Atlanta BeltLine buries Peachtree Streetcar to favor other streetcar lines

By Maria Saporta

Second part of a two-part series on current plans for the Atlanta BeltLine. Looking at the proposed phases of the Atlanta Streetcar

It was Friday, Nov. 15, 2002 at the annual meeting of the Midtown Alliance when guest speaker Andres Duany, the father of new urbanism, challenged Atlanta.

“Peachtree Street was created by the Streetcar,” Duany told the hundreds sitting at the Fox Theatre. “If you restore that pattern, it will restore the area immediately.”

Duany went on to say that Atlanta was unique because of Peachtree Street — no other city has such a well-recognized commercial corridor only a couple of blocks away from “pastoral” neighborhoods.

That simple challenge sparked a decade-long effort by hundreds of Atlanta’s civic and business leaders to establish a streetcar up and down our city’s signature street. Because the city would need a maintenance area to store streetcars, planners coupled the plans for the Peachtree Streetcar with an east-west streetcar that would connect Centennial Olympic Park with the King Center — with the maintenance yard under the Downtown Connector.

An initial federal grant to build the entire “shovel ready” Atlanta Streetcar including Peachtree was turned down, but a second application to begin with just the east-west line was approved. It is now under construction and scheduled to open this summer.

So one would think the next project slated to be built would be the Peachtree Streetcar — connecting downtown to Midtown towards Buckhead to the north and connecting downtown towards Fort McPherson to the south.

But in the last couple of years, the City of Atlanta has turned over its streetcar transportation planning function to the Atlanta BeltLine. That has led to the Peachtree Streetcar being placed at the very bottom of the priority list.

Phases of Streetcar plans: Green - Phase 1; Blue - Phase 2, Yellow - Phase 3, Red - Phase 4. The Peachtree Streetcar is in Phase 4. The Black lines in the middle is what is currently under construction (Source: Atlanta BeltLine Inc.)

Phases of Streetcar plans: Green – Phase 1; Blue – Phase 2, Yellow – Phase 3, Red – Phase 4. The Peachtree Streetcar is in Phase 4. The Black lines in the middle is what is currently under construction – click to enlarge (Source: Atlanta BeltLine Inc.)

In place of the Peachtree Streetcar, there are a number of streetcar projects the Atlanta BeltLine Streetcar System Plan has put in the first phase.

They include: the Atlanta Streetcar East Extension on Irwin Street, the Atlanta Streetcar West Extension on Luckie Street, the Crosstown-Midtown route along North Avenue, the East Atlanta BeltLine, the West Atlanta BeltLine (part of the Southwest Corridor) and a short link to the Multimodal Passenger Terminal. Total cost: $661 million.

The second phase includes: the Southeast Atlanta BeltLine to Glenwood Park, Southwest Atlanta BeltLine, Atlanta University Center East, downtown to Grant Park. Total cost: $497 million.

There’s a third phase that would cost $990 million. And finally, there’s the fourth phase, which includes a hodge-podge of difficult to build transit projects, and that phase includes the Peachtree Streetcar — which has already been labeled “shovel ready.” Phase four’s cost: $1.5 billion.

The BeltLine’s projected timing estimates that it would take at least 20 years to complete all four phases, and they would cost a total of $3.65 billion.

So how did the Peachtree Streetcar go from being the inspiration of Atlanta’s streetcar network to getting buried under the BeltLine’s plans?

Nate Conable, director of transit and transportation for the Atlanta BeltLine, explained that each project was evaluated and ranked by using five guiding principles — project readiness, practicality and ridership, equity, financial options and development impact.

Atlanta BeltLine's guiding principles in ranking the priorities of its streetcar projects

Atlanta BeltLine’s guiding principles in ranking the priorities of its streetcar projects

In going over the charts that ranked each project, little detailed data (ridership numbers, etc.) was available for the projects that were in Phase 3 and 4 — so the Peachtree Streetcar did not get a thorough, in-depth evaluation.

At one point I asked Conable the following question: Shouldn’t the next phase of the streetcar be built in the corridor where it can be most successful?

Conable said that was not the BeltLine’s guiding principle.

So we may have a real philosophical difference of opinion.

I believe that streetcar lines must first be built in corridors where they can prove their value — where they can be attract the most riders and stimulate lively urban developments that encourage walkability.

A Peachtree Streetcar could help create a seamless central commercial spine that would rival any other business-retail-residential district in the region.

If the first streetcar lines are popular and successful, then their success will create a demand and desire for more streetcars throughout the city — including lines that serve the BeltLine.

But the opposite is also true.

The Atlanta BeltLine is presenting its Streetcar System Plan at a public hearing on March 10, to the Atlanta City Council’s community development committee on March 11, a transportation committee on March 12 and to the full Atlanta City Council on March 17. The goal is to change the city’s transportation plan to shift the priorities of when and where future streetcar lines should go.

But first members of the public — including business, civic and community leaders who have been counting on riding a Peachtree Streetcar in their lifetime — need to know what’s at stake. More importantly, they need to be part of a citywide conversation that weighs in on what our transit priorities should be.

“You can’t have an urban transit system in Atlanta without having a Peachtree Streetcar,” said Tom Bell, a developer who served as co-chair of the Peachtree Corridor Task Force. “We always wanted to have transit on the BeltLine, but you can’t have transit on the BeltLine without first having a Peachtree Streetcar.”

 

Last week, the first part of the two part series: Looking at the Southwest leg of the Atlanta BeltLine corridor.

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29 comments
PeggyPowellDobbins
PeggyPowellDobbins

Aargh. Ya'know. That big definitive case for streetcars with their ugly-- even in San Francisco and Istanbul-- overhead wires and ridiculously expensive disruptive track laying, instead of unleashing anything everything on tires-- like just flagging an affordable cab anywhere anytime on Peachtree,, that case was that investors were "more likely to invest" where transit routes had the "permanence" of wires and tracks -- like on Peachtree before they were removed. It's not just that Atlanta's Deciders have chauffeurs and Go-fers while the folks who need, much less "would like" to go out our door, walk less than 500 feet, and catch a ride, are ignored. That is so in cities with adequate, even good transportation. What IS unique to Atlanta?

Stephenedward90
Stephenedward90

Zipcar is about 1/2 the price of cabs. Atlanta's cabs are far more expensive than NYC. It's about $36-$40 roundtrip from Midtown to Cheshire Bridge. Most of the cabs are in horrible shape, and the drivers go ridiculously slow and never take the shortest route. Those meters are going up,up, up even if you're not moving or moving very slowly. I rode these things for 3 years and will never again. They suck.

PeggyPowellDobbins
PeggyPowellDobbins

I don't fawn over Duany as some do, but I agree Peachtree is A, if not The Key strength of Atlanta's claim to historic citydom. I disagree that a streetcar requiring heavy infrastructure -- streets pulled up and track laid and overhead wirings--which at best uglify---is called for. A competition for a design, judged by pledge-to-ride votes, that gets something(s) quick AND most of all very very very frequent, fare pegged to what pledged users can pay X times a day etc etc etc should do the trick. Money is being spent paying people to sell us solutions. Down with solution ism. The answer may lie in simply getting with the current taxis and figuring out how to get then driving up and down, picking up who hails them on Peachtree.

arjay57
arjay57

Why would we not focus on spending our limited transit dollars on areas of the city which are job rich, fast growing and loaded with new residents?  It's crazy to leave Buckhead out of this process.  Especially since that’s where a large part of the funding will be generated.  

Stephenedward90
Stephenedward90

Since last fall, I've had to report about 150 burned out traffic signals to Atlanta public works. None of the highway lighting is operational on the Buford Highway Connector or I-85 from Midtown to N Druid Hills. These lights have been out for 5 years. Huge swaths of streetlights don't work throughout Midtown and Buckhead. Faded, non legible street signs and lane signs all over town. Crooked, twisted traffic signals can be found throughout Midtown and Buckhead. I have never experienced such incompetent and indifferent city maintenance workers or DOT. I have repeatedly emailed MARTA asking them to wash the train's windows. They have years of grime on them. 75% of the electronic signs on MARTA platforms haven't worked in the last 4 years. The work ethic including "it's someone's responsibility" plagues Atlanta and Georgia and sadly won't change in my lifetime. The grid-locked highways was a result of no one conscientiously overseeing the city or being proactive (absent on every level of city and state government). Gas prices are cheaper in NC (who collects 37.5 cents per gallon tax in addition to the 18 cent federal tax). About 30 cents per gallon in Georgia is simply missing in action, due to corruption and ridiculous bassackwards laws. GDOT should have $5 Billion per year to split between $2 Billion for maintenance and $3 Billion for new construction EVERY YEAR like NC does. Florida spend over $10 Billion per year on its roads.

I DON'T HAVE MUCH FAITH THAT GEORGIA WILL EVER DO ANYTHING.

glianny
glianny

While the idea of the return of the streetcar to the main artery of the city is indeed romantic, it also seems impractical. Peachtree has a limited number of lanes and the streetcar will be stuck in traffic along with the cars, thus making it less attractive.I am curious as to why no one has discussed moving the streetcar to one of the thoroughfares with multiple lanes like Spring Street, Piedmont, Juniper or West Peachtree.Those have been criticized for being unpleasant looking and unfriendly to pedestrians due to their width, which leads to fast and aggressive driving.A lane devoted solely to the streetcar, perhaps one that could also serve as a bike lane, would address those issues, while at the same time give the streetcar a huge advantage over cars during rush hour.

K3nn3th
K3nn3th

Running the streetcar through the ghetto will get ghetto ridership. This "equity" nonsense should be the last consideration. The project must be attractive to people who will spend money and buy homes. That is the only way to generate population density. Spreading the ghetto around will only get more results similar to MARTA. 

Oh, and don't think this is a race thing. I'm a black man. Just honest. 

RL614
RL614

I agree with your assessment. It makes no sense to not start with Peachtree Street. Interest needs to be sparked and it obviously starts with the street Atlanta is know for!

N1308
N1308

local interests have compromised the city's interests --- without peachtree, atlanta does not exist ---

gt7348b
gt7348b

Maria - Thank you for posting this and starting the discussion.  Also, if you didn't notice, some members listed as representing different organizations on the Technical Advisory Committee have not work for their respective organizations for well over a year and sometimes years.  Specifically I'm referring the representatives listed for MARTA, ARC and CfPT. 

Benjamin Friedman
Benjamin Friedman

The Beltline routes have TAD money, so there's a funding mechanism in place and a strong incentive for infrastructure investment to further raise property values. By comparison, the Peachtree corridor would have to be funded in some unknown manner, so there's less interest in building it because there's no money and I doubt any politicians want to start making a push to raise taxes for the project. If the Downtown and Beltline projects work, then the city would be interested in making the Peachtree line a reality.

mnst
mnst

The column makes a point of talking about what isn't the driving factor behind the phasing of the streetcar (which routes would be most popular at first) -- why didn't you bother to describe the rationale behind the way it was structured? It's quite clear after reading the report that they expect increased property tax revenues from the first phases of the Beltline to help pay for the expansion of the streetcar. Building the line on Peachtree first wouldn't have the same impact on property taxes. It really pains me to see people who should know better use their soapbox to advance a one-sided argument against the team working to actually get this thing built.

This publication has an amazing profile in this city; you could try using it to help attract the private investment that could make a Peachtree line happen sooner.

Ben Nicoara
Ben Nicoara

I attended this same Streetcar/Beltline expansion planning meeting a few weeks ago, and firstly I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate all of the hard work and time that the Beltline organization puts into these projects for the future betterment of our city. It was very annoying and discouraging to listen to disrespectful naysayers being rude and interrupting, as well as asking too many questions...making it impossible for everyone else to find answers to THEIR questions.  Your interruptions and endless whiny bickering with that man sitting in front of you made it very difficult to hear or focus on the presenters. I'm glad that Mr.Conable had the guts to stand up to you and not allow you to be rude, which you somehow think you are given the right to be...as a pseudo-"reporter."


Their team is full of educated, experienced and qualified individuals who are putting in a lot of time and effort into making this audacious plan become a reality over time. Sometimes people don't realize that this is Atlanta, and it's not Portland or Salt Lake City...where there is huge financial and community support behind transit expansion projects. Things take time here, and people need to have patience. I wish that more people would see transit expansion the way I do: not as something of a personal benefit to myself, but rather to the betterment of Atlanta and the lives of residents that need better transit access.

To better explain: I've lived in various parts of Atlanta my entire life. I was born in Tucker and raised in Norcross. Since October 2010 I have lived in Brookhaven, then near Ansley Mall, then in the heart of Midtown, then Glenwood Park, and now Brookwood Hills. I currently live ON Peachtree Street very close to Piedmont Hospital...steps away from where the future Beltline corridor runs under Peachtree. You would THINK that I would've been devastated or angered to discover that night that this segment of the project is in Phase 4...but I wasn't. I've been a fan and follower of the Beltline's progress since 2009, and I'm pretty well-educated on the ins and outs of the plans. I already knew before this meeting that the rail corridor near my home is still actively used for freight transfer and is still owned by rail companies. This will be a difficult segment of the corridor to acquire and to retrofit for future transit use.

More importantly, I understand that where I live is already well connected to other parts of the city, despite being roughly 2 miles from both Arts Center station and Lindbergh station. It is the main surface thoroughfare of this city, and thus is frequently serviced by buses. I am also near Piedmont Hospital, which is a huge employment center. But I understand the dynamics of my neighborhood as well as others...and the priorities for where we should build transit first needs to reflect these truths rather than the desires of a few who would love to see a streetcar run along the main touristy boulevard simply for show. I understand that the goal of streetcar expansion is to connect low-income neighborhoods where many residents have no vehicles and limited access to infrequent bus service with their service-oriented job centers in other parts of town. Let's face it, most economically-disadvantaged people do not work in the Buckhead financial district. They work in retail centers. This is specifically why I was thrilled to see the Westview district being connected to the North Ave crosstown connection and subsequently to Ansley Mall in phase 1 of the plans. I used to work in the Ansley area, and I knew more than a few people who lived in SW Atlanta and worked at Ansley. It took them a very long time to get to work via bus, train and bus again. THESE are the people that need transit first...not the wealthy Midtowners and Buckheaders who live in their fancy condos and drive luxury cars to work, anyway.

I look forward to seeing the entire 60+ miles of streetcar built out, but I also have the patience to wait for it to come to fruition in a manner that is best for our city to advance itself into the future of our world's urban centers, which are competing for the appeal of employers to bring more jobs here. Bridging the economic gap between poor neighborhoods and wealthier neighborhoods is much more important in Atlanta than building a streetcar line down Peachtree, which (by the way) already has a subway line two blocks away on West Peachtree. 

rossdes
rossdes

I have long said it makes no sense to add another layer of public transit to P'tree street. This city needs an additional layer of transit to start being a truly useful alternative. A loop up Piedmont and down Spring could start to do this. Atlanta has got to start building the parallel and cross lines to create a viable system. Keep reporting and continuing the conversation!

Mark B Rinder
Mark B Rinder

Maria, I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree.  Building an entirely new transportation line along Peachtree Street on TOP of the MARTA system which follows Peachtree Street doesn't seem to make sense to me.  If we had unlimited financial resources, perhaps, but I'd rather see the Beltline built out to completion, including spurs from Lindbergh to Emory Village (from which I wouldn't benefit, personally) than see us divert funds to a Peachtree streetcar.

MARTA desperately needs to be expanded, too.  Atlanta just added 58,000 jobs in the last year (and probably 40,000 the year before?).  That's 100,000 more Atlantans commuting to work than as recently as 2012 with zero improvement to transit systems.  We're very close to a year-round "SnowJam"!


Thanks for writing and getting the dialogue going, though!

Atlgal
Atlgal

The streets cars in Atlanta were originally privately funded and it makes sense to require some public/private collaboration to 'reconstruct' those lines.  That said, I don't think the residents of Midtown and downtown should be required to pony-up directly for the streetcar AND pay taxes that will also support its development and use when the greatest benefactors will be the businesses on Peachtree corridor.  

The Peachtree streetcar could move forward tomorrow if businesses would step up and Atlanta would back off from requiring residents pay twice.  

leadbelly
leadbelly

Maria

Are the supporters of the Peachtree corridor ready to fund it entirely with local funds? Federal dollars via New Starts are highly improbable given that this proposed line sits atop an existing transit line. The other legs of the BeltLine are preferred 1) to leverage what has been built and can receive fed funding and 2) to address the equity issue of the significant portion of the population disconnected from MARTA's lines.

atlman
atlman

If the Peachtree constituency wants a streetcar route, they need to speak out. Right now, the streetcar is getting hammered by the usual "we hate Atlanta and oppose them getting any new infrastructure because we despite who lives there and who they vote for" suburbanites and Republicans, and it is also very unpopular with the "social welfare over infrastructure today, tomorrow and forever" crowd. So the few people who actually support the streetcar (basically mayor Reed and pretty much no one else publicly) is getting hammered. And since the Beltline is equally unpopular (despised by both the city-hating suburbanites/GOPers and the old guard social welfare crowd who wants the money for it to be spent on housing, health care, meals and wheels and whatever) the logical move is to tie the two together and use one to drive the other. 

Looks like the Peachtree folks want this but without having to stick their necks out publicly for fear of offending their anti-infrastructure (or more accurately based on the wide embrace of the Braves stadium in Cobb, the anti-infrastructure IN ATLANTA) crowd. They want to benefit from the project without taking the heat for it. Sorry, that is not how it works. If they want the streetcar, they need to get out in public and let folks know that they want it. That will provide this project with some badly needed political cover and they would get back on the list in return. But the idea that they will get something for nothing while the people who actually support this thing are sacrificing a lot of political capital to push this through? Sorry, it doesn't work that way, and nor should it. If they want it, they need to lobby for it publicly, or else the project will go elsewhere.

PeggyPowellDobbins
PeggyPowellDobbins

Peachtree runs through Buckhead. You should be able to hail a cab anywhere on Peachtree and get anywhere else, Affordably. If not via cab, figure out what would accomplish that

atlman
atlman

@K3nn3th  

Further, this has nothing to do with "equity" since the proposed streetcar routes don't exactly run through the low income areas of the city either. It is about A) the streetcar being used as a mechanism to fund the Beltline from private and federal sources where such funding mechanisms would have been absent otherwise (seriously, without the streetcar, would there be ANY significant development happening for the Beltline right now since T-SPLOST died and future T-SPLOSTs will likely not include the Beltline since the Beltline being on it was a major reason why the anti-city suburbanites voted against it in the first place, especially since they wrongly associated the Beltline with MARTA) and B) the good folks in Peachtree wanting to get something (a presence on the streetcar) for nothing. Everyone though that the streetcar was going to be a fiasco, so the Peachtree folks sat quiet on their hands when the project was getting beaten up politically right and left. But now that it looks like it is going to be open by mid-summer at the latest after all, the Peachtree folks want in? Sorry. That isn't how it works. Especially since the goal of the streetcar/Beltline is to drive economic development and city population growth by attracting folks to blighted/run down/abandoned areas - an economic development/revitalization project meant to benefit/attract recent/new residents - not to benefit an area that is already bustling with economic activity and doesn't need the streetcar.

The upshot of it is that if the Peachtree folks had spoken up on the streetcar when it mattered, 2-3 years ago when the mayor and the city council was being mocked and bashed for proposing the thing and seeking funding, it would have been a lot easier to go to the state and to the feds to get money for the project. But now Peachtree wants the city to divert to THEM money that they didn't fight for. That is hogwash.

Peachtree can get in on the next round of streetcar funding by letting people know that there is an actual demand for the project. So far, the only people brave enough to publicly admit that they actually want and support the streetcar has been the King Center, the Auburn Avenue crowd, Georgia State University (NOT Georgia Tech curiously enough, or even the AU Center), and some of the touristy spots downtown. NOT COINCIDENTALLY, that is where the initial streetcar efforts are going to focus on.  

atlman
atlman

@K3nn3th  


You may be a black man, but you obviously have not been downtown or in the areas near the proposed Beltline site within the last 5 years. Gentrification, what Spike Lee criticized last week, is going on in the proposed streetcar areas in a major way. So it won't be "spreading the ghetto around" but instead it will be (mostly) white, professional/upper class hipsters using the street car when they decide not to take their bikes. It will not be attractive to people who buy homes (those folks live in the suburbs anyway and have for decades, black and white) but it will be to folks who rent condos and townhomes, which are springing up like mushrooms around the Beltline and proposed streetcar routes.


Sorry K3nn3th, but you have not wrapped your mind around the post-Freaknik Atlanta. The one where Freaknik was replaced by TomorrowWorld, a hipster music festival that attracted far more partiers (yet far fewer complaints) than Freaknik ever did.


As far as MARTA goes, white people with families and such did live in the areas where MARTA now goes at the time that it was being planned and constructed. Those people left the MARTA areas for non-MARTA areas, remember? Also, MARTA was blocked from going to where more white people lived at the time (Clayton, Cobb, Gwinnett); the politicians and residents there voted it down.

So your analysis ignores both the last 5-10 years of Atlanta AND the MARTA origins of 30 years ago. It is as if you are only focusing on Atlanta of the 1990s and maybe early 2000s, not before or since.

mnst
mnst

@K3nn3th  Atlanta's east side is a ghetto? Who knew. News flash: this project is attractive to people who spend money and buy homes; that's part of why I did.

vicissidude
vicissidude

@Mark B Rinder Streetcars & light rail serve a different purpose than subways. They're not meant nearly as much for moving people across a city or to and from work as they are to move people around in or between neighborhoods. The peachtree streetcar line would help increase density in one of the few corridors where Atlanta has a good shot at actually creating real city-like population density. I would love to be able to give up my car. I'm down to probably only putting 5k miles a year on it unless I take a road trip out of town. MARTA isn't a viable means for me to do grocery shopping or certain other errands. A round trip that would be 45 minutes (home to shop to home) in my car is HOURS by MARTA. It would be a much different thing if people could hop on and off the street car all along Peachtree and walk to things on nearby streets.


I know this is a pipe dream that's not even under consideration, but I'd love to see Peachtree from downtown through midtown  be almost exclusively street cars and bike lanes. Push all of the through traffic on to the wider roads nearby. Keep a small amount of not fully through access for people who live in condos are apartments where the only access to their parking is from Peachtree. Really, though, we should be trying to get people out of their cars if possible.

K3nn3th
K3nn3th

@atlman Hey troll, listen. you can tell me nothing about the city of Atlanta. You sound like the typical racist leftist who condescendingly thinks he understands what it means to be black. Go back to your bridge. I hear there's room at Krog. 

atlman
atlman

@K3nn3th @atlman  


So you resort to insults when you have no substantial response. Typical. Your issue: you are looking at this through race. Me: I am looking at this through THE CITY. You are talking race issues, I am talking city issues. You care about race issues, I care about city issues. So "what it means to be black" is at best only a small part of it.

K3nn3th, not all black people in this country lives in cities. And more to the point, most cities in this country - the vast majority in fact - do not have majority black populations and are not "black meccas" or "chocolate cities". Blacks are 13% of the nation's population. Many of our states don't even have a significant black population. Yet nearly all of our states have cities. So when I talk about "urban issues", it includes Atlanta and D.C. but it also includes Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Denver, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Hartford etc. It includes cities so wealthy that police officers and teachers who work in those cities can't afford housing there, and cities so dysfunctional and poor that their teachers and police officers are too scared to live there, and everything in between. It includes low income, economically depressed majority white cities in Appalachia and the midwest and high income, upscale majority black urban areas like Prince George's County, places where blacks riding public transportation does not imply "ghetto" or any other negative race/class connotation in any sense of the word. If you can't wrap your mind around that, I am sorry. 

And I can't tell you nothing about the city of Atlanta? Excuse me, but you mean the city that I currently reside in and have so for years?  I disagree. One thing that I can tell you is that based on the demographic changes in my neighborhood, my part of town and the construction boom that is going on all over the city, Atlanta will not be a majority black city in 20 years. It probably won't be in 10 years. When that happens, what will become of your ranting?

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