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MARTA: Atlantans don’t want just any transit on Beltline—they want light rail

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Advocacy group Beltline Rail Now! is here to help

People walk and bike on the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail.
The transit-less (for now) Eastside Trail.
Curbed Atlanta

It’s long been abundantly clear that many Atlantans would like a transit system to link up with, and run alongside, the Beltline.

But according to a survey MARTA conducted in 2016, it’s obvious they don’t want just any transportation infrastructure; they want rail along their trail.

Seventy percent of respondents determined “Expansion of Atlanta Streetcar/Light Rail, incl. the Atlanta Beltline Loop” was “very important,” as recently reported by ThreadATL. (A highly scientific poll on these pages with nearly 3,500 votes had similar results recently, in that 73 percent of voters called robust Beltline transit crucial.)

The unfinished Eastside Trail corridor in 2015.
Curbed Atlanta

Lucky for rail-hungry residents, former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard (an early project champion) and Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel have now teamed up with urbanists, city leaders, and average Joes to push for just that.

Enter Beltline Rail Now!, an advocacy group aimed at fulfilling the transit promises pitched during the project’s infancy.

With Beltline transit aspirations having been pushed to the back burner—making room for priorities such as parks and paths—Woolard told Curbed Atlanta the time is now to fight for what voters approved with the half-penny sales tax for transportation projects in a 2016 referendum.

“For the past 15 years, this [plan for Beltline-adjacent rail] has been the course that we’ve plotted in conjunction with MARTA, and it’s certainly what was advertised prominently as part of the campaign to get people to approve the half cent for transit,” Woolard said.

“So, if all of that is deprioritized and gets turned on its head, then we’re going to have quite a conversation this summer about that,” she continued, nodding to the MARTA board’s upcoming reveal of its list of priorities for the tax cash.

A concept for how rail might function where an extended Eastside Trail meets Memorial Drive.

Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi, who’s been discussing transit goals with Beltline Rail Now!’s District 2 members, told ThreadATL that MARTA is now “finalizing a few package options of projects to present to the public for comment and input in May and June.”

Meanwhile, the group is trying to stay focused amid drives for other—seemingly random, as some see it—transit options for the city, such as a multi-million-dollar bus rapid transit (BRT) system that has secured federal funding.

Woolard insists that BRT, which some have discussed plopping down near the Beltline, isn’t the best choice for Beltline corridors.

“Because of the narrowness of the corridor, you have to run these transit lines very close together,” she said, “and Bus rapid transit wouldn’t be able to stay in the lane and clearly wasn’t as popular a choice for people who were studied on the early stages of the project.”

Since Woolard’s advocacy group’s humble inception in March (about 40 people attended the inaugural meeting at the Georgia Beer Garden), it’s grown into an organization with more than 700 subscribed to its Facebook page. (Granted, some are reporters or other interested observers.)

“Every meeting the number of people attending increases, so clearly there are a lot of people who feel the same way [about Beltline rail],” she said.

Next on the docket for the organization: a petition to help illustrate the interest and need for light rail along the Beltline. Members will garner signatures from neighborhood groups and local businesses that want to be heard.

And Beltline Rail Now!’s next meeting will happen April 15 at 8arm.