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.

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  • BrianC_9707

    The key to its success will be its frequency. More than ten minute waits at the stops will not cut it. As for GSU students, I’m not sure how much they will use it for inter-campus trips given that the school operates a free shuttle. However, I’ve heard there is the possibility that GSU will include MARTA passes as part of tuition and fees in the near future, and such passes would presumably include the streetcar.

  • DarinA

    I’m glad you’re seeing the streetcar in a more charitable light, Rebecca. I was a skeptic too, mostly because of the project cost. But decades have gone by with little to no movement in a revitalization of Sweet Auburn and I think this project has a good chance of making a big step in the right direction with attracting business to these great old buildings.

    Plus, I’ll get to ride from my Healey Building home to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market and that’s just awesome.

  • GregH_2

    I have to say that I’m disappointed with the plans on the first route. They missed so many opportunities here. The route actually does not stop in front of the Aquarium – it’s on the other side of the park, basically, and that is NOT an easy walk for the handicapped, elderly, or people with kids in tow. It also bypasses a couple of major hotels on Peachtree by a few good walking blocks – enough to discourage guests from using it, and, has the City completely forgot that the ZOO exists in Grant Park?? How nice it would have been to just run the street car a bit one way to connect to the Zoo.

    SO many mistakes in the planning stage. We can argue that “they’ll add these things later”, but we know they probably won’t – they’ll just add additional spurs to the system that may or may not hit all of the useful destinations they could have. It’s not a complete waste of money – we DO need a street car system here. But this first leg to me, seems more like a personal “let’s take everyone to the King Center” project than it does a practical solution to anything.

    • DarinA

      It would be great to have a rail line to the zoo. But I really don’t see Grant Park residents allowing that to happen — having a lane taken away from Cherokee Street. There was, in the first part of the 20th century, a streetcar line that went down that street from downtown:

      But those old streetcars were more narrow and slow moving compared to modern ones. Running a modern streetcar on a road that narrow where the houses are so close to the road — it’s not likely to happen.

      This streetcar is largely an economic development tool rather than a transportation solution. The idea of using a transit line as a way to spur development makes many people’s blood boil. It’s a volatile issue. I think there’s a decent chance it could work well in this area. There are precedents where this has worked in neighborhoods in other cities. I think, mainly, that allowing the historically important Sweet Auburn neighborhood to continue to decay and be underused for another couple of decades is not an option. In my opinion, it’s worth the money and effort to give the streetcar idea a try.

      The city should be ashamed of the way the neighborhood has decayed and how it stands as an eyesore next to the birth home and resting place of Dr. King. I know I am.

  • JessicaB_6474

    i agree with GregH_2. why was the zoo not included in this line? there are many things that the streetcar plan could do for the city…. including waste money, effort and time on a project that excludes some of the attractions that are most removed from the heart of the city! i’d like to know who got to plan the route and what type of consideration went into the planning.

  • UdogD

    This is mostly a reply to your linked story. How has the area been ignored and neglected? People and businesses have freely chosen to leave the area over the years because of the same changes that have caused businesses to leave Five Points, the Peachtree corridor and other areas of Atlanta over the years. The conditions (segregation) that contributed to the establishment of the area as a center of black business no longer exists. Certainly it hasn’t been ignored financially or by development. Hundreds of millions have been spent on buildings and streetscapes including new sidewalks, street lights, Atlanta Life HQ building, Auburn Avenue Research Library, a new HQ for SCLC, a national park, the King Center, a restored Ebenezer Baptist Church, a new Ebenezer Baptist Church, 161 residential units at Renaissance Walk including 27,000 sf of retail, a restored fire station to name a few. I’m with you, I hate to see the loss of a formerly vibrant black neighborhood but that neighborhood is gone and will never come back. It may eventually evolve into a successful neighborhood but it will have a different character. Your suggestion that the reason for the decay is “far too close to the attitudes of a century ago” is way off base.