversations" Beltline officials have organized to present the potential transit segments. (Here's an updated PDF of the evening's presentation.) It's all part of — stay awake here — the Transit Implementation Strategy, a year-long process to determine how the Beltline's long-awaited light-rail component will be built.

Beltline officials dropped a lot of info on residents at the meeting. Expect more discussion of the segments — some of which might be a bit wonky — in the coming weeks. For right now, however, it's best to offer the basics.

After the jump, a look at the concepts, plus some takeaways. Keep in mind that these are just segments that could be funded by the one-cent sales tax. Other future segments — and perhaps some of these — might be built with funding from federal, local, private or other sources. We've included all the text from the specific PowerPoint slides in case readers had any specific questions about routes and other aspects.

>> WEST END TO MIDTOWN:

>> GLENWOOD PARK TO MIDTOWN:

>> BANKHEAD TO MIDTOWN:

>> ARMOUR YARD TO MIDTOWN:

Brief info and takeaways:

>> Why venture into the urban core? Projects eligible for the big pot of funding need to benefit the 10-country metro region. The best way to convince the state that the Beltline isn't a cute widdle choo-choo just a step above the one you find in Zoo Atlanta is to link the system to other transit systems — like MARTA, which crosses county lines — and feed into the dense urban core's job and activity centers. (You'll recall Mayor Kasim Reed said much the same last year when he defended his decision to support the streetcar, rather than the Beltline, for federal funding.) Whether such a proposal passes muster with Planning Director Todd Long, who will give his blessing to a list of transportation projects before a five-member executive committee vets them, remains to be seen.

>> You'll note that several segments propose linking to the downtown streetcar. Great minds think alike, we say.

>> Jim Schneider, a community watchdog, asked at the Thursday meeting why Beltline officials gave residents so little time to decide on the transit segments. The team of planners is expected to submit the proposed segment (or segments) they'd like to see funded by March 30. "This is a lot of information to get our hands around," he said. Beltline officials noted that they'd first introduced the concept of building transit segments at the December quarterly briefing.

>> Noticeably absent from the proposals is a stretch of railroad tracks in southwest Atlanta south of Cascade Road that ABI currently leases from the state. When asked by CL why, Beltline officials said the preliminary modeling showed low population density for transit ridership along that area of the project. Cascade and Ralph David Abernathy, the activity center that includes the Kroger Citi-center, would be served by transit under the proposal. (The surrounding areas, which predominantly include abandoned warehouses, could cause problems for pedestrians, a Beltline official says. Such an area, which Beltline officials say has strong redevelopment potential, would be better suited to receive funding from the Tax Allocation District, the project's main source of funding.)

>> Wondering why there aren't many transit segments proposed for the northwest and southeast segments? Beltline planners opted to focus on transit segments the project currently owns or controls via leases. The process of negotiating and acquiring with railroad companies for those tracks — which still serve freight customers — wasn't realistic or feasible with deadlines to submit projects fast approaching, planners said.

>> Following the presentation, the audience sat in several groups with consultants to offer input. The list of suggestions included everything from using the transportation tax funding to build the project's bike trails to changing the east-west transit route. Some residents agreed with planners' idea about ultimately building what looks like a "ladder" of transit "rungs" inside the Beltline — east-west lines connecting people across the project. Beltline officials say the suggestions will help them fine-tune the proposals.

>> One observer — who also happens to be one of the Beltline's most vocal (and respected) critics — was happy to see the emphasis on linking transit to downtown and Midtown. Mike Dobbins, a Georgia Tech professor and former Atlanta planning commissioner, applauded ABI's decision to create spurs connecting to activity centers. However, he wondered why the process had taken them so long — especially when a similar concept, the C-Loop, would've connected Atlanta to Emory had been pitched to City Hall years ago. (Sources tell CL that project was one of several competing for city leaders' attention and possible funding at the time.)

>> How much will this cost? Good question, and since the proposals could undergo some tinkerin', it's hard to actually say. Beltline planners are using capital cost estimates of $45 million per mile for in-street lines and $55 million per mile for transit lines inside the Beltline corridor — or in English, the light-rail or streetcars that will operate along the project loop.

If you're interested in learning more — and offering your comments and suggestions — be sure to attend one of the following "conversations." Details are below.

3/7/2011 6:30 PM
Northside Study Group- Transit Implementation Strategy
Piedmont Hospital
1984 Peachtree Rd.
McRae Auditorium
Atlanta, GA 30309

3/10/2011 6:30 PM
Northeast Study Group - Transit Implementation Strategy
Butler Recreation Center
98 William Holmes Borders Drive
Atlanta, GA 30313

3/14/2011 6:30 PM
Southeast Study Group - Transit Implementation Strategy
Trees Atlanta
225 Chester Ave. SE
Atlanta, GA 30316

3/24/2011 6:30 PM
Southwest Study Group - Transit Implementation Strategy
West Hunter Baptist Church
1040 Abernathy Blvd SW
Atlanta, GA 30310

3/28/2011 6:30 PM
Westside Study Group - Transit Implementation Strategy
Joseph B. Whitehead YMCA (formerly the Ollie Street YMCA)
101 Ollie Street, SW
Atlanta, GA 30314

UPDATE: Beltline officials say the 3/28 study group meeting location is TBD.

UPDATE, 3/1, 5:28 p.m.: This post has been updated with a link to a corrected version of ABI's transit presentation. The previous transit presentation included an error about the potential West End to Midtown segment's route.

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