If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic in the realm of Atlanta’s urban infrastructure (besides the extinction of hellacious traffic jams, for the most part), it could be a renewed interest in multiuse trails as a means of getting out of the house. Or traveling to and from work. Or keeping construction jobs in place, as trails continue to grow across ITP in spite of a hobbled economy and the novel coronavirus’s spread in Georgia.
“It’s very exciting, because with everything going on, there’s such a need for trails right now, and everybody’s looking for opportunities for their mental and physical health,” says Greta deMayo, PATH Foundation’s executive director.
While the pandemic has paused some fundraising efforts at PATH, where donations are the primary source of income, deMayo said the organization has nine trail projects set to begin construction on schedule in the next six months, and several underway or finishing now, across the region. Those include the Westside BeltLine Connector Trail, a team effort with the City of Atlanta and Atlanta BeltLine Inc. that installed a milestone bridge downtown in early May.
“The BeltLine work was deemed to be truly essential, even in the midst of the pandemic [in March]” says BeltLine CEO Clyde Higgs. “Having that activity, and those jobs, still moving is [crucial]. We continue to push forward.”
We checked in with deMayo and Higgs for the latest on funded trail construction—which is consuming old railroad corridors, street lanes, former parking spaces, and a variety of unused or underused properties—for a glimpse at what’s new, and what’s scheduled to come.
Late in the spring, installation of a bridge spanning Joseph E. Boone Boulevard near the Georgia World Congress Center marked a tangible sign that one of PATH’s long-held goals—to create a trail linking Centennial Olympic Park downtown to the Silver Comet Trail in Cobb County—was making headway. But first things first.
The bridge is part of a BeltLine spur trail that will span about three miles, beginning at Centennial Olympic Park and traveling former rail line to Marietta Boulevard at Huff Road, due west of Midtown. Two more bridges are pending (at Cameron Madison Alexander and Meldrum Street) before the trail passes through a tunnel at Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway in English Avenue. “We’ve been pouring concrete like crazy over in that area,” says deMayo.
The ADA-accessible connecting trail is on schedule to finish around January. Like all new trails, it’ll be equipped with lighting and security cameras, per BeltLine standards, and a small trailhead for parking at Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard.
The next step, which has been designed and is entering permitting phases, will see a modification of Marietta Boulevard, reducing the five-line corridor to two travel lanes for vehicles, a center turn lane, and a 12-foot-wide multiuse trail buffered from traffic by an arboretum. That one-mile stretch will be considered part of the BeltLine’s “mainline,” or the 22-mile loop planned to encircle the city. “We’ll bring a lot of the elements and innovations of complete streets in making sure that it’s safe,” notes Higgs. That latter section is scheduled to begin construction in early 2021 and wrap up later in the year, with final touches including landscaping finishing by summer 2022.
Pending a couple of unknowns—including a Cobb County SPLOST vote in November for potential trail funding and the fate of CSX train company’s massive, emptied Tilford Yard in northwest Atlanta, both involving required land—deMayo says hoping on a bike in downtown Atlanta and pedaling, via the Silver Comet Trail, to Alabama is a realistic possibility in the next five years.
In Brookhaven, PATH opened what’s called the “model mile” of the Peachtree Creek Greenway last winter, with three trailheads (one conveniently placed at Briarcliff Road) and a monumental steel bridge. Eventually, that project’s planned to run for 12 miles, from Chamblee down to the BeltLine.
Elsewhere in the vicinity, South Fork Conservancy has launched construction on a centerpiece project called the Confluence Bridge near Lindbergh. The name reflects the bridge’s location where the North and South Forks of Peachtree Creeks meet, and also its purpose in eventually tying together two unfinished multiuse trails in the area: the Beltline’s Northeast Trail and PATH400.
Speaking of, a highly anticipated section of PATH400—Buckhead’s award-winning, five-mile answer to the BeltLine, being constructed largely on unused Ga. Highway 400 right-of-way—is still grappling with pandemic-induced delays related to the installation of final security items, including fencing, cameras, and gates. The section in question links other PATH400 portions near Lenox Square and Miami Circle. Major construction finished last fall, but a grand opening remains TBD.
Meanwhile, just south of Lindbergh near Ansley Park, a BeltLine segment stretching for two-thirds of a mile dubbed the “hairpin line” is on track to be completed by October, at latest, Higgs says. The trail, a partnership with Georgia Power, will be accessible via parking lots behind Ansley Mall but won’t yet fully connect southward to nearby Piedmont Park.
“In future funding cycles,” Higgs says, “we’ll be doing bookends for that segment.”
Hallelujah—the entirety of the BeltLine’s popular Eastside Trail finally has lighting!
Nearly eight years after its debut, the trail section between Irwin Street in Old Fourth Ward and the cusp of Piedmont Park is no longer dark at night, following a funding partnership with GDOT. The lighting system, which was activated earlier this summer, includes security cameras tied into the Atlanta Police Department’s monitoring system. “We’re excited about that project—been a long time coming,” says Higgs.
Moving southward, work began this month to create a safer BeltLine experience for patrons traveling through Glenwood Park. Along Bill Kennedy Way, crossing over Interstate 20, planters and parking spaces are being removed to expand sidewalks so that users can stay safely out of the street from Memorial Drive, down to where the interim Southside Trail begins at Glenwood Avenue. Expect a construction timeline of between eight to 12 months. “We’re looking at eventually [building] a pedestrian bridge over I-20 there,” says Higgs. “But that’s a long-term fix, and right now we just don’t have the funding in house to make that happen.”
Also on the radar for PATH is what’s called the Eastside Trolley Line Trail, a project that would branch off the existing Eastside Trail in Reynoldstown, snake through Edgewood, and link with an existing PATH segment near Coan Park in Kirkwood. Designs have been finished, funding identified through a combination of T-SPLOST and earmarked city budget dollars, and the plans have been issued to the city for permitting. “I think this time next year, we should be under construction,” says deMayo.
PATH conducted a study in conjunction with Atomic Entertainment, the owners of Kirkwood’s historic Pratt-Pullman Yard, about potentially linking the Trolley Line Trail to the property’s planned redevelopment, but no concrete plans have materialized, deMayo says.
There’s potentially big news afoot on the BeltLine’s Southside Trail, the loop’s four-mile, smiley-face section, if you will.
Higgs says the organization should know by mid-September if the U.S. Department of Transportation will approve a BUILD grant application to construct a roughly $50 million BeltLine piece, stretching for 1.9 miles from McDaniel Street in Pittsburgh to Boulevard in Grant Park, plus 0.6 miles of protected bike lanes.
“I think the merits of our project really speak to what that funding source is trying to accomplish, so fingers crossed on that application,” he says.
Also in Grant Park, a BeltLine bridge spanning United Avenue had to be removed following decades of being whacked by large trucks—including a severe impact in June that required immediate action. An interim bridge is in the works, with a permanent replacement expected to be in place by early next year. “Removing [the bridge] was the way to go. It was in the timeline anyhow,” says Higgs. “It was one of the fastest moving projects in BeltLine history, getting that removed.”
On the flipside of the southern BeltLine, near Adair Park, work continues on a one-mile section called Southside Trail West. Shoring and erosion control work is underway now on a project that will extend the trail from where the Westside Trail currently ends, over a bridge at Metropolitan Avenue, to a point just south of University Avenue. That’s still scheduled to be finished in early summer 2021, Higgs says.
Lastly, the first PATH Trail in the City of East Point finished construction this month. The 1.4-mile model segment, part of a larger master-planned network, connects Tri-Cities High School to Sumner Park where the popular Dick Lane Velodrome is, linking a number of neighborhoods in the process.
“It’s great,” says deMayo, “that they’ve got their first project under their belt.”