Cabbagetown resident Nicki Mlynski meets with city representatives at the Boulevard tunnel.

By Collin Kelley
INtown Editor

One of Nicki Mlynski’s New Year’s resolutions for 2013 was to find a way to give back to the Cabbagetown community she has called home since 2007.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mlynski sent an email for a proposed project to a “myriad of people” including friends, colleagues, Atlanta City Councilmembers and other stakeholders in the community. Her goal: clean up the Boulevard tunnel that runs underneath DeKalb Avenue, the CSX railway and MARTA tracks.

“I was doing my emergency room residency training at Grady Hospital, so I used to ride my bike through tunnel,” Mlynski said. “I would come home at night and it just wasn’t safe.”

The elevated tunnel walkway and the stairwells that lead up to Boulevard have long been a haven for the homeless, drug users, prostitutes plying their trade and as a public toilet.

“The tunnel is the gateway between Cabbagetown and the Old Fourth Ward,” she said. “It was just a sad sight to see day after day.”

Mlynski said the response to her email was almost immediate, and the City of Atlanta was eager to get involved. In February, a roundtable discussion was attended by the city’s graffiti taskforce, Councilmembers Kwanza Hall and Natalyn Archibong, representatives from the public works and cultural affairs offices and Cabbagetown residents. “Everyone was excited and it really took off from there,” Mlynski noted.

The Boulevard Tunnel Initiative has already partnered with Kwanza Hall’s “Year of Boulevard” project to clean up the thoroughfare. A community cleanup event in the spring saw volunteers painting over graffiti, weeding and picking up trash, but Mlynski said there is now a three-phase plan on the table for more significant improvements.

The public works department produced a five-page report on improvements that could be handled by the city, including more (and brighter) lights in the tunnel and replacing the rusted, broken or missing guardrails along the pedestrian walkways. By the time you’re reading this, Mlynski hopes the new guardrails will be in place. At press time, she was meeting with Archibong and the public works office to finalize the new lighting. That would take care of phase one.

Phase 2 centers on beautifying the tunnel, and stakeholders agreed a mural similar to the ones along DeKalb Avenue and its tunnels would make for a great public art piece. Mlynski said the mural design would have to be approved by the city and neighborhoods before it is painted. It will cost about $20,000 (including the application of an “anti-graffiti” coating, and donations from the community will be accepted as the initiative progresses.

Volunteers clean up the Boulevard Tunnel.

The third phase of the plan is still a bit nebulous, Mlynski said, because it involves sustainability of the tunnel once it is renovated. “Who will be responsible is a sticking point, because no one is willing to claim the tunnel,” she said.

CSX has said the tunnel is not their responsibility, while the City of Atlanta is wiling to maintain the sidewalks, but said Boulevard is a county road and should be maintained by Fulton County. Mlynski said she would like to see a joint collaboration between residents and businesses of Cabbagetown and the Old Fourth Ward to help maintain the tunnel similar to a street adoption program.

Mlynski said the Boulevard Tunnel Initiative is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization and will soon solicit donations from the public to help with the mural and ongoing sustainability efforts.

To keep up with the group’s progress, visit the website at blvdtunl.com or find the Boulevard Tunnel Initiative on Facebook.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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