New streetcars derail transportation

Mark Winokur

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The addition of streetcars to downtown Atlanta is completely unneeded. Recently, the city council approved plans unveiled by the Atlanta BeltLine to expand the newly-implemented streetcar system, a stretch spanning from Peachtree Road to MARTA’s Buckhead Station. The city should not invest any further into the project. While the idea may have seemed exciting to some, the project has not added any tangible value. The streetcar typically has few passengers, indicating the lack of success the project has reached. Rider response is justified. Without any meaningful service to the community or tourists of Atlanta, the transportation addition only interferes with the traffic flow downtown.

The new addition of the streetcar reflects my grievance that recent transportation proposals have not reflected the voices of those living within the city who actually use those services. Last year, residents of metro Atlanta voted against a proposal to expand MARTA because they did not want to pay the tax necessary to fund the project. However, the city approved of the Atlanta Streetcar project, which provides far less substantive value to the community at large than a MARTA expansion would. People generally associate streetcars with more affluent communities, compared to MARTA, which is sometimes associated with low-income neighborhoods. As such, it is likely that the Streetcar Project was viewed more favorably because people hoped it would raise the profile of downtown Atlanta as a more developed community to attract wealthy newcomers. These motives pose a threat because the gentrification of low-income neighborhoods can lead to the displacement of lower-income groups who live in the area.

In spite of MARTA’s negative perception, it has superior pragmatic value and more effectively supports the needs of the community at large. Though it could be improved through rail expansions, it is an affordable medium of public transportation for those needing it.

The streetcars do not benefit the people of Atlanta. There is no community that uniquely benefits from them, and there are plenty other affordable mediums of street-based transportation that are much more effective. Newly emerging services such as Uber provide an economically-reasonable alternative that is far more convenient for people who want to efficiently get around the city.

Even when it comes to superficial value, the streetcar falls short. The streetcars have little to no novelty value and are distastefully generic and sterile, a far cry from the charming trolley cars that embody the spirit of culturally-rooted cities such as New Orleans.

The money would be better spent funding other projects like MARTA. Public transportation systems such as MARTA are far more accessible and have much greater transit value. Of greater concern than the waste of money, is the potential worsening of traffic in an area that is already largely cluttered. Under the current plans, there is no dedicated lane for the streetcars to travel. The streetcars would have to travel in the traffic lanes, which would cause traffic to back up worse than it already is right now. Not only this, but the streetcars would have to stop for signals and at stations to drop off passengers, which will wreak even more havoc into the chaotic road system that plagues metro Atlanta.

The expansion proposal was passed despite strong criticism from Atlanta City Council members and residents alike. Officials should realize that we do not need another public transportation system that fails to provide any unique benefits to the Atlanta community.

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