Beltline Blues

While many Atlanta residents and transit-ites celebrated the recent $5 million donation to build the Beltline’s northeast segment bike trail, Andisheh remained unimpressed.  For him, the donation was just another reminder of how far the project hasn’t come in 11 years. 

From Fresh Loaf

Viewed within the bigger picture of Beltline history though, the [donation] announcement was a big let down. It’s dispiriting that the city has made so little progress with the Beltline project that a short bike trail is considered huge breakthrough.

A thumbnail history — the Beltline was conceived in 1999 as a comprehensive urban re-development project, including parks, mass transit and new private construction. Embraced by city residents as soon as they began hearing about it, it was promoted first by the City Council President, then by a powerful and popular mayor. She helped give it an organizational structure and (controversial) funding mechanism in 2005 and 2006.

That’s a lot of time. A lot of money. A lot of public discussion. A lot of political capital.

And for what? So far, just a couple of short trails.

 And then, just this morning, the news fates decided to throw the CL cynic an “I told you so” bone.  From the AJC’s Ariel Hart

At least $2.4 million that Congress awarded to transit projects in Georgia has gone unspent so long that it has expired, according to a report by a Washington, D.C.-based foundation.

Of that money, $980,000 was intended for part of the Beltline.

A spokesman for the Beltline, Ethan Davidson, said the Beltline never went through the application process to get the money, because federal regulations did not permit such grants to be used for projects in such early stages as the Beltline was.

19 thoughts on “Beltline Blues”

  1. If there is one thing I have learned while riding a bike – you don’t get very far looking backwards.

  2. I love parks and weekend strolls but how is a MUP connecting two parks through a residential district considered transit ?

  3. Well the 1999 data point isn’t really relevant. That’s the year Mr. Gravel submitted his thesis paper at Georgia Tech. Now, if you look at it from the viewpoint of a graduate student’s paper to where we are 10 years later. I think that’s pretty amazing.

  4. I would completely agree with Andisheh. Most cities would be falling all over themselves to have such an opportunity (even with the recent economic crisis). To have that much right of way completely available for a multi-use purpose is generally unheard of in today’s land use environment. I don’t know how much more “studying” you really need to do on this project. At a minimum, start allowing PATH or some other organization to come in and start laying a pedestrian/bike like trail and then evolve it (if needed) into something else. By the time this is finally studied and completed, we will be lucky to make it around in our wheelchairs and walkers.

    1. Um … it seems like that is what they are doing, CB. They say the bike bath between Piedmont Park and Dekalb Ave will be in operation next summer.

      1. So, 10 years to get approximately 2 miles complete? Again, I agree with Andisheh, we should be much further along on this project. It’s a great project on so many levels. It seems we are letting “perfect” get in the way of “very good”.

  5. History Joe’s assessment of the Beltline’s history & timing is very accurate in my eyes.

    I didn’t read Andisheh’s article, but I hope big mention was made of the lawsuit that was thrown up against the Beltline bonds (and all TAD bonds)- that litigation put the project back about 3 years, from the time it took to respond to the challenge and work its way all the way up through the courts, and to get appropriate legislative remedy. by then the markets had crashed, further lengthening the time from original bond sale and actual bond sale late 2009. That time gap has been critical in all the developmental delays. Thank the guy responsible for the bond sale litigation for that delay, not the Beltline organization.

    1. Another way to see it is the 3 year delay was due to beltline proponents initially using an illegal funding method then using the civil courts to get around the law. (unsuccessfully)
      Why blame the guy who called them on it?
      You make it sound like that lawsuit was a frivolous delay. The fact that the plaintiff prevailed in the state supreme court proves otherwise.
      Taxes raised for schools should be used for schools.

      1. while I can see someone’s point of view that school taxes should only be used for schools, I think some comments here about ATL officials trying to be subversive in applying school taxes to repayment of TAD Bonds (including Beltline TAD) is misleading. The legislature had given cities who created TADs the power to ask the school districts to participate in funding the TAD Bonds for each respective TAD; cities with TADs with school tax participation were just acting with the powers that were granted to them. Additionally, the school districts could say no when asked to participate (indeed they did in the Princeton Lakes TAD). The challenge brought to bring down the Beltline TAD Bonds was that it was unconstitutional for the state legislature to grant those powers (not city shenanigans). The courts decided the state legislature had overstepped its granting powers, and a voter referendum had to be held to decide whether or not the state could opt to authorize school tax funds for use in redevelopment activities, including peldges to TAD Bond repayments– that voter referendum passed. again, it is the school district’s option to opt in or not.

        also, AN, I agree completely with your vision for the Beltline. I hope someday we can get there. to accomplish these mighty goals in today’s budget and financing environment would be an accomplishment indeed.

        1. Thank you for the additional information. I didn’t mean to single out beltline proponents. The creative rulemaking made school district backed TADs grow in popularity and they jumped on board. In a way I’m glad they did as it forced the issue to be dealt with. My main point was the lawsuit wasn’t a waste of time if it prevented an branch of the government from exceeding it’s authority.

          I never did understand why non education infrastructure funding needed to be backed by the school district instead of the city. It wouldn’t have anything to do with Atlanta’s financial state, bond ratings and serial federal judgements on sewerage etc?

          1. Atlanta isn’t the only municipality in the state to make use of the authority granted to create TADs, though Atlanta has definitely made use of them. So including the ability to add school tax increment in the funds pledged to pay back bonds isn’t related to any Atlanta debt probs or issues. The idea of having schools participate is that redevelopment of an area, and the (hopefully) resulting increased property values helps the schools in the end – if property values in their districts increase, then they are collecting more taxes themselves. TAD Bonds are paid off with only this increase in value & corresponding tax collection. Plus, redevelopment has been targeted to bring in a wider range of family incomes to an area, which has potential to improve the schools. So, a school district ties itself for a while in terms of where a portion of increased tax collections are paid (they go to paying off the bonds), but long term should be in a better position. Plus, as I said before, schools have opt in rights, and can negotiate some infrastructure items from bond proceeds or the developers themselves as leverage for contributing their tax increment to paying off the TAD Bonds. I think there are cases where developers have donated land to school districts, built a school, donated park land near a school, etc.

            Of course, there are a lot of arguements that this type of redevelopment doesn’t have an impact on schools, or locking up certain school district funds for too long to pay back bonds isn’t worth the benefits, or that all this redevelopment is tax supported gentrificationon an evil scale. Myself, looking at how schools are funded in this state (which in my opinion is very inequitable), I think that redevelopment likely leads to wealthier residents coming to an area, and those wealthier residents lead to better schools. You only have to look at DCS, Mary Lin, Fernbank, Morningside Elemantary and Sarah Smith school districts to see the evidence of that.

  6. I’m aware of the lawsuit. I’m aware of the Wayne Mason fiasco. I’m aware (as former Mayor Shirley Franklin) that big projects don’t happen “over night.”

    I’m also aware that it’s been five years since city leadership (mayor and city council) decided to make a go of the Beltline. And five years in, it’s still not apparent what, if any, transit will be part of the Beltline. Do you think that bothers me because I hate mass transit, or because I want more mass transit?

    I’m not blaming any one person or group. I’m point out that, for a variety of reasons, this project is going very slowly. Other, similarly-sized metro areas conceived and built actual mass transit lines during the 2000s. We have a donation funded bike path that I’m supposed to be thrilled about because, as I’ve been told by several people, it’s a step in the right direction. LIke I wrote, I’ll be happy with it for what it is, but it’s not transit.

    And no, I won’t scapegoat the guy who brought the TAD lawsuit. The state Supreme Court agreed with him that property tax money intended for schools couldn’t be used for the Beltline. Whatever I may think of his motives, his grasp of the law was evidently better than that of Atlanta’s elected leaders. He won his case.

    I think the following points are very clear if you’ve read more than a few things I’ve written in CL, but just in case it’s not, I’ll make it clear.

    I would like see a maze of trains, streetcars, bus routes and bikes snaking all around the city, reaching into the ‘burbs. I think the Beltline should be part of that. I’d gladly pay higher taxes for it. I’d also be thrilled if our gas taxes didn’t get spent on subsidizing sprawl.

    One more thing I hope is clear – I assume the people who work on the Beltline are 800x smarter and more dedicated than I am. I’m not knocking them. I’m bemoaning Atlanta’s collective inability to accomplish a big-ish municipal improvement project at a faster rate.

    I know DM was partially tongue-in-cheek when he said it, but I’m not a cynic at all. Not about this, anyway. I simply have different expectations.

    1. It’s my belief that the Beltline over-reaches entirely. Make it bike, ped, golf-cart? only and be done with it. Practically zero maintenance…if property values surroundingt it increase then use those taxes to improve transit elsewhere. Win-win.

  7. This is one reason why I live in Decatur. Beltline champion Cathy Woolard was our ATL city council rep when we lived in Candler Park, and I appreciate her sponsorship and energy for the project, but Atlanta city government is corrupt, sclerotic, bloated, and responsive only to the typical urban machine issues of race and poverty.

    The Beltline will not become a reality until this regime is toppled. Great idea, great people working on it, horrific city government.

    1. “but Atlanta city government is corrupt, sclerotic, bloated, and responsive only to the typical urban machine issues of race and poverty.”

      I’m still holding out hope that Kasim Reed will be different. On some issues already he has broken with the old way, but in general I’m afraid that I have to agree with TeeRuss on this point. Per Maria Saporta, Charlotte is kicking our butt.

  8. Isn’t the trail from Washington Park to Allene Avenue in West Atlanta considered part of the Beltline? PATH has made vast improvements in West End.

    1. Isn’t that great? I was down in Washington Park for the first time last month. The PATH there is “West Side Trail” but it will abut the Beltline headed south. Headed north from the park is one of the famous “discontinuities” (MARTA and rail corridor are right there).

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