Along with hundreds of others out there, I cheered on the idea of the Atlanta streetcar, but was skeptical of its long-term survival. I was optimistic because a people-mover using existing thoroughfares is good idea. As a commuter, runner, cyclist, walker, I love the idea of alternative forms of transportation in a city filled with so much 'car madness.' So, the idea of a well-functioning streetcar system that can whisk residents and tourists from Point A to Point B in a convenient, safe and affordable manner is a great idea.
Indeed this is the early stages of the streetcar grid. Right now, it's a short loop that goes only a few miles out. I joke that I can probably out-run the streetcar. However, I like the look and quality of the cars. I also like the idea that those who visit the downtown area can hop on the cars and go a few miles to a very few other attractions. I never once thought that the streetcar was a solution to gridlock. Rather, I always felt that it would be a more convenient offering for those visiting downtown.
Even if the streetcar continues, we are promised that Atlanta's streetcar 'system' will expand to link up to the Atlanta Beltline and to major thoroughfares. Perhaps I'm missing it, but were there or are there solid plans for all of that to happen?
Maybe there have been and are a lot of misperceptions out there about the streetcar which should be tamped down with good public relations communications, but those positive messages have been drowned out by the negatives. The biggest whopper against the streetcar system came in late May 2016. This was when state officials threatened to put the kibosh on the streetcar unless the city 'fixes' its many troubles. If those issues aren't fixed, then the streetcar does not have a future. Remember the streetcar project was funded by the federal government to the tune of $47 million and the city of Atlanta was to put in $25 million. If the streetcar goes silent, then the public just flushed nearly $100 million down the toilet.
It's all quite a shame because if downtown has what it takes to become a major attraction with the new Mercedes-Benz stadium, an upgraded Philips Arena/CNN Center, more hotel space, along with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, The College Football Hall of Fame, Atlanta can become a major tourist attraction beyond 2019 after it hosts the Super Bowl. Of course to make that all a success, there needs to be a solid cooperation and commitment between the public and private sectors to make continual growth possible. That continual growth includes constantly attracting major businesses along with retail, restaurant and more tourist attractions. I would love to see a 'growth snowball' which would include a renovated Georgia World Congress Center. Adding a major streetcar system to the mix could be ideal if it's completely on budget along with good public relations.
I hate to write pessimistically at this moment, but perhaps it's best to let the streetcar die on the vine, leave the tracks where they are and revive it if there is an ambitious amount of development in downtown. Imagine all of that activity I mentioned earlier actually becomes true. Tourists and residents alike could take advantage of those amenities in downtown and then be able to get on a streetcar to visit a revived Sweet Auburn, King Center, Little Five Points, Morningside, Virginia-Highland and even into DeKalb to hook up with light rail in the Clifton Road corridor. Yes, it's all a dream, but dreams sometimes can come true. C'mon, we got the Super Bowl which will bring in millions! Well, let's not get too carried away, but on the other hand, let's think positive thoughts.