Atlanta Streetcar and mobility

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

This spring, streetcars are expected to roll through Atlanta once again, offering residents and visitors another transportation option for getting around downtown. Today, the Atlanta Streetcar’s executive director writes about how these electric vehicles will add connectivity for many folks along the line from Centennial Olympic Park to the King Center. Our second columnist says the streetcar will be impractical — too restricted, too slow, too inconvenient.

Commenting is open.

Streetcar will ease city’s mobility

By Tim Borchers

Streetcars are an integral part of the story of Atlanta. The first streetcar line, which connected Peachtree Street with what is now Spelman College, opened in 1871. During the early 20th century, Atlanta’s population tripled as streetcars helped expand the city limits to nearby suburbs, creating a vibrant and easily accessible metropolis.

Today, Atlanta is the center of the fastest-growing region in the United States and home to the world’s busiest passenger airport. We host leading research universities and are among the top three U.S. cities with the most Fortune 500 headquarters. But “easily accessible” is not a term many would use to describe us these days.

Fortunately, the city is moving forward with an impressive regional transportation plan that emphasizes reasonable alternative choices. This year, we’ll see one part of it begin service: the Atlanta Streetcar.

Streetcars are more than the “next new thing” in urban transportation. With a growing number of people — both younger workers and empty nesters — choosing to move into or near large cities, streetcars make sense because they can easily connect passengers with a wide array of activities and jobs in urban corridors. They also allow these same city dwellers to have more transportation choices, and give those looking for a more sustainable lifestyle the option of being car-free.

For those going farther afield or coming into the city from the suburbs, streetcars provide inner-city connectivity from larger regional transit systems, helping reduce congestion downtown. A single streetcar can transport as many people as 177 automobiles — and, being electric, they do it more efficiently and with fewer emissions.

While the Atlanta Streetcar will be a new mode of transportation in the downtown area, it’s not a new idea. The streetcar is part of the city’s long-term Connect Atlanta plan, which was developed to accommodate growth while maintaining the quality of life desired by an increasingly diverse population. The Atlanta Streetcar is a critical piece of Atlanta’s transit future, and that will include expansion of the streetcar in a citywide network that will link to major employment centers in Midtown, Georgia Tech and the Atlanta University Center.

With phase one of the Atlanta Streetcar nearing completion, the look and feel of downtown Atlanta is already changing. The access the streetcar will provide to millions of visitors heading to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and Centennial Olympic Park will further enhance our reputation as an exciting place to live, learn, work, shop and play.

Atlanta is growing, and growing quickly. To accommodate this growth, particularly in the downtown area, it is crucial that we diversify our transit options. Our city grew with the streetcar before; with the new Atlanta Streetcar, it will grow more, and more sustainably, again.

Tim Borchers is executive director of Atlanta Streetcar.

Transit relic won’t help transportation

By Benita Dodd

Watching the evolving justification for the Atlanta Streetcar project’s benefits is like watching a shell game. It’s anybody’s guess what reason will turn up next: mobility, congestion relief, economic development, environmental benefits or tourism. Only the naïve would place a bet.

Back when it applied for a $47 million federal grant for the streetcar, the city predicted that “automobile trips will be diverted to the safer streetcar mode, which will thereby reduce accidents and increase pedestrian safety because more travelers will be using the streetcar instead of traveling by automobile.” (The application also admitted that more than 57 percent of the people within a quarter-mile of the streetcar route don’t have a vehicle.)

The streetcar could possibly turn out to be a tourist attraction, but it is impractical as a mode of transportation. It’s disingenuous for proponents to describe the project as “a critical piece of Atlanta’s transit puzzle … [with] a ripple effect that can influence developments elsewhere across the region,” as the project Web site proclaims. The city is romanticizing the past.

If they made sense, streetcars would be thriving and locally funded. There’s a reason these boondoggles are relegated to history and local governments reach for federal (taxpayer) handouts. They’re slow and expensive, with infrequent trips and frequent stops. Inconvenient too.

A fixed guideway handicaps the lane. In Atlanta, where an existing lane is being converted, the vehicles are projected to run 15 minutes apart at an average speed of 10 miles per hour and without exclusive right of way. It will make 12 stops along the 2.7 mile route (1.3 miles one way). Not only is this slow, it also slows other vehicles in the busy lane – and stop-and-go traffic increases auto emissions.

The city optimistically projects 2,600 weekday riders for the streetcar line, which is expected to open in May. Utilities are still tallying the costs of massive infrastructure relocation and negotiating who’ll pay for that. Construction has inconvenienced retailers, motorists and bus passengers, whose bus stops were moved. Schedule delays and cost overruns continue; the project cost, which started out at about $69 million, is expected to top $100 million.

The streetcar web site says, “We are all in this together, and the Atlanta Streetcar is a critical first step in an exciting new age for transportation across our region.”

Voters understand the need to fund congestion relief and mobility; taxpayers and commuters want to improve transportation. But they expect sound transportation policy. Streetcars are neither smart nor visionary. Atlanta is committing transportation funds to a transit relic; bus service (which has struggled in the corridor) – even shuttle service – would have improved mobility and provided flexibility at a far lower cost.

Once you’ve committed to a federally funded project it’s hard to admit failure. Other governments worth their salt will give serious consideration to the economics and effectiveness of the streetcar project and tell Atlanta, “Thanks, but no thanks. You’re on your own.”

Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

10 comments Add your comment

Joe Seconder

January 30th, 2014
11:55 am

Get out of Georgia and go see successful cities that have streetcars. Charlotte is a nearby example. It’s about economic development. Portland led the way many years ago & continues to expand. Too bad Ms. Dodd doesn’t realize that my PROPERTY & SALES taxes go towards SUBSIDIZING the roads & Interstates. Motor Vehicle Fuel taxes & fees only pay for a little more than 50% of maintaining & building roads & bridges. Heck, Ms. Dodd is so paranoid that she’s even written against Walkable & Bikeable Communities and Complete Streets. Fearing her self-esteemed God-given right to drive her Single Occupancy Vehicle anywhere, anytime from the city to the Exurbs of northern Cobb County. Did she like her neighbors not having a CHOICE in the snow storm in getting home or being stuck overnight in freezing temperatures in their cars? Guess what? Within the next few short years, MARTA will be voted on & approved in Gwinnett & Clayton… Yes.. Expansion. & If you talk to folks at the Cumberland CID, they’ll tell you they WANT light rail for regional connectivity into Atlanta..

Benita Dodd

January 30th, 2014
11:18 am

Free enterprise is great!


January 29th, 2014
1:18 am

Sorry, Matt, you’re out-classed. Bigfoot already told me EVERYTHING.

Am I banned now, too?

Matt P

January 28th, 2014
4:34 pm

Hey champ, you are aware that there were actual criminal indictments for the collusion to shut down streetcars, right? And like – the Interstate Highway Act – that was a real thing. Maybe if you’d stop congratulating yourself on what a first class genius you are, and denigrating everyone who disagrees with you, you’d have time to look it up. Just a hint.


January 28th, 2014
11:02 am

Oh, by the way, Matt P… since you aren’t aware… federally-subsidized roads are partially maintained with federal tax dollars from federal gasoline taxes… so actually, those of us who use the roads actually DO pay for the maintenance.

(Sarah Palin told me so!)


January 28th, 2014
11:00 am

So, will the street cars have “urine-soaked” and “non-urine-soaked” sections? Just wondering…

This shows the usual stupidity of government officials, government contractors, and urban activists. Why be sensible when instead, they can cheerfully burn taxpayer dollars in bonfires of idiocy?

Buses are relatively cheap, require no additional/expensive infrastructure, and are easily maintained or replaced. Bus routes can be easily added, modified, or eliminated in response to changing needs. They can also be powered by clean-burning propane or liquid natural gas.

But, why be sensible? It’s so much more fun to burn OPiuM (Other People’s Money) in spectacular boondoggles… so these fools can stand in front of the cameras and receive the applause from crowds of imbeciles… while the rest of us who pay for this nonsense can only shake our heads and roll our eyes.

There is one entertaining side note, though… we get to enjoy the rantings of people like Matt P posted below. Who would have known that the demise of the original street cars in Atlanta was due to naturally-evolving circumstances, and the free choices of people to live where they chose and travel as they chose? OF COURSE NOT! IT WAS EN EEEEVVVIIIIIILLLLLLL CONSPIRACY!

All those people just didn’t know they were being forced to live in the suburbs (where houses were bigger, taxes and crime were lower, and their homes were better investments.) It was and eeevvviiiilllll corporate/government conspiracy (possibly at the behest of the space aliens?) to force these people away from the joys of cramped tiny homes and apartments, high taxes, higher crime, and a hopelessly corrupt, inept, bungling Third-World-Quality city government?

What were these dupes thinking? (Apparently, they were thinking ahead into the future… of Sarah Palin!)

Most entertainingly, Matt P shows us the true nature of Liberal Lefties in his last sentence, when he takes it upon himself to censor some else’s free speech, on a forum that he doesn’t even own or control. After all, we can’t tolerate non-liberal dissent now, can we? All those who disagree with liberals must be silenced!

Turning off the sarcasm now… between the stupidity of this street-car boondoggle nonsense, and the off-the-charts looniness of supporters like Matt P… this whole thing is just another small example of the out-of-control insanity of Big Government stupidity that is wrecking this country.

Ken Hardy

January 28th, 2014
7:49 am

The Atlanta Street Car project will accomplish several things, 1 Create more MARTA style overpaid Union jobs with gold plated retirement plans. 2 create a new vehicle for scammers to claim they got hit by and sue the City like they do with MARTA buses. 3 create a new place for muggers to find victims and create a new deficit line item in the City’s annual budget now that being said, it will carry a few thousand people a year at a pace they could get to quicker by walking.


January 27th, 2014
11:04 pm

Susan, would you rather all those folks walking on the streets and taking the streetcar were driving instead? Would that help your traffic problems?

I bet you’re one of those drivers that complains incessantly about the traffic, not realizing that you are the traffic.

Susan S

January 27th, 2014
5:15 pm

And just when I thought Atlanta’s downtown traffic was even more unbearable, here comes something to top the cake… I can see myself waiting to get around one of these things while a car is trying to turn in the left lanes and this is clogging up traffic. How about riders possible jumping off because even they think it’s too slow, creating an unsafe foot traffic in the street, and just prompting an overall infrastructure overhaul, since more will do their best to avoid this amusement park ride altogether!

Matt P

January 27th, 2014
4:12 pm

And here I thought the Georgia Public Policy Foundation prided itself on knowledge of facts. From the column: “There’s a reason these boondoggles are relegated to history and local governments reach for federal (taxpayer) handouts. They’re slow and expensive, with infrequent trips and frequent stops. Inconvenient too.” No. You fail, GPPF. You will not be allowed to retake this course. Your knowledge of history is completely incorrect. Do you really not know about the effort of GM and the auto-industry to destroy streetcars, coupled with a massive government program to push people into suburbs? Please, next time stop doodling Sarah Palin, and pay attention in class.

You also fail for your logical inference that streetcars are somehow unique in getting federal subsidies. You are aware, or were you sleeping in class that day, that all significant roads in the state are federally subsidized? Of course, with roads, you don’t pay, so it’s literally just a constant drain on federal coffers with no revenue at all, making your mistake even more egregious.

You are hereby banned from posting in the Atlanta Forward blog, at least until the next time the AJC needs somebody to regurgitate your standard “Free-Enterprise-is-Great!” spiel.