FAQ > “why is everybody going in circles?”

Q: Where is everybody going? Where’s the there there?


(faq.)  A: Some people seem to always be missing the point with the Atlanta Beltline. That’s fine, I guess. It just gets old. So I wrote up a set of replies for some recurring crazy claims.

1) People aren’t interested in riding around in circles. Answer one: Yes they are. In addition to a long list of other uses, the Atlanta Beltline has proven itself as a space for social interaction, exercise, shopping, recreation, and tourism. Its loop formation, when complete with transit, will amplify these opportunities beyond what any of us can imagine right now.

Answer two: Who said people would be going in circles? The corridor makes convenient connections between walking and biking routes through the city and its utility as one segment of a longer trip has already proven itself with the Eastside Trail. For example, I ride 2-miles up the Beltline from Krog Street and then through Piedmont Park for an easy bike commute to work in Midtown. Similarly for transit, most riders will not be riding around in loops. They will make convenient transfers onto MARTA trains, buses, and the Atlanta Streetcar. With one transfer, for example, over a hundred thousand additional riders will be able to take a walk+transit trip to downtown, Buckhead, Decatur or the airport.

Answer three: The Atlanta Beltline’s loop formation is as important metaphorically as it is pragmatic. The circle route for transit, trail, and economic impact are an inherent part of its egalitarian appeal, its ability to bring people together around ideas, and our desire to repair the wrongs of our past and become a more equitable and unified city.

2) There’s nowhere to go. Answer one: Exactly. Perimeter Mall didn’t exist before Interstate-285, and London wouldn’t exist without the River Thames. Similarly, this new infrastructure will incentivize the growth of future Atlanta. There will be places to go and people to go there because much like sprawl attracted half a century of car-dependent growth, the Atlanta Beltline is laying the foundation for substantial transit and bike-oriented growth in the city and an inherently more sustainable way of life. It’s already working.

Answer two: Wrong. Set aside this emerging evidence of success for a just minute and spend half a second to discover several existing regional destinations already on the Atlanta Beltline. They include Piedmont Hospital, Piedmont Park, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, the Jimmy Carter Center and Presidential Library, Zoo Atlanta and shopping districts across the city from Piedmont Heights to West End. I could write a longer list of commercial districts, arts facilities, community amenities, local parks, and other neighborhood destinations. The Atlanta Beltline’s transit and trail will improve access to these places and build on their strength as early generators for economic and user momentum in the corridor.

3) There are other transit initiatives that should take precedent. Answer one: I disagree. Intown neighborhoods are better suited than many parts of our region to host a new generation of transit investment in Atlanta. They are more likely to want transit; more willing to pay for transit (see T-SPLOST voting maps); have been paying for transit for 40 years through MARTA; and have a large proportion of people who are dependent on transit to get around because they either can’t afford a car or do not want one. Their physical structure and density is suited to transit service and they also have a large amount of underutilized land that is appropriate for transit-oriented development. Transit on the Atlanta Beltline serves these communities best because it has a free-flowing guideway that does not compete for space with cars.

Answer two: I disagree. There’s urgent need and opportunity in metropolitan Atlanta for transit expansion on multiple fronts and there are many transit projects that are worthy of our attention. But a community’s willingness to identify and secure funding sources for transit is a critical input for investment priority. The Atlanta Beltline’s Tax Allocation District does just that. It captures revenue from private sector development to both incentivize that growth and provide an amazing public amenity, including a local transit funding source. In the process, the Atlanta Beltline helps to catalyze a culture of transit investment in the region, making other projects more possible.

4) It’s a solution without a problem. Comical, if it wasn’t such a reckless statement. It’s also emphatically untrue. How is unbridled regional sprawl not a problem? What about generational urban poverty, economic and educational disparity? Epidemic childhood obesity? Problems abound. Solutions, however, are hard to come by.  >> Ryan Gravel


This is my response to a question I get asked a lot. It in no way represents any official statement on behalf of the various agencies, organizations, or individuals responsible for implementing the Atlanta Beltline. Last updated on September 27, 2014. See other questions here.

Comments are fine, but I’d rather talk about action – preferably over a beer somewhere like Manuel’s Tavern.

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