Urban Mass Transit Act of 1970 passed Cincinnati by, leaving current generations stranded

One-by-one, and with little fanfare, nearly every major American city which scrapped its streetcar and other rail transit lines mid-century has since 1970 built a new rail system of some kind. Between 1970 and 1990, new-start systems began operations in Washington, DC, Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Atlanta, Buffalo, San Diego and Miami. Between 1990 and 2010, new-start systems were built in Denver, St. Louis, Seattle, Sacramento, Dallas, Houston, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Phoenix.

As of 2011, Cincinnati is now the largest metropolitan area, with the exception of Detroit, with no rail transit whatsoever. Attempts to fund a regional rail transit system were defeated by Hamilton County voters in 1971, 1979, 1980, and 2002. Cincinnati’s modern streetcar plan, after winning at the polls in 2009, was fully funded in 2010 but faces yet another challenge from special interest groups in 2011.

Is there some physical reason why rail transit is poorly suited for Cincinnati, as its opponents have always contended? No – and the purpose of this article is to illustrate that Cincinnati is in fact much better suited than several cities that have recently built rail transit systems. In short, dating from Mayor Murray Seasongood’s assertion in the late 1920’s that Cincinnati was too small for a rapid transit system, a long line of Cincinnati politicians, usually self-proclaimed reformers or financial watchdogs have succeeded in diverting federal funds away from Cincinnati to less deserving cities.

How Atlanta received the Federal award to build MARTA
Thirteen years after passage of Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the Federal Government began funding construction of rapid transit systems. First was the Washington Metro, which received funding in 1969 and began construction shortly thereafter. The Urban Mass Transit Act of 1970 allocated $10 billion for the expansion and upkeep of existing systems in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere, and funded approximately 80 percent of the cost of new rapid transit systems in Baltimore, Miami and Atlanta.

The award of nearly $1 billion, to Atlanta in the early 1970’s, stands as one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of public transportation in the United States. This enormous sum (equivalent to approximately $3 billion in 2011 dollars) was originally allocated to Seattle but was diverted after King County voters failed to approve a local tax to operate the planned system. Meanwhile, Atlanta-area voters did approve a transit sales tax, and due to a shortage of cities with such a tax, received the federal award and broke ground on MARTA in 1975.

The configuration of MARTA’s two lines, which radiate from downtown Atlanta in four directions, has been the subject of much criticism. Approximately four miles of subway construction in the Downtown and Midtown areas consumed enough of the project’s budget as to force cut backs in suburban areas. Outside of the Downtown tunnels, the lines typically follow freight rail lines, with inconveniently positioned stations. These poorly located stations have limited the system’s overall ridership by discouraging the construction of transit-oriented developments. Nevertheless, large transit-oriented developments (TODs) have been built at some MARTA stations, and system ridership is presently reported to be 260,000 each weekday.

So why did Cincinnati not apply for the award Atlanta received?
In 1970, Atlanta and Cincinnati were at the center of metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) identical in population. But Cincinnati was still much more densely built than Atlanta, and therefore much better suited for construction of a rapid transit system. Not only were Downtown and Over-the-Rhine much more active than they are now, but Cincinnati had numerous old neighborhood business districts that could have been saved from extinction with a subway station beneath their primary intersections.

A drawing for such a system was in fact made by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). In anticipation of a UMTA application in 1971, OKI developed a 57-mile regional rapid transit plan that would have included at least 10 miles of subway construction in Cincinnati, a tunnel under the Ohio River, and more subway construction in Covington and Newport. Under UMTA guidelines, Cincinnati-area residents would only pay $100 million of its estimated $500 million capital cost.

But Cincinnati could not apply because UMTA awards were available only for those cities with publicly operated bus companies. In 1970 public transportation in Cincinnati was still provided by Cincinnati Transit, the bus-only descendant of the Cincinnati Street Railway, a situation that persisted after a countywide property tax that would have funded a public bus company failed in 1971. Cincinnati Transit was not put out of its misery until city voters approved an earnings tax in 1973 that enabled formation of Queen City Metro.

The .03 percent earnings tax was insufficient to cover the 20 percent local match required for UMTA awards, therefore, even after having established a public bus company, Cincinnati could still not apply for large capital awards without either a supplement or replacement of the city earnings tax. A pair of countywide transit taxes failed in 1979 and 1980, and therefore Cincinnatians paid in but received nothing from the Urban Mass Transit Assistance Act.

What is so frustrating about these events is that of the three cities that received new-start awards, only the traditional urban character of Baltimore in any way resembles that of Cincinnati. Miami and Atlanta, which by 1970 had just surpassed Cincinnati in size, experienced most of their growth in the automobile era and so could not possibly benefit similarly from construction of rapid transit systems. In short, federal awards weren’t made on the basis of suitability or cost-benefit, but rather who fought hardest for the money.

What if…?
Federal funding of rail transit declined after the exhaustion of UMTA funds in the late 1970’s. As such, the FTA has not funded any new-start rapid transit subway systems, with the exception of the Los Angeles Red and Purple Lines in the late 1980’s, and has shifted its funding to the less expensive light rail mode. In Cincinnati, regional transit system plans downsized from OKI’s 1971 Regional Rapid Transit plan to less ambitious light rail plans.

These light rail plans typically called for little or no tunnel construction. Unfortunately, this is not the best solution for Cincinnati, as many of its walkable neighborhood business districts can only be reached by the type of bored tunnels called for in OKI’s 1971 Regional Rapid Transit Plan. Since the FTA no longer funds extensive tunnel construction in mid-sized cities, Cincinnati has no hope of constructing such tunnels without a return of Federal funding for such projects to 1970’s levels.

Next time you are in Hyde Park Square, at Skyline Chili in Clifton, near St. Lawrence Church in Price Hill, or walking Covington’s MainStrasse Village, imagine being able to walk down a staircase to a subway train that could take you Downtown or to any of those other points in just a few minutes. The money was there for the taking back in the early 1970’s, and we could have gotten it just as easily as Atlanta did, but your parents and grandparents were tricked into voting against it.

Jake Mecklenborg is a transit historian and published author. His new book Cincinnati’s Incomplete Subway: The Complete History explores the strange and largely untold history of rail transit in the Queen City.

  • Very interesting. And you’re right, Cincinnati’s built form is still well suited for somer sort of rail transit, subway or otherwise. The NBD’s are perfect for connecting via rail. But the overwhelming mentality of Cincinnatian’s is that such amenities are for big cities and Cincinnati has no place for such transit. Essentially, Cincinnati isn’t ‘big league’ enough for it. On top of this, I also get the sense that people want Cincinnati to stay the way it is and not change. People are just fine with the way things are and improving mass transit is an unnecessary and unwanted expenditure.

  • Honestly, I do not think most people can truly understand the full benefits of what a system like this would do for Cincinnati. How would being able to go from the heart of Price Hill to Uptown in minutes change things? How would being able to go from Downtown to Norwood, or go from Covington and Newport to Hyde Park in minutes transform Cincinnati and its people?

    Even in Atlanta, as Jake pointed out, those benefits weren’t fully understood at first, but the system has proven those benefits over time. If Atlanta were as well built as Cincinnati, or if MARTA’s station locations were a bit better along its eastern lines, the impact would probably be that much greater.

  • Don

    Greg, apparently you do not commute on I-71 or I-75! Or I guess you and other people like to battle trucks, traffic,road construction and rising gas costs. We dont need it?! What the hecks the matter with you people? You pay for an overpriced sports stadiums with a silly lease,but you have no foresight to build decent transportation here in Cincy!

  • Greg

    As an Atlanta resident I’m still surprised that we managed to get our subway built. The sad thing is that the system receives zero state funds (even though the state has control of MARTA’s finances) and is being forced to cut service just to stay afloat. The reduced service creates reduced ridership and the vicious cycle continues.

  • Matt Jacob

    Jake, I’m glad you are out there digging up this type of information about Cincinnati’s past transit decisions. I think many people in Cincinnati don’t understand the mistakes that our city made in the past that have led to it falling off the list of premier US cities. These transit decisions are definitely part of the reason that our city’s grow has been hindered while others have flourished around us. Let’s hope that armed with this knowledge we’ll learn from our past mistakes, so that we won’t be doomed to repeat it.

  • Greg (from ATL):

    I completely agree with you about MARTA’s current state. It is very frustrating to deal with 12 minute headways during rush hour, and 20-30 minute headways on the weekend or in the evening during the week. This reduced level of service deters more people from riding the system and something needs to be done because Atlanta has a truly first-class rapid transit system just sitting there waiting to be exploited.

  • Ryan L

    Detroit has the People Mover. Does that not count as rail transit? Great article about the history of transit in Cincinnati though. I didn’t know about the issues in the 1970’s.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    I don’t think anyone counts the Detroit People Mover as a viable form of transit, especially since it only has one track and so can only run in one direction. The Miami people mover uses the same technology but has two tracks and so — no kidding — can go in two directions.

  • Tim B

    Great historical recap. And maybe an opportunity was missed back in the 1970s. But you claim Cincinnati was “tricked” into votes that prevented the city from getting the money that went to Atlanta. Seems to me that voters were quite aware of the choice they were making. They’ve made the same choice over, and over, and over. Try putting a tax levy on the ballot for light rail. Care to guess how the vote would turn out? It would help if the smart brains in this town started respecting the voter and came up with brilliant transportation options that the people here actually want instead of what rail-lovers think we should have.

  • Aaron

    Tim

    The vote supporting fixed rail (The Streetcar) passed in Cincinnati last fall. So, the people don’t want rail? I think you need to get your facts straight.

  • Casey

    Actually, the Detroit “Person Mover” can run either clockwise or counter-clockwise. They have reversed it on occasion, including when they rebuilt the Ren Cen Station. That said, however,it is by no means a transit system. Not by any stretch of the imagination. At its best, it is a parking shuttle for people attending large downtown events (Red Wings games, auto show etc.). The distance between the Greektown and Bricktown stops is the equivalent of less than 2 city blocks.I can walk anywhere downtown and beat the time it would take to use the Person Mover.

  • I’d love to hear what the oppositions alternatives are to our growing need for transportation options because they’ve consistently failed to provide any alternatives to the failing oil dependent status quo.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Tim B, nice to hear from someone from COAST. I failed to mention in the article that the mayor of Cincinnati during this debacle was none other than Tom Luken (genuflect every time you hear his name). Cincinnati has since lost hundreds of thousands of residents while Atlanta has gained hundreds of thousands of residents. I don’t think you need any more proof than that.

  • Tim B,

    It seems to me that COAST is the group that needs to be respecting the decisions of the voters. Citizens overwhelmingly rejected Issue 9, yet COAST is attempting to put it back on the ballot just 18 months later?

  • Tim B

    @Jake if you think I’m part of COAST you are mistaken. Try listening. I listen to you.

    @John you want alternatives? Put real money into our bus transit system including the rapiid bus transit Roxanne Qualls has mentioned. Too many rail-blinded reformers are ignoring a very practical solution. These could be electric buses.

    And here’s more: make Cincinnati the friendliest city in America for electric cars. Start building the plug in stations, start changing building codes to encourage home re-wiring, maybe even subsidize the home conversion work. Focus on supporting what the clear majority wants: the freedom and flexibility of personal vehicles.

  • Bus rapid transit could be a valuable part of our transit network, but it does not offer the same benefits as rail. Buses have about one-third of the capacity of trains, meaning more vehicles and drivers would be needed to carry the same number of people. Buses also do not last as long as trains (12 years vs. 30 years). Buses are also slower – while a subway could take you from The Banks to Corryville in a few minutes, a bus could take 3 or 4 times as long. You also won’t see any property value increase or TOD as a result of BRT.

    Electric cars are “cool” but raise a lot of serous problems. Since electric cars won’t pay any gas tax, how do we fund our roads and highways? More federal subsidies? How does this solve the problem of congestion on our highways in any way? It doesn’t. How does this help the city retain or attract new residents? It doesn’t, as it encourages more commuting and sprawl.

    I would rather have “flexibility and freedom” come in the form of frequent, fast mass transit.

  • Tim B

    Travis

    Nobody moved to Atlanta because they had trains. They moved because the growing economy offered job opportunity. So forget about transit as a driver. Think of transit as a service to make economic activity happen smoother, faster. Transit can enhance and maybe accelerate growth but there has to be more primary factors involved first — such as a nexus of high tech innovation.

    I don’t care what happens to the gas tax. Wouldn’t it be great to see such a problem emerge?

    As for congestion, there isn’t a single big city that has rail transit but doesn’t have traffic far worse than what Cincinnati sees on it’s worst day. If you contend trains solve traffic congestion, then trains have failed.

    The switchover to electric cars is a critical goal. Far more important than rail transit.

  • Aaron

    Tim B

    What evidence do you have that supports your traffic stratification claims. And is that even relevant? The rail opposition in this city claims we shouldn’t compare Cincinnati to other cities, why don’t we do this all of the time, and think of how Cincinnati can be unique and better than these other cities. Fixed rail will do such sir, and the facts support it, time and time again.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Tim B, you are Mark Miller or his protege. Your creepiness and anti-intellectualism is hard to hide.

    Did anyone move to Atlanta because of MARTA? Sure — all the people who chose to live in a home or apartment near the lines instead of exurban counties. And there’s no way they would have gotten the 1996 Olympics without it.

  • Tim B

    Jake

    If you think Atlanta became the Capitol of the South because of MARTA your mind really is stuck on one track.

    Your own observations indicate that the money spent on rail in Atlanta was all about politics. The system itself was badly designed. What you seem to be unable to imagine is that maybe the Feds should never have awarded that funding.

    Atlanta is often hailed as a big example of the evils of sprawl, of the insanity of eight lane highways.

    Yet Atlanta had light rail — much more than just a little streetcar — since the 1970s. That system sure didn’t do much to prevent sprawl did it?

    You say MARTA gets 260,000 riders a day. You don’t say how many more millions of drivers per day depend utterly upon their cars to get around in Atlanta.

  • Ron Tunning

    Tim B.

    I guess my problem with your attitude is that you believe that automobiles are the only solution to our transportation problems. So what if the vast majority of people desire to travel in their personal cocoons? No one is suggesting that cars be eliminated. What is being recommended is that alternatives be provided, including rail.

    We invest an unconscionable amount of our resources in supporting automobile usage, not only in terms of what it costs to build and maintain highways and parking spaces, but also in energy and environmental cleanup. Moreover, thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of injuries are recorded annually as collateral damage.

    If you don’t like rail transit, don’t use it. But don’t deny others the opportunity to avail themselves of a form of transportation that is suitable for their needs.

  • Tim B

    Tnx Ron,

    I wouldn’t deny you anything. If I felt that the universe of rail transit riders was contributing as much to their form of transport as the others pay for supporting the automobile “system,” I’d be fine with streetcars and light rail.

    Our road system is very expensive — but it does not rely primarily on non-users for its funding. Users pay. They pay for the vehicles, for the gas, for the gas tax, plus the local, state and federal taxes for road building and repair. Well over 90 percent of road funding comes from road users.

    But the streetcar plan depends very, very heavily upon non-users. Everybody knows rider fares won’t even cover operating costs. Only about 15 percent of the streetcar project will be financed by the TIF. That figure should be well over 50 percent — but that’s not possible because people already know that the TIF won’t actually generate enough to pay for the project (unlike TIFs that DID pay for Union Centre and the Liberty interchanges on I-75)

    If we had a super-powered accountant who could could carve out the (small) chunk of tax money you unfairly pay for roads and switch it over to trains, I’d be fine with that. Then I could know that everybody else’s tax money is actually supporting the roads that everybody else uses.

    I’m OK with non-drivers chipping in a little bit for your streetcar. But the fact is car drivers will subsidize the majority of the costs of rail transit in addition to subsidizing nearly all road costs. And that’s not fair.

  • Ryan L

    The government’s responsibility is to protect us from more than just terrorism and war. Part of that protection is providing alternate modes of transportation so that if one mode fails, there are others that keep our economy up and running. If gas spikes to $5/gallon like some have predicted, how can people afford that? Ridership on alternative transportation like the streetcar, light rail, and high speed rail would all increase dramatically. Unfortunately, Cincinnati has no alternative transportation and would likely suffer more than almost any other city if gas prices spike. If people would just welcome rail, and be open minded about it public transportation (ie buses, streetcar, light rail) would be much cheaper per person than cars. Perhaps an increase in gasoline prices will bring this open mind to public transportation.

  • Only 50% of HIGHWAY funding comes from user fees (mostly gas taxes). If you put back the money from the gas tax that’s used for transit, that percentage only goes up to 60-65%, and that’s still just for highways. So while numbered State, US, and Interstate routes get half of their funding from user fees, the entire rest of the road network that does not have a numbered route shield is not funded by user fees AT ALL. Those roads are paid for mostly by property taxes, and thus are not born directly by road users. The gas taxes city residents pay go to funding the interstate highways used more by suburbanites, but not to the local streets city residents use. What a tangled web we weave huh?

    You could argue that a great deal of the cost of DRIVING is born by the user, through the cost of owning and operating their own vehicle, but you can’t argue that the cost of ROADS are mostly born by users. The thing is, since driving is the de facto way to get around, and the network is so extensive, it’s also incredibly costly to build and maintain such a network. Even a very small percentage of subsidy to roads is a huge number of dollars, like tens or even hundreds of billions per year.

    There’s also the fact that parking is almost never considered in the cost of driving. There’s 3-4 parking spots per vehicle in this country, and they’re worth more than the total value of all the cars we have. That’s an enormous subsidy to cars, whether through on-street parking provided by cities or by private parking lots. These result in higher taxes and higher prices for goods and services. The fact though that 99% of parking spots in the country are “free” to use means that non-users are subsidizing drivers. It’s assumed though that parking lots and garages are just sunk costs, especially because they’re mandated by zoning in most places, so they’re not factored in when they are just as big, if not an even bigger, subsidy than everything else.

    Even the car itself is considered a sunk cost by most people. If there was a little ticker in every car that counted up $0.50 per mile (the average cost of driving) then people would seriously consider taking transit instead. They would be reminded how much their driving costs in the same way they’re reminded how much it costs to take transit every time pay the fare. Transaction costs are a big factor in the perception of one mode versus another. A bus fare of 1 cent would show a noticeable decrease in ridership over no fare, simply because people have to pay SOMETHING. They need to have change on hand and actually hand something over to the fare box, and that registers as a “hit” of sorts in the brain, even if the amount is negligible. Cars have no transaction costs. Filling up the tank doesn’t register in the mind as part of the cost of a trip, and monthly payments, insurance, maintenance, etc., are even more abstracted.

  • Tim,

    No one is claiming that someone moved from Cincinnati to Atlanta specifically because of transit. However, transit is one large factor that plays into the desirability and livability of a city. If I got identical job offers from companies in two different cities – one with transit and one without transit – I would choose the city with transit. I would love to someday live in a city where I do not need to own a car to get around quickly and easily. Please read this article I recently wrote on the subject: Young Americans Less Interested In Driving.

    As for electric cars: I don’t see how they can be proposed as a viable solution until someone figures out how we’re going to pay for our roads once a significant portion of the population is driving them. Would you be in favor of a mileage-based tax replacing the gas tax, even if it meant that the government would require GPS devices to be installed in cars?

  • Patrick R

    Great article. I was unfamiliar with this particular history lesson. I noticed that transit efforts seem to have passed us by but I didn’t realize we had an active hand in that result.

    From what I’ve seen, we have two major views at play here (and have for a while); those who want to grow our city and those who want to keep things as they are.

    Growth means moving beyond what is to what could be. That always means change which stretches boundaries and challenges comfort zones. Not always fun but I’ve never seen growth without it.

    The second would keep things well in the prevailing comfort zone, financial and otherwise. Status quo, familiar, comfortable. Nothing changes but nothing grows.

    Like it or not, cities are in competition with one another for people, jobs & revenue. We have a lot to offer here; a broad-based business climate (not a one-industry town) world-class cultural institutions, major league sports franchises (such as they are:) and a largely wonderful choice of neighborhoods to choose from offering a wide range of viable lifestyles. Unfortunately for us, we don’t get to choose what is appealing to those we want to attract. They do. While what we have is attractive, it’s not enough. The actions and successes of other cities in this area is proof of that.

    If the residents of Cincinnati want their city to thrive, it has to a) do it with the people here now or b) attract new ones, period. Each choice has it’s benefits and costs. A is, presumably, easier and more comfortable, hence it’s repeated popularity. What cannot be done, however, is get the benefits of B with the effort of A. Everyone wants to look like they came from the gym when all they did was come from the kitchen. Not in this universe, anyway, and anyone promising that result is lying, be it in diet ads or politics.

    So, look yourself in the mirror, Cincinnati, and decide what kind of city you want to leave for your kids and grand-kids. No one thing is the panacea everyone wants, including viable mass transit (rail and otherwise). We need a complete tool kit. We have a lot of them, but transit is a BFH. Yes, it’s expensive and, yes, the people who live here now may feel like they don’t need it. It’s not for us (although many will like it once they try it). It’s for the people we need to attract to make Cincinnati viable beyond the lifetime of those already here.

  • Don T

    I think Greg M summed it up the best, “People are just fine with the way things are and improving mass transit is an unnecessary and unwanted expenditure.” when referring to people in Cincinnati. Yesterday I was reading about Gov Kasich trying to revitalize Ohio and address the problem of everybody leaving Ohio. Cincinnati was mention as loosing 40% of it’s population since 1950. People are leaving this state and city because of lack of progress. I have ridden rail transit systems in most major cities in this country and Canada and I love it. Every time I go to Toronto or NYC and jump on the subway to go to dinner or out with friends I think about how I would much rather live there instead of Cincinnati. It so much more convenient. In Cincinnati people have nothing to compare it to and therefore can’t imagine the benefit. If this city or state is going to attract the businesses and professional people that they require to sustain themselves then they must invest in a modern transit system for it’s residents. There are many other things that need improved as well in this city besides transit but this is a big piece of the puzzle.

  • Dale Brown

    I truly wish that Cincinnati had a light rail system similar to ATL that ran from Union to West Chester, with a spur to Kings Island. Hell even run it to Dayton.

    But if you think people move to ATL because of the transit you’re crazy. The weather, lower taxes, and cheaper labor all have more to do than the MARTA, which really only services downtown, midtown, and the airport. And you see some crazy things at night on the train in ATL.

    But it will never happen because you have to get three states involved, and no one will want to foot that bill.

    The other problem is that Cincinnati just isn’t built for mass transportation. Between the hills and years and years of development centered around the driving experience, You’d still have to drive to the train, ala St. Louis and ATL.

  • The City of Cincinnati was built around rail based transit. This notion that Cincinnati is somehow not suited for transit is asinine. Just because Cincinnati’s suburbs are very spread out doesn’t mean the city itself isn’t wonderfully suited to transit, especially the corridor the streetcar is planned to run through.

  • Dale Brown

    Jeffrey – That would require people to live in Cincinnati. It didn’t happen in ATL, its not going to happen here. Very few want to give up there house and yard for a condo or urban neighborhood.

    If everyone lived in the city, you wouldn’t need a light rail.

  • More people what such neighborhoods than can get them. The fact that urban living is more expensive than suburban is in part due to the fact that it’s undersupplied in the market, thus causing higher prices. Cincinnati has a lot of dense areas that are underutilized because they can’t accommodate cars, nor should they, so they need better transit.

    Your logic is backwards. If everyone lived in the city, we’d need tons of rail transit. There’d be no room for parking cars, but people would still need to get from places like Clifton to Downtown, or from Hyde Park to Uptown.

  • Dale:

    The reason so many people in Atlanta drive to the MARTA stations is because that is how MARTA rail was designed. It’s designed as a system where bus routes feed the rail lines. So if you don’t ride the buses, you must drive to the train stations.

    If Cincinnati were to develop the rapid transit plan highlighted here it would not be the same type of system. Instead it would cater to existing urban neighborhoods and rely much less on feeders into the system. This alone would make a Cincinnati system superior to Atlanta’s.

  • Dale Brown

    Jeffrey – Trust me, urban living in Cincinnati is not more expensive because of a lack of supply; NYC yes, Cincinnati no. Its lifestyle differences; why would you live in a cramped condo when you can live 5 miles out of the city in a safer neighborhood with better schools and more access to everyday items?

    Randy – If rail is ever developed for Cincinnati, its first obligation is going to be a replacement for local traffic that commutes every day from 75, 74, and 71, just like ATL. Most people live around these arteries, and the demand is there for rail. There isn’t any demand to service empty urban areas; at that point, your attempting to create a demand by adding transportation.

    What you want is noble but isn’t realistic; light rail gets much more support when you say “instead of sitting in traffic for an hour you can take a train that takes 20 minutes” not “well you have to sell your house and move to community X to use it.”

    A light rail that basically replicates local commutes on the interstate is something the vast majority of people in the Cincinnati Metropolitan area can understand and support, becuase they understand the impact on them. Servicing long-forgotten urban communities doesn’t resonate.

  • Glen:

    You are simply incorrect. Most urban neighborhoods in Cincinnati are actually not vacant. There are a few that are underpopulated, but most are very much populated and high much higher densities than the rest of the region. The reason the highways are so congested is because they serve as a few options to transport large portions of the region into one or two areas of the region (and vice versa). The large number of people living in the city are not really contributing to that scenario, so you don’t feel the effect of their commuting patterns, and thus don’t feel that they are in such as large numbers.

    For reference, here is a population density map of the Cincinnati region. Notice that the most densely populated areas are in fact in the city and inner-ring suburbs.

    http://bp3.blogger.com/_sxNvEDBlnKc/SHy5FWkAD3I/AAAAAAAAAGM/_G1S4QJ7UAo/s320/cincypopdensity.bmp

  • Dale-

    Don’t assume that your wants and needs are the same as everyone else’s. “Why would you live in a cramped condo when you can live 5 miles out of the city in a safer neighborhood with better schools and more access to everyday items?” I have no desire to own a house with a yard. I’m don’t feel like the city is “unsafe”, so I wouldn’t feel “safer” in the suburbs. I have plenty of “access to everyday items” in OTR: corner stores, Findlay Market, restaurants, bars, music venues, and lots of other local businesses are within walking distance. Adding quality transit would allow me to ditch my car and allow me to reach more destinations easily. The money I now spend on car payments, insurance, parking, gas and maintenance could then be freed up to spend on other things, helping to improve our city’s economy.

  • Tim B

    Many interesting comments!

    I see two main threads running through this discussion. The MARTA history in Atlanta is about how funding was obtained for light rail serving a region back in the 1970s, which invites a discussion about light rail for our area. That discussion has to be regional in nature, but remains mostly a city-only talking point. Light rail will NEVER happen unless you city folk figure out how to be friends with those Mason folk. And frankly, I don’t see any olive branches being tossed around. So to me, the light rail concept is a non-starter. The most realistic transit plan this region will support would be a much improved Metro/Tank bus system that incorporates Rapid Bus Transit. But even that is uninteresting. The people who like transit the most seem to pooh-pooh the concept without even giving it a thought. So….break the mold. Look to the realistic future and get in front of the changes that will come with the switch-over to electric cars. The vast majority of the 2 million people in our region will prefer personal vehicles for a very, very long time. They don’t really care about gas vs. electric motors.

    Meanwhile the overhyped streetcar argument boils down to trying to attract folks to one spot in the central city that some people feel is worth fixing up. Great. But as someone with no plans to ever live in OTR, I will continue to resist the idea of “outside” money being used for this project. I’d openly support the streetcar if the thing was a bootstrap effort instead of a demand for hand-outs. Unlike highways or light rail, the funding for such a highly local project should be highly local.

    The city-centric folk on these boards actually could learn some lessons from those pesky suburbs — if folks stopped hating on them for two seconds.

    10 years ago, public officials and private developers saw that the Union Center area had MASSIVE growth potential. Yet they didn’t even ASK for federal, state or even county-wide money. Nearly ALL the funding comes DIRECTLY from tax districts occupied by those who benefit most clearly. This is the proper direction for the streetcar. The project will have, supporters say, lots of local benefit and a bit of regional benefit. Fine. Great. Let the funding match that model.

    Instead, what do we have? A small group of people ranting and raving against the car-based lifestyle of the vast majority, then demanding (not even asking nicely) that same majority to pay for their streetcar.

    It’s absurd.

  • The only reason Union Center could do what it did was by building an exit onto the already existing Federal Interstate Highway. There’s nothing grassroots or bootstrap or whatever you want to say about it. There’s also no similar rail infrastructure for the streetcar to build upon since those same highways already drained out the city. It’s a case of the city trying to do something that actually helps it rather than just allows people leave more quickly. The Metro Moves vote in 2002 showed that the rest of the county/region isn’t interested in rail, but the city is, so if they don’t want it, we’ll just stick to smaller scale projects within the city.

    As for bus rapid transit, it is a good thing. However, it requires a lot of design and cost to do it properly, something that’s been very difficult in this country. Even on the wide arterials in Los Angeles, there’s a lot of opposition to BRT for concerns of parking or worsening existing congestion. Of course to make concessions to that means the BRT loses speed and desirability, so it becomes little more than a semi-express service. It would be more difficult to implement BRT in Cincinnati with narrower roads, many irregularly spaced intersections, and a lack of will to do major mode separation projects. Comparatively, a streetcar is in a way even easier to implement, because it doesn’t require a completely separated right-of-way like BRT or light rail should have to operate successfully. Also, BRT and light rail are farther-reaching modes that attempt to capture outer neighborhood and suburban commuters, whereas the streetcar is being used as a circulator for short intra-city trips. That’s much easier to accommodate on our streets, but it’s also much more subject to the perceptions of permanence that rails and wires give and which buses don’t.

  • Also, to say it’s absurd for city residents who want to live a less car-dependent lifestyle to ask the rest of society to help pay for that is akin to asking them not to eat the last tiny slice of pie after everyone else has already gorged themselves. There’s several comments above about how non-road-users subsidize road users, and how city residents disproportionately subsidize car travel for suburbanites, so why shouldn’t they be able to get a little bit back? It’s not about spite or some anti-suburb conspiracy, it’s about trying to make the very unfair and one-sided policies of the last 60-80 years a little bit less unfair and one-sided.

  • Ryan L

    Tim,

    Do you think the city should stop funding buses? The Banks? Stop giving tax incentives to get businesses to move down here? Stop all forms of welfare? Each of these items are utilized by a minority of the population. Just because over 50% of the population won’t use something doesn’t mean it should be disregarded. Every neighborhood cleanup should be stopped because it doesn’t help the majority of people. And maybe we should stop taxing cigarettes so much because the money does not go back to the people who smoke them.

    The idea that the government should not invest in the streetcar because it doesn’t help the majority of people, yet most people will be paying into it, is pretty baseless. That means that the state should not invest in any individual cities and the federal government should not invest in any individual states/cities. That would be putting a majority of people’s money into something that only supports a minority of people.

  • Good points Ryan. Also consider this. 23% of the households in the City of Cincinnati do not “own or otherwise have access to an automobile.” Yet is even 1/4 of the transportation spending in the city going to transit, bikeways, or sidewalks? No, it’s much much less. Never mind that there’s people who do own cars and still use transit as well. It’s a very skewed system we have.

    This notion that “I’ll oppose anything that doesn’t directly benefit me even if it indirectly benefits me and is a boon for society as a whole” is very pervasive in Cincinnati. It’s somewhat of a midwestern phenomenon as well, but it’s permeating the whole country too. Nobody seems to understand the value of healthy city centers and vibrant neighborhoods anymore. It’s as if “the greater good” is somehow a communist phenomenon that must not be allowed in the USA. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we actually taught civics in school again.

  • Tim B

    Ryan

    I’m not saying stop all those things you mentioned. Not at all.

    But don’t pretend that the streetcar is a public service for the needy. The stated goal is to make the city more attractive to the creative class.

    And that’s much more like the Union Centre interchange than you think. A small group sought to use transportation to support development that benefits only a small part of town. It wasnt any more ” necessary” than the streetcar. The difference is that they didn’t ask everybody to chip in.

    A lot of people are probably willing to chip in a little to give a boost to OTR. There is a public good at stake. But there are property owners and businesses that will not be carrying their share of the burden when in fact they should be carrying the biggest part.

    Besides, if that suburban interchange project had asked for federal money, folks like you would have opposed it– aggressively. No more sprawl would have been the chant.

  • Dale Brown

    I love it; the map that Randy pulled out (which is slightly deceiving, as its only Hamilton county), shows one thing very clearly; much of the population lives along the corridors of 75, 74, and 71. Then go look at the demographics of the city, from population to education to median income. Now when you say 1/4 don’t have a car, is it because they don’t need it or can’t afford it? Most of the taxable income is along these corridors, not in the “urban centers” that are being espoused. So I doubt that urban people are paying for non-urban’s roads; its more like suburbia pays for roads as well as income taxes in Cincinnati to support the city.

    Two questions; if you think money spent on transportation through federal and state taxes is worthless or you aren’t getting your money’s worth, try going one day without consuming something or using some instrument that didn’t come across the Brent Sprence bridge. Next question, if living downtown was in such demand, would the city still have to give away 10 year tax abatements?

    I know this is an urban website, but if you want to make downtown stronger, you have to get the people from the suburbs to visit and be consumers downtown. One way to do that is to make it easier to get downtown with light rail. You won’t make downtown better by providing rail to just Cincinnati while ignoring the fact that the majority of people don’t live in the city limits and they use 71, 74, and 75 to get into the city.

  • Dale, the rest of the counties in the Cincinnati MSA are less densely populated than Hamilton County. If you want to support your claim that there are greater densities in those outlying counties, I would love to see your supporting evidence.

    It’s also interesting that now you’ve switched the topic. No longer is it about how many people live in the core of the region, but it is who those people are.

    It’s interesting that you keep coming back with more and more questions without acknowledging that the previous questions you have thrown out have been answered. It’s a rhetorical strategy and it is a lame one at that. If you want to discuss and debate the topic then fine, but don’t try to set traps and talk people in circles when it appears painfully obvious that you don’t care what their answers are to your littany of questions.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Interjecting here…

    An interesting point has been brought up a couple times: that suburbanites outside city limits don’t want light rail. That may very well be the case. Metro Moves is over 8 years old at this point, but until another initiative comes up it must be assumed such is still the case.

    But, hands off the city’s own rail solutions.

    We want the streetcar. No county funds are going to use it. No tax increases are being used to fund it. Half the initial phase is coming from local bond issues–not taxes, not unique budgeting tactics. These bonds are being bought by *GASP* investors interested in seeing the project succeed.

    We all know the real reasons for building the streetcar: the development potential, the fact that Cincinnati’s largest employers are on the line, a significant (and growing) population that lives along the line, access to downtown for 40,000+ UC students, and the fact that in 2009 56% of the population supported what opposition deemed to be the “streetcar issue.”

    What I keep reading opposition harp about are the funding issues, which I think supporters need to tackle head on. Maybe you’re not (directly) benefiting from it because you live in the suburbs. But you’re also not paying for it. So hands off.

    Sorry. Had to get that off my chest. 🙂

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    People, quit replying to Mark Miller, Wendell Cox, Randal O’Toole, and the other shills who are at work here. They are obviously threatened by the appearance of this article because it shows their whole act to be a fraud.

    So, COAST, when you drive past Union Center Boulevard, do you think “this is America at its best?”. Is /this/ what the greatest nation in the world should look like — high tension wires and all? No — Union Center is a disaster. Everything there will be torn down within 30 years. Everything there is simply an apparatus of mindless consumerism. It’s just another throwaway suburb like Colerain or Beechmont or Springdale. Nobody cares about it now and nobody will care when it’s bulldozed.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Jake, you give it 30 years? Rather optimistic of you… 😉

  • Tim B

    Jake

    Your disdain for places like West Chester are exactly why suburban folk won’t work with you to fund regional light rail. Get over yourself.

    Zach

    If you were correct that city money was funding the lions share of the streetcar I would agree with your hands off claim. To a point. Because even within the city the project is unfair to residents of most of the city. And if it were true that the streetcar really did connect the largest employersyou would have a stronger case. Phase I doesn’t come close to ANY large employer Uptown. And phase II doesn’t come close to most of the hospitals up there either. And combined the phase I and II project will cost at least $200 M, which is yet to be funded in any way much less city-only money.

  • Ryan L

    Tim,

    Actually, the University of Cincinnati and Downtown Cincinnati are the two largest employers in the city. And the streetcar is connecting the two.

    Not EVERY project can directly help EVERY citizen of the city! How many times are you going to argue that it isn’t “fair” for others to pay into something they won’t use?!

  • Tim B

    Ryan

    This isn’t an opinion. Get out a map. Look at where the Uptown link stops. You cannot say with a straight face that UC is connected by phase I. Phase II does link more of the campus. At least along Jefferson. But even that leaves walks of over a mile for vast areas of Uptown. For a group that’s supposedly about the architecture, the science and the facts of sophisticated stuff like public transit, you sure are willing to play the propaganda card.

    The streetcar, if successful, will inspire more residential development in OTR. But very few people pretend that the streetcar will serve as a commuter service for any large number of people. Tens of thousands of people work Uptown. Damn few will be able to use the streetcar even though their city income taxes will be used to pay off tens of millions in bonds.

    The die hard supporters of rail transit should be
    the ones picking at the route looking for ways to make it really work for real people. But as it turns out, it’s the critics that are finding gaping holes in the practicality of the project.

    For example, why on earth isn’t the route being adjusted to better accommodate the casino? How on earth did thisstreetcar route get ” decided” at all? Obviously a fair amount of planning DID go into it. But when did the public get to turn in comments? And what if anything has been done to react to the comments that have come in? Talk about unresponsive bureaucracy!

    Meanwhile, how can anybody west of Vine street downtown feel good about this project? It utterly fails to serve the convention center and the big hotels full of tourists who might actually ride a streetcar to get to stuff.

    From a simple public service perspective, one of the legs should go along Vine street. But beyond some closed door meetings way back in the proposal days, there has been zero open detailed explanation of why the existing route was picked and other routes rejected. And yet now, this route seems to be set in stone.

    And still, with so many questions put there, streetcar supporters seem amazed that fellow citizens aren’t jumping with enthusiasm about this project.

    Yes planners. You need to address the what about me questions. And there are many, many such questions for folks in downtown, in uptown, in other city neighborhoods and beyond.

  • Ryan L

    The streetcar is three blocks from the convention center and two blocks from the casino. It can’t run on every street.

  • Lisa

    I moved from a condo in the suburbs to a big house in the city. I live down the street from a nature preserve. I feel safe in my neighborhood. I feel more of a sense of community than I ever did in the ‘burbs. I make a very good income and pay a lot of taxes. I don’t own a car. My choice of course.

    I’m also getting older, like everybody else. I would prefer to have more options for transportation. I’d also prefer my aging parents and in-laws stayed off the roads. They can’t though without other options. My child has some motor skill issues that prevent her from driving a car. I’d like for her to be able to get around. She’s employable, and it would be nice if she could live independantly. More public transit would help her do that.

    I didn’t grow up in Cincinnati so maybe that’s why I appreciate it for its sheer beauty. I also travel often outside of the midwest so I see other cities use of public transport. I know what is available and how much easier it would be for my daughter and me to live somewhere else. Maybe my case is different and I shouldn’t be asking others to subsidize my way of life. But maybe it’s not. I do see a reluctance in young people to learn to drive. There’s not a lot of jobs out there and the ones that exist pay less. Maybe owning a car is becoming an expense fewer people can afford.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Tim B, are you http://www.linkedin.com/in/timbonfield or http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tj-bonfield/12/474/AB8

    Why are you so afraid to use your real name? If you’re so secure in your convictions, be a man and show your face. Because you are clearly a paid shill.

  • Tim B

    Ryan

    You are correct that a streetcar cannot run on every street. That’s the greatest flaw about the project. A wheeled trolley bus actually can run on every street. But that’s been rejected but the rail lobby.

    Sothe question becomes are these the best streets? In many ways the route is very good. It connects Music Hall and Findlay Market. Runs close to the Aronoff and several other important destinations.

    The point is that the proposed route has become THE route without evidence of an open public process. At least not a thorough one. If a highway planner attempted a bridge over a scenic river in such a way, environmentalists would be screaming and the media would be covering the “scandal.”

    Flipping the downtown portion of the loop to use Vine st instead of Main street might make the streetcar more useful to all of downtown. Has that idea been studied or even discussed? If so I sure cannot find out where — and I’ve read a LOT about this issue from a LOT of sources.

    The only route debate I heard was about not using Vine street as the uphill link to Uptown. Some people lobbied to move that access farther west — and lost.

    And here we are with construction about to
    begin. But what the hell, let it roll. It’s not our money anyway. If it doesn’t work, we will just spend more later to fix it.

    If there one thing that’s clear about the streetcar, it’s that a large number of people are getting railroaded in the process.

    Then again that’s nothing new is it? The railroad tycoons of yesteryear weren’t exactly known for being inclusive either.

  • Tim B

    Lisa

    Great perspective! Without telling me your address, can you share more about where you live in the city? Can you actually use the streetcar as it is currently planned? Could you walk to a stop, get to your grocery and pharmacy stores? Can you ride it from home to work? Would it take you to city attractions/destinations that you actually use? Does it NOT reach places that are important in your life?

  • Tim B:

    That’s the thing about all infrastructure. Road don’t reach every piece of land, interstates don’t connect every city (see Hamilton for a nearby example). Some neighborhoods are tapped into public sewers for some time (or ever), and other places have very limited access to other pieces of infrastructure. You don’t have interchanges everywhere and you don’t have curb cuts everywhere. This is reality Tim, a streetcar system is no different.

    And yes, while bus *can* go everywhere, it would be a ludacris proposition to suggest that they should. You would dilute the system and create a mess of your network.

  • Tim B

    Randy,

    Not trying to claim that a bus or trolley should go “everywhere.” But I am pointing out that achieving the goal of a downtown circulator — which by rights should connect directly to major places like the convention center and casino AND drop people exactly on Fountain Square vs half a block away — is far better achieved by a wheeled trolley than a railed streetcar. Because by rights, we really would like the circulator to also reach the Museum Center at Union Terminal and cross the river into NKY.

    But while trying to sell the public on the great “connectivity” of a streetcar, the reality is that the project is NOT intended as good, efficient transporation. It’s intended as an eco devo project for a few underdeveloped parts of the city — hence all the insistence about the value of “permanent” tracks.

    OK. I’m fine with folks proposing such a project. They care about OTR. They think this will help. It probably will help — but at great cost. Fine. We shall see about that.

    But please. Quit insulting people’s common sense by claiming that the streetcar is a great connector, a real help to people seeking to get around with cars. The transit value of the streetcar is one of its weakest selling points because anybody can see how unlikely the project will be to fit into their own lives.

    For example, I imagine many folks would agree that the Clifton gaslight area is filled with progressive-minded folks who would be eager users of a streetcar. Yet how is it that this project utterly ignores that neighborhood. Even phase II misses the Ludlow business area by more than a mile.

    And for more disclosure for those who sadly assume I’m a suburbanite. I live just outside city borders in a neighborhood that should be part of the city, but happens not to be. I’m in the CPS school district. I work in the city, so I pay city taxes and cannot vote on how that money gets spent. It takes less than 15 minutes to drive to work. I can easily walk to not one, but three different bus routes. And yet, not one of those routes can put me near my place of work without a transfer and nearly an hour of wait time, transfer time and riding time. I actually would gladly give up one of our cars to ride the bus — but it just doesn’t work for me.

    That’s OK. I’m not asking anybody to cough up tax money to solve my personal situation.

    But I WOULD like to see a LOT more money pumped into a better Metro bus system. Yet what I see instead, is a ton of money being concentrated on a streetcar that also fails to help me, ever. I see the streetcar as sucking away money that could have been used to help more people by improving the bus system.

    It astonishes me to see how many “pro transit” advocates have so little commitment to proper transit goals — of helping people move efficiently. So many of you have fallen just as blindly in love with your sleek-looking streetcars as those soccer moms you love to criticize for buying gas-guzzling SUVs with unnecessary 4-wheel-drive.

    I’m not at all an enemy of transit. However, as planned, and as funded, this streetcar simply isn’t good enough. But since folks seem to refuse to even consider making it better, don’t be surprised if folks like me stay opposed to it.

    Remember all those cliches, like win-win, public-private partnership, compromise? Try using some of them and you might actually get more people on your side vs. lecturing the majority about the alleged evils of house-based living and car ownership.

  • Tim B:

    Future extensions of the Cincinnati Streetcar can/will reach to Clifton, Newport, the Museum Center, and much more. Would you be more supportive of a system that connects all of these places all at once?

    The reason the city has decided to not go that route is because this is what they can afford at this juncture, and this is the best place to start the system due to the densities and destinations located along this line. Major corporations, huge employment centers, dozens of entertainment/tourist attractions, a university, shopping, large residential nodes, parks, Government Square Transit Center, and more.

    If you could think of a better starter line I would be interested to hear it. Non-partisan economists and engineers selected this initial route based on cost, potential economic return, engineering feasibility, and input from major stakeholders on/around the line. Where is your justification for another route?

  • Lisa

    Tim B:

    I understand your frustration with taking the bus. I can get downtown in about 20 minutes but it takes over an hour and a transfer to go that same 6 miles East. I think we should spend more on the Metro so we could beef up the East-West grid.

    I also believe there are distinct advantages to a fixed transport system from my experience. It is much faster to get rolling when people have paid up front and it takes a minute or whatever per stop. If you can just roll on with your strollers, bikes and wheeled shopping carts, and multiple doors open at once, it is faster and easier to stay on-time. I like speed and predictability.

    I do live near the proposed streetcar line and to me it will be an advantage. I know there are a lot of older people who live in Clifton because they can get around the neighborhood without a car and there are a lot of UC students, so I imagine that played into the decision about the route. Along with the large amount of people employed by UC and the hospitals.

    I believe we need to think about both options. The job market has changed significantly. People make less. I have saved an enormous amount of money going car-less. Even if you go down to a one car family, you save a lot.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Tim,

    You’ve already touched on a few of the differences between buses and the streetcar: reliability, speed of transit, opportunities for development, etc., etc.

    But you ask… why would we spend so much on the high startup costs instead of funding Metro? This is kind of a moot point, because the funding streams are different, but I’ll entertain it anyway:

    Look at operations cost for buses, versus operations costs for the streetcar. The most obvious cost is fuel. But also, think of the driver:rider ratio on a bus versus the streetcar. Maintenance is cheaper for streetcars. I could go on, but I won’t. Simply put, to reach the quality of service with a bus as opposed to rail would require significantly more in operations costs, if it’s even possible.

    And FYI, the placement of the streetcar may not be perfect in SOME people’s eyes (though placing it in the deserted west downtown, as you suggest, would have been a poor decision in my eyes). But, it’s not rare for urbanites to walk 1/2 mile to 1 mile to a bus stop; what makes you think people won’t for rail? Look at Metro systems in other cities. Stops are commonly 8-10 blocks apart, and this doesn’t prevent people from using rail. I don’t think Cincinnatians, by and large, will complain about having to walk 2 blocks to the streetcar.

  • Tim B

    Randy,

    I think the streetcar would have been a more legitimate sell at $200-$250 million for a system that includes a real Uptown loop that really connects the places that many people mistakenly think are connected by Phase I — especially the Zoo. And I think the project should have waited, if need be, to obtain that funding. Given the massive extra costs of running rails across the river and out to the Museum Center, those logically would have to wait.

    However, cheaper trolleys could be connecting ALL those places almost instantly — and for less money. Yeah, they might need more drivers — but jobs are a good thing, aren’t they? As for fuel — the trolleys could be electric motors, hybrids, or biodiesel or even overhead wires. This city has used wheeled electric transit before…
    In fact, I bet you could put together a helluva system just using the $64 million city bond issue — AND get more TIF money from bigger tax districts. And poltically, the the “outsiders” would have so much less to complain about. You really could say “butt out.”

    I think running up through downtown along Vine street is better than running north along Main street. (and Zach, if the western part of downtown is “dead”, then doesn’t it need help from a streetcar, too? And what about all that nice new housing in the West End, and the flat-out wonderful new Taft school? Wouldn’t the Queensgate area become a great place for new skyscrapers if it wasw better connected to the rest of downtown?)

    That said, moving the route farther west isn’t really a deal-breaker in my mind. I just think Vine street offers more proximity to more downtown stuff than Main street does. But if the route does stay so far to the east, failing to make a slight turn-out to provide a direct hook-up to the casino would be just stupid. Yes, stupid. Don’t make people walk if you don’t have to!

    The not-really-an-Uptown link is far worse in my mind. I dare anyone to walk to a hospital from Vine and McMillan and tell me they felt “close” to their destination. If the design really did put the Uptown area within two or three blocks of the streetcar, I’d be impressed.

    I think a lot of people fail to realize how big UC’s campus and the areas around it really are.

  • Tim B:

    The wheeled trolleys you speak of already exist. There is the Southbank Shuttle (which even looks like a heritage trolley now) that runs between Cincinnati, Newport and Covington. Then you have Metro’s Route 1 For Fun which connects Downtown with the Museum Center, attractions in Mt. Adams and Uptown. During the holidays you also have the Holly Jolly Trolley. Yes, a third wheeled trolley for which you seem to yearn.

    The fact is that while these wheeled trolleys serve a circulation need, they do not satisfy everyday riders for the various reasons outlined by the commentors in this thread. There is just no substitute for fixed-rail transit. Just like there is no substitute for fixed-way bridges (as opposed to ferries), fixed-runways for aircraft, or even fixed on- and off-ramps for interstates. The permanence of infrastructure is what spurs economic growth and investment.

  • Ryan L

    http://www.pro-transit.com/FAQs/ this has the answer to your question about Vine Street, Tim. It may also have some other answers for you as well.

    Cincinnati’s official streetcar information page has a section to leave comments, but I don’t know to what extent they take your comments into consideration.

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Tim B — you still are afraid to use your real name — you are laying out all the talking points of the anti-rail hitmen. You didn’t devise these arguments yourself. You took them from their handbook. You clearly are not employed full-time as you have posted several multi-paragraph posts today alone. Quit posting here, we’ve all seen your arguments and your kind before.

  • Tim B

    Ryan

    Thanks for the Vine street info. The bridge issue over I-71 is a serious point. OK I can live without Vine st. But as the FAQ points out — the project is “for Cincinnatians” to live downtown. Yet the project takes money from every Cincinnatian plus state and fed money too.

    That’s the shame of this. Supporters say they want the city to be more attractive but go out of their way to say this isn’t for visitors and their interests should not only be ignored but rejected.

    The FAQ states that avoiding the convention center was a calculated thing. Interesting.

    Jake’s silly personal attack only helps prove the point. Thanks Jake!

  • Zachary Schunn

    Tim,

    Actually, I’m kind of glad you’re taking the time to get to know the project, because I think you’re beginning to see the time and effort put into the streetcar’s planning. Keep in mind, it’s been 4 years now since the initial studies, and I’m sure a lot of the points you’re making have been addressed and taken into account when creating the line as is.

    To start, I didn’t mean to say the west side of downtown was “dead.” I simply meant it is less trafficked than around Fountain Square (and numerous studies are out there to back this up). Putting up skyscrapers in the west side of downtown is an interesting thought, but I think you and I both know it’s not feasible within the time frame of this project.

    As for Uptown, remember that you’re posting on a blog begun by a UC graduate and frequented by current and former UC students. I’d dare say we’re very familiar with “how big UC’s campus and the areas around it really are.” But, if we are to include Phase II in the discussion (which from the sounds of it City Council wants to fund ASAP), the majority of UC student housing is on the southern and eastern sides of campus, along the line. Speaking of hospitals: Phase II would connect with East Campus, and all told I can’t think of a hospital in Uptown that wouldn’t be within a 10-minute walk of the line. Not only this, but have you seen the amount of development recently undertaken or currently planned in the Corryville area?

    Reaching the west side of Uptown (along Clifton Ave.) would of course be great, too, but if you remember the discussion when the current route was chosen, costs, feasibility, and less use (compared to Vine St.) were all concerns. Clifton Ave’s a task better left for Metro, at least for now.

  • Tim B:

    Yes, city and project officials ask those operating the convention center if they needed and direct connection to the streetcar line and they said no. As a result, city and project officials felt it more prudent to run the line up the east side of downtown instead to connect more nodes.

    In terms of city-wide benefits the streetcar will only directly benefit the immediate area which it serves, but it will indirectly benefit the entire city and county. Single family residential areas do not pay enough taxes to support the services they demand. This is fact. So in order for those areas to thrive (Price Hill, Westwood, Mt. Lookout, Mt. Washington, Delhi Township, Anderson Township, Green Township, etc), they need strong and robust job centers and high density living areas to offset their service demands.

    In the case of Cincinnati you would like to maximize the tax revenues generated in the Central Business District, Uptown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End due to their inherent density advantages. Quite simply, you see greater economies of scale when it comes to taxes and services provided there than you do anywhere else in the city or county.

    So even though these other parts of the city won’t directly benefit from the streetcar in terms of being able to walk right up and ride it, they will benefit from a larger tax base paying to support public services in their neighborhood. And people throughout the county, who aren’t even paying for the system, will see similar benefits.

  • Ryan L

    I don’t think Cincinnati should be putting any more money into something that a lot of Hamilton County utilizes. This is the main reason (I believe) that Metro does not start a new hub further north to allow more routes extending outside of Cincinnati. Almost all of the routes in other municipalities/counties serve as a direct link to downtown because Metro makes money off of the income of people put in who work in Cincinnati. It would be wasteful to the people who work/live in Cincinnati to supply bus service between Mason and Springdale or Blue Ash and Madeira because those commutes would not put any money back into Metro.

    Metro receives little money from anywhere but the City of Cincinnati (0.3% earnings tax goes into it). Since many other transportation authorities receive county wide funding (Cuyahoga County gives 1% sales tax toward GCRTA) Metro is constantly struggling for funding. I’m not positive, but I would guess that you live in the West side of Cincinnati and work on the East side (possibly just outside city limits for either one, but I’m not sure).

    If we could get a county wide initiative for a transit master plan (ie. MetroMoves) we could create a system that truly works for as many people as possible, including streetcars, light rail, and improved/expanded bus service to all work together to supply the best possible system.

    This seems like something that Tim B would approve of, though I can’t speak for him.

    And I do know what you mean about the first phase stopping at the corner of Vine/McMillan and not servicing the rest of the neighborhood. It is a pretty far walk. However, I also think that many students are used to walking long distances to get across campus, go to Ludlow, etc. It is also possible that the Bearcat Transportation System and Campus Transit System (I have NO idea why they have two different systems that run routes around campus, it just confuses people) could alter their routes so that a frequent route brings students from the corner of Vine/McMillan across Calhoun, up Clifton, and back over to East Campus/Corryville. I’m not sure how familiar everyone is of this, but the BTS and CTS are university shuttles that move students (maybe faculty?) of UC around the surrounding neighborhoods and to Downtown, Mt. Adams, and OTR on weekends. It is “free” to students, but about $6 of their tuition goes into it. I know this doesn’t solve anything for people who want to go to the hospitals or zoo, but it would help out a lot of people that could become daily/weekly riders of the streetcar.

  • MoreheadEagle

    Having lived in Decatur during the time that the TSPLOST legislation failed I’ll throw in a couple of things. Firstly, I loved having MARTA at my disposal. I rode the blue line daily from Decatur to my job at Georgia State University. When I first moved to the city I specifically looked for two things in an apartment complex. 1. That it was inside the 285 perimeter and 2. that it was within 1.5 miles of a MARTA station. Nearly everyone in my age range (late 20s) that I knew that moved to the area did the same.

    Unfortunately, many of the affluent suburbs don’t see the benefits of MARTA and expansion to Cobb county won’t happen for the foreseeable future. That’s unfortunate because the new Braves ballpark is going to create even worse traffic problems for Cobb County.

    I left Atlanta for another job but I would certainly have stayed if the great opportunity I have now hadn’t presented itself. It’s unfortunate that Cincinnati leaders didn’t have the foresight to set up a rail transit system in the 1970s. Cincinnati is entirely suited to rail transit with the density that it has.