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Commentary: Atlanta’s need for a Peachtree Streetcar

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

Atlanta Streetcar

File/Credit: Maria Saporta

The city of Atlanta and MARTA are planning major transportation investments in two separate sales tax referendums that will go before voters in November.

If approved, both taxes would generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for a myriad of improvements including expanded streetcar or light rail lines, improved bus services, new multi-use trails and road upgrades into complete streets.

But one project missing from the plans is for a Peachtree streetcar.

The city of Atlanta has had a rocky experience with reintroduction of the streetcar.

Some question why the new streetcar followed an east-west tourist route from Centennial Olympic Park to the King Center.

The project was envisioned to be part of a larger system that would have had a streetcar going up and down Peachtree Street from downtown to Buckhead.

When the city was not awarded federal funds to build the entire system, it had to build the east-west loop first for the streetcar maintenance facility located under the Downtown Connector.

The assumption was the Peachtree streetcar would be next – connecting the main activity centers in the city.

The most recent transportation plans show all kinds of lines for light rail in the city. But the Peachtree streetcar is not one of them.

How shortsighted. One of the biggest jabs against the existing Atlanta streetcar is that few people ride it – especially since the city began charging a $1 fare.

By comparison, a Peachtree Streetcar would generate more riders than any other route in the city because of the existing developments. While part of the route parallels the MARTA rail line, the two transit systems would serve different functions.

The heavy rail carries people on longer trips at a rapid speed. The streetcar would serve people going shorter distances who want to jump on and off to go to shops, restaurants, clubs, offices, hotels, condos and apartments along the corridor.

There also are stretches of Peachtree without rail transit – from the Arts Center MARTA Station to the Buckhead MARTA Station, a route that includes Piedmont Hospital and Peachtree Battle.

The good news? These plans are not carved in stone. As Atlanta grows, people who are now skeptical of a Peachtree streetcar will be begging for a better way to move up and down our signature street.

Public meetings, transit and transportation

Atlanta calls four meetings on transportation sales taxes; last two fall after deadline for preliminary project list

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration on Thursday called four public meetings to gather input about the two proposed transportation sales tax referendums that Reed wants on the Nov. 8 ballot. By state law, MARTA must present a preliminary list to the city by May 31 for a proposed transit tax increase to appear on a ballot this year.

Atlanta Streetcar to accept Breeze Card despite reports of conflict, to get new interim director

It turns out that the Atlanta Streetcar will utilize the Breeze Card, despite an earlier report by a top city official that Breeze isn’t cost efficient and resulted in no fares being collected this year. In addition, the streetcar has a new interim executive director, according to a statement issued Thursday by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.

Atlanta vying for more federal funds to extend Streetcar line


The city of Atlanta is vying for a federal grant to help it extend its streetcar route to the BeltLine.  Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

The city of Atlanta is vying for a federal grant to help it extend its streetcar route to the BeltLine.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

The city of Atlanta is applying for a $29.3 million federal TIGER 7 grant to extend the Atlanta Streetcar to the BeltLine. Although Atlanta will be facing tough competition for those federal dollars, city leaders believe they have a good case.

The city has been pretty successful in getting funding from the Obama administration. It received $47 million for the first phase of the Atlanta Streetcar, which started operating Dec. 31.

Now the city hopes it will succeed again.

Mayor Kasim Reed has been focused on extending the streetcar line from its current last stop at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the King Historic District to the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine near the Krog Street Market.

The 1.8 mile-streetcar-loop would connect the popular tourist destination of Centennial Olympic Park with the transformative BeltLine, a redevelopment corridor that is gaining national notoriety. The extended line will cost a total of $65.4 million and will include two new streetcars, three new station stops and a new power substation.

It also would continue Atlanta’s investment in its streetcar network, which today is limited at best.

Michael Geisler, the city’s chief operating officer, said the vision is to have a 50-mile streetcar system connecting the key areas of Atlanta. But such a vision will have to be built mile by mile.

Critics will argue that investing in the streetcar does little to solve Atlanta’s transportation challenges and that it costs too much for too few riders.

But streetcars could be viewed as only one part of the city’s transportation ecosystem. They can play a key role in providing residents, workers and tourists options to travel in the city — be it on foot, on a bicycle, on a bus or a MARTA train. Streetcars contribute to a walkable city, where one can easily hop on or off, and experience the town in a most personal way.

Streetcars are not just about transportation. They are about a way of life. That’s why there has been an investment of nearly $850 million in development along the streetcar corridor since the route was announced in 2010. And that investment shows no signs of slowing.

The federal government will announce the winner of the TIGER 7 grants in October. If Atlanta were to be a winner again, the more we would be able to show how a streetcar system can transform a city. It’s already happening. We just need more.

toronto streetcar

Atlanta leaders travel to Canada for ideas exchange

toronto streetcar

Streetcars line up behind each other on a downtown Toronto street (Photos by Maria Saporta)

More than 100 Atlanta leaders are in Toronto, Canada this week.

It’s part of the annual LINK exchange – when municipal heads travel to other cities to meet the people who run them.

Maria Saporta of the Saporta Report is in Toronto with the delegation. She told Amy Kiley what Atlanta leaders are learning up North.

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

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