September 13, 2016 1:00 PM
There’s something to be said about how a city that exists because of railroads is now transforming itself in large part because of disused railroads.
The New York Times ran an article this weekend that extolls the virtues of the Atlanta Beltline, and urban redesign guru Chris Leinberger – who once called metro Atlanta the “poster child for sprawl”– calls the project “the most important rail-transit project that’s been proposed in the country, possibly in the world.”
Last year, more than 1.3 million people used a completed two-mile path along the loop, the Eastside Trail, which opened in 2012, and a second, three-mile section of the path is under construction on the city’s historically African-American west side…
Such enthusiasm for what is, for now, little more than a glorified sidewalk says much about the social trends that are reinvigorating urban America. The current decade has been one of population growth for many of the United States’ largest cities. But Atlanta previously experienced decades of population loss because of suburbanization and white flight.
Atlanta’s population is booming. A recent Atlanta Regional Commission study indicates that by 2040 the region’s population will approach 8 million, and to ensure we can meet the transportation demands of this projected growth, it is critical to find ways besides roads for residents and visitors to get around Atlanta.
Even more impressive than those population figures are the dollar amounts connected to the economic impact of the Beltline: the NYT reports that the Beltline has spurred $3 billion in private investment along the route. The economic impact of these rail-to-trail projects isn’t limited to intown Atlanta, either. The Silver Comet Trail, which originates in Cobb County and extends westward to Alabama, is estimated to have $57 million annually in direct economic impact, and $182 million in increased property values along its route.
The Beltline gets a lot of press – but considering the economic, social, and transportation impact of the project, not to mention the nuanced racial and economic issues that the NYT broaches in the article, it’s clear that the coverage is well-deserved.
* Regular readers at this site know what we are really talking about when we talk about sidewalks.