Why the Streetcar?

Why is a modern streetcar better for the region than buses and MARTA trains?

Streetcars function as short-distance transit service or connectors for short trips, in contrast to the longer-distance services typically provided by MARTA rail and express bus operations. The modern streetcar has proven to be an attractive alternative to buses with less noise and fewer emissions. Streetcars can move more people with fewer vehicles on the street, while freeing up buses to provide needed services elsewhere. In other cities, streetcars have proven a driver for economic and neighborhood revitalization. Businesses are more willing to invest along the fixed-route streetcar than along a bus route than can be altered or discontinued. Often, potential riders who would not consider the bus will become regular riders on the streetcar. For visitors, a fixed streetcar route is preferable and the timing is more predictable than a bus system that can be impacted by traffic.

MARTA heavy rail trains have been designed to move people quickly around greater Atlanta over long distances. A modern-day Atlanta Streetcar will focus on Atlanta’s urban core, providing shorter waiting times with more frequent stops than is feasible for MARTA in the same corridor. The streetcar service will complement the existing MARTA rail service by providing a comfortable trip between MARTA stations along the streetcar route, as well as providing transit to the rider’s final destination, in many cases after they have departed a MARTA train or commuter bus.

Why is the streetcar system important to regional transit?

In order to remain competitive with other urban areas for economic development opportunities, Atlanta must improve its connectivity and mobility. Georgia Transit Connector’s proposed streetcar is an integral element of the City’s long-term regional transportation vision, the Connect Atlanta Plan.  The Atlanta Streetcar will serve short trips and will provide high-quality, convenient transit service in areas where MARTA rail is not easily accessible.  It will provide the core connectivity between existing heavy rail, express bus service (and planned light rail) and locations not well served today by transit. The streetcar will serve as the “last mile” circulator service within the heart of Atlanta as other elements of the state’s mass transit and transportation infrastructure are also completed, like the Downtown Multimodal Passenger Terminal, Macon passenger rail and the Concept 3 Vision Plan.

Additionally, a previous Department of Transportation commitment to the Atlanta Region, the Atlanta Congestion Reduction Demonstration Grant includes an HOV to HOT lane conversion and doubling of the regional express bus system.  The streetcar will facilitate circulation of express bus patrons throughout the central business districts.  MARTA, GRTA and the City of Atlanta have executed an agreement that speaks to the use of the streetcar for this purpose.   The streetcar will provide a convenient service for express bus riders to travel easily along the corridor throughout their workday.

Didn’t Atlanta have streetcars before?

Yes, like virtually every city in the U.S. before World War II, Atlanta had an extensive streetcar system operated by the Georgia Power Company. Atlanta’s original system was impressive, and it shaped many of the neighborhoods and buildings throughout the city and region.  It shaped and served neighborhoods such as Ansley Park, Sylvan Hills, Lakewood Heights, Decatur, Buckhead, Hapeville, Stone Mountain, Marietta, East Atlanta and many more. Tire and fuel rationing meant that the Atlanta streetcar system was given a reprieve, and it served record crowds in support of the war effort. By 1949 the system was entirely replaced with trackless trolleys, which were buses that drew electric power from overhead wires. Rails were removed or paved over and the streetcars were scrapped, sold off to be used as housing, or in the case of the newest cars, sold to South Korea where they served another twenty-five years in Seoul and Pusan.

The proposed Atlanta Streetcar is a modern system that is very different from the heritage systems of the early 1900’s still in place in some cities. Unlike the old trolleys, the modern streetcar will include full accessibility for the disabled, air-conditioning and low profile wires. Like the old trolleys, the Atlanta Streetcar will provide mobility that is energy efficient, and it will create economic development consistent with smart growth principles.

What other cities have streetcars?

Approximately 50 U.S. cites have existing, planned, or proposed streetcar or light rail transit (LRT) systems. Cities with operational streetcar or light rail systems are Dallas, Charlotte, Little Rock, Memphis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, Tampa, San Francisco and Seattle. Cities with planned systems include Albuquerque, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

What is different about this plan from the original Peachtree Corridor study and the Atlanta Streetcar project?

The Peachtree Corridor was a comprehensive planning effort, taking into account elements like streetscaping, walkability, and enhanced public spaces, in addition to improved mobility through development of a modern streetcar system. The current activities conducted by the Georgia Transit Connector partnership are advancing the streetcar component of the Peachtree Corridor recommendations.

What does the proposed route for the streetcar look like? Where will it start and end?

The east/west route will be implemented first. It will start at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site at Jackson Street and end at Centennial Olympic Park. The proposed north-south route on Peachtree Street will start at the Arts Center MARTA rail station and end at the Five Points MARTA rail station on the north/south Peachtree Street route.

The long-term vision for the streetcar takes the system from Fort McPherson to the Brookhaven MARTA station and includes east-west connections to the BeltLine. The City’s comprehensive transportation plan (The Connect Atlanta Plan) proposes a city-wide streetcar and light rail system with additional neighborhood connections.

Is this a new idea?

No.  Modern Streetcar studies have been underway since 2003.  The general need for improved circulation services, such as a trolley, “people mover,” distributor, or connector, has been documented in plans and studies since 1962.