A streetcar not desired

Honk if you’ll still be stuck in traffic after we build this (from the AJC’s Washington correspondent, Bob Keefe):

In a major coup for the city of Atlanta, the U.S. Department of Transportation has agreed to grant the city of Atlanta $47 million for the proposed downtown streetcar project, according to U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta.

Lewis’ office said he got confirmation of the award in a conversation with DOT Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday morning.

“In my conversation with Secretary LaHood this morning he reiterated his belief that it was a good and necessary project and one that deserved federal funding,” Lewis said in a statement. “Not only does this project offer citizens and visitors to the downtown area another option for transportation, it will also provide green jobs and support economic development.”

City officials have been pursuing funding for the streetcar line, which will run east-west connecting the MLK site with Centennial Olympic Park, for months. Lewis, along with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, met with and had conference calls with DOT Secretary Ray LaHood as recently as a few days ago to try and get the funding.

According to city plans, the project would cost more than $70 million, with the city and the Central Atlanta Progress’ Downtown Improvement District putting up about $20 million for it.

Reed’s office has estimated the project would create 5,200 jobs over 20 years and would not only help ease downtown traffic problems but also help the city compete for more tourism and convention business.

Atlanta had applied for a $56 million grant for the project under a DOT program designed to upgrade transportation networks and create jobs quickly.

I’ve previously expressed my doubts about whether this tourist line will really ease downtown traffic, which tends to be worst on the interstates rather than the surface streets, and whether transportation dollars should be used to move money rather than people. A tourist trolley and a MARTA bus line running more or less the same route have already failed, perhaps because there’s a MARTA subway line running pretty darn close to the area (”close” being relative to metro Atlanta’s very limited existing transit infrastructure). Now we’re supposed to believe that a streetcar is what we really needed there all along?

Here’s one thing it will do: Further convince skeptics that the transit projects that get built are the nice-sounding boondoggles instead of items targeted where traffic is worst.

But only if it actually gets built. The feds coughed up $9 million less than Atlanta had asked for. Central Atlanta Progress and the city government — which, if you hadn’t already heard, is broke … and up to its eyebrows in unfunded pension liabilities — had pledged about $20 million to the $70 million-plus project. (Keep in mind: That’s at least $70 million just for a loop covering about 2 miles downtown — it doesn’t even go north or south on Peachtree!)

Perhaps CAP and the city were sandbagging in order to get the most federal money possible, and they really have closer to $30 million. Assuming the project comes in on budget — which strikes me as an awfully big assumption — they might have enough money to build it.

Now, how are they going to run it? MARTA just cut dozens of bus routes and reduced subway operating hours in large part because it couldn’t afford to run them.

I’m not an anti-transit person. But it has to be effective. If we’re going to spend $70 million on transit, it would be much better used to to complete however much of the Beltline’s transit plans $70 million would buy.

At least that would have a real impact.

192 comments Add your comment

Tanya Harding

October 15th, 2010
1:45 pm

You hit the nail on the head, should have gone after funding for the Beltline. I believe they dropped the Beltline request in favor of this.

Jason

October 15th, 2010
1:50 pm

“I’m not an anti-transit person.”

HAHAHAHAHA!!!! That’s a good one!

Sounds like “I’m not a Republican, I just happen to vote for nothing but Republicans.”

Yeah, not anti-transit but just against it whenever it actually has a chance to come into existence.

Cutty

October 15th, 2010
1:53 pm

Maybe if we got all those idling GRTA and Gwinnett buses off the surface streets during rush hour may run better. They hog two lanes and run front to back through much of downtown. Convenient for suburbanites. City folk not so much.

Atlanta City Guv is Corrupt

October 15th, 2010
1:56 pm

We will just call it a street car named useless. Democrats tend to pour money into Atlanta, which the local yokels try their best to steal, but usually end up failing to spend and have give it back or ask for an extension. Do you remember Slick Willie’s Enterprise Zone in Atlanta? No, most likely because it failed after spending tens of millions of our money.

Stephanie Ramage

October 15th, 2010
1:57 pm

You’re a day late and several dollars short, as usual, Kyle. I’ve been reporting on this for months and writing columns on it–ahead of the taxpayer disaster, not after the fact, long after anything anyone writes can be of any use. Read it on sundaypaper.com
Where the hell have you been?

PEDS

October 15th, 2010
1:58 pm

Motorists who are stuck in traffic on downtown streets deserve to be. Automobiles require a tremendous amount of land per user — both for movement and storage — and are therefore the least desirable transportation mode for urban areas. Three cheers for investments that prioritize walking, transit, and bicycling over other modes.

Tim

October 15th, 2010
1:58 pm

why would this not be a good idea? It would help transfer people from the aquarium/world of coke to other parts of the city. If u have ever walked from Centennial Olympic park to peachtree street you would know what I’m talking about.

lilhomer

October 15th, 2010
1:58 pm

if marta is cutting back routes because they cant be supported and this streetcar runs a route similar to a marta route…who’s gonna ride and support this boondoggle?…just a way to spend more taxpayer money with little benefit…

Dan

October 15th, 2010
1:59 pm

It would be hard to imagine a bigger waste of money. MARTA is mostly devoid of use because the destinations it serves is limited. Assuming there is even a need to provide transportation from the King center to Centennial park, and thats a big if, Marta already serves that need just 3 stops on the east west line. This is exactly the wasteful political gamesmenship that people hate about pols

Reasonable Person

October 15th, 2010
1:59 pm

You sound like someone that is also a fan of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly.

Charlie

October 15th, 2010
2:03 pm

I’ve got to agree here. I don’t understand the desire for the street car, especially when the main goal is to reduce Peachtree Street to one lane of auto traffic each way in the next phase. The beltline rail, brain train, or the occasionally discussed commuter rail line to Marietta and beyond would be a much better use of transit funds.

Not anti-Transit?

October 15th, 2010
2:07 pm

While the near term projections for taking cars off the road may not be particularly strong in terms of the downtown loop portion of this transit project, the long term implications for creating a more livable intown community attractive to folks to live are profound. The MARTA line you reference does not run “pretty darn close” to the areas such a street car may serve. The King Center Station and GA Dome Stations are as “close” to these areas to be served as Interstate 75 is “close” to Stone Mountain. The reality is that Atlanta needs the Peachtree Streetcar project, the Beltline, the multimodal station, the LoveJoy commuter train, the Athens Brain train, Chattanooga high-speed rail, and much more. Until we as a region and a State make a committment to all of these transit projects we are going to be mired in asphalt.

Chris

October 15th, 2010
2:07 pm

As an advocate and user of public transit my opinion is that the only conceivable benefit is that it would be the beginning of a streetcar infrastructure. Otherwise, a walk or drive along that corridor will quickly show there’s rarely much traffic between those points. I think the funds would have bettered served the Beltline, and now only hope that the disuse of this segment results in a extension into L5P or up Marietta St and not “told ya so’s” and eventual mothballing.

fil

October 15th, 2010
2:07 pm

What we really need is an authority to govern transit. Something to oversee GTRA, MARTA, GTA, CCT, GCT, CAP, DOT, etc.. Perhaps the new agency could then create sub-groups to govern. Then we’ll have a place to spend our transit dollars.

Matt

October 15th, 2010
2:08 pm

Help ease downtown traffic problems??? As if a major part of our traffic problem is too many people driving between Centennial Park and MLK.

What a waste of money- if we *must* spend more on public transit the money might as well go to MARTA because people actually use that.

Jefferson

October 15th, 2010
2:08 pm

Sounds like a fun ride.

Angus

October 15th, 2010
2:09 pm

Why I don’t like it?
– MARTA rail is 2-3 blocks away, a MARTA bus line already runs there
– it doesn’t address any of today’s needs (how ’bout connecting Turner Field and the Zoo w/ downtown?)
– as currently designed, it does not connect to the Beltline

Why I like it?
– the Edgewood corridor is ripe for commercial development and if it happens, it could bridge the disconnect between downtown and good ‘hoods in east Atlanta (Inman Park, Cabbagetown, Grant Park, et al)
– it’s a start

Robert

October 15th, 2010
2:11 pm

Another horrible idea. The Beltline is a good idea, because Atlanta already has a MARTA cross (North-south and East-West lines) and the Beltline would connect all four radiating lines.

More than that, the Beltline utilizes already-existing but un-utilized railroad tracks while NOT interfering with traffic.

This “streetcar” will only help tourists staying at hotels, it won’t help people actually working in Atlanta, students at GSU, etc.

Still@theBAR

October 15th, 2010
2:12 pm

47 mill for 2.6 miles. What a joke? How many people visit the King Center every year? Please rethink this project.

TN Stone

October 15th, 2010
2:14 pm

While I agree that it is not a solution for traffic, I think that this will be a great thing for Atlanta IF it gets built. In the near future it will probably be mostly a tourist/convention transport. Most of the conventioners complain that there is not enough to do in atlanta, this will be an opportunity to provide restaurant/bar/entertainment options in the downtown area. In the process that area hopefully can be cleaned up a bit and prompt people to move back into the surrounding downtown area, which would potentially cut back on traffic.

J.D. Hawg

October 15th, 2010
2:18 pm

Just the capital costs with 1,000 riders per day for 10 years is $19 each before any variable costs. If that number drops in half, the cost doubles to $38 each. This is a monumental waste of money, but none of our politicians care. How about retiring some of the national debt???

Penny Lane

October 15th, 2010
2:18 pm

“This “streetcar” will only help tourists staying at hotels, it won’t help people actually working in Atlanta, students at GSU, etc.”

Agreed – so my question is:

Has anyone done a survey of Atlanta tourists to see what percentage of them would actually be using this line?

My understanding was that tourists visiting Atlanta are more distressed by the numerous aggressive panhandlers downtown than by the lack of an MLK – Centennial Olympic Park transit line.

Politico

October 15th, 2010
2:23 pm

Cutty, lay off your anti-suburban bias, please. I guess your slow-poke MARTA buses never slow you down, right? Just the suburban buses. You give suburbanites grief for not taking transit and then you complain about suburban transit. Good grief.

Meanwhile, Wingfield is right about this. The money ought to go to a needed transit project like the Beltway or a MARTA expansion instead of a streetcar named desire boondoggle that is doomed to fail. This is more bad transportation policy like not having a MARTA stop near the baseball stadium or no ramp connecting Ga. 400 to I-85 North.

Rediculous Project

October 15th, 2010
2:26 pm

This is absurd…the demand, cost and impact to relieve traffic congestion are not even close to supporting this project..waste of money

Atlanta Resident

October 15th, 2010
2:27 pm

It makes no sense to run streetcar lines within a few blocks of MARTA rail lines. Why not run the streetcar to places that people actually go to in large numbers, such as Turner Field and Zoo Atlanta, which the MARTA rail lines do not even come close to? A streetcar line from downtown to Turner Field would benefit both Braves fans and downtown businesses, and could have a stop in downtown near one of the existing MARTA rail stations.

Kyle Wingfield

October 15th, 2010
2:28 pm

Not anti-Transit @ 2:07: I-75/Stone Mountain? Hyperbole isn’t your strong suit. As I wrote, it is close *relative to the transit infrastructure we have*.

But getting back to the streetcar specifically: On the list of transit projects you mentioned, which is hardly exhaustive of all the transportation fixes the region needs, the streetcar would have to rank dead last. The Peachtree Streetcar is first and foremost a prestige project, second a tourism project, and — distant third here — it’s an economic development project.

If you want to spend our prestige or tourism or economic development dollars on it, fine. But in case you haven’t noticed we aren’t swimming in transportation funds in this state. And we won’t be anytime soon.

I think Chris @ 2:07 has hit on a very relevant point. Transit advocates should be the most nervous people regarding this project imo. What transit advocates in this region need are wins — not on the awarding of federal grants (ask Lovejoy train supporters how far that alone has gotten them) but on the successful and effective implementation of new transit projects. I am highly skeptical that this project is going to help with that.

Kyle Wingfield

October 15th, 2010
2:31 pm

Folks, we’re not going to turn this into a “should cyclists or motorists get crushed” debate.

TN Stone

October 15th, 2010
2:31 pm

Atlanta resident,

Transit to turner field isnt going to make sense until there is stuff to do there in the off season. What will people ride to turner for in January?

Dan

October 15th, 2010
2:33 pm

@not anit transit? Really??? the dome station is 2 blocks from centennial park and I am being generous all you have to do is walk alongside Phillips and cross 1 street. Keep eschewing logic for crowing (or braying the party line)

winkasdad29

October 15th, 2010
2:34 pm

I’m for transit, too, but securing funds to get part of the transit portion of the Beltline up and running would have been better. Some park land is almost ready for use, so getting the light rail going would have been more logical to me.

By the way, the commuter rail line to Lovejoy already has funding from the Feds – $80M – that the state is in danger of giving back because they have not used it. Commuter rail to Athens, Griffin and Macon makes more sense.

Also, since the Atlanta Braves got a stadium for free, maybe they should enter a public – private partnership to build a light rail line from Turner Field to one of the nearby MARTA stations. The idea is not unprecedented (the transit part, I don’t know about the funding part). The Minnesota Twins, New York Jets & Giants, and the San Diego Padres all have light rail that will bring fans to/from their new stadiums.

Ayn Rant

October 15th, 2010
2:36 pm

Kyle, what have Americans come to? It’s always, “Don’t do this! It costs too much.” or, “Don’t do that! It won’t solve every problem I can think of.”

What should we do then, nothing at all? Should America just come to a dead stop and let the world flow by?

While we fume and sputter the rest of the world races ahead to prepare for a prosperous and secure future. Switzerland has just drilled a 35-mile rail tunnel under the Alps. China builds magnificent airports, harbors, and high speed railways. Beijing has completed a 5th ring road (expressway) around the city. China will soon send men to the moon. The European Space Agency handles most of the commercial satellite launches. The European CERN project is the foremost scientific project in the world.

After the Second World War, we Americans were energized. We built the interstate highways, the dams, and the harbors that modern Americans can’t even maintain! We were proud of our infrastructure projects and our engineering and scientific accomplishments. We were proud of America, and didn’t whine about paying the taxes required to build a better future for ourselves and our children.

Can you think of anything at all that Atlanta could do that you wouldn’t criticize? Do you imagine that Atlanta Airport, the state’s biggest employer, was built by naysayers? Isn’t it likely that a streetcar line from Centennial Park to the MLK Center will make the city more attractive to residents and visitors, and will benefit businesses along the way? Why must Atlanta choose between the streetcar line and the Beltline? Why not do both? People need the jobs that the projects will create and the benefits the completed projects will bring. People need to take pride in their city and country.

To heck with all you whiners! You pull America down and neglect your own future. Shame on you! You disgrace the generation that gave you life and a free and prosperous country to live in!

TN Stone

October 15th, 2010
2:39 pm

The beltline isn’t even close to being ready for building light rail, so that wasn’t really an option. This was the only transit project that was in the relative price range and “shovel ready”.

Jefferson Jackson

October 15th, 2010
2:39 pm

The Central Business District in Atlanta is as dead as a dead dog can be. No one in his right mind goes downtown except to work or see a ball game. Tourists? Yeah, right.

winkasdad29

October 15th, 2010
2:39 pm

TN Stone, you have a valid point. The Twins light rail travels between Target Field and the Mall of America. Touche’!

FSG

October 15th, 2010
2:42 pm

I like streetcars – but you need a network to see the advantage. Otherwise, it’s just a curiosity. The new streetcars they are working on in DC make sense – because they actually built a regional Metro that goes everywhere.

Beltline should be the priority ITP project, plain and simple. If you want a streetcar – Arts Ctr through Buckhead would be more useful, since MARTA is not convenient there.

If you want to do a streetcar/light rail line – how about Doraville MARTA Mall of GA? right of way is there, and get that traffic off the interstate. And 400, and I-75. And hook them together.

And ITP people need to understand that there had better be some nods to downstate transit, if they are ever going to get any state house support for anything.

Kyle Wingfield

October 15th, 2010
2:45 pm

What I would support, Ayn, is a project that addressed the biggest transportation problems we face. No one can say with a straight face that mobility for tourists or conventioneers, or traffic congestion between Centennial Park and the King Center, ranks among the top 20 or 30 or 50 transportation problems in this region.

As for why Americans these days are so quick to say “It costs too much!” I recommend David Brooks’ column from Tuesday: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/opinion/12brooks.html?ref=davidbrooks

TN Stone

October 15th, 2010
2:48 pm

Kyle,

Where would you spend the funds?

Kyle Wingfield

October 15th, 2010
2:51 pm

TN Stone: As I wrote, if we’re going to spend $70 million on transit, I’d put it in the Beltline first. I think FSG @ 2:42 makes some very good points and has some good ideas.

Elliot Ness

October 15th, 2010
2:52 pm

If “busy work” costing huge dollars is done, why not build lines connecting all the police precincts and court buildings with all the jails and prisons? It would be the most effective use for this project and would save taxpayers lots of money.

s

October 15th, 2010
2:54 pm

For some reason I can imagine the homeless riding along hitting up everyone else for money.

TN Stone

October 15th, 2010
2:54 pm

What do you mean by “put it in the beltline”?

Brad

October 15th, 2010
2:55 pm

$70M? Assuming it’s a $20 round trip cab fare, that’s 3.5M trips. That’s good for roughly 1000 trips per day for 10 years. I’m liberal, but even I consider this insane.

Atlanta Resident

October 15th, 2010
2:57 pm

TN Stone,

There are plans in the works for developing the sprawling Turner Field parking lots into a mixed use area, sort of like Atlantic Station, which would include parking decks (http://www.atlantada.com/buildDev/StadiumArea.jsp). A streetcar line to Turner Field would help encourage development there, which will mean things to do in the on and off season. Many Braves fans would like to be able to have a drink or a meal before or after a game. In addition, GA State uses some of the Turner Field lots for parking, which would be a source of year round ridership.

Kyle Wingfield

October 15th, 2010
2:57 pm

One more point regarding TN Stone @ 2:39: I think this is one of the biggest problems with public spending today. There is more focus on getting money out the door than on solving the biggest problems.

I think you’re probably right about “shovel ready” being part of the criteria. But Obama himself has admitted that there’s no such thing as a shovel-ready project. So why, why, why is his administration still using that as a factor? If that money is going to be spent, why would the government rather see it spent on a lesser project that’s more ready than on a better project that might be a couple of years away?

That makes no sense imo, unless you enter the realm of Washington logic (sic).

Marie

October 15th, 2010
3:00 pm

Hey Kasim here’s an idea for you. Why not remove all those darn street plates that the broke ‘a’ city of Atlanta has placed all over the freaking place? Let’s work on getting the streets nice and smooth first so when you waste money on these street cars — the one old lady on each doesn’t fall off and hit her freaking head on one of the plates you have permanently affixed on every surface street (oops my bag I haven’t noticed any by City Stall — just on the streets where the capitalist class works).

Brad

October 15th, 2010
3:03 pm

It would make more sense to fill in the potholes on Dekalb Avenue with dollar bills.

Kyle Wingfield

October 15th, 2010
3:03 pm

TN Stone @ 2:54: I mean spend it on the transit element of the Beltline — whichever segment is first in line to be built.

I realize a lot of decisions have to be made between now and when that’s ready to go. But see my 2:57.

lulu

October 15th, 2010
3:04 pm

“Maybe if we got all those idling GRTA and Gwinnett buses off the surface streets during rush hour may run better. They hog two lanes and run front to back through much of downtown. Convenient for suburbanites. City folk not so much.”

Absolutely! Let the suburbanites put their money into expanding and improving MARTA if they want transit rather than just letting their busses clog our already-packed streets and sit idling for most of the day, worsening our already-polluted air.

E-Roll

October 15th, 2010
3:06 pm

The point that I think most people are missing with this announcement is that this is the starting point not the finish line when it comes to the streetcar project. If you visit the website for the Peachtree Streetcar Project, http://www.peachtreecorridor.org/home/ , you will see that the vision of this project is to have a total of 14.6 miles of streetcars that feed into MARTA stations, the Beltline and neigborhoods from Buckhead to the soon to be converted Fort McPherson.
This segement of the streetcar project will not reduce traffic but as the city’s population increase yearly this along with the Beltline will allow these inner city residents to rely on streetcars to get from their homes to work, entertainment destinations and shopping choices which will reduce the number of cars on the road. The N.Y.C. subways had to start gradually but with opinions like I am seeing here that great transportation creation would not exist if this belief had prevailed.

Intowner

October 15th, 2010
3:09 pm

What a foolish way to spend our money, spend it on the belt line, on Marta or something where people actually need to travel. More of the same spend first, think later mentality pushing this devicive enterprise.