Beltline rail proponents press mayor for support

Debate over Beltline light rail increases as MARTA’s eastside streetcar extension is scheduled to move forward
Advocates for Beltline rail, including Beverly Miller, who is on the board of Beltline Rail Now!, rally on the steps of Atlanta City Hall on Friday, March 22, 2024.   (Ben Gray /

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Advocates for Beltline rail, including Beverly Miller, who is on the board of Beltline Rail Now!, rally on the steps of Atlanta City Hall on Friday, March 22, 2024.   (Ben Gray /

On the steps of City Hall on Friday, proponents of the long-standing plan to install a light rail system along Atlanta’s Beltline called on Mayor Andre Dickens to publicly support the project — just days ahead of his annual State of the City remarks scheduled for Monday morning.

Matthew Rao, chair of the community group Beltline Rail Now called back to Dickens’ election bid in which, Rao said, the soon-to-be mayor consistently backed Beltline rail.

“We’re here today to talk about progress but also promises,” Rao said. “And we’re here to call on our mayor in his next two years in office, to continue that progress, to get louder about it, and to end any doubt that people may have about where he stands on Beltline rail.”

Debate on whether or not the city should stick to the plan of constructing mass transit along the iconic 22-mile trail loop has ramped up after Atlanta Beltline and MARTA officials said they are ready to begin the eastside streetcar extension.

The $230-million project would lengthen the streetcar from downtown to Ponce City Market and is funded by More MARTA money — funds approved by Atlanta voters in 2016 to go toward transit expansion.

It would be the first step in starting the process of constructing mass transit along the trail system. But opponents of the plan share concerns over the system’s noise and speed, cost to ride and ridership levels.

In response to that criticism, Beltline leadership told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during an editorial board meeting that the full project’s design is only 30% done, leaving time to engage with impacted communities.

Supporters on Friday said the heart of their message to the city is one word: equity.

Rail proponents say Atlanta’s current public transportation system still leaves gaps in access to jobs, housing and recreational opportunities for residents who live in more isolated neighborhoods.

“Equity without a commitment to ensuring that people have a path to upward mobility is no equity at all,” said Fred Smith, a law professor at Emory University.

Smith said it’s important for the city to stick with its decades-old plan of installing transit along the Beltline so that years into the future — as Atlanta’ population continues to grow — the city won’t still be using the public transportation system of today.

“We can do better,” Smith said. “We’re now the sixth largest metro in this country. We need to act like it.”

Advocates for Beltline rail, including Michael Fleming, center, rally on the steps of Atlanta City Hall on Friday, March 22, 2024.   (Ben Gray /

Credit: Ben Gray

icon to expand image

Credit: Ben Gray

During an AJC editorial board meeting in February, Dickens agreed that he had supported the idea of transit along the Beltline in the past, but has a few questions before the entire project moves forward.

“I have always been supportive of some transit on the Beltline, but I’m also sober and aware enough to know that our 20-year vision from when Ryan Gravel and company came up with it, now 20 years later, we’ve got to look at how real is it?” he said.

Dickens said he tasked Beltline leadership to look into things like how much it would cost riders, how fast will it move and how many residents are expected to actually utilize it.

“If we find that that’s not viable, (there’s) no reason to build something that’s not going to be used,” Dickens told the AJC.

When asked for a comment on Friday’s rally, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office offered the short statement: “The mayor is excited by all the interest in transit.”

Better Atlanta Transit, an opposition group, has also upped pressure on elected officials to revisit the project.

At the Trolley Barn in Inman Park earlier this month, hundreds gathered to express their views on Beltline rail along with prominent Atlanta leaders like Former Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Members of the Inman Park community gather for a panel discussion about transportation on The Beltline at The Trolley Barn in Atlanta on Monday, March 11, 2024. (Natrice Miller/

icon to expand image

Prominent members of the development community such as Matt Bronfman, CEO of Jamestown which owns Ponce City Market, have also started speaking out against Beltline rail. Bronfman, along with former Atlanta Housing Authority President Renee Glover, penned a recent op-ed in the AJC opposed to the idea.

Still, some Atlanta residents who live near the Beltline and want to see a transit option along the trail system argue that the cost and long timeline for full construction of rail is with future generations in mind.

Callum Godwin and his wife Kristen Koehnemann — a member of the West End Neighborhood Transit Committee — brought a special guest to the rally with them on Friday: their 4-month-old son Curtis.

“We need to build Beltline rail,” Godwin said. “We need to do it to reduce pollution and for the environment, we need to do it to connect Atlanta better and we need to do it for the future of younger (Atlanta residents), like young Curtis here.”