The founder of the Atlanta BeltLine is urging people to try other trails if they can amid concerns of crowding and lack of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Need to get out and love the @AtlantaBeltLine?” asked Ryan Gravel, the urban planner who conceived of the park and trail system, in an April 5 Twitter post. “Awesome — but hey, during this global, highly-contagious pandemic COVID19 please create space by exploring other trails; leave [the BeltLine] for people who live on it and for those who rely on it for transportation.”
He suggested several alternatives and led followers in seeking more recommendations. Among Gravel’s were: Freedom Park/Stone Mountain Trail, Proctor Creek Greenway, Lionel Hampton Trail, Southwest Beltline Connector, Silver Comet Trail, South River Trail, South Fork Peachtree Creek trails, North Fork Greenway, Arabia Mountain Path, Peachtree Battle Trail and the Southtowne Trail.
Crowds and gatherings in city parks and particularly on the BeltLine have been an ongoing concern and source of complaints. A shelter-in-place order from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms exempted the BeltLine, which she maintained despite complaints; and a recent state shelter-in-place order that replaced such local versions is generally less restrictive. However, the state order maintains a requirement that people remain at least 6 feet away from others in public.
In an email, Gravel said that in his experience, the distancing on the BeltLine has improved in the last week or so. “It seems safer than the city’s narrow sidewalks. People just need to space themselves out and keep moving,” he said.
Gravel also commented on what the pandemic means for urban planning and the BeltLine in a recent blog post at ryangravel.com.
“The fact that it’s so congested, even during a global pandemic, illustrates a pent-up demand for a public realm that is designed for our increasingly crowded urban life,” he wrote. “We need to finish the BelLline, of course, but we also need more public spaces – more and wider sidewalks and massive new regional parks where we can really get away from each other.
“…We know intuitively that investing in an infrastructure of wide open spaces will come with significant costs – but also with multiple benefits,” he wrote in conclusion. “In addition to making us stronger and more resilient, those open spaces will also make our city the kind of place we want to live. The need to physically distance ourselves from each other is essential during COVID19, but it’s also just a good metric for designing the cities we love.”
Update: This post has been updated with comment from Gravel.