This article appeared originally as a Saporta Report Thought Leadership column on February 21, 2017.
By Rob Brawner, Executive Director, Atlanta BeltLine Partnership
2017 promises to be a year of substantial progress for the Atlanta BeltLine. This is good for Atlanta, as the positive health and economic impacts of the Atlanta BeltLine are indisputable.
Last year, 1.7 million users of the Eastside Trail engaged in regular physical activity – walking to the store, biking to work, jogging, skating, and more – which reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes and improves mental health and weight control, among other benefits. Meanwhile, $3.7 billion of new development within the Atlanta BeltLine planning area (roughly ½ mile on either side of the corridor) proves the Atlanta BeltLine’s value as an economic catalyst.
This summer, the Atlanta BeltLine will open in new parts of the city as the Westside Trail and Eastside Trail Extension will add more than four miles of completed trails along the 22-mile loop. These new trails would not be possible without many preceding years of public-private partnership to fund, design, and construct them.
Construction continues on the Westside Trail (top) and the Eastside Trail Extension (bottom). Both projects are on schedule to be completed later this year.
While important work continues on transit, affordable housing, public art and other components of the project, we have an opportunity now to plant seeds in fertile ground for the remainder of the Atlanta BeltLine trail. With resounding support from voters and strong leadership from Mayor Reed and City Council, funding is in place through the TSPLOST for Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. to acquire the rest of the 22-mile corridor.
As remaining pieces of the corridor are purchased, there is an excellent opportunity to activate these sections in the short term as safe, secure interim hiking trails so that people can traverse the Atlanta BeltLine loop while discovering their city and improving their health in the process.
Imagine being able to visit the 45 Atlanta BeltLine communities via paved and unpaved trails within a few years. It is very possible. A relatively small investment of nimble philanthropic capital, for example, could ensure the corridor, once acquired, does not lay dormant. Instead, completed sections of the Atlanta BeltLine would be connected via hiking trails – such as the trail currently connecting Piedmont Park to Ansley Mall – enabling residents and visitors to move around the city in completely new ways.
As additional sections of the corridor are acquired, interim hiking trails like this one near Piedmont Park could be activated for public use in the short term, connecting already completed sections of the Atlanta BeltLine.
With hiking trails as an interim step, continued public-private partnership is required to complete the fully paved Atlanta BeltLine trail. We can look to the Westside Trail as a model to follow.
Through Mayor Reed’s leadership, the City of Atlanta was awarded an $18 million TIGER V grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. With a lead gift from the James M. Cox Foundation/PATH Foundation, Atlanta’s corporate and philanthropic community contributed $10 million in local match funding through the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership. An additional $15 million was provided through state and local public contributions.
To complete the remainder of the 22-mile trail loop, we will need similar leadership from our next Mayor and City Council to secure federal and state funding. We will need continued investments from our philanthropic partners. We will need the commercial property owners and apartment owners directly benefitting from the Atlanta BeltLine’s development to more directly fund its construction. And, we will need Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., working with trusted partners like the PATH Foundation and Trees Atlanta, to continue implementing projects on schedule and on budget.
We all play a role in continuing to bring the health and economic benefits of the Atlanta BeltLine to more of the city. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership is committed to working with partners, funders, and individuals to support the Atlanta BeltLine project and realize its benefits for all of Atlanta’s residents. We invite you to join us in making 2017 the biggest year yet for the Atlanta BeltLine.