I joined a family excursion Sunday to the Atlanta Beltline's Eastern trail, crowded with walkers, bikers and skateboarders enjoying the sunshine and pleasant temperature.
That morning, I'd read two pieces in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offering competing visions for transit along the former rail corridor circling the city.
Beltline originator Ryan Gravel spoke for completing his original vision of light rail along the entire 22-mile Beltline. Gravel took issue with MARTA making a rail line to Emory and the CDC along Clifton Road its priority under a spending plan for a half-cent sales tax approved by city voters. Under the plan, MARTA would build seven miles of Beltline rail rather than the entire loop.
A piece by Eric Tanenblatt, a GOP activist now head of international policy for the mega law firm Denton's, called for "autonomous shuttles" instead of light rail along the Beltline. Reading the piece, I wondered what hidden agenda Tanenblatt was pushing. Denton's probably represents auto companies seeking to develop driverless electric cars. Right-wing Republicans like Tanenblatt vehemently oppose rail, not wanting to spend government money for services that help the average person.
Thinking about the articles as I walked the Beltline, I wondered how each would work.
Tanenblatt's plan is totally impractical. The trail is not wide enough to accommodate the driverless electric vehicles he calls for. Already, the trail is too narrow for the different activities trail users enjoy. Even the small vehicles Tanenblatt foresees would threaten the safety of bikers and walkers, if they would have any space left. Widening the trail would be expensive, countering Tanenblatt's claim that his plan would be more economical than rail.
While I support light rail for the Beltline, I also wondered how this could be done unless the trail is significantly widened. The leader of a Beltline walking tour we took several years ago stated that the trail was built to accommodate eventual light rail. But there doesn't seem to be enough space for a rail line, unless more concrete is added along the sides.
No matter how it's accomplished, the 22-mile rail system along the Beltline will transform the city's future. The trail Sunday was full of small children riding bikes with their parents. I hope those youngsters see Gravel's full vision realized.