Fight for your city, fight for the Cincinnati Streetcar

Many of UrbanCincy’s readers have asked what it is you can do to help support the Cincinnati Streetcar and defeat the special interests that are once again trying to keep rail transit from Cincinnatians. Well, the time has come for you to get involved and get active.

The first thing you can do is write an email to the State of Ohio encouraging them to continue their support of the state’s highest scoring transportation project. The special interests working to keep rail transit away from Cincinnati have made an aggressive push with the anti-transit Governor Kasich (R) to pull upwards of $50 million in state support from the project. The funding would largely help build the modern streetcar system from the riverfront to Uptown near the University of Cincinnati. Some of the money would also fund preliminary engineering work for phase two of the project which would send the streetcar further into Uptown.

You can contact the appropriate state officials by emailing TRAC@dot.state.oh.us (must email by Friday, February 11). Tell them why you support the Cincinnati Streetcar and be sure to remind them that this is the state’s highest scoring transportation project, by far, and that they should approve the $35 million in construction funding for “Cincinnati Streetcar Phase 1” and $1.8 million in preliminary engineering funding for the “Cincinnati Uptown Streetcar.”

As COAST has returned to keep rail transit from Cincinnatians who voted their support for the project in November 2009, Cincinnatians for Progress has also returned to the scene to once again defeat those special interests. In 2009, CFP led a massive grassroots campaign that gathered approximately 10,000 Cincinnatians to make phone calls, canvass door-to-door throughout the city, organize fundraising efforts and run a get out the vote campaign.

The group is getting fired up for what may be a vote this May or November (Yes, in November when the city will be well underway building the streetcar system – approximately $50M worth of construction). If you would like to get involved, show up at their kickoff event to be held at Grammer’s (map) on Wednesday, February 16 from 6pm to 8pm.

The Cincinnati Streetcar is projected to create 1,800 new construction jobs, generate thousands of new housing units, put people back to work, broaden the city’s tax base and continue the renaissance taking place in Cincinnati’s urban core.

At a recent press conference about the neighborhoods selected for the 2011 Neighborhood Enhancement Program, City Manager Milton Dohoney said the following.

I ran into a handful of people after the holidays who I guess had watched our struggles as we tried to deal with our budget in December, and they said uniformly, ‘Milton you look tired. Did you get any time off?’

Well, you can lay down if you’re tired, and you can lay down if you give up. But I work for the City of Cincinnati, Ohio and I’m not giving up. Our city is going places. We might be going kicking and screaming, but we’re going places.

We are still feeling the recession, but in spite of that, we’re developing our waterfront, we’re breaking ground soon on a casino, we just did a project announcement for the Anna Louise Inn that will make a difference in people’s lives. LULAC is coming this year, the World Choir Games are coming next year, and yes we are still committed to buidlng a streetcar system. Music Hall is going to be redone, Washington Park is being redone and new people are coming to call Cincinnati home. We’re going to build some new houses in Bond Hill and we’re going to try to make a difference around Findlay Market in that area of Over-the-Rhine. We don’t have time to lay down.

We are not perfect, but you gotta love your city, and you gotta be willing to fight for it and advance it, and that’s what we’re about.

Like City Manager Dohoney expressed, stay passionate about what Cincinnati is, what it used to be, and what it can become. Support the Cincinnati Streetcar. Support Cincinnati.

  • Downtowner

    How is this ballot measure even legal. What judge would allow it? We already voted fot NOT voting on every freakin’ project. Let the government work. Can’t this be stopped in the courts?

  • Dan

    Yeah, they had their vote already and the voters said they DIDN’T want to have to vote on every single project. COAST had their chance, the public spoke, how is this legal? Is the city looking into legal remedies at all to STOP this stupid petition and waste of tax payer money on a vote that they voted not to have? COAST are the biggest bunch of self-interested hypocrites.

    We need a judge on our side who wants to step in and clear the way. I don’t see how they can have a vote AFTER construction starts.

  • D R E W

    this is exactly why i have become disinterested in local politics. after 15 years living here i see the same routine… it’s the same old crap.

    i hope i am wrong, but the streetcar will not be built. it’s far too radical and “left” for the crazies in this town (who actually don’t live in the town, but in the suburbs).

    i will probably be voting with my feet and leaving town. it’s too bad, cincinnati has potential and it’s citizens don’t care.

  • DREW:

    Before you vote with your feet, vote in favor of light rail and streetcars in Cincinnati this year. We need to show, once again, that Cincinnati is ready for rail transit and send these special interest groups home with their tails between their legs once and for all.

  • Don’t leave yet! If you are frustrated it means you care. I feel like a marriage counselor sometimes.

  • Drew:
    I really do feel your pain. It would be much easier to go to another place with far fewer radical, right-wing nuts. If my roots weren’t so deep here I’d probably be having the same thoughts. However, now is the time to fight. I’m a firm believer that if people of conscience keep silent/run-away it creates opportunities for those who would use deception and lies to further their own agenda at the expense of the community. Please do not give up on Cincinnati just as it reaches the end of the first phase of its rebirth. As all the great projects in the city come online, the number of people who really love Cincinnati will swell and you’ll look back fondly at being part of something great.

  • BGee

    Honostly, some of you guys are pretty radical and ‘nutty’ yourself by the way you talk about this. The fact that you think everyone who opposes this project is a “radical righ-wing nut’ pretty much sums it up. How is it radical that many are worried that this project has the potential to flop big time? It also has the potential to do some good, but there is a potential that it doesnt. The potential that we are stuck eating the cost of this for many years ahead…. I hope it succeed, but the fact that many of you call out these ‘nuts’ for being cautious of a project that is not garanteed to succeed, and will cost Cincinnati money in the future to run. I dont know if you watched council lately, but we dont have any money. We came out even simply by shuffling around the number a bit, which will make us way in the hole around this time next year.

  • BGee:

    I don’t think people who oppose the project are “nuts”, but I do know that the group spearheading the opposition (COAST) is a special interest group and nothing more. COAST takes on different names (i.e. CCV or CASS), but in the end it is the same core group of people pushing for their special interest agenda. They take that special interest agenda and then make it out to be something that is by, for and of the people of Cincinnati. This is not the case and I think it is fair we call them out on it.

    With that said, I would love to engage in discussions and debates over how we can make this project, or any project, financially and socially successful. Unfortunately that is not what is taking place with COAST as they would rather throw out wild arguments that have no merit or continue to make the same tired questions that have been answered time and time again.

  • John Schneider

    Bgee:

    You suggest the streetcar could “flop big-time.” Can you cite a single example among the three modern streetcar systems that has flopped “bog-time?” Let’s even broaden the question to the 21 modern light rail systems in the United States. Can you name any of those that have flopped? I can – Bufffalo. But that probably says more about Buffalo than about modern electric rail.

    You say the streetcar “is not garanteed to succeed.” Fair enough. But what investments are ever guaranteed to succeed? It would be a strange world where success is guaranteed on everything you try.

    But having said that, the chance for success on this project has been estimated by the best transportation economics consulting firm in the country. I don’t have the study with me now, but they estimated the Present Value Benefits over the life of the project would be 2.7 times the lifetime Costs, an amazing rate of retun for something that’s not illegal. The chance that the Benefits would not cover the Costs over the project’s lifetime was less than 2%. I recall there was something like a 10% chance that the Benefits could be four times the Costs.

    There have been three different economic studies of the streetcar, and they all concluded it was a worthy investment with manageable risks.

  • BGee, listen to the rhetoric of some of the leaders of the opposition to the streetcar. It’s pretty nuts. LOTS of fear mongering.

  • Bgee

    Wow – I wrote out a long response, then accidently loading a different webpage ;( So ill condense it.

    Randy – very good points that you made, which I also agree with. Its just the attitude, granted from both sides to a degree, but most loudly (on-line at least)from pro-streetcar crowd calling anyone who doesnt bless this project a ‘nut’ ‘redneck’ ‘suburbanite’ ‘backwards’ ‘tea-bag’ ‘right-winger’ ect.. without having any idea of who they are. There are a good deal of people that are legitimately concerned, because of the timing of this project and us having no money. Granted the special interest groups probably wouldnt care when the project begins.

    I truly hope the streetcar succeeds and is able to greatly benefit the city, but I also know that it could be some time before we see any real return on this investment.

    John – (longer version condensed and I forgot some of the points I made in prv version) Yes chance for any investment to fail. I havent researched every rail or streetcar for economic impact. Every city is different anyways. I think there are numerous light rail systems that operate in the red, maybe not ‘big flops’. Look at cincinnati’s last mass trans flop with the ‘subway’. Roads are expensive too, but they arent going disapearing, and are more widly used.

    Many older than myself remember the last time they tried to really build up the OTR/mainstreet area and nightlife. Then there were the riots, and it set downtown and our city back many years. Hopefully something of this nature doesnt happen again, but needless to say – things happen, and this would be absolutely catastrophic to the projected return on investment.

    I do not doubt the economic impact of this project in the report, but this is over the entire life which is many years. What I CAN understand is people being worried about the timming of this project, which will be operating in the red for many of years – before the increased tax revenue, population, and business start to make a difference. A diverse porfolio is most likely going to gain in the long run, but you dont buy the stocks with money you dont have available.

    Right now we seem to have no extra money in our budget, and we need a way to cover the operating cost, and whatever else might not be included in our funding – in the shortrun. And I think this is why there are many who might not think this is the thing to do at this time. We also are behind in the stadium payments because we arent getting what we thought we would from the taxes and it ‘needs’ improvements. It’s just tough financial times for our city, and many other cities/states currently.

    Either way, it looks like its going to be happening, so lets hope everything falls into place and becomes something of great value to the city.

  • John Schneider

    Bgee:

    You said: “I do not doubt the economic impact of this project in the report, but this is over the entire life which is many years.”

    Understand, all the returns are expressed in Present Value numbers. So, yes, although they occur in the future, they are discounted at 4% per year to what they would be worth today.

    Look at your house. It produces no cash income – in fact, it is a cash drain. It mainly provides shelter and security for your family and maybe some psychic income in the form of status. But someday you hope to sell it for more than you paid for it, at least for more than you owe on it, or you may just hope to live in it in your old age when the mortgage is paid off, even though it is still a cash drain. You buy it based on these future prospects.

    The economic analysis — all three of them — essentially internalize the same calculation. They say, there will be an up-front cost (two-thirds of it paid by Federal and state grants), and there will be some continuing operating costs, but over time it will generate $1.4 billion in new economic development that would have otherwise not happened without the streetcar. Policy makers have judged this return is worth paying $128 million for now — two thirds of it paid by Federal and state grants.

    In terms of the operating costs “paying for themselves,” we’ll just have to see the outcome of the operating plan. But sit down and try to make a list of three things that government does that “pay for themselves.” Highways don’t. Policing and fire protecton doesn’t. The U.S. Navy doesn’t. Think about it.

  • BGee

    John – I understand Present Valuve, and basic economic principles – I took all these courses several years ago. No need to make a grossly simplified analogy such as purchasing a house, to try and explain an investment to me…

    The fact that you have a positive ‘present value’ due to a expected future cash flow and conservative insterst rates and inflation numbers, does not do anything for us in the near future. Of course we have an expected return on the investment, if we didnt there is no way it would have made it this far.

    Again, I’m am trying to articulate the point that Cincinnati’s budget is absolutely full currently. I understand that over the life of the project, we will see a return on investment. Present value simply tells you how much something is worth in a given year taking into acount interest, expenses ect… were not going to build this and then all of a sudden be sitting on an awesome cash flow due to the present value return.

    Can you not understand why some people are worried about starting this project – right now, at this exact time. A project that many, rightfully feel, is not a ‘necessity’ for Cincinnati. When the economy is in the shitter, and when Cincinnati has absolutely no working room in their budget, and is expected to be in a pretty big hole this time next year due to making no cuts? This is going to cost us in the short term, and we seem pretty dry.

    I think many of these same people like the idea, but due to it not being a ‘necessity’, they feel this may not be the time to persue due to our current economic outlook.

  • BGee,

    There is no better time to be investing in our infrastructure than right now. We have unemployed citizens who needs jobs, which will be created during the construction process. The cost of materials is low due to the weak economy. If we wait until the economy recovers, the system will be more expensive to build due to increased material and labor costs. If we built it now, maybe we will have the system up and running before gas hits $5/gallon.

  • Downtowner

    BGee, for the twnentieth time, the investment in the streetcar does not affect the city’s budget, at least in the short term. This point and many others I guess are lost on the opposition. I suppose there is much work to be done in educating the electorate.

    On another note, there is no more deserving area for infrstructure investment than Over the Rhine. It has been passed by and shat upon for 60 years. No one squeals when some stupid road in West Chester gets another turn lane (which I help pay for). We’re gettin’ ours and we’re gonna fight for a thriving central core.

  • BGee

    Travis – I agree, in a better ecomonmy, it would be more expensive to build, and a downed economy is a great time to build and invest in – look at Queen City Square and all the OTR residential development. Especially when you have the money to do so. The thing is, Cincinnat at this time, doesnt have any extra money to cover short term expenses the next few years, so this could prove very difficult for us in our upcomming budget.

    I will say this though – out of all the reasons to build a streetcar in Cincinnati, gas prices is absolutely NOT one of them….your talking about a route that is less than 4 miles at absolute opposite ends.

  • BGee

    Downtowner… the street car will absolutely cost money in the short term. We are being given grant money that is cover the capital costs. Not to paying for the operating and maintenance. That money will eventually come back to us due to an increase in property value, taxs, and residents

  • BGee:

    You should know that the vast majority of trips made each day by the average person are not work related. The majority of trips are pretty routing circulator trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, rec center, post office, doctor, and so on.

    So while the main advantages of Cincinnati’s streetcar system are not congestion reduction or freedom from forgein oil, the system does provide those benefits as well. The people living within walking distance from stations will be able to get rid of their cars completely if they so choose. And even if they wish to keep their automobiles, they were certainly make fewer circulator trips like those mentioned above and thus reduce congestion and the need for foreign oil.

  • BGee

    Randy – I insure you that I have read section 3 (Travel Cost Savings) and section 4 ( Mobility-related benefits). This is absolutely a win for the many living near it. I live 2 blocks from walnut, I’m sure I will use it everyonce in a while. Probably not a lot because I live in CBD and have direct access to most places I need to go, but I’m sure I’ll be on it a few time.

    Again I am not an anti-street car, or ravidly against it. I simply came here to try and explain a very ‘valid’ viewpoint that many have regarding this project and our current fiscal problems. Having done so, I think this will be my last post, as I cannot articulate it any further. I think that many of the true supports can understand both sides of the argument and try and balance the pros with the short term challenges we will face, and I also think there are a lot of blow hards on both sides who dont care about the facts, and want what they want.

  • Thanks for your contribution to the discussion BGee. It is welcomed and appreciated. We all need to question the things we hold self-evident, and it is great to have a different perspective shared.

  • Kevin in Northside

    Just want to say thank you for all the contributors on this site. Very informative discussion. I think deciding against a streetcar because of current financial problems seems pointless. Wouldn’t the city officials know if they can pay for it or not?! I’m sure they wouldn’t care either way as long as they got re-elected, but I have no idea where every dime and penny of my taxes goes. There’s people elected to figure that stuff out. I guess I’m on the extreme who says ‘I don’t care how, I just want a streetcar’. If they approve a project that will bankrupt the entire city then that’s on them.

  • John Schneider

    BGee said earlier”

    “The fact that you have a positive ‘present value’ due to a expected future cash flow and conservative insterst rates …”

    Just so everyone knows, there is nothing “conservative” or for that matter “liberal” about the 4% Discount Rate to evaluate public project. It is the “market” rate.

    This afternoon, a ten-year U.S. Government Bond sold for 3.63%. The thinking is, if the streetcar’s future returns can’t beat the Rate-of-Return on the most riskless financial instrument available — a U.S. Government Bond, but you could argue about that — then the project is unworthy of public investment and you should just leave the money “in the bank” … really, just leave it with the taxpayers.

    So the City has made a very reasonable estimate here. They have used a higher Discount Rate than Mr. Market is requiring today, and even with that, the return is astonishing.

    And someone said it earlier: this is the time to invest, when interest rates are low, when materials and workers are plentiful. And someone also said the streetcar won’t draw anything from the operating fund for three years. In fact, the workers building it will be paying earnings taxes into the operating fund. And they will pay sales taxes to the state and county on things they buy with their take-home earnings.

    I’m amazed that some people can keep a straight face while contending that a project which is two-thirds funded by outside sources and doesn’t require any operating funds for three years somehow poses a grave current risk to our city and ought to be postponed. It doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

    I think many streetcar opponents would oppose the streetcar even if it were costless to build and to operate. It just doesn’t comport with their worldview. They just don’t like it. Which is OK. But they shouldn’t hide behind bogus financial arguments.

  • Matt Jacob

    I sent my letter yesterday in support, but I was just wondering when exactly we can expect groundbreaking to start and what the timeline and phases are for this project? The sooner the better obviously.

    I’ve read that they are currently mailing out requests to survey the basements of properties next to the line to avoid drilling an electric pole into someone’s basement. Do they put up all the poles first and then begin laying track? Where are they starting to build first? Anyone know any specifics? I’d really love to know. Thanks.

  • John Schneider

    ^ Groundbreaking sooner rather than later. Don’t want to be flippant, but it’s moving along and will happen relatively soon.

    Survey of the basements is going well. They have been all over OTR and have been doing soil tests along the alignment.

    Utility moves will come first, then track, stop and pole construction, then wires, the testing of vehicles — all complete in 2013.

    They will start in front of Music Hall.

    I am totally confident the streetcar will be built despite all the noise. The kind of stuff COAST is doing happens in every city before the first rail line is constructed.

  • Paul

    I’m one of those “suburbanites” who has been following/posting on the streetcar articles in the Enquirer. I thought I would post my opinions/concerns/interests here, and hopefully avoid some of the flaming that is so prevalent on the Enquirer.

    I’m not a member of Coast,CCV,CASS,TeaParty, or any of the myriad of other groups that are trying to force their vision on everyone.I’m not anti-city,anti-streetcar,anti-OTR. But, I can’t say that I am pro-streetcar either, It’s very hard to make the decision to be pro-streetcar when you are blasted from every direction about not being a city resident ” You don’t live here-You don’t have the right to have an opinion on city issues ” “butt out” etc. When this kind of flaming starts, it just causes more people that were “on the fence” to turn anti-everything.

    I live in Delhi, exactly .5 miles out of the city limits, I understand cannot vote on city issues, and quite frankly I agree 100% that trying to push this issue to another vote is total BS, and nothing short of a childish attempt to delay the project.

    But when I read “butt out, you don’t get an opinion”, it just sends me right over the edge. ( Not enough to send me running to Coast )

    We all live here, and we all have the right to voice our opinions on anything that goes on in the county. In my humble opinion, everything the city does has a direct effect on the county , and everything the county does has a direct effect on the city. The two have never been able to get along, no matter how interconnected they really are.

    I’m very happy that Cincinnati is getting a streetcar, I travel a lot, I’ve seen the benefits first hand. ( Of all the streetcars I’ve had the chance to ride, Tampa has been my favorite. Mostly because I prefer the “old time” design they chose to use. ) I’m not a big fan of the “european” designs. Doesn’t really matter what they look like, They will help push the city in a new/better direction. I believe the streetcar will help save OTR, and I hope that issues like this don’t divide the residents of the Cincinnati/Hamilton county area. Although that seems to be the direction it’s going.

    I have tried to express my concerns about the amount of private investment that is taking place, Right now. I believe there will be plenty of private investment later, But based on the information that is currently available to the general public, I don’t see it, and I think this is part of why other “suburbanites” are leary of the whole project.

    I realize that there may be some private investing happening behind the scenes, it would really help if that information was made available to the public. Not looking for anything involving 3CDC either, I personally don’t approve of anything they are doing, or have done in the past.

    Other than my personal opinion of 3CDC, My biggest concern is the property tax abatements, I understand they are helping people make the decision to move into these new developments, but I am worried about what is likely going to happen down the road to the rest of us that do pay our fair share of property taxes. It is my understanding that there were roughly $ 40 million worth of CRA abatement applications filed in 2010, for the 2011 tax year. When 2012 gets here this is going to have a serious effect on the county budget, which effects all of us. No one is to blame, but is a concern to many people. The county is very good at revising our property values to suit it’s needs. They will find a way to make up this $ 40 mil somewhere. They are already toying around with the Family services, MRDD,HLTH levies, I think, they think that if they cut these levies this year, people will be willing to accept other levies for the general fund next year. I hope that’s not their plan, because that will force a lot of people to choose to vote against levies that we really should be paying for. For me, every since the stadium deal, I have voted against everything but the social services, musuem,and zoo levies. I’m not willing to pay much more, I’m already paying about $ 400 a month in property taxes, If I am faced with the choice of letting the social services suffer,versus me paying another $ 100 to the general fund, that’s going to be a very hard choice. A lot of people seem to think that these abatements don’t effect anyone, I they’re in for a rude awakening. So many people are still mad about the stadium deal they don’t trust the county, or the city, I don’t, I voted against the sales tax increase for the stadium, I didn’t want any part of it, and still don’t, I never signed up for the 2.5% rollback, or the sales tax credit, I made the decision to just ” take it” and do my part.

    So, in the end, Please don’t think the “suburbanites” hate the city ( Some do ) but most of us don’t.

    I love the city, I’m usually down at Findlay market 5 or 6 days a week, I walk 5 miles a day, mostly through OTR,Then I do my daily shopping at the market, and head back to the suburbs. I wish I would have bought something before 3CDC took over everything, because it’s now out of my reach.

    Thanks

    Paul

  • John Schneider

    ^ Excellent letter. I’m not among the “butt-out” bashers.

    I believe this is the city’s logic with the tax-increment financing component for how they’re going to pay for the streetcar. First, taxes aren’t abated in the streetcar district. Some of the tax yield on the increased value of improved or new buildings is, for a while, re-directed to pay for some of the bonds issues to build the streetcar. The logic is, without the streetcar, this development wouldn’t have happened, especially in small buildings with no parking. That seems equitable.

    But what’s not really talked about is the gain to the county’s tax duplicate from existing properties that are not improved. There are a lot of studies out there now that have been conducted in many cities across the country which conclude, more or less, that property values rises more than average in properties located near fixed rail transit. The gains can be measured up to a half-mile away in the case of rapid rail, about a quarter-mile away in the case of light rail and three or so blocks in the case of modern streetcars. Owners of buildings within these zones find they have less vacancy, perhaps higher rents and that buyers may be willing to pay premiums to own them. That’s the big gain that’s not talked about, but it’s there.

    The other thing is, all these vacant buildings that currently produce no income and in fact cost the city for police and fire protection become live again. People who reside or work in them pay new earnings taxes to the city. And that’s what’s especially driving the city’s interest in building a modern streetcar.

    Speaking of modern streetcars, one of the problems with some of the vintage designs like Tampa’s is that they are not low-floor construction. So to comply with ADA, you have to build these huge ramps for people in wheelchairs or scooters to access them. With our thirteen-foot sidewalks and street trees, that’s kind of hard to do here.

  • Dee Plair

    I’m sorry I didn’t tour the trolley car they had down on Fountain Square, but from the pics I’ve seen, the form factor looks like the DC Metro trains. If so, the streetcar will be much easier to ride than a bus for people in wheelchairs and scooters, the disabled and elderly that have trouble w stairs, and families with babies in strollers. The wide doors also make it easier to keep all the kids together than when boarding a bus. It’s roomier than a bus, so the ridership experience is much more pleasant.

    If factors like this were emphasized by streetcar proponents, the project would seem less elitist and more beneficial to a wider base of the city’s citizens. That’s the way to build support, not sneering and name calling at people that have questions and concerns. Lose the condescending tone and acknowledge that people have seen OTR and downtown as undesirable and/or scary for a long time. Re-educating them to the potential of this area will take some effort.