It's aliiiiive! The power has finally been switched on for the Atlanta Streetcar and testing will begin in short order. As of May 27, the overhead wires and power substations should be considered live and are now energized to the tune of 750v DC (aka not-messing-around levels). But with great power comes great responsibility, and there are certain things that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers should be aware of in order to play nice with the city's newest toy. The first thing to know is that the tracks on the ground are not electrified, only the overhead wires, which are about 18.5 feet above street level. The rule is to stay a minimum of 10 feet away from those, which is easy unless you're more than 8'6" tall. In other words, don't worry but don't be careless either. Don't throw things at the wire (talking to you, drunk people on Edgewood), climb the poles, poke the wire with a stick or generally taunt the streetcar system. That much is common sense, but there are a few other important safety tips that aren't so straightforward.
Know what's cool about our streetcar? It's super quiet. Know what's dangerous about our streetcar? It's super quiet. That puppy will sneak up on you like a Park Atlanta enforcer trying to meet his quota, so be aware. It's silent like an electric car (and how many times have we all come close to getting squashed by one of those?) but unlike a Prius, the streetcar takes about 60 feet to stop if it's chugging along at 20 mph. Whether you're biking or on foot, stop and look twice before crossing the tracks. Same goes if you're driving and making a right onto a street with tracks.
Why be more concerned when you're making a right? Because the streetcar — for all of its glory — has to follow the same rules as other drivers. If there's a red light, they've got to stop (provided they have enough room to do so, see 60-foot stopping distance, above). They'll be moving at or below the posted speed limit.
If a streetcar is going too slowly for your liking, don't try to pass it. She's big — nine feet wide and 12 feet tall, to be exact — and you're not going to be able to see around that to pass safely. Chill out and cruise along behind it. When it stops to let people on/off, don't take that as your opportunity to speed past because folks getting off might be on the road.
Yes, you can drive on the tracks. No problem.
It sounds obvious, but it's worth saying: The streetcar is on a track; it cannot dodge your car, your bike or your body. If your car is parked outside the white lines, you might be missing a mirror when you get back. Oopsie.
Lastly, if you're crossing the path of the streetcar (at an appropriate crossing, of course) on foot, step over the track to avoid getting your heel caught in the gap. If you're biking over the tracks, or crossing with a stroller, scooter, wheelchair or skateboard, cross at as close to a 90 degree angle as possible to avoid getting a wheel stuck in the groove of the track. That's not the kind of groove you want to be in.
· Construction Notification [AtlantaDowntown.com - PDF]