All you wanted to know about Atlanta's shiny new toy
Where the $72 million streetcar will go and who it will serve
Since the federal government told city officials that it'd pay the majority of the downtown streetcar's construction costs, there's been widespread confusion about what the $72 million project would entail, where it'd go and who it'd serve. Let us help you out a bit.
THE ROUTE: Beginning on the west end of the loop at Centennial Olympic Park, the modern, electric-powered streetcar will run along Luckie Street past the Tabernacle and Woodruff Park, then along Edgewood Avenue. It will then turn left onto Jackson Street, left on historic Auburn Avenue, and head back west.
THE RIDE: MARTA, which will operate the 2.6-mile system, is in talks with several transit agencies across the country to buy refurbished streetcars, say city officials. They'll be powered via overhead electrical wires, which are designed to be visually noninvasive. Fares might be around $3 and will be compatible with MARTA's Breeze Card system.
WHO'S GONNA RIDE IT? At first, mostly out-of-towners. Mayor Kasim Reed says the route links two of the city's main tourist destinations: the district that includes the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park and the future Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the King Center, which serves more visitors each year than Bernie Marcus' giant fish tank. Hotel guests, office workers and Georgia State University students who don't want to drive or walk to Edgewood Avenue's growing restaurant and nightlife scene could hop on board at any of a dozen planned stops. As commercial and residential development pops up along the route, residents and workers could use it to connect to MARTA or, if things go according to plan, future streetcar segments along Peachtree Street and, at less than a mile away, the Beltline.
WHY A STREETCAR? Critics have asked why the city didn't request dollars for other transit projects that could relieve congestion. The simple, yet complicated answer: The federal government's strict funding criteria says the projects must create jobs and help spark walkable, mixed-use development. Plus, no other Atlanta proposals are as far along — or "shovel ready" — as the streetcar in terms of planning and studies.
THE FUNDING: The federal government's $47.6 million grant covers the bulk of the project's total cost. The Downtown Community Improvement District and city contributed local funds to help the project's ability to compete. Reed, however, must ask the Atlanta City Council to allocate $5.6 million more in funding. In addition to $250,000 a year from Central Atlanta Progress, the city's tax on hotel rooms and rental cars, farebox revenues and advertising will help pay for operations.
THE POSSIBILITIES: In addition to creating jobs, community leaders say the line could help reconnect downtown and Sweet Auburn, a link that was severed when the interstate was constructed. According to the city's application, more than 19 development projects are proposed, planned or under construction near the streetcar route, including the College Football Hall of Fame. The city says more than 300 pieces of property within one-quarter mile of the route are "underutilized," including vacant lots, boarded-up historic buildings, and demolished public-housing complexes.
UNDER THE CONNECTOR: The city and MARTA plan to convert the empty pavement underneath the Downtown Connector, most of which the city owns, into a maintenance facility. There are also plans to dedicate space to a transit museum that reflects on the role streetcars played in helping to build Atlanta.
PARDON OUR PROGRESS: Many businesses along Auburn Avenue have concerns about the construction phase. "I'm all for change and bringing people back to the area," says Karen Allen, a stylist at Silver Moon Barber Shop, which has been cutting hair on Auburn Avenue since 1904. "But in the process of doing that, you're crippling it at the same time. Talk to the businesses and find out what kind of financial bind the construction will put them in." Mayor Reed says the city's starting to decide how it'll solicit public input and handle possible business dislocations. However, streetcar construction is typically fast-paced, with one new block of track laid every two weeks.
PERKS: Look for other projects to improve areas and streets near the route, including possibly new bike lanes, intersection fixes and traffic signal synchronization. Since the streetcar will hug the curb along most of the route, the city might have to relocate some paid parking spots — a potential plus for businesses who've lost customers tired of finding tickets on their windshields.
Note: This article has been modified online to correct an error in the print version about the streetcar's route.