This article by Foundation Vice President Benita Dodd was published Monday, March 17 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
By Benita Dodd
Watching the evolving justification for the Atlanta Streetcar is like watching a shell game. It’s anybody’s guess what reason will turn up next: mobility, congestion relief, economic development, environmental benefits or tourism. Only the naive would place a bet.
Back when it applied for a $47 million federal grant for the streetcar, the city predicted that “automobile trips will be diverted to the safer streetcar mode, which will thereby reduce accidents and increase pedestrian safety because more travelers will be using the streetcar instead of traveling by automobile.” (The application also admitted that more than 57 percent of the people within a quarter-mile of the streetcar route don’t have a vehicle.)
The streetcar could possibly turn out to be a tourist attraction, but it is impractical as a mode of transportation. It’s disingenuous for proponents to describe the project as “a critical piece of Atlanta’s transit puzzle … (with) a ripple effect that can influence developments elsewhere across the region,” as the project website proclaims. The city is romanticizing the past.
If streetcars made sense, they would be thriving and locally funded. There’s a reason these boondoggles are relegated to history and local governments reach for federal (taxpayer) handouts. They’re slow and expensive, with infrequent trips and frequent stops. Inconvenient, too.
A fixed guideway handicaps the lane. In Atlanta, where an existing lane is being converted, the vehicles are projected to run 15 minutes apart at an average speed of 10 mph and without exclusive rights of way. Each streetcar will make 12 stops along the 2.7-mile route (1.3 miles one way). Not only is this slow, it also slows other vehicles in the busy lane — and stop-and-go traffic increases auto emissions.
The city optimistically projects 2,600 weekday riders for the line, expected to open in May. Utilities are still tallying the costs of massive infrastructure relocation and negotiating who will pay for that. Construction has inconvenienced retailers, motorists and bus passengers, whose bus stops were moved. Schedule delays and cost overruns continue; the project’s cost, which started out at about $69 million, is expected to top $100 million.”