Loading...
 

Dividing line

Does a streetcar on one of the city's most congested streets make sense?

Those who support the idea of the proposed Peachtree Street streetcar say it will be the star attraction in an effort to create a new identity for the city's most iconic — though sometimes unfriendly — thoroughfare.

??
Others believe the streetcar, stretching from Buckhead in the north to Fort McPherson in the south, will prove to be too costly a venture – one that might not deliver on its promise to relieve Atlanta's transit woes.

??
One thing is certain: The streetcar, like it or not, has momentum.

??
"There are some heavy hitters who are strongly supportive of the proposal," says former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, referring to current Mayor Shirley Franklin and some of the city's big business leaders. "But there's an equal number who are in opposition to it."

??
Massell, president of the power-player-stacked Buckhead Coalition, says his 100-member group – which typically finds common ground on quality-of-life issues such as the streetcar – is uncharacteristically divided.

??
"If it doesn't move enough people out of their cars," he asks, "does it come at a cost that would be considered a luxury?"

??
At nearly $1 billion for the 14-mile streetcar line and such streetscape improvements as a landscaped median and bike lanes, the city's proposal, according to Massell, might be too much for too little. For less than half the cost, he claims, the city could fund just the streetscape improvements – and still turn Peachtree into a place that better approximates grand avenues such as Philadelphia's Market Street or Chicago's Michigan Avenue.

??
Massell also points out that because Peachtree Street is already served by a new bus line, the Peach Bus, the streetcar doesn't exactly bridge a gap in the city's transit system.

??
"It has nostalgic value, there's no question about that," Massell says of the streetcar. "It has much more sex appeal than a bus."

??
Yet a study released last month by the mayor's Peachtree Corridor Task Force offers compelling stats that the streetcar would effectively ferry the city's fast-growing population to some important destinations.

??
Though only 25,000 people – roughly 5 percent of Atlanta's population – live within the few blocks flanking Peachtree Street, more than 50 percent of the city's jobs and a third of its retail shops are located there. The streetcar also would offer a ride to 500 restaurants and clubs, would link at several points to MARTA, and would connect at two places to the Beltline, the 22-mile loop of light rail and trails that will someday circle the city.

??
Stan Harvey, a principal with the city-planning firm Urban Collage Inc. and a member of the mayor's task force, says a streetcar on development-heavy Peachtree makes perfect sense. "It's a way to accommodate a lot more density on Peachtree," Harvey says, "which is where it can be handled."

??
Unlike the $3.4 billion Beltline, which is designed to connect neighborhoods and spur responsible development along its path, development and attractions already exist along Peachtree Street. And the fact that the streetcar mostly would overlap with the central portion of Atlanta's north-south MARTA rail line, as well as the Peach Bus, does not render it superfluous, according to Mike Dobbins, Atlanta's former planning commissioner and a professor at Georgia Tech.

??
Dobbins says the streetcar would work better than the rail line and the bus for making multiple short-distance trips. A rider could hop on it to go from work to lunch, grab another ride to run an errand, then scoot back to the office. "MARTA is great as the backbone for the system," Dobbins says. "But we need that in-between layer."

??
Of course, the streetcar does face some significant hurdles. As currently proposed, the project would be funded in large part with a new tax on property owners in the corridor – a concept that could meet opposition. Though the streetcars would share pavement with cars, perhaps in an HOV lane, they still might snare traffic – and wouldn't be able to maneuver over the pothole-covering plates that are ubiquitous on city streets. And one of the middle portions of the streetcar line would take far longer to complete – perhaps 15 years – leaving the line fragmented for a while.

??
What's more, the mayor's task force is heavily stacked with powerful business types who could stand to profit from the project. One example: Tom Bell, CEO of the megadevelopment firm Cousins Properties that employs City Council President Lisa Borders and has major projects on Peachtree.

??
"There's membership of the business community that has direct personal interest in the property along the way," Dobbins points out. "But that doesn't trouble me as much as the fact that there's no countervailing set of leaders that are asking the tough questions that flow from that."



More By This Writer

Article

Thursday March 24, 2011 04:01 am EDT
Warren Ullom: A talented musician's recovery, incarceration and swan song | more...

Article

Thursday March 17, 2011 04:01 am EDT
A talented musician. A beautiful woman. A fatal cocktail of heroin and cocaine. | more...

Article

Wednesday March 9, 2011 04:00 am EST
Ironically, CL's able staff makes it easier to leave without worries | more...

Article

Tuesday January 11, 2011 12:48 pm EST



?
His release party was last weekend. But the joint officially drops today on iTunes.

?

| more...

Article

Wednesday November 24, 2010 04:00 am EST
A Ferris wheel downtown? Sure, why not. | more...
Search for more by Mara Shalhoup

[Admin link: Dividing line]