streetcar in atlanta: cool, but is it useful?

I have an opinion piece in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It's about the challenge of frequency for short downtown circulators such as the new 1.3-mile Atlanta Streetcar.


A rendering of the Atlanta Streetcar project:


13 Responses to streetcar in atlanta: cool, but is it useful?

  1. Ben G May 14, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    I’m from Georgia, and while ATL is generally a bit more progressive than the rest of the state, I have to say this streetcar is nothing but a bunch of humid hot air. Of course, I think most streetcars are a waste of money since they are usually SLOW and SHORT. Like you say, you can often walk faster. What IS the point?
    Money would be better spent, in almost all cases — and with greater economy — by building dedicated Class I bikeways. One could build a bikeway that’s an order of magnitude (or more) longer for the same money. But in the U.S., bikes aren’t sexy, and politically who’s going to get excited about it?
    Unfortunately, that’s the reality… Americans value impressive projects with big dollar signs and bragging rights (“OH!!! Atlanta has a STREETCAR!!! How incredibly modern!!!”) instead of practical utility and money well spent.
    With how fat people are in Georgia, the last thing we need to do is give them another reason to not walk or ride a bike. Way to go, Atlanta!

  2. Jeffrey Bridgman May 14, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    The picture makes it look like the streetcar is stuck behind that car… oops.
    Of recent streetcar plans I’m much more impressed with Kansas City’s straight line:

  3. dygituljunky May 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    That car perfectly illustrates the primary problem with streetcar, anywhere: Disrtuption of the transit network by traffic and parked cars. Better to have an elevated system that runs in a totally separate grade. (Other problems include the expense of construction, disruption of local neighborhoods during construction, steel-on-steel noise, deaths in motor vehicle collisions, bicycle wheels catching in the tracks, etc).
    The benefit to passengers of a fixed guideway system is investment in routes by the transit agency. MARTA changed many of the routes around a few years back, totally changing the map. Some users are still confused by the new routes.
    Monorail is the cheapest and fastest to build grade-separated transit and Atlanta would do very well to have monorail running where the current bus routes exist.
    (My favorite varieties of monorail are the fully automated and suspended H-Bahn (SIPEM) (at Dusseldorf Airport and Dortmund University) or a similarly automated SAFEGE system like the Chiba and Shonan monorails in Japan.)

  4. Zoltán May 14, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    Oh look, we have another one. With all these benefits of monorails, shame there are almost none, eh?

  5. BBnet3000 May 15, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    Simpsons did it.
    There are trams all over the world that are much more useful than any monorail with the possible exception of the Wuppertal Monorail, which is the only one that actually operates as a useful transit line AFAIK.
    The difference in what makes a useful tram vs the Atlanta streetcar are:
    1) Line has to actually go from somewhere people are to somewhere people want to go. (i think this may be an even bigger issue than the frequency in this case tbh).
    2) Frequency, as mentioned here
    3) Needs to be out of auto traffic if the traffic is heavy enough to cause disruption (and its probably best if its separated in any case). Note here that with signal priority at intersections, simply having the transit in the median works pretty darn well. Theres still times when you wan to grade separate, but its NOT necessarily for every transit line in a city (nor is it affordable in any case).

  6. Mike May 15, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Monorail is expensive elevated rail, which means fewer stations that nonetheless cost way more than LRT platforms. That’s not the answer for a short downtown circulator. Look at where monorails are used, they tend to be shuttles for airports, resorts, or university hospitals, all captive passenger markets requiring fast direct service. When it has been used as a downtown circulator it has failed, like in Sydney and similar peoplemovers in Detroit and Jacksonville.

  7. Paul K McGregor May 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    Part of the problem that I have with the Sugarhouse streetcar here in Salt Lake City is that the initial line has not been really thought through as part of a bigger streetcar network. They are doing a phase II study but it again is just an extension of the existing line without any thought given to a larger network. They are trying to select the next line so they can keep funding in line. [Part of the original line is funded with stimulus money.] But a city council member wanted to see a network study done which means things would get slowed down a bit. Stay tuned….

  8. Pete Brown May 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Amsterdam’s extensive tram system would probably be classed as closer to streetcar than light rail, yet it manages to be almost all in dedicated lanes, most of which can be shared with buses. This video shows the complete journey on one of the routes and illustrates a variety of ways to separate trams from other traffic:

  9. Andrew in Ezo May 16, 2013 at 4:36 am #

    Actually there a good number of monorail lines in Japan that actually provide good rapid transit- the Tokyo Monorail (built 1964), for example, hauls more than three times the number of passengers as the Wuppertal every day.
    As exhibited by the comments in this section, many transit aware Americans tend to view certain transport forms as an end-all solution, a kind of zero-sum game, when in reality (such as in places such as Japan where there is sane, non-ideological public transport planning) each form, be it elevated heavy rail, light rail, subway, or monorail, is implemented according to best-fit scenarios- So (for example), a monorail is implemented when a high-volume rapid transit system is needed, but ground level ROW is impossible to acquire due to space constraints, traffic conditions or steep grades, but the expense of subway tunneling is prohibitive.

  10. Andrew in Ezo May 16, 2013 at 4:38 am #

    replace the last “but” with “and”

  11. NP May 16, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    I lived in Atlanta for awhile and got to watch as this streetcar plan developed. I’m not a fan of the routing of the initial segment or the frequency. The route follows an awkward looping route that makes it inefficient for getting around the city. The streetcars don’t run often enough that you can expect to sit out by a stop and expect one to come in a few minutes. And of course it’s going to operate in mixed (Atlanta!) traffic which isn’t a good thing.
    It’s only redeeming quality in my opinion is that it is going to be the initial segment of a city-wide light rail network including the beltline. Here’s the map:
    The blue, light blue, and green highlighted lines are all going to be light rail lines.

  12. Robert Wightman May 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    While I live in a city that has a lot of streetcars running in mixed traffic I find in hard to conceive of a 1.3 mile line that will only run every 10 or 15 minutes. It doesn’t seem to go far enough or often enough to an outsider to be useful. Perhaps if becomes part of a NETWORK it will become useful.

  13. Alvaro Locksmith June 1, 2016 at 11:05 pm #