The Peachtree Corridor blue-ribbon task force recommendations are in and the mayor is all excited.
A $1 billion makeover could be in store for Atlanta’s signature thoroughfare, including a streetcar system (which I refer to as a trolley for snappy headline purposes), a string of small parks and plazas, wider sidewalks and bicycle lanes to encourage a street life to rival the memorable boulevards in the world’s great cities.
Frankly speaking, I am in favor of most of what is being proposed. I just think the trolley would be an expensive folly.
It might look cute—except for the overhead cables—but it likely would move slower that buses and few people ride the buses today. Who is the targeted rider? Is it locals going to work, to eat out or to do their shopping? Or is it mainly for tourists?
Does anyone remember the electric buses that traveled the streets of Atlanta in days gone by? Do you recall seeing photos of the ugly overhead cables that powered those buses. Who needs that?
Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell brought up a good point recently. He asked if I had ever seen Peachtree Street or Peachtree Road without a metal plate on it. “How is trolley going to cross a metal plate?” he mused.
Frankly, I think what Buckhead and most of Atlanta needs are public transit options that offer flexibility in routes—such as the BUC—not more inflexible routes that don’t take people where they want to go. We now have the Peach MARTA bus that seems to me to travel the same route from Buckhead to downtown Atlanta and I would think could actually seat more passengers than the streetcar.
But my main objection is taking away lanes of traffic from the cars that constantly flood Peachtree today. Do we really think we are going to get people to leave their cars at home because we now will have a streetcar or trolley going up and down Peachtree?
One thing our planners seemingly never take into consideration is that the business people in Atlanta primarily work in “service” businesses. People in service businesses generally have to go to where their clients are located. They don’t just sit in an office eight or more hours a day. And, buses, streetcars or trolleys are not the modes of transportation that best allow them to do their jobs efficiently. The car is their answer.
This is of particular interest to me at this time—even though I likely will not live long enough to see it completed—because my wife and I are planning to move to Buckhead and are looking at condominiums along Peachtree Road. So, the blueprint for the future Peachtree is important to us.
I like the streetscape proposals for improved signage, lighting, wider sidewalks, landscaped medians (although I wonder where the room is for them), additional turn lanes and also bicycle lanes. I also like the idea of adding about 50 small pocket parks and plazas along Peachtree, providing a place to walk my dog about every quarter mile along the roadway.
I question where there is room for all of this, let alone a streetcar with dedicated north and south lanes. Along many areas of Peachtree today, there are retail and commercial developments that come right up to the present narrow sidewalks. Is the city planning on purchasing all of those and tearing them down for new development further back from the roadway?
I understand the task force has looked at a number of ways to pay for all this, including a special tax district.
Scotty Green, the executive director for both the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID) and Buckhead Alliance, recently tossed out a warning to residents along Peachtree during a talk to the Buckhead Business Association. He said business land owners and developers can no longer carry the financial burden for all the improvements that are desired in the city, especially in Buckhead. He said the day is soon coming when residents along the Peachtree corridor will also be paying into the pot of a special tax district.
This proposed blueprint for Peachtree calls for a special tax district to provide $450 million of the $1 billion tab. Strangely, that is almost identical to the proposed cost of the streetcar part of the blueprint–$445 million.
Give us the streetscapes, parks and plazas, but remove the trolley folly from the blueprint.