Atlanta’s New Streetcar Will Come With an Ambassador

Photo Credit: Central Atlanta Progress on Flickr

The Atlanta streetcar has always been a tough sell on paper—even before construction challenges delayed its projected completion by a year, to spring 2014. Just 1.3 miles end to end, the route passes through blighted city blocks and is book-ended by the tourist hubs of Centennial Olympic Park and the King district, leading skeptics to wonder how ordinary Atlantans will benefit.

But just as Atlanta BeltLine officials use bus tours to illustrate its complex vision, the city enlisted Jonathan Weidman, a contracted MARTA engineer by day, to lead monthly Saturday walking tours through what is, on street level, a vibrant and culture-rich urban core. The 2011 Georgia Tech graduate and self-described “transit nerd” will soon depart for D.C. to work on that city’s streetcar project.

Walking the route with me on a muggy day last week, he reflected on his Atlanta experience.

“Who shows up for the tours? It’s kind of a crazy mashup. I had one guy from Sandy Springs who told a WABE reporter [paraphrasing]: ‘I came on this tour not because I live in the neighborhood or particularly care about it, but what happens in Atlanta has a ripple effect on the entire region.’ I liked that. Another lady from Johns Creek was thinking about moving intown. She’s an empty nester; her daughter’s at Georgia State.

“Just a lot of curiosity, really. What’s great about the tour is nobody who hates the project is going to spend three hours on their Saturday morning listening to me talk, so I don’t face a lot of haters.

“What are the big questions? Will this ever open? That’s the biggest one. A lot of questions about gentrification, or if the city has plans for development, especially on the east loop. A lot of misconceptions about what a streetcar is and looks like…

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