Next July Fourth, let’s declare independence from cars in Downtown Atlanta

On this year’s Independence Day, thousands of people entered Downtown Atlanta to see the fireworks at Centennial Park. They came by MARTA and by car. But not by streetcar.

From 8 p.m. till 11 p.m., the Atlanta Streetcar did not offer service to the four stops on the western section of the figure-eight loop that makes up the route. That’s the part that reaches the park. Instead, the streetcar only circled around the eastern side of the route. Why? According to the announcement, service was altered in order to “accommodate the large crowds expected to attend holiday events in the Downtown area.”

Meaning: to accommodate people driving in to see the fireworks, so they could easily reach the parking facilities that occupy a massive percentage of land next to the park and the streetcar line. Here’s an image of the parking capacity:

 

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The mass of parking facilities near the Atlanta Streetcar & Centennial Park

Atlanta decided to nix the smart way to get people to the park — rail transit — so that we could  accommodate the flow of automobiles for a major event.

Crowds and cars vs. crowds and street rail

One of the most perverse aspects of this decision to alter streetcar service is that it does make sense. But it shouldn’t. When you consider all the cars that are arriving for the fireworks show to reach the parking spaces, the streetcar would end up just getting trapped in that traffic. Might as well not even add it to the mix.  Given the status quo, this move is logical. But the status quo is what’s illogical.

For future events of this scale at Centennial Park,  we should come up with a way to not HAVE all those cars arriving. Close off a few streets to automobile. (And long-term, find a way to reduce the insane amount of space devoted to parking next to the tracks and fill it with more urban appropriate uses.)

Here’s a short Instagram video from Jared Davis of crowds on Luckie Street during this year’s fireworks show, just a block from the park.

Notice the awkward way that pedestrians are interacting with cars, which are being directed by traffic cops. Is this so much safer than closing the streets to cars and directing pedestrians around the streetcar? If we can manage that pedestrian interaction with multiple lanes of autos, surely we can manage it even better with only a single lane of streetcar.

Cars are a totally inappropriate and dysfunctional way to deliver this many people to one downtown event location, particularly one that doesn’t have a parking deck under it or something like that.

We’ve got the rail. Use it wisely. If you can have cops direct cars, you can have cops direct pedestrians around the streetcar.

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Streetcars and crowds of pedestrians in Amsterdam

Crowds of pedestrians and street rail are able to work together in lots of circumstances worldwide. We can make it work here and reduce car trips to the event in the process. And this is an issue not only for the existing Atlanta Streetcar line.The city is poised to decide on a sales tax this year that would, in part, fund future street-level rail lines. We need to set a tone for how those upcoming lines will be used.