Atlanta Streetcar Gets Greenlight To Begin Construction

Whether you “Yay!” or “Nay!” it, you all may be interested to know that the Atlanta Streetcar project can now start tearing up the streets in downtown Atlanta.

Darrell points out this press release from the Federal Transit Administration Wednesday…

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) today announced that work can begin on the Atlanta Streetcar project, which was awarded $47.6 million from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II Program in October 2010.

…The electric streetcar will run 2.6 miles through the heart of Atlanta’s business, tourism and convention corridor. Its planned 12 stops will provide access to residential, cultural, educational and historic centers, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and the Georgia Aquarium.

…The streetcar will connect with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) rail system at Peachtree Center, and with numerous area bus routes. Besides providing easy access to jobs and downtown attractions, the streetcar will spur new development in an economically distressed area. It will also reconnect the eastern and western sections of downtown, which have been separated since Interstate 75/85 was built in the 1950s. Also, the project is expected to create an estimated 930 jobs during construction and more than 5,600 jobs over the next 20 years. Service is scheduled to begin in 2013.

50 thoughts on “Atlanta Streetcar Gets Greenlight To Begin Construction”

  1. Bring on the streetcars!! Hopefully this is just the first leg of a revived streetcar system in Atlanta. So much of the city was developed around streetcars, and I’m itching for them to make a comeback. Intown residents need better options to get from neighborhood to neighborhood.

  2. I honestly understand and respect many of the arguments against spending this money on this streetcar. But I can’t help but be giddy and excited about it. I’m an Atlanta history nut and I’ve seen so many great photos of streetcars in the city from the late 19th through the mid 20th century. I can’t wait to see a streetcar running here again. I say ‘Yay’.

  3. Hopeful but not optimistic for its success. Didn’t MARTA shut down a similar bus line due to lack of use? Check in after 5 years of streetcar service and see what the per-rider government subsidy is. It won’t be pretty.

    1. I’m not really a booster or naysayer of this project but one thing worthy of consideration is that, done right, fixed-rail tends to raise property value and encourage redevelopment in ways that easily modified bus routes do not. Its permanence provides far greater predictability for those looking to invest private money.

      1. Wonder if anyone has done an analysis of property values/new construction projects along this route since the Streetcar was finalized. May be a bit too early, but still would be interesting.

        1. the owner of a substantial # of are surface parking lots was a big proponant of the street car line- I’m thinking in addition to being civic minded, he had all his property value forecasting information well in hand. Probably the update DM is looking to see too!

  4. If it’s there, we will ride it. One of our favorite things to do is ride local transit when we visit a new area.

  5. I’m counting the days until the uproar over the unsightly overhead trolley lines and support cables begins along with the trimming of trees that may (may not, don’t know the number of trees on the route) that have to be trimmed or removed to for the overhead power installation and operation…

    1. There’s not ways to do this now without overhead wires? That’s probably a naive question but, given that toddlers can now play apps against toddlers half a globe away via iTouches, I was thinking that everything could be wireless somehow…

        1. I was thinking the power could come up through the rails somehow? Or the wires could be buried underground? Oh well. I still think that transmitting cell phones, or even wired phones, are harder to understand than email. Physics was not my strong point in science.

        1. You can have live power carried through under-the-street third rails, but it’s very expensive and the construction is very disruptive. The old streetcars in Washington DC did it that way to avoid overhead wires, but I think that’s the only major system that had it that way.

    2. The wires used today are much less intrusive than most imagine and they co-exist with trees quite well. Even an old system like New Orleans’ has long beautiful sections with large trees lining the tracks.

      Here’s a link to a DC streetcar advocacy page that has several photos of streetcars with above ground wires and trees:

      http://streetcars4dc.org/?p=81

  6. Bus does not = rail in Atlanta. There is a totally different perception. As much of an transit booster I tend to be, I won’t lie that I’d be 10X more likely to ride a streetcar before a bus.

    1. Ditto, with the exception of Chicago, where the bus system seems to really work and the transit maps have figured out a way to include both the bus and train routes in a clear, readable manner. I never took the bus when I lived in New York because I could never find a decent bus map and schedule. I never took the bus in Los Angeles and don’t take it here because they don’t go where I want and frequently enough.

  7. It would be nice to have a plan for a streetcar network first.

    As it stands, transfers from MARTA Blue/Green Line aren’t very appealing.

    – Maybe this will raise concerns over the Beltline transit strategy.
    – dubious: ‘reconnect the eastern and western sections of downtown’

      1. Yes, you could say that’s a “plan” as it has been the scheme all along, but it’s not a network – as in complementary and not parallel. It’s a question of priorities; ownership trumps utility, especially around the metro.

  8. We’re finishing up a week long visit in Seattle, and we have used the Seattle Streetcar every day. It has a limited run through the western half of downtown (1.3 miles or so), but it’s been a pleasant change from the usual bus or taxi options. During rush hour, it gets more use than I anticipated. And it’s clean and comfortable. The most interesting aspect has been that there is NO fare enforcement. We have never been asked to show our tickets, so I’m sure there are lots of freeloaders.

    Like Scott, I have been neither a yay or nay before this experience, but now, I think I’m a cautious yay.

    1. “The most interesting aspect has been that there is NO fare enforcement. ”

      There’s enforcement, all right. Many systems (San Diego is one I can think of, along with the Tri-Rail commuter train system in Florida) use the honor system and you’d be surprised how effective it is. Most systems have less than a 2% or 3% violation rate, mainly because the penalties are very stiff, like $500, if you’re caught.

      1. This is Atlanta and MARTA has a bad problem with fair dodgers. I bet none these ghetto kids will pay.

        On the other hand I so glad to see Phase I of the street cars finally starting constrcution!

        1. What’s with the ghetto kids insults?!? That’s twice now. Hope it’s not your “thing” because it’s pretty obnoxious.

          1. I agree. I think it’s almost nasty enough to warrant blocking, but that’s DM’s call.

      2. I lived in Seattle for ten years and didn’t own a car the first 5 years there. Took the bus everywhere. They had some electric buses that were powered through overhead wires. This was long before the streetcar was built, even before the bus tunnels under downtown.

        They have a great fare system:
        You pay when you get on if the bus is going into downtown or point to point in the suburbs;
        You pay when you get off if the bus is going out of downtown;
        You don’t pay at all if you ride only in the downtown free ride zone which is about 20 blocks N-S by about 8 blocks E-W.

        So you can ride around downtown all day to your hearts content for free. This leads to lots of free trips for errands or shopping or to cross town restaurants for lunch. It has done a lot to keep downtown an active and vibrant shopping district.

    2. A week in Seattle…yay on urban public transit…a home address in Decatur…
      Keep going like this and before you know it, you will have to drop that last part of your screen name, DTR. 😉

      1. I know you’re making a funny, and I do have a sense of humor, but…the stereotyping (even in jest) does get a little old.

      1. Fair – it’s public domain, but this provides context (and lacks the smudged-out text). This contribution was meant as criticism.

        1. Crap! …. It _was not_ meant as criticism.

          (I must have put my concern for database errors ahead of my own errors – still no offense intended.)

  9. The AJC did a truth analysis of the statements about job creation for this project: http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2011/mar/16/john-lewis/atlanta-streetcar-projected-be-jobs-boon/
    They researched the numbers coming from the various government entities and found them to be misleading and false.
    One component of the statistics revolved around a concept called job years that are used by government to justify the costs– and not actual jobs that exist for years–seems the meanings of even the most basic statistical measures are bent to what the politics needs, not what exists in the culture as what they really mean.

    Example from the article : The system might employ 23 people to operate it. In the parlance of how the government reports this, they say its 23 people x 20 years or 460 “jobs” . They feel there is no obligation to report this nuance to us as the project goes forward.
    Its really misleading us to think over 400 people will be employed when its only 23.
    The difference in income creation is huge.If we think these workers might make $30k/year on average, 23 will deliver far fewer dollars to “repay” the government spending then 460 would.

    Also the story quoted at the top of this post from the AJC that the Feds are kicking in $47mm. The actual project will cost $72 million. The rest will come from Atlanta. The city budgeted several million from a fund they later found did not exist and had to sell some land to keep the project going.
    Ridership is expected to be 2,330 people per day paying $2/ trip, or $4/roundtrip.If they achieve 50% capacity as an average, this will generate about $1.7mm in annual revenue (Double it for 100% capacity/day) so, say it does better than 50%, but less than 100%,it might generate +$2mm/year from fares. That is not enough to run this thing based on the program in places like Portland.
    TRIMET augments their operating budget from businesses along the route paying withholdings taxes from employees to support the system–~half their budget. Well, the businesses are not there yet in this area, so where will the rest of the money come from ?
    The Portland TRIMET system has had budget deficits the last couple of years too.
    http://trimet.org/about/financial.htm
    And, this is a well run example of how these things are supposed to work!

    Atlanta has a long history of trying to do “attraction” type development to increase business. Some of it works, most of it doesn’t. I think thats to be expected. Tastes change.
    How often will you really go ride this thing? Its for the tourists and the politicians.
    It really isn’t functional from a transportation standpoint.-certainly not with only +2,000 people riding it a day
    The Portland loop actually goes multiple places has good ridership and still can’t support its cost!

    I think its time we demand from our political leaders to do what’s right, not what’s easy.
    They can spend money very fast. My teenaged daughters can do that !

    Don’t tell me how much you’ve spent on me today with my tax dollars, tell me how much value you’ve created that has prompted others to spend their money on me instead.

    1. Remember that building streets and roads doesn’t support the economics any better. They aren’t supported by “user fees” either.

      1. ITs the merits of this project that is under discussion.
        Roads? downtown Atlanta… Stay on topic.

        My point is to call for a more rigorous review of these projects that start from a political motivation, rather than a market based one. (Market here = customers)
        Where are the business and financial private sector partners in this?
        It seems to me that hope is the strategy here.
        If you build it, they will come only works in the movies.

        1. The comments about projects being political apply just as much to roads – just look where it has gotten us. Any kind of public/private cost/benefit analysis needs to be applied equally to any mode. I don’t think the businesses paid to build the streets their customers use to get to them.

          BTW, “if you build it, they will come” does work – just look at most of the new light and commuter rail projects built in the last 20 years. And, unfortunately, it’s true with roads also. Many studies have shown that building more roads just increases traffic.

          1. By any chance are you talking about the system in Portland, that is losing money these days?
            Please outline the ones that are paying their way, I really would like to know.

            1. DM is correct. No form of transportation, roads included, pays its own way. Conservatives have never figured this out.

              And, I’m not referring to systems paying their own way, I’m referring to ridership, which for the most part, exceeds projections, as well as the economic development that has taken place along the route.

    2. How often will I ride? Not very often – maybe never. Where’s the private sector? The Peachtree Streetcar, as this was formerly known, was championed by the business community. I think the preliminary work was privately funded; business interests enticed the city by offering some seed money and some short-term support for operations.

      … the rest of the money? I don’t know what the grant application said (because I didn’t read it), but the City of Atlanta owns the project. There’s an understanding that business groups (property owners) will kick in. A city parking tax and district property tax were considered as possible revenue sources for an operating budget.

      The federal money is discretionary (a grant), not formula, but such monies get spent; Georgia could have received none of it. Among the many “visionary” transportation initiatives floating around metro Atlanta, a downtown streetcar may be the least offensive.

      This project needs constructive citizen engagement. (You could say that the federal money buys us all a voice in the project.)

  10. Well said Bobby. The initiative has been created by the reservation of federal tax money for this kind of activity. It indeed would not be here even if Atlanta found a better way to redevelop the area. These are not “strings” being attached. They are steel cables.

    Steve seems to say this is a liberal vs. conservative issue. It is not. It is a common sense/ community issue. (please get past the labels–its boring)
    If the goals of the project are to redevelop the area and create jobs, then the governments very own statistics, “job years” ,is mis-informing Atlanta citizens on its value.
    That makes me believe their intentions to actually produce the benefits is suspect.AND- they really just want the federal money–to do something–.

    The project needs to clearly define some of these metrics:
    What is the Increased business investment.
    What are the REAL Increased employment opportunities.
    How will this create greater employment mobility.
    How will this expand housing opportunities
    What kind of greater economic freedom is created due to multi-purpose trips
    How much greater mobility for low income citizens will it create
    Will it Improve access to health care
    Will it Improved security
    Will it reduce traffic congestion/pollution?
    Will it create greater leisure time
    This is a value chain, and as I have said before, the rigor of something like this is what will properly grade the activity. -not as the report shows an inflated misleading jobs number.
    All of the above can be quantified.
    Has this project done this? I can’t find information that it has. If someone knows where the details of an analysis like this lie, I would like to know.

    This is the same kind of value assessment that government agencies (and others) periodically do for large projects like the interstate highway system, and other projects.

    I am surprised that, as tax payers, few who are commenting even expect a project like this to at least break even. How does that happen?
    When has it become logical to think if its for the greater good, it doesn’t matter how much it costs?
    Come on folks, wise up.

    1. “This is the same kind of value assessment that government agencies (and others) periodically do for large projects like the interstate highway system, and other projects.”

      So, let’s take all those metrics and apply them to road projects like the HOT lanes. Or the >$100 million that was spent 5 years back re-doing the GA316/I-85 interchange. I’ve never seen value assessment figures on those other than they supply short-term jobs to road contractors. My point is that, for some reason, public transportation has never been on a level playing field.

      You keep bringing up the breaking even aspect. Road do not and will not ever break even. Even ordinary road projects, much less the tens of millions being spent on HOT lanes. Will the tolls ever pay back that project? Probably not.

      And, you need to add environmental issues to your metrics. A public transportation vehicle carrying many passengers is much more efficient that automobiles carrying the same number of people.

      1. This posting is not about roads-its about the tram system….the merits of that project—not about what else doesn’t work too. I agree with Bobby. Thanks for the link, I will give it a good reading.

    2. Politicians spew a lot of ridiculous crap. This isn’t a jobs project; we know that.

      I think Steve read your comment as a common talking point and responded with a common talking point. The competition for this grant was high, and the award amount is not inordinately higher than dollar amounts that disappear reconfiguring grade-separated highway intersections.

      I think it would be more constructive to discuss walking patterns, stop configuration, street improvements, fare management, and how long an introductory zero fare should last.

      The grant application appendices are here:
      http://georgiatransitconnector.org/appendices/

      (From scanning the grant application, it looks like City of Atlanta has allocated revenue for operations from receipts on the hotel and car rental tax.)

Comments are closed.