In Support of Atlanta's Streetcar Proposal

Yesterday, we featured a post from Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic about Atlanta’s decision to put a streetcar project in line for federal TIGER funds before another local transit proposal known as the Beltline. Yonah argued that the Beltline — a ring of recreational amenities and transit features that would circle the city — was the more innovative of the two projects. He questioned whether the city would be able to move forward with such an ambitious idea while simultaneously pouring resources into a streetcar downtown.

AtlantaStreetcar5Budapest.jpgAn artist’s rendering of a streetcar in Atlanta. Image: SkyScraperPage forum

Today, we offer a counterpoint from CCTgirl at MARTA Rocks!, who thinks the streetcar project is the right choice. CCTgirl doesn’t oppose the Beltway, but says the concept is simply not advanced enough to be a compelling candidate for federal funding right now:

I personally think the streetcar is a stronger project at this point.
They have guaranteed operating funds for twenty years, the federally
required minimum to qualify for funds, and it has the backing of the
city, downtown businesses, and even received a letter of endorsement
from GDOT. Further, $20 million has been designated to the project,
showing local commitment and making it a strong application. I just
don’t think The Beltline was there.

The Beltline is a good project. I don’t think it’s the amazing savior of the city people tout it as and they make fools out of
themselves at times, like in the recent Buckhead Reporter. The Reporter
recently ran an article in which the Beltline was stated to have
transit in six or seven years, but they don’t know what type yet.
Awfully optimistic…

The streetcar isn’t perfect either, it’s a touristy line catering to
business. It won’t move a bunch of natives, but it’s a good start at
showing Atlanta what transit can be. It’ll clean up the area, make the
interstate underpass safe, and be a shiny new example of good transit to
a city that looks down its nose at public transportation, which, if
executed well, will help The Beltline. And they do intend to
accommodate bicyclists. It could be the best step forward in transit we
can take and lead to further advancements for Atlanta.

Thanks to both bloggers for highlighting the arguments for two important transit proposals. In the end, the biggest lingering question may be whether we’d be having this debate if federal investment in transit was more robust.

Elsewhere on the Network today, Indigo Country, White City breaks down the media reaction to the death of a cycling advocate in South Carolina; Sprawled Out looks at a new study linking sprawl to the loss of social capital; and PA Walks & Bikes celebrates the news that walking and biking projects will be spared from transportation cuts caused by the loss of federal funding in Pennsylvania.

  • Have been to Atlanta a few times. I’m not an expert but… There’s no there there. The only hope is that whichever kind of transit gets built (ideally both) will stimulate transit oriented development that would take the city into the future. For now, it’s one of the saddest places I’ve ever seen, though the suburbs are reputed to be quite nice.

  • Betty Levitin

    Transit that is primarily an alternative approach to urban renewal, a way to “clean up the area, make the interstate underpass safe” will ultimately provide nothing of worth to a city. It’s a path to a vertical suburb with flat line values, a place where edifices remind you of a city, but there is no there there.

  • Chris Shaffer

    The beltline? I have heard of this, isn’t that where people are going to plant some flowers and maybe there will be a train? I can’t wait

  • Whoever you are, Mr. Shaffer, I love you.

  • Darin

    I agree with CCTgirl — the Beltline is a good project but not a great one. It will provide some added green space and bike trails to the more suburban of Atlanta’s residential communities, basically serving as a backyard amenity to the occupants of the detached housing that lines most of the Beltline zone.

    This Centennial Park-to-Sweet Auburn streetcar is a great project and has the capacity to push Atlanta’s dense urban core into a more walkable direction by providing street-grade rail connectivity (something Atlanta hasn’t had since the streetcars died in the 1940s) along an area heavily populated by tourists, convention attendees, office workers, GSU students and residents.

    It will connect the future Civil Rights Museum with the MLK historic site — a very significant connection, given the rich African-American history of this city. It will also undo some of the great harm done decades ago when a raised interstate was built through the heart of the historic Sweet Auburn area, making pedestrian activity underneath the overpass unpleasant and sometimes dangerous.

  • ChrisCo

    >>For now, it’s one of the saddest places I’ve ever seen, though the suburbs are reputed to be quite nice.<<

    If by "nice" you mean incredibly low density, sprawling, and hostile to pedestrians. Atlanta has the lowest population density of any urban area over 2 million people in the entire world.

  • James

    Why would Atlanta want to use those rickety old trams from Budapest?

    http://hampage.hu/trams/eletkep24/e_index.html

  • alston

    Rickety? You bet! I would love to see one of those old UV Budapest trams plying Peachtree st., but unfortunately they have now retire them in Budapest. I rode them as much as I could while there, on the last lines (13, 41, 47, 49) and while rickety, they were the classic bouncy ride that brings joy and made for an exciting transit option. The interiors were wood, and the light fixtures ancient. It was a ride with history attached, especially in the little center car. Magnificent. I was delighted to see someone creatively plop that lovable old reliable tram onto Peachtree. Of course, Budapest still operates a large tram system, and I have ridden on every line. They have new modern trams now on the fast, heavily used “circle line”, which the natives call “bananas” …and as you may expect, they have been nothing but trouble. Not reliable. Look how long the UV’s lasted. If Atlanta officials really want to experience what a network of trams/streetcars can be, they should be going to Budapest, not Portland. I like the Portland system. It is rail, but sorry, the seating is haphazard, the ride is boring. No bounce. Not an ounce.

  • “Have you tried Atlanta lately?” In the past few years, there is SO much infill development in Midtown, Atlantic Station, and through the Old Fourth Ward (along North Ave., Ponce, Ralph McGill, etc.) that there is now a huge area that is “almost walkable”. These areas will continue to fill in once the economy gets going again (which grated, could be a while). Street level, easy to use (i.e. NOT MARTA heavy rail) transit like the BeltLine and yes even the Auburn streetcar, and hopefully a Peachtree streetcar, will serve that need, connecting those nodes of infill which are all only a few hundred yards apart.

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