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Atlanta Streetcar highlights need for urban public transportation

Aug 23 2014, 5:02pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Business News

Atlanta Streetcar highlights need for urban public transportion
Photo Credit: Getty Images
 
 

The Atlanta Streetcar runs on a short loop, but will hopefully expand as the Atlanta BeltLine does. But Atlanta's not the only city needing to grow-just ask Phoenix.

Atlanta's got a shiny new streetcar that'll be running soon. Since 2010, the city's worked hard on incorporating a light rail system to add more transit abilities outside of the often-lambasted Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system. Of course, MARTA and the Atlanta Streetcar will be working together, so there's a question of long-term viability.


And many people believed the streetcars would never see the light of day—understandable, since promises of a better transit system in Atlanta felt like a pipe dream for residents. Anyone who has driven on the major highways knows the parking lot like, hours long commute. MARTA's spiffy, but not exactly the cheapest, or more effective solution at times, if you only want to go a short distance.

Curbed Atlanta was at the test launch of the car. Well, test towing. But still, progress!

The cars will run on a 2.7-mile route and the test went well at the 5 mph clearance check. The official site shows a track going from the King Historic District to Centennial Olympic Park in a block formation, with a deviation at Peachtree Center.


For those not in Atlanta, Peachtree Center's both mall and MARTA station. It also has that really steep escalator from subway station to street level. Hopefully, there won't be a bigger traffic bottleneck in the narrow roads in surrounding blocks.

Businesses will definitely benefit, though.

Curbed spoke to various businesses along Edgewood Avenue, which is parallel to the King District (housing the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Change) and near Georgia State University. Edgewood's been a fringe area in the past, but the streetcar and proposed Atlanta BeltLine offer a lot to the city. Edgewood will suddenly have higher visibility to customers.


Keiran Neely, owner of The Music Room, is optimistic on the impact of tourism, business, and changed perception. "Once the street scene gets its imminent facelift, Edgewood Avenue will be a no-brainer for visitors looking for an off-the-beaten path experience that might not have been on their radar previously."

Back in April, Neely, who also co-owns of Pizzeria Vesuvius, spoke to Atlanta Magazine about the revitalization of the area. He specified that it "seems like every week there’s a new restaurant or bar" on Edgewood Avenue "based on the streetcar" and what the new reach offers. That means better deals, choices, and involvement for customers.


Atlanta's a big city, growing in the past three decades beyond Ted Turner's reach—though his mark is still felt with the likes of TBS, CNN, and Cartoon Network based there. And the transportation congestion has to change. A fact many cities have been forced to admit is necessary. Phoenix is facing the same problem as Atlanta, needing a growth expansion beyond motor vehicles.

The Arizona Republic reports that Mayor Greg Stanton would like to see a major expansion to triple the reach within 30 years. The city council put together a citizens committee to overhaul and create a better transportation system for residents. And voters will probably see the issue on next year's ballot for funding approval.


Stanton's hoping the expected economic boom will draw more people into the city, but realizes "there is going to be more and more congestion." Foresight of other cities mistakes seems to be a discussion in city hall, too. "Unless we work hard to get ahead of the curve, things are going to slow down in this city." Like traffic did in Atlanta, as mentioned in those hours long commutes.

The Arizona light rail covers cities Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa in a 20 mile loop, with a building cost of $1.4 billion in 2008. Even with the economic downturn, an expansion's already being added to the loop.

Yet breaking even with public transportation's often difficult, as the Arizona light rail indicates with a $21.9 million 2014 annual cost but only made $8.1 million in fare for 2013. Not a bad revenue return, but still puts the city at a higher deficient for necessary city improvement.

While not a push for increasing yearly profits, light rails do offer more money spent in local economies—which is exactly what the Edgewood neighborhood is looking for.


Arizona and Atlanta share a common factor in the amount of car ownership and maintenance. Long commutes, lack of high wages, rising costs for car maintenance means that many people may not have access to private transit. Phoenix Councilman Daniel Valenzuela said, "In many neighborhoods, less than half of the people in those neighborhoods own a vehicle."

For Atlantans, that makes mobility very difficult thanks to suburban sprawl. MARTA doesn't go beyond the limited tracks as counties refuse to connect the various areas together, often claiming a fear of increasing crime rates. So those without transportation find it difficult to find employment and upward social mobility—effectively cutting off the American Dream.

Both areas will have to increase taxes as old ones end, but the Great Recession hit both areas pretty hard.


Arizona's looking to extend the Transit 2000, a four-tenths-of-a-cent-per-dollar sales tax, to continue beyond the 4-to-5 mile expansion over the next six years. Keeping the tax revenue going will offer Stanton the chance to continue with his overall expansion.

Meanwhile, the southern city's looking to continue using the collected 2010 sales tax $20 million revenue, which is 22% of total Downtown tax revenue. The 5 million annual visitors along the Atlanta streetcar corridor will find 8,500 hotel rooms and 800,000 square feet of commercial and retail space within a short trip.

Landmarks within the loop are the Historic Oakland Cemetery, the newly opened The Center for Civil and Human Rights, Philips Arena, Georgia Dome, Georgia Aquarium and The World of Coca-Cola. All of the places are huge draws for various Atlanta events and history buffs.


The connection between major areas of interests is a big deal for a recovering city and recovering economy. The streetcar should be up-and-running in the next few months, in the last quarter of the month, and will offer free rides in the beginning for residents to get comfortable on the new system. Eventually, prices will run $1 for single ride, $3 for a full-day pass, $11 per week, and and $40 per month.

 

Will the expansions help Phoenix and Atlanta? No one knows yet, but moving ahead of the trends will definitely help to create a better future as people look to move back into affordable metropolitan areas.

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