The Eastside Trail is busy. With an average of 1.2 million trail users in 2014, it actually rivals the World of Coke in attendance numbers. That’s probably no surprise to anyone that has pulled their roadster out there on a sunny weekend afternoon – we’ve heard it more than once: the Eastside Trail is just too crowded. The good news is, that means the Atlanta BeltLine is working – people are using it as a transportation corridor and a recreation space, and concurrently, it’s acting as an economic development tool. At the same time, it’s a way that multi-use trails in Atlanta – like the Silver Comet or the Stone Mountain Trail – haven’t exactly been used before.
We’ve heard from a lot of cyclists that wonder why the trail doesn’t have bike lanes or designated spaces that separate them from pedestrians. It’s a fair question, and one that was carefully considered as part of trail design. It may seem like a simple answer: stripe the trail with bike lanes and alleviate the congestion by separating cyclists and pedestrians. The truth is, though, it’s not that simple, and it doesn’t work like that on a multi-use trail. The Eastside Trail is 14 feet wide, and the rest of the corridor accommodates elements that are key to the rest of the Atlanta BeltLine program – i.e., future transit, the linear arboretum, public art, etc. Within that 14 feet of concrete, the trail has to accommodate not just pedestrians and cyclists, but strollers, rollerskaters, joggers, dog-walkers, and tourists. Much like we need motor vehicles to share the road with us cyclists, we need cyclists to share the trail with other users.
But roads have lanes, wouldn’t bike lanes make it easier to share the trail? In practice, the answer is no: dedicated lanes, on a trail with as much activity as the Eastside Trail, are ineffective. Following the simple rule of staying to the right except to pass is much easier and allows for the flow of all sorts of traffic – be it pedestrians, cyclists, or skaters. There are many trails nationwide that use minimal or no striping – and mostly only for the centerline – that have enjoyed success. Most of the 60 miles of completed Schuylkill River Trail near Philadelphia is not striped and is smaller than the Eastside Trail in sections. The Schuylkill River Trail was also recently named USA Today’s Reader’s Choice for Best Urban Trail. I-205 is another multi-use trail that runs through five cities, including Portland. The trail has center-striping in some areas, but no dedicated lanes for bikes or pedestrians.
Other cities have also tackled trail-sharing head-on with messages of safety and etiquette, much like the Atlanta BeltLine’s own etiquette campaign. Seattle’s urban trails have no striping and their location makes them useable for a myriad of purposes, including commuting and recreation. The Seattle Department of Transportation posts rules of usage on their website aimed at the courteous use of the trail. Their rules also extend beyond pedestrian and cyclist interactions to include picking up pet waste and keeping leashes to eight feet (the Atlanta BeltLine requires six feet or less.)
Design and engineering of the Atlanta BeltLine is very intentional and considers usage, location, aesthetics, and a whole set of other factors. Whether there is striping on the trail or not, the Eastside Trail’s maximum effectiveness can only be achieved if we are all aware of each other and the variety of ways in which users of all ages and abilities use the Atlanta BeltLine.
For more information on the Atlanta BeltLine’s etiquette campaign, visit beltline.org/atlanta-beltline-etiquette.