Imagine hopping on a bicycle in Piedmont Park and having the ability to journey for some 14 miles — in a smile-shaped route that swoops south and then west — through vibrant, historic neighborhoods and ending up on the opposite side of Atlanta. This week, Beltline leaders are taking a key step in making that happen by releasing a request for qualifications (RFQ) for the design and engineering of a link between the popular Eastside Trail and under-construction Westside Trail, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports. Those qualifications are due in less than a month, which is a good sign. The roughly four-mile crescent of 14-foot-wide concrete — now officially called the "Southside Trail" — already has observers talking about an injection of needed investment in long-overlooked neighborhoods south of downtown. Along with move coveted intown enclaves such as Grant Park and Ormewood Park, the trail's impact could be profound on places like Chosewood Park, South Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Capitol View Manor. In an interview with the ABC, Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel noted the southside area is loaded with obsolete industrial space and "some of the best views of the city's skyline."
But, alas, there's a big fat fly in this delicious bowl of hypothetical Beltline cereal. The Beltline doesn't even own the Southside Trail corridor yet — CSX Corp., whose trains ceased using the route last year, does. The Beltline reportedly hopes to acquire the necessary Southside Trail land by 2018, using a mix of federal, tax allocation district (TAD) and private funds (which is now legal), according to the RFQ.
But lest we forget three things: 1. Work to finish the Eastside Trail was supposed to have begun some two years ago. 2. The Beltline's years-long funding squabble with Atlanta Public Schools still looms. 3. And the feds are none-too happy with Atlanta right now over how the city's nascent streetcar system has come out of the gates.
On the bright side, bids for building the Eastside Trail's last 1.25-mile stretch to Memorial Drive were due this week, with the stipulation that the project must be finished in 18 months. And, as Gravel pointed out to the ABC, a mere conversation about building a Southside link could have positive effects. "It used to be we were selling air," or a concept, Gravel told the newspaper. "There's not really an argument anymore about what we are doing. The challenge now is just getting the money together to do it."
In the meantime, here's our photographic tour from earlier this year of the future Southside Trail: