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A hotel with a large heart on if made from dormant rooms.
A simple, hopeful message among dormant rooms at downtown’s Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

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Atlanta at sundown: scenes from an empty city confronting a global pandemic

On a pleasant spring night, Atlantans heeded the call to stay home

As Thursday evening rolled over into a pleasantly brisk spring night, a day after Fulton County residents had been ordered to stay home or risk facing $1,000 fines or jail, the blocks around Centennial Olympic Park weren’t just quiet for an urban environment—they were small-town quiet. Country-quiet, even. Totally, bizarrely, temporarily silent.

It couldn’t have been more evident that what a few weeks ago seemed an obscure threat on the other side of the world had brought a major American city, like so many others, to a virtual standstill.

Exercising the exemption in stay-at-home orders for, well, exercising in the City of Atlanta, we set out with a bike and camera to see how well Atlantans are abiding by social distancing restrictions, as confirmed novel coronavirus cases and death tolls continue to climb.


The Atlanta Beltline has caught flak since COVID-19 concerns ramped up in the U.S. for being a congregation point for thousands of people eager to enjoy the temperate spring weather, but as evening fell Thursday, the popular Eastside Trail was sparsely patronized.

An empty concrete trail seen at night with lights all around it.

Aside from the usual photo shoot alongside Wylie Street murals and graffiti, few people were seen in Cabbagetown, where some porches glow with Christmas lights again as a show of unity and hope.

An empty concrete trail seen at night with lights all around it, plus graffiti at right.

A nearly empty Krog Street Tunnel, where the only person inside was sleeping under blankets.

An empty tunnel with roads on either side seen at night with lights all around it.

Shops, bars, and eateries along this newer Eastside Trail section were quiet, following relatively raucous weekends in the pandemic’s early days.

An empty concrete trail seen at night with lights all around it.

What had begun as a candid Beltline COVID-19 messaging campaign—”Please Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” “Distance Makes the Beltline Fonder,” etc.—has turned more serious in recent days.

An empty concrete trail seen at night with lights all around it.

The usual evening traffic clog under the Jackson Street Bridge, overlooking a section of downtown and Midtown from Old Fourth Ward, wasn’t there.

An empty city street with a skyline in the background and many streetlights in the middle.

Just a smattering of guest-room lights were on at Hilton Atlanta.

Pointed toward Grady Memorial Hospital, this 20-story heart at downtown’s Atlanta Marriott Marquis lends positivity in troubling times.

Peachtree Center redo The Hub saw few comings and goings.

A downtown landmark for more than 40 years, the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel was just a dark cylinder against the moonlit sky, topped by a halo of lights.

No selfie-takers were afoot at the new Insta-worthy rings around Centennial Olympic Park.

Beneath downtown’s motionless SkyView Ferris Wheel, a couple posed for each other and goofed around, while a man asked politely for money or food and promised not to get near.

In the park’s main field, the total silence was bizarre for an urban setting, while in the distance, even CNN and the Omni were dark. For several moments not a single vehicle was seen around the area.

The park’s main playground lent new meaning to kid-proof.

From the Crowne Plaza Atlanta-Midtown and Staybridge Suites Atlanta-Midtown hotel, another hopeful heart.

The futuristic main corridor at Midtown’s new Coda development silently glowed.

While nary a chair was occupied.

Heading north into Midtown, the Biltmore’s classic facade was sparsely illuminated by guest rooms.

Back on the Beltline, above Ponce de Leon Avenue, Ponce City Market saw few passersby on foot or in cars, just a series of traffic lights signaling, silently, to keep moving forward.

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