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Freedom Park Trail to Come Out of the Dark Ages

Following months of complaints and stepped up pressure from Old Fourth Ward residents about 35 broken street lights, change finally comes.

Every morning and afternoon, you'll find Brad Smith walking his dog, Lady, along the Freedom Park Trail in Old Fourth Ward.

The trail, which connects to Freedom Park in the Candler Park neighborhood, is popular with Smith, as it is with other dog owners, cyclists and walkers and runners.

The problem is that many of the light posts that run along the Freedom Park Trail and on Freedom Parkway itself don't work.

The trail threads from the Butler Street and Bedford Pine communities through Old Fourth Ward and Poncey-Highland and on to Candler Park.

And with the recent end of Daylight Savings Time, it gets darker earlier, making walking, cycling or jogging less appealing.

"I'd be happier if it were lit up," Smith said.

Lamar Harden, a Midtown resident who sometimes rides his bike on the trail, echoed those sentiments.

"It is a little dangerous because of the beggars and the addicts," whom Harden said can be seen wandering the trail or hanging out on the grassy patches along Freedom Parkway.

Parks officials, who have heard complaints from Freedom Park Trail users and Old Fourth Ward residents, say the lights have been on their to-do list for quite some time.

“City of Atlanta’s Office of Parks has purview over approximately 35 poles on the west end of Freedom Park," Doug Voss, the city's parks director, told East Atlanta Patch. He added the repairs began Tuesday.

“Freedom Park as well as over 30 other park sites have lost lighting due to copper theft and vandalism over the last year alone."

The copper wiring is being replaced with aluminum and the wiring is being relocated to the top of the poles. Parks officials say they will seal the light post base plates, which were the thieves' entrance points, to make it harder to break into them.

"I am glad to hear that the Parks Department is about to replace the copper wiring on these lights with aluminum wiring," Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, whose district includes the Freedom Park Trail, said.

"For the long term, I hope that we will explore solar and other alternatives that do not rely on wiring. I also look forward to the day when the Freedom Park Conservancy has the capacity to become a full partner with the City on quality of life issues along the Trail, as was the original vision for Freedom Park.

"In city parks where there is a robust and well funded conservancy, issues like this can be resolved within a matter of days."

The Freedom Park Conservancy says it hasn't been for lack of trying.

The group has received at least 50 lighting-related complaints in addition to the letters and e-mails sent directly to parks department officials and Hall.

"We regularly contact the departments in charge of the lights and request maintenance," Billy Davis, a member of the Freedom Park Conservancy's Park Improvement Committee, told Patch, adding the conservancy had reached out to parks officials the Georgia Department of Transportation and the city's public works department.

"The lights are the property and responsibility of the Atlanta Department of Parks, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Atlanta Department of Public Works. The Conservancy must rely on these entities to properly maintain the equipment," Davis said.

"In this case, the city has been slow to respond because of the expense of the project and the necessity of designing a lighting system which will prevent future copper theft."

The light posts have been a problem for years. Bridget A. Wynn, an Old Fourth Ward resident, reported that the trail lights near her home haven't been functional for the five years that she's lived there.

A neighbor, she said, recounted that they hadn't worked for 10 years.

The lack of lighting and what that meant for safety was a concern raised by several Candler Park residents at the June meeting of the Candler Park Neighborhood Organization.

Meanwhile, the Conservancy has held volunteer events to trim trees and underbrush to eliminate any potential "hiding spots" along the trail to discourage urban camping and other criminal activity, Davis said.

Some residents in the Old Fourth Ward also stepped up pressure on the city in recent weeks to get the lights repaired.

"With the days becoming shorter, this issue has become more important as safety is a larger concern for the commuters and runners in these heavily used areas in the mornings and evenings," Old Fourth Ward resident Doug Shipman wrote in a letter he sent to Voss late last month.

He noted that with the daylight hours now shorter and the opening of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, which crosses the Freedom Park Trail, "it is an urgent need to repair these lights for public safety reasons."

The BeltLine itself has raised concerns from residents, too, who have expressed concern about lighting and security along the Eastside Trail.

Lighting on the BeltLine will be installed in the next phase of development and the timing is contingent on funding, spokesman Ethan Davidson told Patch.

The initial construction phase included the infrastructure to install lighting, he said. Going to the next phase is an issue of funding, he said.

In the meantime, the Atlanta Police Department is creating a BeltLine unit of 15 officers who will be focused on that alone.

Doug Shipman November 08, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I wonder if the repairs include the lighting under the bridge that crosses over the Beltline? All of the lights are out on both sides there as well?
johnk November 09, 2012 at 05:41 PM
How about some lights in the Candler Park section please?
Tim Smith November 30, 2012 at 03:18 PM
any updates on progress? The lights from Boulevard to North Highland are completely non working at night. all of them...
Péralte Paul November 30, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Hi, Tim: some lights have been brought back online. I'm checking to see when the rest are expected to be completed.
Tim Smith December 06, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Thanks, looking forward to hearing about that! My son used to ride his bike along the parkway from soccer practice, but as it got darker earlier, and the trail had literally no working lights, we've had to make other arrangements.

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