Council committee puts Atlanta-BeltLine streetcar plans on hold
By Maria Saporta
Atlanta’s future streetcar lines may need further review.
The Atlanta City Council’s Community Development Committee on Tuesday decided to table a proposal presented by the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. that would have outlined the next four phases of the development of streetcars in Atlanta.
The goal had been to get the committee to recommend the Atlanta BeltLine/Atlanta Streetcar System Plan as a supplement to the city’s Connect Atlanta plan. Then that recommendation could have been voted on by the full City Council at next Monday’s meeting.
Instead, the plan has now been placed on an indefinite hold.
City Councilmember Kwanza Hall made a motion to hold the bill after receiving a letter from the downtown business community urging City Council to wait until the 2.7 mile Atlanta Streetcar line that is currently under construction is up and running.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea waiting a little bit until we get this streetcar operational,” Hall said, adding that it was important to make sure that the right routes were selected in future phases. That would involve some “serious conversation” with different partners in the city.
“We don’t lose anything (by waiting),” Hall added.
Councilman Ivory Young also questioned some of the priorities and evaluation guidelines that had been used by the Atlanta BeltLine to select the routes.
“The streetcar is a no brainer if you have hundreds of thousands of people that are at either end with destinations,” Young said. “But you don’t want a bridge to nowhere — I don’t want us to fall into the trap of building rail to nowhere. Rail comes where you have a destination.”
Young said that you start with having transit at the core, and as the communities are developed, then you “build the legs of the streetcar” to those destinations.
The plan being proposed by Atlanta BeltLine Inc had four phases.
The first included: 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 build out the entire system.
Earlier in the meeting, City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms was excited to see a streetcar line serving the Greenbriar area, even though it was slated to be built in the third phase. She then questioned whether she would see it in her lifetime.
Then Councilman Michael Julian Bond said that if it were up to him, the city would plan to have twice as many streetcar lines as the ones outlined on the map that was present to City Council.
“We need more streetcar routes,” said Bond, adding that other cities have had tremendous economic development and tourism success when they have invested in transit. “Where they build light rail, it’s a license to print money.”
The committee ended up voting unanimously to hold the BeltLine’s Streetcar plan.
At the Transportation Committee on Wednesday, although the Atlanta BeltLine/Atlanta Streetcar System Plan was not on the agenda, it did end up becoming a discussion item during the meeting.
Former Atlanta City Councilman Doug Alexander addressed concerns that the city had turned over all its streetcar planning to Atlanta BeltLine Inc. Because the BeltLine folks are in charge of streetcar planning, their focus will be on one priority — the BeltLine, rather than the city as a whole, Alexander said.
Tom Weyandt, deputy chief operating officer for the City of Atlanta, told Alexander and the committee that the city had entered into a services agreement with Atlanta BeltLine Inc. last year to do detailed design and environment studies for the streetcar.
“I’m confident that the connection between Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and the city is quite solid here, Weyandt said, adding that he could understand why people were “admittedly confused” by the different agencies at the city and which one actually was in charge of transit planning.
During both meetings, only slight mention was given to the Peachtree Streetcar, which had been an impetus more than a decade ago to get Atlanta to start seriously considering the streetcar as an alternative mode of transportation for the city.
In fact, after I had written my Maria’s Metro column on Sunday, Doug Alexander sent me a “How soon we forget” email reminding me that it was not Andres Duany who first proposed bringing streetcars back to Atlanta’s streets.
He sent me a link to an article that appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his ideas to take Atlanta into the future by building out a transportations system that we had in the 1920s. The first streetcar line that he proposed? A streetcar line from the King Center to Centennial Olympic Park, up Auburn Avenue and back through Edgewood.