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How I walked the Atlanta Streetcar route and became a convert—well, basically.

Last weekend, my husband and I walked the 2.6-mile Atlanta Streetcar route. I’ll admit I embarked on this jaunt as a skeptic. Our hike down Edgewood Avenue (right) might not have delivered a full-on Road-to-Damascus epiphany, but it certainly left me ready to do a little evangelizing on behalf of the project.

Phase One of the Atlanta Streetcar is an east-west loop that essentially connects one cluster of tourist attractions (the World of Coke and its Centennial Park neighbors) with another (the King historic district). The route goes up Edgewood Avenue—where redevelopment has been hit-or-miss over recent years—and down Auburn Avenue—big chunks of which can charitably be called blighted, and most of which has been ignored for decades.

Hence my original skepticism. Would the fancy new trolleys be little more than pricey offerings for tourists—and would the grittier stretches of the route scare off those sightseers anyway? What would be in it for regular Atlantans who live or work along the trolley line? I just didn’t see it.

>> Click here to view a photo gallery of the streetcar route.

But, considering the streetcar at sidewalk level—rather than looking at maps and schematics and artists’ renderings of what might be developed along the route—it became a lot easier to imagine how people who actually live here could use it.

The route runs right past Georgia State’s Greek housing and student lofts on Edgewood, which means students could take the streetcar to classes at Aderhold Hall (better than schlepping a heavy backpack a half-mile across Woodruff park) or to the Tabernacle for weekend concerts (safer than walking at night and infinitely more pleasant than contending with ParkAtlanta).

The streetcar will connect the Peachtree Center area to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, which means office workers (including my Atlanta magazine colleagues) could easily hit up Grindhouse Killer Burgers and Bell Street Burritos for lunch and pick up fresh veggies and salad fixings for dinner.

>> Click here to download a PDF of the streetcar route

And yes, the route certainly makes it a lot easier for those tourists to get from the Georgia Aquarium to the historic Ebenezer sanctuary or from Five Points to the CNN tour. It’s not easy for out-of-towners to get around here, and a clearly identifiable vehicle traveling a predictable route will help.

Such practical considerations aside, the streetcar provides connectivity of a more meaningful nature. In the 1950s and 1960s, construction of the Downtown Connector cut the Sweet Auburn business district and Edgewood corridor off from the rest of the city. The areas never fully recovered and if you’ve ever walked under the Connector overpass you can feel the scar left by that poor civic planning. The streetcar will literally re-connect the neighborhoods.

And yes, since I’m trying to be honest, let me admit: walking the route it was easy to spot the “what’s-in-it-for-me” factor. There will be a stop two blocks from my loft, and another two blocks from my office. Which means that when the cars start rolling in late 2013, I’ll have a new way to commute.

Want to walk the Atlanta Streetcar route yourself?
Central Atlanta Progress is hosting a walking tour this Saturday (June 23).
Click here for details.