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Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Sequesters approximately 24.5 tons of carbon annually in 659 new trees.

Social

  • Attracts an average of 3,000 trail users each weekday and over 10,000 users each weekend day.
  • Promotes physical activity. 90% of 100 trail users surveyed said that the trail provides them with an active lifestyle benefit. 70% said that they exercise more since the opening of the Eastside Trail.
  • Creates a better sense of community for 94% of the 102 trail users surveyed.
  • Generates funding to support 52 affordable housing units located directly on the Eastside Trail. 15% of net Tax Allocation District bonds are reserved for the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Economic

  • Helps catalyze economic development with more than $638 million in new private real estate investment planned or underway within the portion of the Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD) that surrounds the Eastside Trail.
  • Helped stimulate the creation of public open spaces adjacent to the Eastside Trail, such as the 17.5-acre Historic Fourth Ward Park and the Historic Fourth Ward Skate Park.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Perkins+Will

  • Project Type

    Recreational trail
    Transportation

  • Former Land Use

    Transportation

  • Location

    Eastside Trail
    Atlanta, Georgia 30309

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  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    2.25 mile corridor; 30 acres

  • Budget

    ~$14 million

  • Completion Date

    2012

The Eastside Trail is the first constructed segment of the Atlanta BeltLine, an adaptive reuse of a 22-mile corridor of abandoned railroad right-of-way that once served thriving industry at the city’s interior. The BeltLine will eventually connect 45 neighborhoods through transit, trails, and open space. The Eastside Trail is currently the only built segment of this transformative project, consisting of 2.25 miles of multi-use trails and a future light rail transit line. This segment has catalyzed urban redevelopment along the immediate edges of the trail. The Eastside Trail provides a prime location for exercise and recreation while connecting to existing public spaces, such as Piedmont Park, and new parks developed as part of the Atlanta BeltLine, such as the Historic Fourth Ward Park. It has become a vibrant setting for community building, volunteer activities, sports, and philanthropic events such as charity races and walks. It adds to the cultural value of the City of Atlanta by serving as a venue for public art displays and the local music scene. When the entire Atlanta Beltline is complete by 2030, it will be a comprehensive examplar of transformative, multiphased landscape infrastructure.

  • The 14-ft wide concrete paths feature a sandblasted finish for durability and ease of maintenance. The path width was of major importance to the design team, taking into account the various types of users. The surface needed to be wide enough for walkers/runners, bikers, rollerblades, and the occasional skateboard.
  • The concrete path is strategically located to accommodate the planned alignment of a light rail transit line to be implemented by 2030.
  •  30 acres of landscaped greenway include spaces for public art and a naturalistically designed exercise station.
  • Retaining walls were installed to maintain the width of the corridor for both transit and trails.
  • As a way to keep costs steady and maintenance low, the Eastside Trail features resilient and durable materials such as stainless steel railings and granite retaining walls.
  • Custom wayfinding signage is used throughout to direct users and establish continuity along the corridor.
  • Construction included significant amount of excavation and new infrastructure such as drainage systems and a utility duct bank that will carry power for lighting, as well as current and future utilities that use the corridor.
  • 1,700 tons of contaminated soil were removed from the corridor during site preparation and deposited in a Class I landfill.
  • The site offered very little to salvage and reuse in the project’s design. Concrete debris was recycled and the railroad companies reclaimed most of the steel from the rail tracks, though some was used in sculptures for Art on the BeltLine.
  • More than 100 acres of Kudzu and other invasive species, trash, debris and litter were cleared from within the Eastside Trail corridor in preparation for construction.
  • The Eastside Trail directly connects to neighboring city parks. It passes through two of Atlanta’s largest parks, the 185-acre Piedmont Park and 207-acre Freedom Park, which are now connected as ‘jewels’ in the effort to make the BeltLine an ‘Emerald Necklace’ throughout the city. With recent land acquisition and construction, the new Historic Fourth Ward Park will also have a direct connection to the Eastside Trail.
  • The Eastside Trail is the first phase of the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum, a crucial component of a citywide urban forest restoration effort led by Trees Atlanta. The trail features 17 varieties of magnolias and 32 native oak species. Infill planting continues to reestablish the canopy cover along with preservation of heritage trees.
  • Collaboration efforts between Trees Atlanta and the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. have attracted hundreds of community volunteers to help plant trees.

Challenge

A primary challenge for the development of this project was gaining the public favor and financial support from the City of Atlanta. The unique nature of the BeltLine and its grand, 22-mile scale added to the public’s reluctance about the project during the initial stages of planning and design. This hesitation fueled the development the first segment, the Eastside Trail, to demonstrate the potential of such a comprehensive corridor. The Eastside Trail runs through several neighborhoods of varying socioeconomic conditions, and uncertainty about the impact the trail would have on nearby residents made gaining support a more complicated task. In addition, the varied economic conditions added to the challenge of finding a proper tool to support the project’s financing.

Solution

Outreach was essential to gain public support for the project. Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and its partners engage thousands of community members through meetings, events, the project website, an e-newseltter, and social media. Conversations centered around critical topics, such as transit implementation, environmental justice, and the Atlanta BeltLine Implementation Plan. To finance the Atlanta BeltLine, the City approved feasibility studies to gain support from the private sector and created a Tax Allocation District (TAD) in 2004. This TAD has become a crucial economic tool to address the complex conditions of each individual neighborhood that the BeltLine travels through. The Eastside Trail was funded by a combination of public and private philanthropic sources, includng the Atlanta BeltLine TAD, donations to the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Capital Campaign, the PATH Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente.

At full completion in 2030, the Atlanta BeltLine will connect 45 neighborhoods, provide first and last mile connectivity for regional transportation and offer new trails, green space, housing, and art to the Atlanta community. Key elements include:

  • 22 miles of pedestrian friendly rail transit
  • 33 miles of multi-use trails
  • 1,000 acres of new or renovated parks
  • 300 acres of open space
  • 5,600 units of affordable housing
  • 1,100 acres of brownfields remediated
  • Public art and historic preservation

Support for the Atlanta BeltLine began under the leadership of architect and urban designer Ryan Gravel, whose 1999 graduate thesis first proposed the BeltLine concept, and former City Council President Cathy Woolard. They started a non-profit organization called Friends of the BeltLine to reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods. Community meetings helped capture the interest of the public as well as city officials. The nonprofit Atlanta BeltLine Partnership was established in 2005 to galvanize private sector and citizen support, and in 2006, after multiple feasibility studies, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. was formed to oversee the planning and execution of the Atlanta BeltLine vision.

The project will be funded through a mix of public and private sources including the Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD), the City of Atlanta, private investment, philanthropic contributions, grants, and public-private partnerships. 15% of net TAD bonds are reserved for the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund. to date, $8.8 million has been capitalized in this fund, administered by Invest Atlanta to help mitigate involuntary displacement.

The success of the Eastside Trail, the first completed segment, proved to be a great boon for the City and Beltline proponents, adding to the support for the remainder of the BeltLine. Volunteers participating in the Atlanta BeltLine Ambassador’s program facilitate the collection of ongoing feedback regarding the project’s development and engagement between the Atlanta BeltLine and its constituent communities.

Phased planning and construction of the Beltline continues following the 2030 Strategic Implementation Plan. Numerous activities such as volunteer projects, educational programs, concerts, and athletic events (races and bike tours) continue to engage the community and encourage people to believe in the benefits that the completed BeltLine can provide to the citizens of Atlanta.

  • The construction of the Atlanta BeltLine requires important investments to assure the quality and durability of materials as a standard throughout all phases. For the Eastside Trail, an important cost decision was made in relation to the stone cladding that protects and gives aesthetic appeal to the path’s retaining walls. For consistency, this cladding was specified for the entirety of the Atlanta BeltLine. The initial bidding documents called for 1.25-in stone cladding for vertical surfaces with 4-in capstones at an approximate cost of $833,500. The final decision included the use of 3-in stone cladding for vertical surfaces and 4-in capstones at an approximate total cost of $945,600. Despite the $112,000 cost increase, the investment in thicker stone cladding was necessary given the size and nature of the project. Higher quality materials have a longer lifespan and reduce the need and expense for maintenance over time.
  • During the construction process, the team was faced with an unexpected expense due to the failure of a steep slope in the immediate vicinity of the trail. The area of disturbance was along a small portion of the Eastside Trail and led to a landslide that affected a business, filling it with mud up to the first level. The issue was resolved, but it has led to a more careful survey of soil surrounding the trail that may be affected by heavy equipment used on site.
  • As city regulations become more receptive to sustainable practices, a long-term phased project can expect to see shifts in design and construction practices to meet the changing regulations. The Eastside Trail stormwater infrastructure was constructed and implemented under a previous code that has since changed. The remaining phases will be built to address the newer codes. One such example is a Runoff Reduction requirement that requires sites to capture the first 1 in of stormwater runoff and infiltrate, evapotranspirate, or reuse it onsite. This replaces the previous Water Quality (WQ) requirement of capturing 1.2 in of runoff and removing 80% of total suspended soils (TSS).
  • It is important to consider the time it takes for the permitting process – as the scale and complexity of a project increases, so does the time required for permitting and documentation. On the Eastside Trail project, additional permitting was required during the renovation of an existing bridge. The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) required crews to close off a highly utilized road, which then needed additional permitting. This change caused a major setback in the construction schedule, which was ultimately reflected in the budget.
  • One of the most challenging aspects of the Eastside Trail was its industrial past. Excavation of historical sites can deliver many unknowns, including buried objects. Lack of proper documentation and incomplete information from the preliminary surveys led to excavations that uncovered unmarked and unpermitted utilities, sewage facilities, and walls, along with an additional layer of contaminated soil. These unexpected items incurred an additional cost of $120,000. Contingency plans should be a consideration for historical sites.

Stainless Streel Cable Mesh: X-TEND mesh by Carl Stahl DecorCable
Granite: Elberton Granite in split face, thermal, and honed finishes
Decorative Concrete: Chromix Admixture (Landmarks Gray) by L.M. Scofield Company
Expanded Aluminum: Niles Expanded Metals
Custom Safety Rail: A&R Welding Co, Inc

Plants:
Baker Environmental
Bold Springs Nursery
Cleveland Trees 
Dorsey Farm
Mid-Georgia Nursery
Moon’s Tree Farm
Rock Springs Nursery
Select Trees
Shady Grove Nursery 
Summershade Growing Trees
Superior Trees 

Project Team

Client: City of Atlanta 
Atlanta Beltline Partners: The City of Atlanta, TAD Partners, Invest Atlanta, Marta, GDOT, Atlanta Regional Commission, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation, PATH Foundation, Trees Atlanta, The Trust for Public Land, Park Pride, The Atlanta BeltLIne Capital Campaign 
Landscape Architect: Perkins+Will
Typology Consultant: James Corner Field Operations 
Prime Consultant and Lead Engineer: MACTEC 
Engineering and Surveying: B&E Jackson and Associates Roadway; Street Smarts 
Surveying: Agility Surveying Company, Inc. 
Streetscape Civil Engineering: Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. 
Transit Engineering: HDR, Inc. 
Supporting Landscape Architect: Ecos Environmental Design, Inc. 
Ecologist: Biohabitats, Inc. 
Preservation Architect: Lord Aeck Sargent Architecture, Inc. 
Cultural Historian: Morrison Design LLC 
Economics and Operations Strategy: HR&A Advisors, Inc. 
Sustainability Engineering: Buro Happold 
Lighting Design: Leni Schwendinger Light Projects, Ltd. 
Public Art Consulting: Danielle Roney, LLC 
Cost Estimator: Costing Services Group, Inc. 
Community Engagement Consulting: Panache Communications 
Public Realm Observations and Measurements Consultant: BCN Investment, Inc. 

Role of the Landscape Architect

For the East Side Trail, landscape architects served in two different roles, supported by two entities. Landscape architects at Perkins+Will served as third-party design consultants, leading the design team and establishing the design direction for this first phase of the Atlanta BeltLine. The Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. also provided a landscape architect to serve as project manager in charge of construction administration and post-construction oversight of the trail corridor.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Brad Collett, ASLA, RLA, LEED AP, Assistant Professor of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville 
Research Assistant: Angelike G. Angelopoulos, MLA Candidate, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Research Assistant: Luis D. Venegas, MLA Candidate, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Firm Liaison: Valdis Zusmanis, Senior Project Manager, Perkins + Will   
August 2014 

Topics

Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Recreational & social value, Health & well-being, Access & equity, Economic development, Reused/recycled materials, Trail, Trees, Active living, Placemaking, Play, Social equity

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