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

hotlanta

November 19th, 2010
12:50 pm

It’s just amazong how the Mayor Kasim Reed can go get a check for 45 M for streetcars and Sonny Perdue the Governor couldn’t get any money for MARTA. Priceless

Jefferson

November 19th, 2010
1:30 pm

Atlanta is gonna love the streetcar, way cool.

Eric

November 19th, 2010
1:39 pm

Who would bother seeing the World of Coke anyway?

ANSWER THIS QUESTION

November 19th, 2010
1:54 pm

Why should the city of Atlanta pay to fix the metro areas traffic problems? The worst traffic is outside 285 or through Downtown on 75/85 because suburban folks are just passing through. Maybe if the METRO AREA had it’s act together (the suburban counties) we could ALL work together to solve our traffic problems. In the meantime, the city of Atlanta should do what it needs to do to make itself a better place to live, work, and visit.

Atlantabytes

November 19th, 2010
2:29 pm

The AJC and Barr continue to prove they are deserving of the Creative Loafing headline Dunwoody Constitution.

The streetcar (at this phase) is NOT meant to ease traffic. However, the fully built-out streetcar will ease traffic as a part of the whole comprehensive transit masterplan for the city and the region. The phase being funded by the TIGER II funds is meant to be a stake-in-the-ground for our larger transit plans. In order to have a fully functioning regional system, we have to start somewhere and this is a small step in the right direction.

The streetcar is not some pet project supported by “John Lewis and some local business leaders”. It is part of the City’s Connect Atlanta Transportation Master Plan and part of the Atlanta Regional Commissions Concept 3 plan. The rail laid by this round of funding will transport light rail vehicles from the BeltLine to the Service Station (funded by this round of funding) and carry passengers to the MultiModal station.

The streetcar will NOT be a financial boondoggle. Ask experts in Charlotte, Dallas, Portland and Houston about the ridership and funding prospects at the start of their projects. Ask them what kind of success they have seen. In EVERY case, ridership projections were crushed, income has been higher than expected and economic development (taxbase and jobs) projections have also been blown away.

The only semblance of a point the AJC has is that the City is facing extremely difficult financial decisions.

But the City cannot afford to not build the streetcar. The City is spending $10 million of its own money to get a $72 million project. Even if you skew the numbers (like the AJC) they are spending $15 million. HB277 is the only prospect for transit funding on the horizon and it will many years before we see the $. Atlanta won’t see another federal grant without local matching funds and those funds are years away. This was our one chance and our only shovel ready project. We had to take it.

Tracy

November 19th, 2010
2:47 pm

I can’t help but feel that the companies involved in building this streetcar are being very um, “nice”, to all the Atlanta board members pushing for this thing.

Are the leaders really this foolish with the tax money or are they taking kickbacks from the streetcar builders ? Who knows.

Double decker busses Much Cheaper

November 19th, 2010
3:03 pm

For a couple million you could buy a fleet of double decker city buses, as they cost around $300K each.

A double decker bus, like the ones they use in Vegas or New York, would be just as neat as a StreetCar without the obvious issues of startup costs, construction costs, and obviously with a bus you don’t need to lay railroad track for new routes

Sally

November 19th, 2010
4:39 pm

Has AJC’s flight to the suburbs made it numb to the offensiveness of racist comments like the ones above from Joe and AJC Stinks? Or is the problem that no one at AJC monitors blog comments?

iRun

November 19th, 2010
5:01 pm

Am I the only one who sees the title of this blog on the Opinion page and thinks, at first glance, it reads, “A streetcar name whore”?

tomitron

November 19th, 2010
6:05 pm

Too many ignorant comments about Atlanta to address here, starting with Mr. Barr’s, but fortunately the Obama administration understands that there’s more to addressing transportation problems than highways. More than ten percent of the 5 million plus people living in metropolitan Atlanta live inside I-285. We have transportation issues, too, but the solutions don’t involve additional highways here in town. Long-term solutions to our problems are not premised on making life more convenient for those who choose a lifestyle that depends on driving a car everywhere they go.

Dirty Dawg

November 19th, 2010
6:20 pm

Attempted to post what I felt was a thoughtful, positive, piece about this earlier today, but because I also took Mr. Barr to task for his continued knee-jerk criticism of Atlanta, it never made the cut. Of course I also had mentioned a ‘take’ from jdI2 above who reminded ‘Bob’ why they live in Cobb County – obviously it had something to do with the fact that the streetcar would promote moving African American visitors back and forth between the MLK Historic Site and Centennial Park – and, of course, we all know why Cobb voted down MARTA back in the 60’s…because jd just reminded us.

Now let’s see if the so-in-so’s will post this one.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rich Sullivan, Parky. Parky said: streetcar named nowhere http://bit.ly/ak7SZm [...]

matt

November 20th, 2010
9:09 am

J.B. STONER

November 20th, 2010
10:33 am

Have we not had this conversation about Lewis before?

He is a marxist like his communist idol was.

He needs to go march on I-285 during rush hour..

And what does ‘MARTA’ stand for ???

Yeah, yall remember….

ITP

November 20th, 2010
2:04 pm

The comments from the super conservative suburbanites, including Bob Barr, are typical and classic. Slam any idea that doesn’t involve adding five more lanes to existing highways, and deride any transit-involved transportation solution as a waste of money, socialist, Marxist, etc. Of course, any expensive road-widening project in the suburbs that does little to reduce congestion is a good use of taxpayer money, because it’s spent in places where the people that matter live.

November

November 20th, 2010
2:28 pm

This is another one of those “Politically Correct” things built by blacks for blacks. The money could be better used by the APS…..if the problems with the schools don’t get corrected, there’s not gonna be anyone in the city except blacks and, as has been shown by the money pit known as Underground Atlanta, will be a losing proposition. C’mon folks, use some sense. Thanks Bob Barr, a great American for keeping this boondoggle in the news.

StopTheSprawl

November 20th, 2010
2:52 pm

Bob, I usually agree with half the stuff you put out, and most of the stuff with which I disagree is tolerable, and a good read – but your comments here can be summed into one big pile of excrement.
What’s your solution, more roads? That’ll help! If you are going to have streetcars and light rail transit to ultimately cut down traffic, you’ve got to start somewhere! (The interstate system wasn’t built overnight, remember???)
One of Atlanta’s main revenue sources is tourism – so why not use a tourist based system to get started with a streetcars? If the ‘forward looking’ post WWII politicians had not been wooed by the auto industry in the early 1950’s, the ‘trackless trolley” system (electric buses) would not have replaced the streetcars, and we would have rail transit stretching way beyond I285…. like it used to be.
I guess that if you had it your way, we’d just pave our way out of congestion (Apparently you’ve never checked with a traffic planner on that one, huh?) Got your road construction buds out there drooling at the prospect of removing more private Atlanta property from the tax rolls? Thanks!
The city (the REAL city) is working on changing itself. We’re going to succeed. We don’t need the outside sniping of all the sprawl freaks that really enjoy spending most of their life behind the wheel.

Alabama Communist

November 20th, 2010
3:33 pm

Will the one streetcar be Red or simply Blue to hack off Republican Tea Party tourists?

Michael

November 20th, 2010
4:05 pm

Marta, Underground, Atlantic Station, all good ideas ruined by thugs. Why do you think the street car would be any different. The only people riding it will be criminals and gang members.

Big Nick

November 20th, 2010
4:35 pm

What else would expect???

Can anyone name one U.S. city in the past 30 years, that has been run by blacks, whose public school system is not in the toilet? That isn’t bankrupt? Whose corrupt leaders are continuously sent to prison? Whose crime rate is not out of control? Who keep electing the F-ing people, because they know in the end it will be the white man that bails them out through taxes?

The answer is “NO”. Just look at ATL.,D.C., N.O., Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, L.A. (hispanic), etc.

GreatATLGuy

November 20th, 2010
5:56 pm

Michael Lomax should come back as the conductor of the street car line… the monkey got choked and they all chewed tobacco in a little row boat. Add some palm trees on the line route and it’s 1985 all over again!

Spend it and they will come

November 20th, 2010
6:17 pm

When I see comments like this will increase tourism and if Atlanta hadn’t got the grant it would be spent somewhere else, I want to scream. A streetcar is not going to increase tourism. The attractions do. How many people out there do you think are saying to themselves, “the Aquarium, Coke Museum, and Centennial Park sound nice. Too bad they don’t have a streetcar for us to get around. Let’s just go to Disneyworld instead.”

Keep in mind, the Federal money is OUR money also. I keep trying to figure out why we keep getting Federal money. Perhaps we should lower the Federal taxes significantly offset by an increase in state taxes where we have more of a say in what OUR money is being used for.

Sherman

November 20th, 2010
6:33 pm

Bob, I understand what you’re saying here. But why do you never offer a SOLUTION, or are you paid to only just be a nag and call out problems as you see them?

Ron

November 20th, 2010
7:54 pm

Hey Scott, how many of the locals in downtown visit: Fine restaurants, plays, concerts, museums, Hartsfield or other fine venues? Better yet, who has the money? (a small percentage I’ll bet)
I live in Cobb, stay out of here.

Ron

November 20th, 2010
8:09 pm

Sally, why don’t you monitor my thoughts and send me to re-education centers while you’re at it.

Architect

November 20th, 2010
8:39 pm

The streetcar is not about reducing traffic, Mr Barr. In fact, it is about making the city of Atlanta more livable and walkable both for tourists and residents alike.

Your “common sense” argument about the previous streetcar system fails to acknowledge the many factors that led to the demise of a past system (White flight, Auto Companies buying streetcar companies to turn these into bus routes, the rise of the car-centric suburb, etc) .

The argument that projects should favor a Point A to Point B approach are typically those that lead to widening roads as a way to reduce traffic. Has this approach EVER worked for Atlanta? the connector is already one of the widest stretches of interstate in the US. And where has that gotten us? MORE traffic. Widening roads just allows for more cars. investing in public transit allows for businesses to flourish, for tourists to visit more comfortably, and for some of us who enjoy to live intown and actually get out of our cars to BE in the city in a more humane way.

You should perhaps look into your arguments more in-depth and then really think about what they mean. Perhaps you are not familiar with Atlanta? When was the last time you experienced it without the barrier of your car? Cities are for living, not for commuting. In that respect, the streetcar get it right. What it doesn’t get right, is only the fact that it is not big enough to really make an impact. This is where the Beltline falls into place.

-LC

Streetcars are a waste

November 20th, 2010
8:49 pm

Those of you saying that this isn’t about reducing traffic congestion should read the news release by the City of Atlanta, which said that one of the reasons for this project was “reducing gridlock.”

http://www.atlantaga.gov/media/nr_streetcarpressconf_102010.aspx

JD

November 20th, 2010
9:02 pm

Probably one of the top 5 stupidest ideas for the City of Atlanta. The cost is over the top for something that will fail from lack of use. If you want to build a streetcar line, run it north/south from Arts Center Marta station to 5 Points Marta. At least then it will connect to rail lines and have destinations along the route.

A Realist

November 20th, 2010
9:21 pm

You in town living people enjoy being harassed by the thugs and panhandlers? The streetcar will become another venue for the lowlifes can prowl upon. I think the designated money should go the APD so they can focus on getting the gangs, thugs, and drug trafficking folks apprehended and prosecuted. Then, downtown might be an area where nice restaurants, street cars, and public venues would be viable for locals as well as tourists. Until then, no thanks. I have a dream that the downtown area will again be safe so that our fine college students can once again walk the streets around campus and not be accosted, killed, or robbed by the local thugs. Also, ask any of the merchants whose stores have been impacted by the smash and grab thieves how they think this money should be spent.

Ben

November 20th, 2010
9:25 pm

Yawn. This article was lame the first time I read it weeks ago when Wingfield wrote it.

That's right.

November 20th, 2010
9:37 pm

Hey Bob – where do u live downtown? oh that’s right, you’re in Cobb! Nevermind.

Dusty

November 21st, 2010
12:02 am

Well, those street cars are going to be as cute as a button. The Japanese will put lotsa gold and lanterns and tassels on them. Tourists will bow saying “Ah so Atlanta! Chop Suey & teriyaki too.” ! Terrific!!

But more is needed. There must be Japanese bumper cars in City Hall for politicians. No more back stabbing behind closed doors. Anybody taking more than their share of the loot will get the BIG bump! The mayor gets gold plates on his car (a gift from the Japanese)..

And MORE! We must have golf carts (cute Jap models) on 285, 85 and 75. They will be a great help to State Patrol and gas economy. Just think! How many cities have golf carts to guide tourists into town? There. I told you so. Not a one of those slow thinkers..

Yes, sir, Mr. Barr. You need to spend more time at the bar. Brings up great ideas. That’s how we got trolley cars.

Ward

November 21st, 2010
1:23 am

I can propose an VERY viable alternative to wasting $72 million building a mile or two of streetcar track on a bus route that’s already failed… DON’T! The Feds don’t have the money, the city doesn’t have the money and there’s no demonstrable demand for it… stop looking for ways to throw money (we don’t have) down a hole. It’s a crazy idea, but it just might work…

A lee

November 21st, 2010
1:59 am

The joy of living downtown , on MARTA rail line, belt line, and streetcar will be when China, and India start using more fuel and the gas prices here go back through the roof! We will see who laughs last and loudest! Certainly not car/ road driven suburbia….

John Tackett

November 21st, 2010
4:32 am

Will not relieve gridlock – that is not an issue on that corridor. Buses can do the job just as easily. The streetcar WILL NOT be using dedicated lanes so they are at the whim of infamous Atlanta drivers who stop “just to quickly run in” to a business. The frequency of the streetcars has not been determined (again, why not a bus.) If tourist wanted to really go to the King Center, they would be going – this is nothing more than a “free” (to the King Center) way of getting tourists there. Will not create jobs – if businesses wanted to be on that corridor, they would already be there. Money could of been better spent on the Beltline,
As a cyclists in the city, there are other alternative transit plans that could better use the funds. Nuff said.

John Tackett

November 21st, 2010
4:39 am

Article states, “which is forecasted to have 2,600 boardings per day.’ Say at $3 per fare that is $7,800 per day in fare revenue? That is just under $3 million a year. I am sure the upkeep costs for this are more than $3 million a year. Is that figure of boardings correct?

Willis

November 21st, 2010
7:32 am

Don’t think Let’s Make a Deal Deal will miss out on this opportunity – his salvage business will be ready to take care of the messed up vehicles when the venture flops.

Bill Johnson

November 21st, 2010
8:20 am

Tourists are such a large part of your economy (I’m in Cobb nyah, nyah), right? Why do they come to Atlanta again? Oh, that’s right, they don’t anymore.

Hey, let’s set out a $72M streetcar as bait! We’ll staff it with idiots, allow the homeless to live on it, then wonder why it’s empty.

Dumb with a capital STUPID.

R.Bino

November 21st, 2010
8:34 am

Keys to success: link the streetcar route(s) to MARTA train station(s) and the Beltline thereby creating the beginning of a multipurpose transportation system we continue to read and talk about. Good for residences and good for tourists! Hey a positive suggestion in the comments section. How about that! More positive suggestions and less negative comments…maybe…please.

J.B. STONER

November 21st, 2010
8:45 am

LEWIS WILL FUNNEL THE MONIES TO HIS SLIMY POCKETS…………….

BUT YOU CAN GET A FREE COKE AT THE MUSEAUM………

Ben

November 21st, 2010
10:08 am

Wow. The level of ignorance in here is astounding.

You all realize Atanta is the most visited city in the Southeast right? Bringing in almost 40 million people a year. That’s billions of dollars in revenue directly into the local economy.

Dirty Dawg

November 21st, 2010
11:22 am

To the JBs, the Rons and the rest of you that are ’still’ complaining about, whatever name you wish to call them, the folks that ride MARTA, visit Underground and Atlantic Station, and tell them to stay outa’ Cobb…how’s that effort to ‘beat back Evolution’ going for you. Fact is I grew up in Cobb, raised my kids in Cobb, but gotta tell you when you and your mega-churses (most of ‘em Babtist) decided to have all the science text books labeled as ‘anti-evolution’, I decided it was time to engage in a little ‘natural selection’ of my own, and get the hell out of Cobb the first chance I got.

By the way, ‘architect’ is right. People that don’t get that just don’t want to ‘get it’ and only wish to perpetuate stereotypes and prejudice.,,good luck with that out in JB Stonerville.

sibustat 15

November 22nd, 2010
6:38 am

an excellent example of standing material

Nick Knight

November 23rd, 2010
11:32 am

What is needed is a full system, not a small one. But, hey Americans are more about building bombs. There is a reason America has continued to ffall in living standard. This same thing is being played out all over. We can not even manage to build a full street car system.
This country is all about excuses.