Sunday, July 19, 2009

Urban environments with streetcars

After returning from a fantastic trip to the city of New Orleans, I thought it would be prudent to download some of my thoughts about some of the fantastic urbanism there. I loved the streetcars there - although the system needs some serious upgrades.

The city center of New Orleans had time to evolve as a pedestrian-oriented environment; New Orleans' heyday was before the time of automobile sprawl. Also, New Orleans did not succumb to the destruction of the streetcar system in the 1950s and 60s (at least not entirely - many lines were removed).

Unfortunately, Atlanta's strive towards progress in the 50's and 60's led to the entire streetcar system being removed. At one point in time, there was a streetcar system that led from downtown to Ponce Park and Inman Park. Now, with the Beltline, we may have the opportunity to re-create this environment.

The masterplan for the Beltline looks incredibly promising. I hope that during the creation of the Beltline, we can create environments that replicate the following photos. These photos were taken from my library, throughout cities in the U.S. and Europe.

If we want to create an environment where people want to come and visit our city, then Atlanta needs to pay attention to the details. Most visitors will not recognize all of this detail, but they will be able to tell you whether the place was memorable or not, whether they felt like it was special. Atlanta desperately needs special, memorable places - places you want to take your friends who are visiting to - places we can be proud of.

St. Charles Streetcar in N.O. Notice that it runs in a "park-like" setting, with a row of trees separating the tramway and the two lanes of traffic.

Streetcar in Amsterdam. Through a "node/town center" the streetcar can run adjacent to pedestrian traffic. Note the absence of cars here.
In a more residential setting, the streetcar can run along the edge of a park.
A streetcar in Delft, NL. The stations are nothing more than a bus stop (albeit with a screen that gives you an ETA for the streetcar - very nice!). Great buildings framing this space too, well-behaved modern architecture that sits on the street.

A light rail system in San Jose, CA. Although I like the adjacency to residential, this system does not run in the street here (ironically, it does in downtown SJ) This is a much more investment-intensive mode, as it requires station infrastructure. In addition, I think our culture has become a bit safety-obsessed. The streetcars do not exceed 25mph through the stations - is it necessary to have a fence down the middle of the line?

I'd like to see us use more of an at grade / in-street system through the denser areas designated as "nodes," to better interweave the parks, streets, and transit components. In between, we can use a separated system.

This will likely be my last posting to Terminal Station, at least for some time. I am moving to Boston to attend Harvard's Masters in Real Estate program. It has been a pleasure working on this blog, although I would have liked to do much more. I will remain an avid reader.


  1. i just moved to philly from atlanta, and there is a pretty extensive trolley/streetcar system here in west philly. there are very few stations--you simply wait or exit at any intersection. there is plenty of automobile, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic on the trolley streets. the tracks even go underground to pass into city center, where you can transfer onto the subway or regional rail lines.

    its pretty fantastic and serves to make atlanta's transportation woes all the more acute to me.

  2. Great post. Congrats on going to Harvard! Wow! I hope you will bring everything you learn there back to Atlanta so we can improve the city.

    Best of luck.

  3. I enjoyed your articles very much. Good luck in Boston. I hear it's a wonderful city.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.