Opinion: Climb aboard the Beltline rail plan

Transit can relieve the congestion on our streets and the attendant frustrations that accompany it.
Advocates for Beltline rail, including Michael Fleming, center, rally March 22 on the steps of Atlanta City Hall. (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

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

The promise of four new MARTA heavy rail infill stations, one of which is at Krog Street/Hulsey Yard, is a big boost to the long-term vision codified in the Hulsey Yard Master Plan released in the fall 2019. It’s vital that we get this right by moving full-speed ahead with light rail on the BeltLine to connect the dots and relieve our traffic-choked neighborhood streets.

Indeed, BeltLine light rail would provide a series of “in-fill” stations, allowing people to move about the city outside of vehicle traffic corridors, making our city more livable for all.

In the spring and summer of 2019, I joined representatives from the four neighborhoods adjacent to the CSX Hulsey Yard Intermodal facility south of Dekalb Avenue to develop a proactive, community-led master plan for the sweeping 70-acre parcel nestled in some of the hottest real estate on the east side, should the yard be decommissioned and available for development. The neighborhoods of Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, Inman Park and Old Fourth Ward raised the money to hire Lord Aeck Sargent to conduct public input sessions and develop a plan that would give the city and would-be developers a blueprint for what the neighborhoods would be most likely to support.

An in-fill station at Krog was included in all three final framework plans for the site.

Additionally, north-south connectivity through the site was a top priority, as the existing north-south connections are congested and limiting for folks on both sides of Dekalb Avenue. In fact, four of the 11 Hulsey Redevelopment Fundamentals distilled from the extensive public input process are: integrate with MARTA; preserve the BeltLine corridor; advance BeltLine rail; and connect new streets to Dekalb Avenue.

The pieces for transit-oriented development (TOD) are all here for the eventual transformation of the east side, and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’s announcement last month fits nicely with this vision.

Brandon Sutton.

Credit: Kelly Kline

icon to expand image

Credit: Kelly Kline

Anyone who has been in or around the Krog tunnel lately can undoubtedly relate to the frustrating traffic congestion that continues to increase as development along the BeltLine corridor and south of Interstate 20 progresses. It’s not uncommon for drivers to sit in their cars for 10 minutes or more just waiting to enter the tunnel and cross under Dekalb Avenue or to pass Krog street heading east or west on Dekalb Avenue. Those idling cars contribute to air pollution, an ongoing challenge for the mayor’s office of Sustainability and Resilience as it seeks to achieve the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Transit investment and TOD are major levers to pull for realizing these ambitious goals, which makes sites such as Hulsey Yard so important to get right.

Traffic-clogged neighborhood streets are also less safe for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s not uncommon for drivers to race through narrow streets only to find themselves sitting again at the next intersection. Congestion breeds frustration, and frustration can easily lead to crashes. Thankfully, there is another way. Transit can relieve the congestion on our streets and the attendant frustrations that accompany it.

Regardless of how one slices it, we need viable alternatives to car dependency if we’re ever going to build a place that resembles the “Beloved Community” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. promoted more than a half century ago. Committing to a MARTA station at Krog/Hulsey is a big step toward the planned transformation of the community that isn’t beholden to car-centric development. Further, connecting this site via Beltline light rail unlocks a crucial north-south artery that links neighborhoods on the southeast and southwest sides of the city with the northeast side, where development continues to expand. It’s conceivable to imagine folks living along the entire Beltline corridor and functioning just fine without a car, helping to make life in Atlanta more affordable and promoting a sense of togetherness.

As the city moves forward with updating the Comprehensive Development Plan this year, I’m hopeful the community-led work that was done in 2019 will continue to provide a basis for planning for future development throughout the city. The planning department is listening, so now is the time to speak up.

Dickens has set us on course to prioritize BeltLine connectivity with the four new infill MARTA stations. Now we need to finish the job of putting transit on the BeltLine so the promises made that sparked the growth we see all around us can be delivered.

Brandon Sutton, an Atlanta native, is president of Cabbagetown Initiative Community Development Corp. He previously served on the Hulsey Yard Study Committee representing the Stacks Lofts and Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts.