The chain-link fences have come down, the construction rubble is gone and cars are once again traveling up and down Second Street.
The “vision block” is complete, giving people a sense of how the entire corridor from Mercer University to Coliseum Medical Centers could eventually look, with reverse-angle parking, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, trees along the street and better lighting.
So what comes next?
Eventually -- possibly -- a streetcar or other type of transportation.
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The Second Street project’s biggest booster, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, says the improvements will strengthen businesses in the area and better connect isolated elements of the community.
The next phase of the project, already funded by the same sales tax proceeds that paid for the vision block, is construction of the “Penniman connector,” which will join Little Richard Penniman Boulevard and Second Street.
The most ambitious -- and likely distant -- component of the Second Street proposal, though, is a plan for a dedicated public transit line down the corridor.
“Either a trolley, streetcar, electric bus,” Reichert said. “But the main thing is to make it green, sustainable, pedestrian friendly, retail friendly, conducive to walking and outdoor restaurants.”
The line would be part of what is known as a “complete street,” where there are accommodations for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders alike.
Reichert said the concept isn’t always an easy one for people to understand.
“A lot of people, when you tell them that we want Second Street to be a complete street, they look at you like, ‘what’s that?’ They think that a complete street is one with four lanes, not two,” he said, laughing.
But if Reichert’s ultimate ambition of a transit line along Second Street is realized, would people actually ride it? That’s the hope in Atlanta, which is unveiling a new streetcar Dec. 30 that will run a 2.7-mile route, connecting neighbors with several downtown tourist attractions.
A journalism class at Mercer University interviewed dozens of people along the proposed Macon route and found a broad range of opinion.
Among their fellow Mercer classmates, who can already reach downtown Macon five days a week on a free late-night shuttle, opinions about whether students would use a more robust transit option were largely positive.
“I would definitely take a streetcar. I mean, it’s how people have gotten around cities for years, and I personally think it’s a wonderful idea,” said freshman Daniel Kimmel, who added that a streetcar sounds like a great tool to navigate a city he’s only beginning to learn.
Freshman Hannah Shultz said a streetcar would provide a way to “get students involved in the Macon community instead of being on campus all day.”
While many Mercer students bring their cars to campus, freshman Austin Anastasio said that taking a streetcar would “be a lot easier than parking. Sometimes it’s a pain to park downtown.”
Senior Vivek Rajeevan echoed that sentiment. “It’s just really convenient, especially if it ran all the time, instead of just like 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., when the (Mercer) trolley runs,” he said.
Reichert said that his team recognizes that “in order for transit to be attractive, it’s going to have to be affordable. We’re contemplating -- we haven’t done anything yet -- but we are contemplating some arrangement with Mercer ... so that a student ID may be all you need to pay. The school may have to pay something for it, ... but they could take that out of student fees and things like that.”
SECOND STREET ... AND BEYOND?
Other Mercer students said they’d find it more convenient to drive their own cars, while some students expressed concern about the safety of public transit.
“I have never used the bus because I don’t feel comfortable on it,” sophomore Alayna Williams said.
Opinions among non-Mercer students who live, work or visit the Second Street area tended to be less positive.
Asked if he would use a streetcar, Mount de Sales Academy senior Brandon Wright said, “Probably not. I have my own car, and I’m not downtown much aside from school.” Wright added, “I think it would be great for college students late at night, though. ... You know how they can be.”
But that’s exactly what concerns Macon resident Daniel Walker, who said he “hates” the streetcar idea.
“I think it would be a way for kids to get drunk and go back and forth from the Crazy Bull” nightclub, he said.
Reichert said his vision for the transit line doesn’t stop at a link between the Mercer campus and downtown. He’d like to see it extended in time to the Macon Mall, Middle Georgia State College and beyond.
But some Macon residents said they can’t imagine nonstudents using the service.
People who travel downtown tend to “have really good jobs -- being a lawyer or something,” and they already have ways of getting where they’re going, Macon resident Katie Mosley said. “So a streetcar would really be useless.”
Diane Hildy, who lives along Second Street and depends on Macon’s bus system, is unsure whether she’d use a streetcar.
“I’ve never used a streetcar before,” she said. “If it’s going to be anything similar (to the bus), yes.”
Pam Pearson, the owner of Georgia Market House on Poplar Street off Second Street, believes a fixed transit line could help her business. She suggested that people might rather ride in a streetcar than on a bus, and the increased traffic on Second Street “couldn’t hurt” her business.
“There’s not a lot of people downtown in this area,” Pearson said. “Most everybody’s confined over to Cherry Street, but as far as walking traffic, they’re not over here” on Second Street.
If a Second Street streetcar were put in, Reichert said he has ambitions of extending it far beyond the downtown core over many years.
Besides the east-west phase, Reichert envisions a subsequent phase that would run north-south from such areas as the Bass Pro Shops and the Shoppes at River Crossing down to Middle Georgia Regional Airport and even Robins Air Force Base in time.
The intersection of the two lines would help to establish downtown Macon as the “the vibrant urban core that can serve as the hub city for the middle Georgia region,” Reichert said.
That proposed model, he said, leaves room for even more expansion, so that 50 years from now, there could be a stretch reaching north to Forsyth, south to Fort Valley and northeast to Milledgeville.
“We’re talking about a 30-, 40-, 50-year plan to build this thing out,” Reichert said. “And all of this starts right here.”
-- Mercer student reporters Amanda Barrentine, Avery Braxton, Katherine Christian, T.J. Combs, Jackson Dillard, Keightley Dudgeon, Jenna Eason, Kalie Eaton, Colbie Ermolenko, Ireal James, Carson McGorry, Haley Powell, Jaclyn Ramkissoon and Nick Wooten contributed to this report.