Atlanta turns to streetcar; development follows

September 3, 2015 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Recently Atlanta joined the ranks of American cities investing in new fixed transit systems. Streetcars were phased out of existence on Atlanta's streets in 1949. On December 30, 2014, the city welcomed them back with open arms.

The Atlanta Streetcar is a 2.7-mile downtown loop, serving 12 stops between Centennial Olympic Park and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Running east-west, it provides access to MARTA heavy rail lines at Peachtree Center.

The idea of returning streetcars to Atlanta's streets dates as far back as 2003, when the non-profit organization Atlanta Streetcar, Inc. (ASC) was founded with the mission to bring streetcars back downtown. In 2007, the ASC's dreams were bolstered when the Peachtree Corridor Partnership was formed, in order to determine how to make Peachtree Street a pedestrian-friendly corridor.

Map of Atlanta Streetcar route

Two years later, the City of Atlanta funded a streetcar feasibility study to iron out a plan in time to apply for federal economic-stimulus funds to pay for a streetcar line's construction. In 2010, Atlanta's progressive planning efforts were rewarded when it was announced that the project's first phase would receive $47 million in federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II funds.

Soon Siemens was selected to build streetcars for the system. Providing further economic benefits for the community, major components of the Siemens streetcars were assembled at their Alpharetta, GA plant. Groundbreaking took place in February 2012 and the first phase went into operation on December 30, 2014. Future plans include extending the streetcar north to Bankhead's MARTA Station and east to Piedmont Park.

200 Edgewood rendering courtesy of Sanctuary Residential

Like many fixed transit systems before it, the Atlanta Streetcar is already spurring Transit Oriented Development (TOD). In June, Sanctuary Residential announced plans for a $33 million mixed-use project along the streetcar route, called 200 Edgewood. According to Sanctuary's CEO Bernard Felder, "200 Edgewood will offer high-end, boutique student housing and will be one of the first transit-oriented developments along the new Atlanta Streetcar line. We're thrilled to be contributing to the revitalization of downtown Atlanta."

Houston's METRORail utilizes Siemens S70 LRVs. However, Houston's Red Line is designed to operate as LRT instead of streetcar.

One interesting observation about the streetcar system is that it uses Siemens S70 light rail vehicles (LRV), despite being operated as a downtown circulator. S70 LRVs are also utilized by light rail systems in Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Diego, Norfolk, Minneapolis and Houston. With the Jacksonville Transportation Authority's (JTA) aging Skyway vehicles rapidly approaching their end, Atlanta's new streetcar operation is something that JTA should familiarize itself with.

Inside a Siemens S70 LRV

Here's a look at urban Atlanta's new toy.

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