Streetcars once crisscrossed our great city, taking riders around downtown to enjoy its commerce and culture, as they did in most large cities in America from the late 1880s through the post-WWII era. In fact, the first electric streetcar in the city ran by Five Points in downtown, just as the Downtown Atlanta Streetcar (now under construction) will soon do. This modern streetcar project is expected to drive economic development along its route, which runs through the Georgia State University campus, and revitalize nearby neighborhoods.
In addition to the downtown route, another streetcar line is in the works for Atlanta and is present on the Transportation Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax project list (“T-SPLOST”) which will be put to a vote on July 31, 2012. The T-SPLOST, which has the support of the Graduate SGA, will create a 1 percent sales tax to generate funds for a list of transportation projects in the Atlanta area. Included in this project list are funds for a segment of the BeltLine, a network of trails, parks, and transit that will serve the core neighborhoods of Atlanta. This segment includes a streetcar component that will connect MARTA stations in Midtown and Downtown with the east and west sides of the city. One of the two proposed routes is along North Avenue, directly in front of Tech’s campus. The other option is 10th Street, which would just miss the core of our campus.
North Avenue is better suited for a streetcar line than 10th Street for many reasons, the most obvious of which is economic development. The modern streetcar is widely understood to be a huge economic driver for the areas which it serves, and substantial evidence supports this belief. In 2001, Portland, OR became the first city in the U.S. to develop a modern streetcar system. Since the alignment was finalized, the area within two blocks of the line generated $3.5 billion in investment, according to Portland transportation officials. The Portland streetcar also runs through a college campus, and has shown significant ridership among Portland State University students. Tampa’s TECO (Tampa Electric Co.) streetcar line has also seen increased investment along its route concurrent with a surge in transit ridership across the city. Dozens of other cities across the country are now making progress toward their own streetcar lines, many of which are integrated with college campuses in hopes of generating increased economic development nearby. A quick stroll through Midtown Atlanta will clearly indicate that North Avenue has far more physical capacity—and need—for increased development than does the fairly dense 10th Street.
The North Avenue streetcar would not only benefit developers and local businesses, but also the Tech community by increasing access to amenities and services throughout the city. It would provide students with a direct connection to the eastern and western neighborhoods and to popular and unique destinations such as the Historic Fourth Ward Park, BeltLine East Side Trail (opening this fall), Little Five Points, Virginia Highlands and Freedom Park.
Commuters would have a direct connection to south campus from North Avenue MARTA station, and visitors would have increased options for taking transit to campus for conventions and events, reducing the number of cars circling Ferst Drive searching for a parking spot.
It would also provide a safe alternative to walking for students leaving campus after dark and would be more convenient than the Tech Trolley because it would operate at a higher frequency during off-peak hours. The increased foot traffic generated through ridership of the streetcar would effectively create a safer environment, putting more “eyes on the street” to deter crime.
One common misconception about streetcars is that their power lines create a jumbled mess of wires above the roadway. This is untrue of modern streetcars whose low-profile power systems are far more integrated into the urban environment than their historic predecessors.
Finally, having a modern streetcar run along the historic gateway to our campus would showcase Tech’s dedication to sustainability and to creating a vibrant, safe and desirable environment for its students and the community. This streetcar has the potential to enhance Tech’s status as a destination in Atlanta and the rest of the world. It would spur economic development, expanding commercial options for the Tech community, and increase mobility by providing safe and convenient options for traveling to and from campus. As members of the Tech community, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about current issues that directly affect us and to make our voices heard so that we may draw the greatest benefit possible from the opportunities afforded us. This is an enormous opportunity that we should not pass up. Please join me in making it clear to local political and transportation officials that Tech wants to reap the most benefits from this streetcar by running it along North Avenue.
President, GT Students for