— ATLANTA (AP) — Since a new urban trail opened last month in an old rail corridor in Atlanta, it has drawn a steady stream of joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists to take in spectacular views of the skyline and neighborhoods once seen only by train. Hundreds of trees have been planted along the paved 14-foot-wide path, while artists have added works such as windmills made of bicycle parts and colorful murals on concrete overpasses.
The path, known as the Eastside Trail, is part of a $2.8 billion plan to transform a 22-mile railroad corridor that encircles Atlanta into a network of trails, parks, affordable homes and ultimately streetcar lines. The Atlanta BeltLine is an example of rails-to-trails projects going on around the country, including in New York and Chicago, that aim to make better use of old rail corridors by creating better-connected and more livable urban areas, providing alternatives to car travel and spurring economic development.
"I think it's transformational," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said. "The new section is already overused in terms of the people. ... Now folks are demanding more and more."
Advocates say the BeltLine has great promise for a city that was founded as a railroad crossroads before the Civil War and later became a poster child for suburban sprawl and highway gridlock.
"The perception of Atlanta as 100 percent dependent on the car has really started to change," said Ed McMahon, senior residence fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington. He cited recent efforts to create bike paths and the planned BeltLine, which he said would be the "first bicycle beltway."
Atlanta's focus on light rail alongside the planned trails is also unique, he added.
More than 1,600 abandoned or unused rail corridors nationwide have been converted to trails, which totaled more than 19,000 miles in 2012.