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Does Atlanta Streetcar’s Green Light Signal Brighter Days Ahead?

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The transit system is moving in the right direction... time will tell if it has the momentum to go the distance

Even before the Atlanta Streetcar opened at the end of 2014 — over budget and behind schedule — it’s been a source of endless news fodder.

In late May, the state threatened to shut down the system over numerous sustained safety and operational violations. But now, according to the AJC, the Georgia Department of Transportation has formally withdrawn its threat for a "cease operations order."

The story is just another chapter in what's become the epic saga of the Atlanta Streetcar. But could it be the beginning of brighter days for the beleaguered system?

While press surrounding the streetcar has been mostly doom and gloom for the better part of two years, the neighborhood along the streetcar line has seen investment dollars pour in.

The fact is, to view the Atlanta Streetcar as a transit system — at least for now, with its limited route — is to see a folly. However, other public transportation infrastructure (e.g. roads) costs residents ungodly amounts of money, with few batting an eyelash. And the usual ROI on those expenditures isn’t monetary, but rather, more traffic.

As a driver of economic investment, however, the streetcar is proving its worth (though its exact impact is the subject of debate). The Sweet Auburn neighborhood is seeing a range of new projects pop up, and buildings that long languished are being repurposed and showing back up on the market.

Also, the short stretch of streetcar has been a lesson in what not to do in the future as the system seeks to expand. Letting streetcars share lanes with cars, officials have acknowledged, was a blunder.

MARTA board chair Robbie Ashe acknowledged in a comment to the AJC that in the future streetcars should run in their own dedicated rights-of-way. Granted, studies should have probably told decision-makers that before the initial $99 million was spent.

Anyhow, despite the detractors (of which there are plenty), it's heartening to see that many of the projects outlined in the wishlist for transit expansion in Atlanta would build off the current streetcar system. Because without the first segment, there would be no second.

So could this step in the right direction be the first step on a road the rails to a brighter future? Let's hope.