In Atlanta’s TIGER Bid, Innovative “Beltline” Takes Backseat to Streetcar

For years, the city of Atlanta has been developing ambitious plans to connect its radial transit lines with a circular "beltline." As envisioned, the $2.8 billion project would include 22 miles of light rail and recreational amenities, circling the central city, taking advantage of existing freight lines. For now, however, those plans are getting less attention from city leaders than a 2.6-mile streetcar line that would serve as an east-west connector for downtown.

Atlanta submitted its streetcar plans yesterday to the federal TIGER program, which will be awarding transportation grants to cities around the country on a competitive basis. In order to improve Atlanta's chances, a separate application for $13 million to begin trail development on the Beltline was taken off the table.

Yonah Freemark at Network blog the Transport Politic, wonders whether the city made the right decision:

Like many cities applying for similar transportation funds from the federal government, Atlanta has had to prioritize. In this city’s case, though, that prioritization comes to the detriment of one of the nation’s most innovative projects: The Beltline. Unlike the proposed streetcar, which in most ways mirrors similar programs across the country, the Beltline advances a different way of thinking about how to build transportation.

This project has for the past several years at least appeared to be the city’s transportation priority. What happened? Are city council members suffering from a case of attention deficit disorder? The Beltline appears to fit perfectly the guidelines of the TIGER program, which is supposed to support innovative thinking about transportation investments. Will Atlanta being doing anything different if it spends on a streetcar?

Elsewhere on the Network, Renew LV discusses Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's proposal to tax oil companies to support the state's transportation budget; Urban Places and Spaces questions whether a bicycle-only subdivision planned for an area outside Columbia, South Carolina is too far away from the central city; and Commute Orlando highlights Gallup Poll findings that equate long commutes with a number of health maladies from back pain to high blood pressure.