Atlanta begins a streetcar resurgence

  • Streetcar routes

    Streetcar routes

    Map identifies streetcar routes that would be supported by a 1 percent sales tax. The public will vote on the tax July 1.

    Source: Wikipedia

Philip Langdon
Better! Cities & Towns

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood went to Atlanta Feb. 1 to join Mayor Kasim Reed in putting shovels into the ground for a 2.6-mile, 12-stop streetcar line running through downtown.

Supported by a $47.6 million federal grant—the largest of the Obama Administration's 2010 TIGER grants—the streetcar line will be operated by MARTA (the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority).

"It will provide much needed public transportation to small businesses, convention centers, and popular destinations like the World of Coca Cola, the Georgia Aquarium and the CNN Center," LaHood said. Among other destinations served are Georgia State University, Centennial Olympic Park, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, and the historic African-American Auburn Avenue corridor.

"By connecting seamlessly with other rail lines and bicycle routes, the streetcar will allow residents and tourists to get out of their cars and avoid downtown congestion," LaHood noted.

The city and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District provided matching funds for the project, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported. The project is part of what the transportation secretary calls America's "streetcar revival." Grants from US DOT are also backing streetcar projects in Tampa, Cincinnati, Tucson, DallasNew Orleans, and Salt Lake City.

Streetcars first came to Atlanta in 1871 and operated until 1949, Wikipedia reports. A nonprofit organization known as Atlanta Streetcar Inc. (ASC) was formed in 2003 with the mission of bringing streetcars back to downtown. 

Big ambitions

The 2.6-mile line, known as the downtown loop, is seen as only the beginning. A Peachtree Corridor line is regarded as a later phase of streetcar operation. Other routes have also been proposed.

In 2010, Georgia passed the Transportation Investment Act, which provides a legal mechanism for regions throughout the state to impose a 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation improvements. Across the state, 12 transportation districts have been established. This summer, voters in each of the districts will authorize or reject the tax within their jurisdiction.

Though most of the Atlanta area projects to be funded through the Transportation Investment Act are roads, an Atlanta Regional Roundtable list indicates that large sums would be devoted to streetcar projects. Tom Weyandt, senior transportation policy adviser in the mayor's office, points out that more than half the funds would go to transit. Included are:

• $166 million for the Atlanta Beltline and Atlanta Streetcar Transit and Trail—Downtown to Northeast.

• $436 million for the Atlanta Beltline and Atlanta Streetcar Transit and Trail—Downtown and Midtown to Southwest.

For more in-depth coverage on this topic: 

Subscribe to Better! Cities & Towns to read all of the articles (print+online) on implementation of greener, stronger, cities and towns.

• See the January-February 2012 issue of Better! Cities & Towns. Topics: Value capture and transit, Social networks aid downtown, Live smaller, Rentals are market key, Streetcar inspiration, Box building, Civilizing suburbs, Alley houses, Sprawl repair, Healthy communities, Funding for infrastructure, Chicago River reversal

• Get New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide, packed with more than 800 informative photos, plans, tables, and other illustrations, this book is the best single guide to implementing better cities and towns.

• See the December 2011 issue of New Urban News. Wall Street and urbanism, streets to plazas, Sustainable Communities grants, Choice Neighborhoods, TIGER grants, buyers prefer smart growth, protecting historic buildings, public health and planning, redevelopment in Georgia, Ecovillages, parklets

• See the October-November 2011 issue of New Urban News. Topics: HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods; Parking reform, transit-oriented parking policy, Obama vs. Congress, West Virginia town revitalizes, suburb remakes its center, ecological dividend, cul-de-sac makeover, thoroughfare manual, and much more.