A Re-Developed Summerhill Welcomes Atlanta’s First Bus Rapid Transit Route

On Wednesday, October 18th, the Council’s Emerging Leaders Initiative gathered in Summerhill, Atlanta to discuss the neighborhood’s bright future. The meeting provided an important overview of Carter’s vision for development and MARTA’s new bus rapid transit route, the first dedicated bus lane in the Atlanta region.

Redeveloping Summerhill

The oldest neighborhood in Atlanta, Summerhill was once a thriving trade community that connected east and west via street cars on Georgia Avenue. It was during the 20th century automobile revolution, however, that road construction sliced through these communities and stadium development filled Summerhill with vast parking lots.

Adam Parker, Vice President at Carter, made it a point during his presentation to address the neighborhood’s history. He referenced an article by the Atlanta magazine, “The Other 284 Days,” that discusses Turner Field’s negative impact on Summerhill residents. He contrasted photos of a once-thriving Georgia Avenue with photos of the street’s dilapidated stores just ten years ago. Parker’s presentation then carried this context into the story of Carter’s vision.

Carter “listened to the neighborhood,” said Parker, and has built out its development with residents at front of mind. The project started with a Georgia State dorm and retail buildings. Carter then brought in stores and restaurants that achieved a diversity of price-points and menus attractive to the neighborhood. Many of Summerhill’s older buildings have also been preserved and built into rather than torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, which is the cheaper option. Even 565 Hank, a new apartment building across from the former Turner Field (now GSU football), was designed to resemble a warehouse from 60-70 years ago, Parker said.

The Carter team showed great pride in how they approached the project, which has done great things for Summerhill thus far. A Publix recently opened. Apartments, bars, and restaurants are bringing in young crowds. Since the project began, 750 jobs have come to the area and over 25% of them live within a mile, a team member said.

They believe MARTA’s bus rapid transit route is the next great thing for the area.

Atlanta’s First Bus Rapid Transit Route

Next to speak at the event were Carrie Rocha, Chief Capital Officer at MARTA, and Jacob Vallo, Assistant General Manager of Real Estate Development at MARTA.

As shown in their presentation, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a key aspect of the MARTA 2040 program. The Summerhill BRT project will connect communities between Downtown Atlanta on its north end and the BeltLine on its south end. Fourteen transit stops and five electric bus vehicles will span 4.8 miles of dedicated bus lanes coated with bright red paint.

Rocha said their goal is to provide a fast, frequent, reliable service where you don’t need to look at a schedule because a new bus will arrive every ten minutes. She also wants it to be easy and convenient for riders. MARTA’s new shelter designs will allow riders to stand in inclement weather, she said, and will be elevated with a ramp to allow level boarding for wheel chairs. And for a faster transfer experience, riders can pay with a new off-board collection system and bikes can be brought into the vehicle rather than on racks on the bus’s front. New security cameras will provide improved safety.

Rocha showed the audience a rendering of Hank Aaron Drive and the bus lanes (see below). She said that the designs, which include parking spots and a bike lane, are specific to this portion of Hank Aaron Drive and will vary at different points of the route.  When asked about regulation of the dedicated lanes, a MARTA rep explained the potential for license-plate reader cameras and fines for violators. This initiative, she noted, will be determined by the City of Atlanta since it is their right of way; legislation is currently in the works for BRT regulation.

Jacob Vallo discussed the significant real estate investments that this BRT lane has already brought to Summerhill. “When I got here in 1999,” he said, “MARTA as an amenity was not something developers talked about.” Now MARTA and Goldman Sachs are engaged in a nearly $200mm project for 250 affordable housing units. He believes that connectivity and mobility in Atlanta are a growing consideration for developers.

Rocha mentioned that the project’s deadline is September 2025 and that they are on track to surpass it.

Special thanks to Adam Parker, Jacob Vallo, and Carrie Rocha for your commitment to high quality development in Summerhill and for sharing your vision with the Council’s young leaders.

Click Here for Summerhill BRT Website