A streetcar named nowhere

The City of Atlanta recently announced that the United States Department of Transportation would provide a grant of $47.6 million to partially fund a $72 million streetcar project that will stretch from Centennial Olympic Park to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. 

Members of the Atlanta City Council, Rep. John Lewis and some local business owners are hailing it as an “innovative” project that will reduce gridlock and create jobs. But if history is any guide, those hopes will fade much like the streetcars that ran in the city until 1949. Common sense will tell you the same thing.  

The idea that this project is going to reduce gridlock is laughable. This streetcar will service a relatively short stretch, a little over a mile, in an area designed to attract tourists; the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and the CNN Center will be among the stops. But while this streetcar is running in this small section of the city, hundreds of drivers each day will still be sitting in traffic elsewhere.  As is often the case when cities waste taxpayer funds on “smart growth” strategies and transit projects, rather than focusing on projects that move people from where they are to where they want to go, this project will become a fiscal drag on a city already badly in debt. 

Businesses along the line will assist with capital and operating costs, and the city will contribute $15.6 million to help kick off construction. While riding on a streetcar may have a certain nostalgic appeal to some, it is hard to do anything but question the wisdom of city leaders for committing to fund this pork project when they are staring down a severe pension crisis; Atlanta faces an unfunded liability of $1.5 billion in employee pensions and unemployment remains in double digits. 

Leaders of the city may have a romantic view of the streetcar; but in reality, it is a luxury item that Atlanta cannot afford now or in the future.

-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code

94 comments Add your comment

Burroughston Broch

November 19th, 2010
6:58 am

If we cannot fund the Pothole Posse or sidewalks or police or pensions or (fill in the blanks), we must not fund this streetcar.
It’s another MARTA boondoggle – 480 new jobs to operate 3 streetcars.
In 10 years the project will have been built, operated, and shut down because it will be a money pit.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

November 19th, 2010
7:04 am

Follow the money trail – who is getting the city’s money here?

Waht if

November 19th, 2010
7:34 am

Thanks Bob. Lessee, $72 million (BEFORE the inevitable cost overrruns) less $47.6 million is – hm – why, that would be 24.4 million! And out of whose pockets will that come (while, I might note, some other idiots are trying to get into our pockets for yet another stadium?). Maybe somebody should point out to them that you can’t GET here from there given the total absence of any sensible regional planning for the past how many decades?


November 19th, 2010
7:53 am

has anyone except me considered what would happen if the streetcar became a runaway streetcar, careening through altanta’s tourist district at over 150 miles per hour? (The winning contractor is a Japanese company). Where’s the contingency plan? Where’s Denzel Washington? I will not fund this proposal. I will not vote for it. I will not allow any insurance company to underwrite this idea. No way. Not even the little green guy we all love so well would insure this, so Bob Barr has nothing to worry about. This will die in committee as it should.

bravo bob! I expects I be respectin any mans whats lives by the barr codes.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bob Barr, Top Atlanta Luxury . Top Atlanta Luxury said: A streetcar named nowhere: Leaders of the city may have a romantic view of the streetcar; but in reality, it is … http://bit.ly/9gKjhR [...]

Question Man

November 19th, 2010
8:33 am

Shouldn’t it be called a “Streetcar Named Insiders?” Why did you fail to point out that Atlanta’s honchos specifically chose to seek funding for this streetcar rather than the BeltLine? Why didn’t you direct some disappointment at those in Atlanta who are deciding on these transit priorities? Aren’t those honchos more interested in show than substance (and their own power and pocketbooks than the interests of the City)? Aren’t those honchos people such as Tom Bell, Bernie Marcus, Lawrence Ashe, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Brian Leary (BeltLine CEO), John Lewis, and big landowners/developers?


November 19th, 2010
8:36 am

They better keep $3 million in reserve to tear it up after 2 years of non-use!


November 19th, 2010
8:39 am

Bob, that’s why we live in Cobb. Remember?

Tychus Findlay

November 19th, 2010
8:41 am

Rather than fund a streetcar in the name of tourism, why don’t we do something to drive off the aggressive panhandling that scares tourists away.

Commmon Man

November 19th, 2010
8:44 am

Now when we have out of town visitors that want to go see downtown Atlanta, besides taking them to Underground Atlanta, we can take them on a ride in the StreetCar. YeeHa!!!


November 19th, 2010
8:44 am

Bob, I disagree with you on a lot issues, but you are right on target with this one. I am sure most of us remember the ill-fated train-wreck called “Fan-plex” created for the express purpose of keeping the redundant Atlanta Stadium Authority in business. We all watched in dismay at the crazy scheme that we were told would revitalize the area and provide employment. It was obvious to anyone that the scheme would not work and was a brazen attempt to justify the stadium authorities existence which should of been shut down when the old stadium was demolished and Turner Field was built. Fan-plex was a total failure and I don’t know what the status of the stadium authority is nowadays, Internet search didn’t come up with any valid hits on the subject.
This is even worse than Fan-plex. 72 million dollars for a few street-cars running to the King center? This is insanity that every tax-payer in the country will pay for. It would be far less expensive to just subsidize free taxi service to the King center. Everyone of the politicians involved in this turkey should be fired, tarred and feathered, and run out on a rail.


November 19th, 2010
8:45 am

I lived in Atlanta in the early 60’s and could and did walk the streets at night without any fear. Now, downtown Atlanta is ruined and any money spent there should be spent on the Police Department and doing something about the homeless and panhandlers.

Mr. Spock

November 19th, 2010
8:49 am

I saw John Lewis interviewed after the announcement and he was patting himself on the back saying it was his tireless efforts and personal relationship with the National Secretary of Transportation that landed this great project. He personally had to travel all over the world with Mr. Secretary to convince him of the merits of this great project. We are to blame for continually electing these morons to office.


November 19th, 2010
9:01 am

Again, can you talk about a more recent issue? Boortz was talking about this weeks ago.

The AJC Stinks

November 19th, 2010
9:08 am

When Democrats are in power, they dump tens of millions of dollars on Atlanta, which the politicians steal. Do you remember the scam call the “Atlanta Empowerment Zone?” It empowered many black politicians to steal millions.


November 19th, 2010
9:08 am

“The idea that this project is going to reduce gridlock is laughable. ”

The purpose of the streetcar isnt to reduce traffic. It was never proposed as a means to reduce traffic. Its like saying “expanding 285 isnt going to help tourism downtown.” No sh*t sherlock, thats not the point of the project. The point of the project is to make downtown more amenable to tourists and to connect the major tourist parts downtown (MLK Center, Centennial, Aquarium, Coke, etc.)


November 19th, 2010
9:13 am

The streetcar will certainly be great for the torists visiting all of those Atlanta attractions.

Other than that, it really won’t make a difference.

Dirty Dawg

November 19th, 2010
9:24 am

Nobody said that this was intended to ‘move people rapidly through Atlanta’, and yes it is, essentially, designed to accommodate and facilitate tourism. Atlanta has many hundreds of thousands of visitors annually – perhaps even millions – that are coming primarily for conventions, sports events and association meetings. Atlanta is also the primary tourism destination for African American families – reunions, etc….however Atlanta also has the reputation among visitors as a city with nothing to do, when the truth is there’s plenty to do it’s just, virtually, impossible to get there. If the city can provide an easy, attractive, safe and inexpensive mode of transport between the MLK Historic Site and the attractions surrounding Centennial Park it will be an incentive for folks to come earlier and stay longer – with something to do while you’re here that will produce revenue…revenue that will contribute greatly to the cost of operation in the years ahead.

Of course there are also those that will see it as just another way to allow blacks to intrude – kinda like what jdI2 reminded us of above.

Fact is streetcars remain an important part of many cities’ ‘attraction’ across the country…those that never got rid of theirs and those that have built them over the years, but knowing the short-sightedness of many of our political leaders, when given the chance to ‘make a statement’ (not that a simple streetcar is that much of a statement) they’ll opt for ‘ordinary’. Build a bridge across the interstate at 17th street that would become a visual icon for the city? Naaah, let’s save a few dollars and just paint it yellow…design a new performance hall for the High complex that could rival those in many other US cities? Naaah – lets same a few more bucks and, again, just do something ‘ordinary’. Suppose that we should be thankful that back in the early part of the last century somebody decided that the Fox Theater should be special rather than save a few bucks and jsut make it a big, ordinary, box.

Your past Mr. Barr has shown that when it comes to ‘progress’ you opt for ‘not’, or maybe it’s that you think the term ‘progress’ is short for progressive, which is a euphemism for liberal…and we all know that would never do, don’t we?


November 19th, 2010
9:24 am

We need more and more projects like the streetcar to help make the city a more desirable place. Tourism results in retail, retail results in in-town household development. Once people live in the city, they can experience things like nice restaurants, sporting events, concerts, plays, proximity to the airport, museums, and less traffic. Or they can stay in Cobb in a very big house that they don’t use and go out to eat at Applebees.

Turn it up to Eleven

November 19th, 2010
9:25 am

I’m not sure what the complaint in this peice is about….

The fact is Atlanta sought to gain a share of the second round of TIGER grants available from US DOT. If this money hadn’t been awarded to Atlanta, it would have been spent somewhere else – no one’s taxes are being raised, and the federal deficit isn’t going any higher just because this money is coming to Atlanta. If the complaint is about the existence of TIGER grants in the first place, then the focus of the peice should be directed toward US DOT, not Atlanta.

Second, while there may be more worthwhile projects under proposal in Atlanta for traffic mitigation and congestion relief, the funding for these has so far not been available. Atlanta failed in the first round of TIGER grants because 1) these proposals were not far enough along in development, and 2) the city and state were not ponying up any funds of their own. If the complaint is about Atlanta’s traffic problems, then there should be plenty of outrage directed toward the state capitol, which has ignored this problem for decades. Why should it be the federal government’s burden to fix Atlanta’s traffic problems all by itself, when there is no support from the state?

Bob – what exactly did Atlanta do wrong here, and what should they have done instead within the context of this funding?


November 19th, 2010
9:31 am

Greg, keep your short attention span to yourself. This boondoggle isn’t going away, and it’s going to cost us millions of dollars now, a billion or more eventually. Politicians love that we eventually get bored and quit worrying about this kind of cr@p. It’s standard operating procedure, in fact.


November 19th, 2010
9:36 am

My understanding is that the streetcar project is not for moving Atlanta residents around but to move tourists with money to spend around to places where they can spend money.

But I live in a rural county of under 14,000 residents. We still have plenty of dirt roads. If someone gave us a streetcar today we would turn it into a chicken wing place tomorrow.


November 19th, 2010
9:39 am

I just wish the streetcar perhaps went somewhere that Atlantans could use too for other sights. Like up and down Peachtree…..the Fox, the High, Puppetry Arts, and places that attract locals as well. Crime really needs to be addressed if we want tourism to be a focus of the city.


November 19th, 2010
9:40 am

While most everything Mr. Barr says here is true, what he fails to address is the ability of projects like this to inspire other smart growth strategies and projects. Cumulatively, they can make a big difference in future growth and development patterns, and the city would be foolish to simply live in the moment without giving any consideration to what the city will be like in 25 or 50 years. Suburbia seemed like a great idea once upon a time, but as we are now seeing, no one gave much consideration to what future generations (i.e. you and me) would reap (i.e. the traffic Mr. Barr writes about today) and so, we are perhaps coming full circle to a different yet “notalgic” way of viewing cities. Think long term!

Joe the Plutocrat (the artist fomerly known as paleo-neo-Carlinist)

November 19th, 2010
9:40 am

this is going to sound odd, but I live within walking distance of the “King Center” MARTA. what were the odss that the King Center MARTA stop would itself be walking distance from the MLK, Jr.historic district? know what I do when I want to got to Centennial Park, World of Coca Cola, or the Aquarium (hypothetically, of course)? I walk to MARTA, and take the train to Omni/GA Dome. actually, I have a better idea. take the $42 million, remove the section of MARTA tracks between the King Center and Omni/GA Dome stops, and replace it with an underground streetcar. in fact, the path is already cleared, so they won’t have to waste money digging a tunnel or demolishing buildings!


November 19th, 2010
9:41 am

The streetcars did fail mid-century but it had nothing to do with the automobile being a better urban alternative. The street cars failed because the street-car industry had to go it on their own while the auto-manufaturing and road construction were, and still are, heavily aided by federal dollars. If the gas tax went up to $8 or $9 a gallon (which is where most studies show it needs to be to cover road maintenance and construction), we would have eveyone begging for mass transportation, bike paths, and other alternatives.


November 19th, 2010
9:41 am

bbb, I agree with you on alternative routes. When I read about this streetcar, the first thing I thought was “Wouldn’t it make more sense to run a streetcar up Peachtree from Downtown to Buckhead?”.


November 19th, 2010
9:46 am

This should never see the light of day, esp. with our economic mess. Same thing with the proposed rail to Charlotte.

Captain Midnight

November 19th, 2010
9:49 am

It’s gonna funnell tourists to the King center. Nuff said..
Thank you John “invoke MLK’s name in every sentence” Lewis


November 19th, 2010
10:14 am

Where does the federal government get the money to hand out these multi-million $ grants? They just print some more, that’s where. It’s no wonder John Lewis keeps getting re-elected, reeling in pork like this.


November 19th, 2010
10:25 am

I know, let’s spend more money ‘relieving congestion’ by drastically widening the downtown connector, I-285, and I-75 north of I-285. That will definitely work, just like it did back in the late 1980s!!



November 19th, 2010
10:26 am

Wow! I’m not even a fan of Bob Barr but, the truth shall set you free. You trip over homeless people getting into and out of city hall, students are not safe at Georgia Tech, Underground Atlanta is in shambles and this is what passes for leadership in Atlanta.

Bus man

November 19th, 2010
10:28 am

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to run open trolleys, trams, or buses over the same route for about 1/10 the cost? Oh wait.. they did and NOBODY rode them.

If you want to setup and run a dowtown tourist loop with buses/trams go for it. $72M for a streetcar that goes a mile? What are the tracks made of gold?

on the far (right) side

November 19th, 2010
10:33 am

Good or a bad idea set aside, this contract was to promote Georgia jobs, then WHY-WHY-WHY did the manufacturing contract go to a Asian firm overseas??? When Siemens has a light rail/traction drive facility here in Alpharetta??? The norteast corridor for Amtract saw fit to award them a contract… But the “Big A” looked elsewhere!! Way to go “dumb A**”.

on the far (right) side

November 19th, 2010
10:37 am

take note…$72M divided by a mile (5280 feet) equals $13,636.36 a foot. You are spot on…. a trip to Booddoggle, AKA Centenial Park


November 19th, 2010
10:40 am

If this project was in Dunwoody, the AJC would be all in favor of it… but because it’s in Atlanta, and well, the AJC hates Atlanta, this is a “boondoogle”. Everything Atlanta does to you people is a “boondoggle”. The city is an unsafe, dangerous war zone! If it’s so horrible, leave us alone in Atlanta! Just forget about us… we won’t care.


November 19th, 2010
10:42 am

This project will be a boondoggle just like the rest of the projects and scams the City of Atlanta is or has been involved in. We still do not know where the missing millions of dollars from the airport advertising debacle or other such incidents are or disappeared to. We see Gwinnett County opening new fire-stations, yet Atlanta closes some of theirs. We see MARTA not running efficiently. We see a Water Department that cannot even meter water without error. No, this project will be no different than others that Atlanta has mis-run and destroyed. Street-cars were abandoned years ago for a reason…….

But, hey, let’s put up a ferris-wheel like London and let’s go to Great Britain with our hands out and beseech of the Prince money to rebuld neighborhoods Atlanta let die and will do so again after the Prince’s money runs out. Go Atlanta…………


November 19th, 2010
10:46 am

“We need more and more projects like the streetcar to help make the city a more desirable place. Tourism results in retail, retail results in in-town household development. Once people live in the city, they can experience things like nice restaurants, sporting events, concerts, plays, proximity to the airport, museums, and less traffic. Or they can stay in Cobb in a very big house that they don’t use and go out to eat at Applebees.”

More retail is not going to provide the types of jobs that will pay for nice restaurants, sporting events, concerts, etc. It will provide more seasonal jobs for people that can’t afford to live downtown. Now, maybe if there was an Applebee’s downtown…


November 19th, 2010
10:52 am

I would much rather have tourist riding a streetcar then trying to navigate the roads with all the morons who think they are capable of driving like nascar drivers but aren’t…


November 19th, 2010
10:55 am

A double-decker bus on the same route would be cheaper and just as popular.


November 19th, 2010
10:56 am

What people don’t seem to realize is that this is only part of a larger project to connect people. It is something most cities need.


November 19th, 2010
10:57 am

“I would much rather have tourist riding a streetcar then trying to navigate the roads with all the morons who think they are capable of driving like nascar drivers but aren’t…”



November 19th, 2010
10:57 am

A streetcar to nowhere. Worse than a bridge to nowhere, if’n you be askin’ moi.

Trapped in a Red state

November 19th, 2010
11:05 am


This does not happen often……but, I agree with you 100%.

Darth Hater

November 19th, 2010
11:15 am

A slow-moving streetcar through the streets of Atlanta would just give the jive-talking, urine-scented professional panhandlers more opportunities to jump and AXE the visiting, unsuspecting tourists suburbanites for free money.

Visiting the “real” Downtown Atlanta is almost as appealing as visiting the Atlanta portrayed in THE WALKING DEAD TV series.

Purge that cesspool with fire by the U.S. Military, let’s try again.


November 19th, 2010
11:30 am

This doesn’t happen often, but I agree with you, Mr. Barr. This boondoggle may make the tourists happy, but it’s not going to do a thing to solve Atlanta’s traffic woes. The route it’s going to cover is short enough to walk, so what’s the point other than to make sure tourists don’t bump into quite so many pandhandlers on the sidewalks?


November 19th, 2010
11:33 am

About a month ago I had to yell at a crazed, aggressive and obviously whacked-out panhandler stalking tourists near the King Center. Why would ANYONE ride a streetcar, regular car, rickshaw, or any other vehicle to the King Center till they make it safe for tourists? I live in downtown. I see the problems everyday… all this boondoggle will do is snarl up traffic. It’s like putting icing on a turd cake.


November 19th, 2010
12:06 pm

A bus that LOOKS like a trolley would be much cheaper. And we wouldn’t have to pay to rip out any decaying tracks once the project proves unwanted by actual riders and is ultimately abandoned.


November 19th, 2010
12:44 pm

They tried look-alikes a few years back down Peachtree, but the seats were uncomfortable, getting on them was a pain, and they weren’t popular. I agree there are cheaper alternatives. I do think double-deckers with an open-air upper level like sight-seeing buses might do well on some routes.


November 19th, 2010
12:50 pm

It is nice to see so many critics of the system expressing their positive comments which as usual offer no alternative. How about if you disagree so much just don’t ride it when it is built. Sort of like tv. If you don’t like what you see then turn it off. When is the last time Mr Barr contributed anything to the city besides negative articles about the leadership and the city itself.