One thing became clear about the Atlanta Streetcar route from the moment the project was announced: a lot of people, even among public-transit supporters, don’t like it.
The criticism often boils down to people opposing the very idea of using a streetcar as a tool for developing a blighted area — particularly when there is potential use for new rail in existing areas of density and economic vibrancy.
No matter what you’re opinion of this route, or of the whole streetcar-as-development-tool concept, one thing is certain: Atlanta needs this to work. If the streetcar fails, we’ll likely face an even more uncertain future for rail expansion than we do now.
Just listen to Ryan Gravel, the visionary behind the Atlanta BeltLine, as quoted in this Atlanta Magazine piece:
The next big test, he says, actually rests on another project, the Atlanta Streetcar, which is scheduled to begin service next year through the Auburn Avenue corridor and downtown.
“The success of the streetcar is important to regional transit in general and the BeltLine in particular,” Gravel says.
Very true. It will be much harder to qualify both local political initiative and federal monetary support for additional rail — such as an extension to and eventually on the BeltLine — if the downtown streetcar fails to attract significant development and riders. The future of Atlanta rail-transit expansion could, in large part, rest on a success here.
The need for investment on this route is well-stated in this excerpt from the streetcar project proposal:
“From a national perspective, the streetcar links the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site on the east side of Downtown Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park on the west, via historic Auburn Avenue, the birthplace of our nation’s civil rights movement…It will also reconnect the eastern and western sections of Downtown Atlanta, which were effectively separated by the construction of Interstate 75/85 in the mid 1950s. The barrier of the I-75/85 overpass has left a negative, lasting adverse impact that destroyed the vibrant local economy previously existing in the Auburn Avenue corridor.”
When I walk from Woodruff Park east to the King center, I see clearly the way decades of neglect have taken their toll on this corridor. I experience the particularly unpleasant passage under the 75/85 overpass.
I think we owe a debt as a city to the rich history of this district to provide this catalyst. We’re not just building a transit line — we’re rebuilding a significant part of the city that should never have been allowed to get where it is now.
Streetcar construction photo by Flickr user ssinharoy