Gridlock Guy: My Atlanta streetcar predictions coming true

In November of 2010 while many in Atlanta were excited about the prospect of a brand new streetcar coming to downtown, I, in this very column, thought it was a bad idea and the money that was being used on the streetcar could be better used in other ways to help traffic in the city.

I was mocked by the pro-streetcar crowd, calling my column shortsighted and my views counter productive.

Fast forward to 2016 and it seems that the streetcar is on it’s last legs. State officials have threatened to shut down the system unless the city can fix a laundry list of problems. The Georgia Department of Transportation, in letter to MARTA CEO Keith Parker and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, gave the city until June 14 to come up with plans to fix 60 problems with the current system.

If the solutions aren’t deemed to be sufficient, the DOT will order the streetcar to stop immediately — ending what has been an embarrassing, less than two year run for the “modern” transit system.

Ignoring the staffing and maintenance issues, the simple fact is not enough people are using the streetcar to make it feasible. After providing free rides for an entire year, the $1 fare proved to be so unpopular that only 91,000 people rode it during the first three months this year. That level of ridership can not sustain the streetcar’s existence without further government funding.

In 2010 I said that the streetcar was a solution to a problem that didn’t even exist. The numbers now confirm my thoughts.

Has the streetcar helped traffic in downtown Atlanta? No. In fact, if you consider the delays caused by installation and testing, the streetcar has probably made traffic worse.

Let’s talk about money.

In 2010 the streetcar project was kick-started with a $47 million boost by the federal government. Atlanta was then expected to provide another $25 million to complete the project, which came to $72 million total. Once completed the budget rose to nearly $100 million. If the streetcar project gets axed by the DOT, that will be taxpayer dollar completely wasted.

I did the math. Using the $25 million from the city, we could have provided 1.3 million, round-trip taxi rides between Centennial Olympic Park and the King Center. With Uber now a major force in transportation I bet we could squeeze even more rides out of that $25 million. Sadly, the streetcar will most likely become defunct before providing that amount of paid rides.

So what could we have done with the $25 million that Atlanta wasted on the streetcar?

I floated the idea of using the money to add more left turn only lanes on Peachtree Street. My suggestion drew jeers from alternative media types. But guess what? If that $25 million was invested in improving traffic flow on Peachtree Street, those lanes would still be functional and helping traffic flow today, tomorrow and in 2017.

We can not say the same about the streetcar.

Gridlock updatesMark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on News 95.5 and AM750 WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markarum.