Inside City Hall: Council member questions Beltline rail

A weekly roundup of the most important things you need to know about Atlanta City Hall.
Atlanta leaders are pushing for a light rail along the city's 22-mile trail system that connects dozens of intown Atlanta neighborhoods.

Credit: Courtesy of the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc

Credit: Courtesy of the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc

Atlanta leaders are pushing for a light rail along the city's 22-mile trail system that connects dozens of intown Atlanta neighborhoods.

Debate over whether to install light rail along Atlanta’s beloved Beltline is expected to be one of the city’s biggest battles as BeltLine and MARTA officials say they aren’t backing down from the idea.

Others, including a new community group known as Better Atlanta Transit, are adamantly opposed to the idea and are raising an array of concerns — from safety to environmental, cost to traffic.

The topic is starting to reveal doubt surrounding the plan among some members of city council who think light rail may need to be reconsidered as the best option.

In a Q&A published by Better Atlanta Transit, Council member Marci Collier Overstreet said she believes the city should finish paving the entire loop before embarking on any new construction.

“Then, we can evaluate what kind of transit, if any, should go on the Beltline,” she said in the article. “Rail may be an option, but I’ve not seen a clear path forward, with many unanswered questions remaining.”

Overstreet went on to say she has equity concerns with the prioritization of transportation projects throughout the city — nothing that her district in southwest Atlanta does not connect with the Beltline.

“Since 2018, I have asked the Beltline to create a trail to connect the Beltline for my constituents,” she said. “However, despite repeated promises nothing has been done, not even a Beltline spur to District 11.”

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Speaking of the Beltline, a proposal passed City Council last week that cracks down on new development in an attempt to limit vehicle traffic around the city’s 22-mile trail loop.

A group of bills sponsored by Council member Jason Dozier make a variety of zoning restrictions to the aeras surrounding the Beltline, including eliminating parking requirements for developers of residential, retail or office projects.

The legislation also prohibits building new drive-through restaurants and gas stations within a half-mile.

Dozier said that the restrictions — which were passed unanimously — are part of an effort to increase pedestrian safety around the recreational hotspot.

“More to the point, 14 pedestrians were killed in crashes within the Beltline overlay since 2015 — but 8 of those crashes occurred in just the last two years,” Dozier said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “So there’s urgency here, especially as the center of gravity for Beltline development shifts to Black neighborhoods.”

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City Council also passed a resolution urging the Georgia General Assembly to limit the use of song lyrics as evidence in criminal trials. Council member Antonio Lewis introduced the legislation amid the high-profile Young Thug case in which a Fulton County judge is allowing prosecutors to use rap lyrics as evidence on sweeping racketeering charges.

Lewis initially proposed the bill specifically for rap lyrics, but council extended it to all genres.

“(We) continue to say Atlanta influences everything — we got that because of rap,” Lewis said last week. “Because we’re telling the story of the city.”

The legislation passed in an 11-2 vote, with both Council members Mary Norwood and Howard Shook voting against it. Shook expressed concern about lawmakers inserting themselves into court decisions like what evidence a jury can be show in a case.

“We have the trial going on right now,” Norwood said. “We have had unbelievable public concern about safety in the city, and we’ve gone to great, strong links to try to make the city not only safer, but feel safer.

“(This) is in an arena that is right now being litigated. So I am not going to be supporting it for that reason,” Norwood said.

One important thing to remember is that resolutions passed by Atlanta City Council hold no actual legislative power and are often used to express a position of the body on a certain issue, or pressure other elected officials to take action.

“It doesn’t have an impact,” pointed out Council member Amir Farokhi. “We’re just asking legislature to consider it and they tend to ignore what we say anyway.”

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Got tips, tricks or just want to say hello? Email me at riley.bunch@ajc.com.

 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's City Hall reporter Riley Bunch poses for a photograph outside of the Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, Feb 23, 2023
Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

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