Strangely, the inaugural voyage of the Atlanta Streetcar—which was originally slated to open in Summer 2013—left pretty much on time this morning. But as reporters, cameramen, politicians, and other invited VIPs streamed onboard through the sliding doors, quickly filled the seats, and packed together shoulder-to-shoulder, there were a couple initial concerns that the gleaming navy-blue car had taken on more than the 200 passengers it was designed to handle.
Minutes before 11 a.m., any honorary commuters’ grumbles were silenced by raucous cheering and applause as car No. 1001 jerked into motion and lurched westward on the new rails along historic Auburn Avenue. The ride was smooth. Elderly women with walkers and children in diapers smiled and watched Georgia State University scroll past, as they became Atlanta’s first streetcar passengers since 1949. (For the next three months, rides for the public will be free when they hop aboard at one of a dozen stops between the MLK Historic District and Centennial Park. After that, proposed fare is $1 for riders age 10 and over, $3 for an all-day pass.)
Five minutes later, the 80-foot-long car pulled into the Woodruff Park station with a sudden stop that sent more than a few people careening backwards and unloaded its cargo onto the red-carpeted platform to the fanfare of tubas and trumpets. And after no fewer than six blessings from eight Sweet Auburn area ministers, the man who had been promising this day for more than a year-and-a-half stepped to a podium in front of the rushing Woodruff Park fountains and gleefully took a photo of himself and the dozens of seated dignitaries and hundreds of standing civilians present. “Streetcar selfie, baby!” said Mayor Kasim Reed. Even Hizzoner laughed when he announced the date, “December 30, 2014,”—less than 48 hours before the year-end drop-dead deadline he had set for the overdue and over-budget ($100 million from an original estimate of $69 million, with $47.6 million coming from federal grants) project.
He listed the streetcar as just the latest in the series of recent civic accomplishments—including the new Falcons stadium and Hartsfield-Jackson’s international terminal. “In the city of Atlanta,” he said, “we get hard things done.” Then the mayor threw out a challenge to himself and the local-state-federal partnership assembled to add a quarter-of-a-mile of track to this 2.7-mile circuit and connect the Streetcar to the Atlanta Beltline. “And I believe we are going to get that done,” he said, though he was not so bold as to offer how much it would cost, who would pay, or a deadline for completion.