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.

10 Comments
  1. What a boondoggle. They can’t even get people to ride the first leg without giving the seats away.

    And running streetcars on the roads clogs ou traffic more than any number of buses do.

    If they are going to expand anything, why not more east-west MARTA lines? At least those would be useful.

    And as for no running streetcars to the ghetto…. why would they?

    They need to solve their public safety issues in SW Atlanta before anyone will invest there anyways. No streetcar will help with that.

  2. @Spencer. Maybe giving access to more areas with jobs would assist in the public safety issues. Leaving poor people to fend for themselves in a poor area isn’t ever going to produce the desired results

  3. Spencer, MARTA is not under the purview of the city of Atlanta, thus they cannot force MARTA to expand the east-to-west rail lines. The Atlanta Streetcar is within the purview of the City of Atlanta’s control hence why they are discussing this. I do agree that Campbellton along with MLK needs be the focus of any street connections between downtown and SW Atlanta.

  4. Not all of Southwest Atlanta is impoverished or has public safety issues. Cascade OTP is a great neighborhood and it is part of Atlanta. Bottoms represents parts of my neighborhood.

  5. Councilmember Bottoms should back down! She is already double dipping from the public coffers by holding her office and the AFCRA Chair. That is a direct conflict of interest and she should step down from one or the other. The Beltline was never envisioned to reach to her district. The is plain old Pork…and Payola! KLB:”Give me more money or I won’t vote for you”

  6. …She also needs to learn a lesson or two about Economic Development. The Streetcar on Peachtree is servicing business and residents that are already there NOW, not build it and hope they will come ie… “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.” Besides…they currently have MARTA transit down there.

  7. While I think it is fair to argue whether a streetcar is a viable public transit option (which I don’t think it is), it’s hard to say that anyone outside of the belt line is getting much benefit from the street car plan. Atlanta is so far behind in transit planning that the plan does and should focus on the core (inside the belt line in this case) before we talk about expanding to low traffic areas like greenbriar mall. The truth is that there is just not as much demand for that area to make it a priority. We have to prioritize the places that the highest number of people want to visit, which they have.

  8. This article’s ridiculous. Southwest is well-served by the Streetcar plan; they actually increased coverage in the southwest by adding the line that travels by Atlanta University Center.

    How can the councilmember possibly complain that the BeltLine isn’t close enough to their neighborhood? The BeltLine is an already-existing geographic place, you can’t just pick it up and move it.

    By my eyes the southwest of the city is better-served by the streetcar plan than Buckhead is. I’ve got no problem with that, but it’s complete insanity to hold up passage of the plan, especially when it’s going to be an uphill battle the entire way to build a $3.6 billion system as it is.

    I’m a huge supporter of the streetcar. I moved to Atlanta because of the promise of the BeltLine and Streetcar plans. If we can’t get it done, though, the investments we’re seeing on the east, west, north and south around the BeltLine corridor are going to grind to a halt.

  9. Have you watched what happens to the street car when it comes upon an ordinary car parked on its track? The street car stops, honks its horn, and eventually must call for someone to tow the car. The street car project is a foolish and wasteful use of public funds. There are sound historic reasons why the rails on Piedmont Ave. and many other city streets were paved over.

    If the city is determined to use money for public transportation, use buses and make them free. This would actually be better and cheaper than streetcars.

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