Long Train Runnin’: A closer look at Atlanta’s streetcar plans

A rendering of the Atlanta Streetcar running along the Atlanta BeltLine loop.
A rendering of the Atlanta Streetcar running alongside the Atlanta BeltLine loop.

By Collin Kelley
INtown Editor

Imagine being able to hop on a streetcar and go just about anywhere inside the 22-mile loop that makes up the Atlanta BeltLine.

That’s the proposal laid out by the BeltLine in April during two community talks that showcased the “priority” lines for the Atlanta Streetcar System Plan. The study would expand the Atlanta Streetcar’s 2.7-mile loop around Downtown to 50 miles of lines around the metro.

Officials did not release a timetable or cost for the expansion, however it’s easy to extrapolate costs with the Downtown loop costing $98 million that it run into the billions to complete.

A map showing the 50 miles of "priority" streetcar lines identified by the city and Atlanta BeltLine.
A map showing the 50 miles of “priority” streetcar lines identified by the city and Atlanta BeltLine.

Here’s a closer look at each of the proposed lines.

Crosstown Peachtree Line: Streetcars would travel between the MARTA stations at Lenox Square and Fort McPherson (future home of Tyler Perry’s film studio) along Peachtree, West Peachtree, Peters Street and Lee Street. Key stops: Downtown, Midtown, Fox Theatre, Woodruff Arts Center, and Piedmont Hospital.

Crosstown Midtown Line: This line would connect the BeltLine’s east and west sides with a route running along the Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway and North Avenue corridors. Key stops: Bankhead MARTA station, Georgia Teach, North Avenue MARTA station, Midtown, Historic Fourth Ward Park and Ponce City Market.

Crosstown Crescent Line: The route would connect the west and southeast portions of the BeltLine with streetcars running on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard, Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and the Georgia Avenue corridors. Key stops: Ashby MARTA station, Atlanta University Center, West End MARTA station, Turner Field, Grant Park and Boulevard Crossing Park.

BeltLine Central Loop: The line would encircle the 22-mile BeltLine loop. Key stops: Westside Reservoir Park, Piedmont Hospital, Piedmont Park, Historic Fourth Ward Park, Boulevard Crossing Park, Murphy Crossing, Enota Park and Maddox Park.

Crosstown Inner Loop: This one-way line would follow the Central Loop and create a bi-directional connector line to connect the east and west BeltLine along Fair Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Luckie Street, Auburn Avenue, Edgewood Avenue and Irwin Street. Key stops: Atlanta University Center, Centennial Olympic Park, Downtown, Georgia State University and the King Center. The Atlanta BeltLine has already  budgeted $3 million to design a 1.5-mile extension of the streetcar eastward along the Auburn Avenue corridor toward Krog Street to connect with the Eastside Trail.

Crosstown Outer Loop: Another one-way line following the central loop, but there would be a bi-directional connector line to connect the northwest and southeast portions of the BeltLine along Northside Drive, Luckie Street, Capitol Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive. Key stops: Atlantic Station, Georgia Tech, Centennial Park, Downtown, Georgia State and Turner Field.

A closer look at the routes proposed for the Atlanta Streetcar and its integration with the BeltLine.
A closer look at the routes proposed for the Atlanta Streetcar and its integration with the BeltLine.

This isn’t the first time a streetcar route between Buckhead and south Atlanta has been on the table. When the idea of resurrecting streetcars in Atlanta began in earnest back in 2003 and before the great recession struck in 2008, there were meetings, debates and renderings of a streetcar gliding down Peachtree.

The BeltLine’s senior transportation project manager Marcus Arnold told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods at its May 14 meeting that construction of the Crosstown Peachtree Line, as well as other lines, would “come down to available funding and interest from the community in getting that line in.”

Beth McMillan, the BeltLine’s director of community planning, told the BCN meeting that the business community is very interested in seeing a streetcar on Peachtree because of the development impact that streetcars have had in other cities, like Portland, where they have been constructed.

The Atlanta BeltLine project jump-started the streetcar discussion again and there has always been a plan to incorporate transit around the 22-mile loop of what is now walking/biking trails encircling the city.

The expanded Atlanta Streetcar plan creates a system that hasn’t been seen in the city since 1949 when the city pulled up the tracks and decided buses and automobiles were the future.

While costs haven’t been finalized, officials said they would be seeking federal funding. The current streetcar project received $47 million in federal grants in 2010.  Nathan Soldat, the BeltLine’s engagement advocate, told the BCN that 16 of the proposed 50 miles of streetcar lines are currently undergoing environmental assessment, a first step toward receiving federal funding.

The success of the Downtown streetcar route is still uncertain. After months of delays, it finally opened to riders on Dec. 30. Costs to operate the loop have increased from $3.2 million a year to $4.8 million, and the city decided to make riding the streetcar free for the rest of the year as it works out fare integration with MARTA.

One of the streetcars has been out of commission since April after it collided with an illegally parked delivery van on Auburn Avenue and isn’t expected to be back in service until August.

For more information and to see more maps of the various proposed streetcar lines, download the PDF at this link.