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Monday, August 1, 2011

Smart-growth expert praises Beltline progress — and points out bumps in the road

TrailDesignPonce_de_Leon.jpg
  • Atlanta Beltline Inc./Perkins + Will
Three years ago, Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council called the Atlanta Beltline the country's best smart-growth project. He recently took another look at the the 22-mile loop of proposed parks, trails and transit that's poised to change the city, for better or worse. He says it's well on its way but faces several hurdles.

Benfield, who's based in Washington, D.C. but watches the project from afar, dug into the annual report from Atlanta Beltline Inc., the nonprofit that's tasked with planning and developing the loop. In addition to praising the project, he offers some critiques. Among them is the issue of when the Beltline's transit component will start chugging along:

... if a project of the BeltLine’s massive ambition is to succeed, sooner or later it is going to have to become the top transit priority for the city. It’s just too complicated to get done otherwise.

In the meantime, I suppose it made sense to lead with parks and green space rather than with transit. As challenging as the land acquisition, remediation, design, public engagement and funding can be for parks, that bundle becomes far more formidable when it comes to a rail line. The public is at least getting to see some near-term accomplishment in the parks and trails.

But a case can also be made for going all-out at least for a segment, however short, of the transit line right from the start, even if they had to begin with a bus line. This would have sent an immediate signal to the public as well as to private investors that this project is fundamentally about transit. The unfortunate experience here in the DC area is that, once a community comes to love a parks-and-trail corridor, some of them will actually oppose the transit intended in the corridor (facts notwithstanding) because they want their park to remain as it is.

From everything we've seen, Beltline transit is high on Mayor Kasim Reed's list of the projects that should get a slice of next year's transportation tax revenues. That is, if voters approve the measure.

Consider this an open thread to discuss the pros and cons of the massive project, curse federal lawmakers for taking so damn long to negotiate the debt ceiling, or describe how you spent your weekend running from the law. Or just watch this video posted Friday of a truck that caught on fire on I-85.

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