The Roswell Loop... A Project We Should Get Behind

This is an enhanced cross-post from my montly column, Community Design Matters, in The Current.  There may be some editorial differences.

I brought this up last month and wanted to expand on it. From what I can tell,much of Roswell is completely unaware of the Roswell Loop. It’s time to change that. Imagine a project that would completely transform the way our city gets around, a project that would change the way you connect with your neighbors, a project that would spur significant economic development. Imagine feeling comfortable letting your kids ride their bike a couple subdivisions over because they can get on a trail through neighborhoods instead of having to ride their bikes out to a main road to get to a friend’s house. Imagine being able to commute to work by bike without risking your life while choking on exhaust. Imagine safely riding your bike to get somewhere where you can safely ride your bike instead of driving your car to get to that place where you can safely ride your bike.  Novel idea...

The Roswell Loop makes all of this possible. It was hatched back in 2006 as part of a brainstorming session with the city and a consultant. The idea was to create an innovative solution to connecting our schools, parks and neighborhoods. It grew some legs and actually made it into our Transportation Master Plan. As an interconnected series of five loops that create a larger loop through our city, it would link our parks, schools, neighborhoods, natural amenities and historic center together to form a safe network of connectivity. It would also tie in with other trail networks like the Big Creek Greenway and Lower Roswell Rd Trail leading into Cobb County.

With a commitment and evidence of investment, developers would begin to develop along the trail network unlocking value in areas of the city that are stagnant. We have a number of examples of extremely popular multi-use trails around the region that have done just that. The PATH Foundation has been working to build these trails in the region for 20 years. They have built over 160 miles of trails to date. Many of these trails are nothing short of amazing. Adjacent neighborhoods and businesses use these trails as amenities and the trails themselves encourage development.

Think of the Big Creek Greenway, Silver Comet Trail or the Stone MountainTrail. These are all fantastic trails but most people, even those who live near them, still have to drive to get there. The Loop would enable people to ride or walk to the trail instead of hopping in a car to get there. Perhaps the most transformative trail in the region is the newly opened Beltline Eastside Trail that stretches from Piedmont Park to to just south of Inman Park in Atlanta. It is ar elatively short stretch at almost 2.5 miles but it connects a number of amenities and neighborhoods in a way no one in Atlanta would have imagined ten years ago.

In the past seven years, there has been more than $775 million in private investment within half a mile of the new trail. Visiting the trail on a weekend, it’s obvious why businesses that back up to the old deserted railroad tracks are now working to open new entrances to front the trail. Check out this time-lapse video from the Streets Alive event in October.  This was a week before it's offical opening.

Just eight weeks after it's official opening, the Woodruff Foundation committed $3M to extend the path further south.  The trail has created instant value in the form of a useful alternative route by foot or bike and given adjacent businesses additional visibility from passers by that are much more likely to stop by serendipitously than a car would be. Recent studies have actually shown that bicycle commuters tend to spend more when they visit local stores. It’s all starting to make sense.

So, back to this Roswell Loop idea. How do we make it a reality? First, according to Roswell DOT, we actually have about 15% of it in place. Those are parts of Old Alabama Rd, Willeo Rd, Azalea/Riverside Rd and Mimosa Blvd along with another two miles that are in design that should be completed in the next couple of years. In order to complete the remaining 85%, there are a couple of things we should do.

First, following the Beltline model, we should identify the segments that would see the most traffic and start those ASAP. We should consider offering incentives to developers who are interested in building along the trail as well as property tax incentives to residents who want to open up their property lines to create trail connections with neighboring subdivisions. We should market this project and get the Downtown Development Authority involved and consider bringing in partner organizations like the PATH Foundation. Additionally, the city should commit to the project by creating an official Pedestrian and Bicycle planand budget accordingly.

Finally, the loop should be branded and we should label the trails that already are in place. This network would increase quality of life by making the city easier to get around for all our citizens not just those who are fortunate enough to be able to drive. It would make Roswell more desirable to potential residents and business and we could become a model for suburban connectivity.