TAMPA — A graduate student’s master thesis became the seed of an ambitious project to turn an abandoned Atlanta railroad loop into a “beltline” for streetcars, multi-use trails, parks and greenways.
Tampa is planning a project — the Green ARTery Perimeter Trail — that is similar to the Atlanta BeltLine. The idea is for it to encircle much of the city, linking more than 20 Tampa neighborhoods in a network of trails, parks and natural areas.
The Atlanta and Tampa projects began as grassroots movements.
“The public really loved the idea and vision,” said Ryan Gravel, the Georgia Tech student who wrote his master’s thesis on the topic in 1999. “They bought into the project themselves. They are demanding that it happen. They want it to happen.”
Gravel works for the firm Perkins + Will as senior urban designer for the Atlanta Beltline. On Sept. 28 he will speak at a dinner at the Seminole Heights Garden Center that will cap a day-long celebration of the Green ARTery. It will be the second annual “neighborhood celebration” for the volunteer group, which is a coalition of neighborhoods dedicated to creating a citywide network of paths, parks, trails and natural corridors.
The coalition was founded more than two years ago by community activists Lena Young-Green of Tampa Heights and Myron Griffin of Seminole Heights.
Festivities for the annual celebration kick off at 8 a.m. at Fair Oaks Community Center. There will be a children’s bicycle rodeo, walking and bicycling safety clinics, helmet raffles, games and gifts.
People may walk or ride along the perimeter trail, leaving from four locations: Fair Oaks; Sulphur Springs pool; Rivercrest Park and Desoto Park.
Maps will be available at each starting point; special routes are available for people in wheelchairs.
The perimeter trail has been endorsed as part of the city’s long-range plan to improve transportation and increase safety for walkers and bicyclists. The trail generally follows a large loop through downtown, Ybor City, the shoreline of McKay Bay, Palmetto Beach, the downtown Riverwalk, Tampa Heights, Ybor Heights, Seminole Heights, Riverside Heights, Live Oaks Square, the Rogers Park area, the Channel District and the Encore site.
“We’re just excited about the whole project,” said Rhonda Triplett-Coleman, Green ARTery’s media and communications director.
The group gathered ideas from residents and suggested trail routes during more than two years of neighborhood meetings and workshops. “We need money,” said Triplett-Coleman, and with the trail mapped out the next step is identifying costs and resources.
Atlanta’s BeltLine follows more than 22 miles of historical, abandoned rail lines encircling downtown. Its goal is to connect more than 45 inner-city neighborhoods through transit and more than 30 miles of trails. The project also includes affordable housing, cleanup of brownfields, public art and historic preservation.
Four BeltLine segments and new parks have opened within the past five years. More segments are planned or under construction. The project includes streetcars that link to metropolitan Atlanta’s public transit service, known as MARTA.
The old railroad corridor dates back 100 years. Growing up, Gravel said, he always was aware of it. “I’m a planner and architect. I like old places,” he said.
When searching for potential thesis topics, he saw the tracks as an opportunity to revitalize core neighborhoods in downtown Atlanta.
His idea launched a grass-roots movement and the formation of the group Friends of the BeltLine. With people so passionate about the project, Gravel said, elected officials and municipal agencies were persuaded that the BeltLine could become a reality.
“It spurs on economic redevelopment,” he said. “It also stabilizes communities along the way.”
The BeltLine remains a work-in-progress, Gravel said, but “The project has a sense of inevitability.”