Streetcar expansion ruffles city development committee

Councilmember Keisha Lance Bottoms
Councilmember Keisha Lance Bottoms

By Collin Kelley

A proposal to spend $3.6 billion to expand the Atlanta Streetcar system to connect it with the Atlanta BeltLine was met with opposition not only by residents, but members of the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development Committee during a June 23 public hearing.

Officials from the Atlanta BeltLine were on hand to discuss the plan to add 50 miles of streetcar lines around the city that connect with MARTA and the 22-mile Atlanta BeltLine loop.

The plan immediately drew criticism from the city council members on the committee because the southwest corner of the city – including the Greenbriar Mall area, Cascade Road and Campbellton Road – was excised from the streetcar expansion.

Rather than sending the proposal on to the full city council, the issue was tabled and additional review and community meetings were called for to address what Councilmember Keisha Lance Bottoms, who represents Southwest Atlanta’s District 11, called the “inequity” of the plan.

“It’s disturbing to me that Southwest Atlanta is left out of this plan,” Bottoms said. “We don’t have a rail station and only a small portion of the BeltLine touches District 11, which is growing.”

Bottoms said the streetcar expansion planned as presented isolates many communities around the city. “If you can run a streetcar from Peachtree Road in Buckhead and then on to Lee Street to connect with Fort McPherson, why can’t one be run on Campbellton Road?”

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.

BeltLine officials didn’t have a clear answer, but indicated that MARTA was currently completing a study about the possibility of running a rail line to the area and increasing the number of buses. There was also mention that the streetcar could eventually be run there after the completion of the 50-miles already on the table. Bottoms wasn’t buying it.

“I’m ticked off that the streetcar isn’t a consideration now,” she said. “We’re trying to get businesses to invest in the community and telling them to wait for 30 or 40 years and we might get some transit won’t work.”

Bottoms said she would vote no on the current streetcar expansion plan, and she was joined by fellow councilmembers who shared her sentiment.

Councilmember Ivory Lee Young said any expansion of the streetcar and BeltLine should come with a workforce initiative to train residents to become “transit specialists.”

“Atlanta is still plagued with a 50 percent student dropout rate every year,” Young said. “We need to be thinking about getting people jobs.”

Councilmember Kwanza Hall said he was also alarmed by the “glaringly obvious” omission of Southwest Atlanta from the expansion plan.

During the public hearing, several residents spoke out against the cost of the streetcar expansion. Deborah Scott, who founded the nonprofit Georgia Stand-Up to promote equality in economic development, said the Atlanta BeltLine was not living up to its promise to provide job, equitable development and affordable housing.

“You look at this map for the streetcar expansion and you can see it’s a tale of two cities – the northside and the southside,” Scott said.

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