Upgrade the Atlanta Streetcar

I lived car-free in Germany for a couple of years and was a frequent user of Augsburg’s outstanding streetcar system. There was a stop right outside the walls of my duty station. The clean, punctual cars arrived every eight minutes and transported users electrically and efficiently to the rail station, restaurants, businesses, shopping, parks, and other urban destinations. It was a slice of lifestyle that I grew very fond of.

So I’ve been supportive of the Atlanta Streetcar since it’s announcement. I was there at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and was on the inaugural run. As I joined almost 200 passengers on that first packed car I was reminded that, with two cars running, many vehicles are potentially removed from the streets of an area poised to experience significant population growth (Over 2,000 housing units are slated for completion in downtown Atlanta by 2017).

Still, many were disappointed when they chose the downtown loop over the BeltLine corridor as the first phase, one reason being that transit has to be fast to compete for the hearts and minds of a car-loving culture like Atlanta. Streetcars in the downtown loop are subject to the same gridlock as the automobiles they share the street with while streetcars in the BeltLine corridor will glide down dedicated guideways unimpeded by cars or traffic lights.

So the decision has already been made. How can we improve what’s already in place? I know. It’s brand new. And it’s awesome. But here are four upgrades I believe could make it better:

  • Give streetcars Traffic Signal Priority. We can easily and relatively inexpensively make the streetcar route the path of least resistance with this transit strategy. Streetcars could trigger green lights and never sit at stoplights. The current route already has 12 stops so the streetcar is already fighting with one hand tied behind it’s back. It takes time to open and close doors and load and unload passengers. According to the federal Department of Transportation, the benefits from using Transit Signal Priority improvements include “reduced transit travel times, improved schedule adherence, improved transit efficiency, and increased road network efficiency as measured by person mobility.” Let’s speed up the Atlanta Streetcar!
  • A Smartphone App for Streetcar locations. I’m amazed that this wasn’t launched from day one of service. Research shows that real-time arrival information helps a transit service keep existing riders and attract new ones. MARTA already has an app for that so there’s just no good reason for the streetcar not to have one.
  • Make Auburn Avenue the road less traveled. Prohibit cars from Jackson Street to downtown. That way the Streetcar wouldn’t have to compete with other vehicles for about half the route. Make Auburn Atlanta’s pre-eminent urban promenade exclusive only to pedestrians, bicyclists, service and delivery vehicles and the Streetcar. The road is already a bad one to travel by car. And Auburn Avenue already has less traffic, simply because there aren’t as many business and employment centers on that route. Yet. This will change as the streetcar line spurs investment on this avenue crippled by the construction of the 75/85 connector, and the flight and disinvestment after the Civil Rights Act of ‘64. Make it so if you want to visit Auburn Avenue, then use the Streetcar. This doesn’t cost anything. Let’s try it and see what happens.
  • Make the Streetcar Fast and Frequent. The city has four shiny new streetcars. Put them all into service. 15 minute wait times are unacceptable. The historic St. Charles Line in New Orleans sets the standard: 8-9 minute waits are the ticket.

With these upgrades, I believe the system stands a better chance of being used by residents and not just tourists. And so what if the system becomes popular with tourists? With fast, frequent service it’d be a cheaper, horizontal version of the SkyView ferris wheel (they’re both powered by the same Siemens engines, I hear). Exceeding rider expectations will mean we’ll more quickly get this thing the quarter mile down Irwin Street and onto the BeltLine where it belongs.


A streetcar moves up Auburn Avenue

Interested in living in Atlanta’s Streetcar District? Check out our Downtown SCORE Board here.

About Burke Sisco

Burke Sisco is a Realtor and Associate Broker of eXp Realty (License #245380) with over 20 years of experience in the Atlanta real estate market. He calls the surging infra-culture around the BeltLine both home and business territory and is the founder and managing editor of BeltLandia.com. He has helped a number of satisfied clients buy and sell property in BeltLandia. Those interested in living the BeltLandia Lifestyle can reach Burke at 404.421.9968 or by email at burke.sisco@exprealty.com.

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