History of the Future

13 Apr
Atlanta downtown 1919

Image: The Big Map Blog

From the Big Map Blog, an interactive 1919 city map in which Atlanta’s oldest downtown buildings appear in their original context and the city’s core isn’t yet incised by the Connector.

The Flatiron Building, the Imperial Hotel, Candler Building, Hurt Building, the Capital City Club and the Healy Building, now dwarfed by their neighbors, are prominent landmarks in 92-year-old map.

Try the full-screen option, then zoom in for a much better view. H/T to AtlUrbanist.

Also, check out Atlanta’s 1946 “Highway and Transportation Plan” from Georgia Tech’s College of City and Regional Planning.  The plan  (PDF – 97 pages) is divided into sections related to increasing the efficiency of auto traffic,  improvement of parking facilities, enhancing the transit system and even the need for a passenger rail terminal downtown.

In the opening of the plan section titled “Improvement of the Transit System,” the authors wrote that 

Highway and transportation plan cover
Image: Georgia Tech Library and Information Center

“Public transportation improvements were integrated with all other phases of the study so that the large number of Atlantans using this form of travel might enjoy benefits comparable to those envisioned for motorists.”  But just a few paragraphs later comes this: “Substitution of motor or trolley buses for essentially all streetcars in Atlanta was planned by the Georgia Power Company prior to the start of our study. We have checked this policy against probable future traffic and find it wholly sound.”

Buses had proven “particularly popular with the riding public in Atlanta,” the authors wrote, “and are especially appropriate for this city because of low power costs and the hilly terrain encountered.” They also estimated that a transition from streetcars to trolley buses or motor buses would result in a 20 to 25 percent increase in transit ridership, “other factors remaining constant.”

Even with such “modernization” as switching from electric trolleys to electric or gas-powered buses, the authors were certain that “Atlanta and its traffic will grow to such proportions that subways…not only will be desirable but almost imperative.”

But the subways they envisioned weren’t steel-wheeled vehicles traveling on steel rails:  “These subways would be designed to accommodate trolley buses but otherwise would have all the characteristics of urban rapid transit subways … It is probable that by the time these subways are built it will be practicable to accommodate motor buses in them, if necessary, without excessive cost for the control of fumes.”

Finally, the planners discussed the need for a central terminal to serve the high volume of passenger rail traffic Atlanta was then known for. One of the proposed sites for the terminal was approximately where the downtown railroad gulch now lies. The authors had an ambitious vision for the proposed terminal. “The station could have 10 or more tracks,” they wrote, “with capacity for 18 to 20 passenger cars each.”

Cost projections for the terminal illustrate just how much things have changed : “The cost of the property needed for the proposed station would be approximately $150,000. The construction cost including all track work would be about $4,500,000.”  For comparison, the price tag for a proposed new Amtrak station near Atlantic Station is $39 million.

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