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The Streetcar Battle Continues On

July 25, 2011

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  Clearly this gentleman lacks that ability.  Now I don’t plan on criticizing this guy because he opposes my opinion on something, it’s more about his complete inability to see the other side of the story. His stance on the Atlanta Streetcar project is that it is wasteful, unnecessary, and partially serves a blighted area where no tourist would want to go.  He also only focuses in on the now, and not the future role it could play in the transit plan.  So let’s dig into his argument and have some fun shall we:

“Nevermind that there currently is a bus service to King Center.  No, this time it will be different because we’re going to have a real streetcar.”

In case you didn’t pick it up, his last sentence was a bit of sarcasm.  I can understand the surface argument that the bus didn’t really improve tourism or the neighborhood, but there lies the problem; it’s a surface argument. Bus routes can be changed at the drop of a hat, we have all seen that from the budget cuts here in Atlanta, and across the country.  Rail is permanent.  Rail provides businesses, especially retail and commercial services in an urban setting, a sense of permanence.  It is guaranteed pedestrian traffic, as the route cannot change.  It also offers an opportunity for community investment.  A dependable and permanent transportation solution is introduced that a community can improve or grow around.  This has happened all across the country, and without significant government involvement or money such as the “urban renewal” idea referenced.  Rather it draws upon the philosophies of Jane Jacobs, where a natural progression and improvement takes place, from business and community leaders, entrepreneurs and residents.  Contact me, I can provide you more case studies than you would know what to do with that prove it.

“…Neal Boortz has called it “Fanplex on Wheels…Even the Atlanta Journal Constitution hated the idea.  So did their conservative columnist, Kyle Wingfield….”

Be careful Mr. O’connor,  your political bias is showing.  Obtaining your information from consistently one sided sources (far right conservatives) is no better than a liberal whose facts are only pulled from MSNBC.  You are only getting one side of the argument, especially when you choose resources who are all in bed together in the first place.  Try branching out, or better yet, try obtaining facts, and I mean real ones too, not an OpEd piece, and not someone that you even refer to as a pot stirrer.  In fact you should read some of William Lind’s work, and he can explain to you why it is that rail is actually less expensive than bus, as well as appealing to customers.  And wait for it…….he’s a conservative.

Secondly, stay on topic.  Fanplex was not transit so it’s a useless and horrible comparison for you or Neal Boortz.  And the premise of the comparison is far off.  Fanplex was an “Urban Renewal” project and a bad one.  Try reading a few books and you would know that most transit advocates (at least the good ones) do not believe in mowing down slums, or building super entertainment centers as a means to reinvigorate a neighborhood.  That’s the 60’s way of doing things that we are all trying to undo now.  But guess what does work?  Transit.

The series of photographs presented to depict the path of the streetcar.

I commend you for this research.  I really do.  But you chose to criticize the distressed neighborhood, rather than understand why it became distressed.  And guess what that reason is.  The downtown connector.  Yup, that’s what roads do, especially highways.  They separate neighborhoods, isolate them from the surrounding communities, and inhibit their growth and sustainability.  See the destruction of Bronx and Harlem thanks to the Cross Bronx Expressway.  See the Second Ward of Charlotte thanks to the inner loop and Independence Boulevard.  See the destruction of Chicago’s west side, and countless neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

But you were right, tourists wouldn’t want to spend time near some of those distressed areas.  Not many people would, especially on foot.  But that’s what the streetcar offers.  A chance for those 3 million people to go to the aquarium and then maybe make their way over to the King center without driving, paying to park, and walking along what may be a distressed area.  And over time, the rail line will help improve the district, bringing additional foot and rail traffic through the area for more than just the King Center. Which in turn provides higher density, new businesses and residents, increased property value, and increased tax revenue, helping to offset that initial investment.

“Sorry but given the Federal regulations and threats of lawsuits, this is what the new streetcar will look like.”

First off, it’s ok if the trains look like those in Europe.  You do know that Europe is not some evil place right?  Just because they don’t drive F-150’s on 8 lane interstates doesn’t make them the enemy.  Secondly, your criticism was that these trains do not look romantic, who was selling romance in the first place?  But to the point at hand.  If you think Federal regulations are what is keeping the nostalgic cars off the rail line, you really need to find a new hobby besides hating the government.

Old cars, while attractive and nostalgic are noisy and have lower capacity, which would render them useless upon the Peacthree expansion which would draw an even greater ridership base.  The old cars are exactly that, old.  Which means to get that nostalgic feel we would have to replicate them, which in turn would be creating that theme park you thought you were so clever in referencing.  You know Main Street USA.  I am all for history, and Atlanta has some great history, and I firmly believe in preserving it.  But replicating it, is for the lack of a better word corny.  It shows a lack of ingenuity, a missed vision to move forward, and an inability to integrate the old with the new.  It is that awful terrible word *gasp* progressive (look up the definition, it’s actually not a bad word).  It is the dichotomy of the modern streetcar moving through the modern and post modern downtown and through a transitional historic neighborhood that is fascinating, as well as practical.

While picking on your individual points is fun, I should consolidate some of this and wrap it up before I lose my audiences’ attention.  Your point on cost overruns is valid, and they are frustrating, but they are a fact of life and almost always unavoidable in any construction project.   Things do not get built overnight, costs fluctuate and change, and an initial estimate is exactly that, an estimate, no more no less.  Your alternatives are not bad, and I am not opposed to the single line system in general, but regardless the road has to be dug up, so the cost savings would be minimal, not to mention you didn’t provide the actual cost of the alternative trains so that we could properly evaluate the difference. These “upside down bathtubs” also offer the opportunity to transition to a light rail line as well in the event that that is seen as a more viable option in the future.  That allows the cars to be more flexible and versatile for expanded routes.  Think long term, not just today.

Lastly, if you want to oppose the streetcar, I do understand that.  Economic times are tough, and on the surface the Peacthree streetcar seems like a better initial project. But it would be more expensive and much larger, which there are not enough funds at all for.  The area also already has very good access to MARTA heavy rail, while Sweet Auburn does not, and was given a disadvantage by being cut off by the Downtown Connector.  So instead of improving an area that is not in as much need, why not use the funds and the ideas, which have already been allocated, on an area that needs to be improved.  You can also oppose it on the idea that it will not relieve traffic congestion, I understand that as well.  But understand its role in the grand scheme of things, and understand how it can lead to even more useful projects.  Projects that once are all tied together, will alleviate traffic, improve neighborhoods, and produce a greater quality of life. It is here that we come back to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Oppose the streetcar if you want to, it’s understandable, but have sound reasoning, and have the intelligence and the ability to also understand the positive aspects of it, knowing that the positives could potentially outweigh the negative. 

And for the love of god, stop using the word boondoggle.  It makes you sound like a small child who is continuously regurgitating the ideas and words of other people.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. GMK permalink
    July 28, 2011 12:41 pm

    Bravo!

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