New report confirms potential economic impacts of the Cincinnati Streetcar

A new report released by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development finds that transit investments like the Cincinnati Streetcar are winning economic winners. The report studied the three most recently opened light rail lines in the United States and discovered that urban portions of the lines were most successful at spurring economic activity and ridership.

Contrary to popular belief that rail transit is only successful in liberal bastions like Portland, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia or Seattle, the report looked at three modest cities in terms of political affections: Charlotte, Denver and Minneapolis.

Rails to Real Estate: Development Patterns along Three New Transit Lines also identified Charlotte’s Blue Line as the most successful despite being the having the least number of years studied of the three and being the smallest of the three transit lines. The economic patterns were consistent though, with each transit line experiencing anywhere from six to ten million square feet of new development since they opened. The report attributes the success is to five main considerations:

  1. Proximity to downtowns and other major employment centers
  2. The location and extent of vacant or “underutilized” property that might offer opportunities for development or redevelopment
  3. Block patterns that influence “walkability”
  4. Transit connectivity
  5. Household incomes

“We need to make transit investments that unlock the potential for TOD, but we need to make them in the right places,” said the director of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, Sam Zimbabwe.

Cincinnati’s modern streetcar system has recently been challenged by Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) in regards to its ability to generate economic investments and create jobs. This challenge goes against economic studies performed by HDR Economics and confirmed by the University of Cincinnati’s award-winning economist George Vredeveld. When applying the key findings of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development’s recent report Cincinnati’s streetcar system looks to be an even bigger winner than expected by the OKI Regional Council of Governments (OKI) and Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) which have both enthusiastically supported the project.

The Cincinnati Streetcar meets all five of the reports key considerations for economic success along transit lines. The system runs through downtown Cincinnati and connects the regions two largest employment centers, and serves areas that include vacant and underutilized properties that offer opportunities for development or redevelopment. The Cincinnati Streetcar also connects with the region’s focal point for bus transit, serves a block pattern that is extremely walkable, and includes a diverse range of household incomes.

And while the report shows Charlotte as the big winner, its findings show that the Cincinnati Streetcar could be even more successful than the Blue Line’s approximately 9.8 million square feet worth of real estate investment between 2005 and 2009. The main reason is, of course, location.

Cincinnati’s streetcar line will serve an area better equipped and positioned for transit-oriented development (TOD) when compared to Charlotte’s Blue Line which saw economic investments drop off precipitously after leaving that city’s downtown (Uptown) and adjacent residential neighborhood (South End). When compared to Charlotte, Cincinnati’s downtown and adjacent residential areas (Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights, Mt. Auburn, Corryville, University Heights) served by the streetcar line represent significantly greater land area prime for TOD.

Major economic investments are already occurring on and around the Cincinnati Streetcar line in anticipation of its opening in 2013. In Clifton Heights the $70 million U Square at The Loop mixed-use development derives its name from its proximity to the streetcar’s connection to Uptown. In Over-the-Rhine Rookwood Pottery, Christian Moerlein, the $400 million Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati and dozens of small businesses have expressed their hopes for the eventual opening of the modern streetcar system. And in downtown developers of The Banks and other major developments have begun using the Cincinnati Streetcar as a marketing tool.

In addition to the existing positives for Cincinnati’s streetcar system when it comes to TOD, the planned streetcar system also has local planning efforts supporting it. In 2010 Cincinnati City Council passed a measure that will reduce or eliminate parking requirements at residential developments within two blocks of a streetcar stop. The streetcar system will also be managed with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) which currently operates Metro bus service and plans to coordinate the two systems.

The report noted that while transit improvements were a factor in the real estate investments, that coordination with longer-term efforts to revitalize center cities was greatly important.

“This study marks an important step in understanding the impact of transit investments in three regions, and the implications for other communities looking to transit investments as a source of long-term economic prosperity and competitiveness,” Zimbabwe stated. “Investments in neighborhood infrastructure and amenities are critical for unlocking the potential for TOD.”

When the study examined the differences between the lines in Charlotte, Denver and Minneapolis it showed that the urban portions were most successful at attracting economic investment. Charlotte’s Blue Line (9.6 miles) saw approximately 1,021,000 square feet of development per mile, while Denver’s Southeast Corridor (19.1 miles) and Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Line (12.3 miles) saw 408,000 and 545,000 square feet of development per mile respectively.

The results from this study are clear for transit-oriented development. An urban setting with opportunities for development, close proximity to job centers and transit connectivity are critical for economic success. Suburban areas show diminishing returns in the form of economic activity and real estate investment along transit line. The Cincinnati Streetcar represents all of the key considerations and more, and is exactly why the project has received TRAC’s highest score for two consecutive years out of every transportation project in Ohio.

  • Matt Jacob

    Let’s hope the decision-makers in Columbus can use objective research like this to stand up to the governor’s ignorant will. There is no reason TRAC or the State should even think twice about funding this project. It’s a no brainer and research like this is exactly why.

  • B. W.

    The link to the report that this article is referencing is actually at CTOD.org. The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT.org) website does not seem to have a link to this report yet.

  • Skeptical

    Calling this “objective” research is about as legit as calling that push-poll from Chris Finney a legitimate pulse of the community.

    Let’s start with the study sponsor: Center for Transit-Oriented Development, which openly states its support for rail transit — in its very name, and all over its website. Hardly a neutral review.

    This report goes on to count the millions of square feet of development that happened within a half-mile of three transit lines. The rail services in this report all have much longer transit projects than Cincinnati has proposed (19, 12 and 10 miles). Yet even this study recognizes the great difficulty in connecting transit as a cause for development.

    Just look at the Denver case in the report, which appears to be more of a light-rail service than a streetcar. Using the report’s own words: “While it is not clear that the transit itself has directly stimulated new development, it has reportedly had an impact on the design of projects near stations.”

    And then later in the report: “Studies of the development impacts of transit are
    limited, and it is difficult to isolate the role of transit from other factors that influence developer decision making. In fact, it is clear that transit alone cannot “make” a market in places where the market is otherwise weak.”

    The best this report can do is document that developments that were built for other, more direct reasons (such as market demand) are smart enough to use whatever transit happens to be nearby as part of its marketing efforts. The report predicts that those apartments near stations will fill up faster than those that aren’t. All well and good.

    But it cannot and does not prove that the transit line actually caused development. Nor does it claim that the associated development generated enough tax revenue to pay off the transit projects.

    This report — from clear advocates of rail transit — largely agrees with what some critics have been saying all along: that transit is more tail than dog. A nice amenity to have, an amenity that helps accelerate things in places that already have market strength. But trainsit is not a primary driver of economic development. The report measures an association between development and the transit line, but doesn’t claim
    causality — because it can’t.

    Yet here we see Randy Simes and others making sweeping connections between Cincinnati’s project and the findings of this report. As if this report “proves” the development potential for the Cincinnati streetcar. Sorry, but that’s a wild stretch at best.

    For policymakers, this “report” is about as useful as a white paper from the National Rifle Association “concluding” that guns are good.

  • Marshal

    Skeptical,

    Nobody ever said infrastructure is solely responsible for development. In fact, the best reason for Cincinnati to invest in the streetcar line is because it will be synergistic with the trends that are already happening down there.

    Interstates themselves did not lure millions into the suburbs. They facilitated a trend that had many other causes, making it far more efficient and ultimately growing the economy.

    Likewise, there is now a trend to live in urban areas. Infrastructure that facilitates this trend can grow the economy, too. Economic growth is about kindling a fire, not dropping a bomb. You need many ingredients and the right actions at the right time.

  • Zack

    There’s just one problem with your points Skeptical:

    Simes, and others, have “direct quotes” with business owners and developers who are eyeing the streetcar line for new and enhanced residential and commercial development.

    Sure, some are already in place. But you know very well that if 1 restaurant goes up along the line, and it does great business, someone else will think to put one there. Same with condos, shops, etc…

    Charlotte is a great example. There was no market demand for condos along the current location of their line “prior to” its construction. They were building south, north, east of their CBD (known as Uptown). Yet the # of riders drastically exceeded estimates, there are tons of residential going up within 8 miles of the CBD destination when frankly, there are more desirable locations around town. The light rail drove folks to that area. Nevermind the # of people using it to commute each day and avoid 77 congestion.

    If you dont consider the report a neutral view, would you consider Kasich neutral, who despite national funding awards, state INDEPENDENT scoring metrics, and actual commercial and resident backing, still opposes it?

  • @Skeptical: While the CTOD is an organization focused on the promotion of transit, the report is not that at all. The report actually just examines the three most recently completed light rail lines in North America and identifies the correlations between economic development and those lines.

    The results are the the length of line does not seem to matter, but that the line’s urban location is what matters when it comes to economic development. This is evidenced by the newest and shortest line studied having the most economic development.

    I have personally been to, and ridden, each of these systems and can attest to their findings. Denver and Minneapolis’ systems are primarily suburban. Charlotte’s is largely suburban as well, but the most successful portion of the line is the segment that run through Uptown and the South End.

    Cincinnati’s streetcar project meets all of the identified criteria to have successful transit-oriented development, and large amounts of private investment. This report is not saying to do one thing or another, but it is saying that if you are to make transit investments, here is the best way to acheive the most return on your dollar. Unfortunately Ohio’s governor does not care for such information or first-hand knowledge. Clearly he knows better than all.

  • One glaring problem in this comparison: The three light-rail cities all have trains running in reserved guideway (i.e. either off the street or in their own lane). Cincinatti is planning shared-lane runningway for all or almost all of their route – which means that the transit service will be of a MUCH lower quality – and you don’t get a lot of TOD with bad T.

  • @M1EK: Actually both Denver and Minneapolis operate their light rail within some mixed traffic during certain segments. The segment studied for Denver in this report does not, but the system does in fact include that…and the reality is that the area where the Denver LRT operates in mixed traffic is the area where the greatest amount of economic investment has occurred. The same is true for Minneapolis.

  • DP

    I’m not trying to jump on the “skeptical” bandwagon, but I’m not sure that the transit lines evaluated are valid comparisons for the Cincinnati Streetcar system. Each of the three systems, as you noted are 10+ miles long. I admit, I haven’t ridden any of these systems, and I’ve only looked at the maps included in the report, but it appears to me that these are very much suburb-to-CBD systems as opposed to urban circulators like the proposed streetcar. I think the user groups and development potential are quite different. This report would provide better support to a discussion of a project such as Eastern Corridor. (Again, I’m not suggesting that the Streetcar isn’t a good thing for the City, but I don’t think this report provides strong support.)

  • Dale Brown

    Wow, commercial and residential real estate was built between 2003-2009? Correlation does not equal causation. I can name 10,000 places that had large increases in residential and commercial real estate during this time…. IT WAS A PROPERTY BUBBLE!!!!

    How much development in Denver was not on the rail? And yes, its not a trolley, its a light rail. Just like in St. Louis. And Houston. And these rails actually connect population centers unlike the street car that tried to create them.

    An actual study from a non-partisan source would have compared increases in building on the lines and outside the lines, as well as current vacancy rates along the lines versus outside the lines.

    And since when is Denver of “modest” political leanings?

  • @DP: Yes, the systems are different. The point is that the report looks at what generates the largest amount of economic investment in the form of transit-oriented development. The findings come from these three lines, but can be attributed to most any form of transit.

    @Dale Brown: Once again, if you read the report you will see that its intent is not to make the case that these three lines generated a huge amount of real estate investment, but rather the report examined which lines saw more investment than the others and how that investment took place. The total dollar amounts are inconsequential for a study of this nature…it is the way in which those investments took place that matters.

  • Dale Brown

    From the report: “The majority of development in all three corridors was housing, a reflection of national market conditions in the early-mid 2000’s, which strongly favored residential development.”

    So, that’s basically a worthless thing to look at. Awesome. As far as Charlotte, do you want to tell everyone who the biggest two of the three biggest employers are in Charlotte?

    So, from what I gather reading the report (and I scanned through it), light rails from suburbs to business centers have seen increase in commercial and residential development, although a debatable amount of this was due to a property bubble. Somehow you are correlating this to a street car in the middle of the road in downtown Cincinnati that in no way connects where people live and where they work.

    Now, if this was a light rail from Dayton to the airport, with spurs to East and West Cincinnati, you might be on to something.

  • @Dale Brown: I didn’t make any correlation. I reported the findings of the study. Proximity to downtowns and other major employment centers, location and extent of vacant or “underutilized” property, block patterns, transit connectivity, and household incomes are what drive transit-oriented development.

    Once again, it’s not the level of the investment that matters. The study shows that regardless of the level of investment, these factors are what influence the behavior of that investment.

    So, if you want a transit project that helps generate economic investment, then you should follow those guidelines (of which the Cincinnati Streetcar meets and exceeds).

    And while I agree that light rail from Cincinnati to Dayton, with east and west lines is a good idea, the report shows that you see diminishing returns when it comes to economic investment the further out you go. The reason is you begin to miss out on those five key factors. This does not mean that the light rail line would be a failure, but it does indicate that lines of that nature probably won’t experience the rate of economic return as a transit line that does meet those five key factors (like the Cincinnati Streetcar).

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    >which means that the transit service will be of a MUCH lower quality – and you don’t get a lot of TOD with bad T.

    No, the in-street running is a huge advantage, because it allows for stations to be built in the best locations. When a light rail line is built on an abandoned freight ROW, good station locations only happen by chance. For example, the Barnes-Jewish stop in St. Louis is a miracle, but the next stop is at the midpoint of something that resembles the Western Hills Viaduct — completely beyond walking distance of anything to all except the hardiest or most desperate people. Repeatedly, station location has been proven to be more important that overall speed of a transit line.

    Please identify where the “bad” station locations are going to be on Cincinnati’s Streetcar line. Then compare the station locations on the proposed OASIS commuter rail line — there is little opportunity for TOD’s on that entire line, which is 17 miles long.

  • @Dale –

    I’m not sure you understand what light rail is and is not, nor that you have much of a concept of distance. A 10 mile light rail system will get you from downtown Cincinnati to Silverton. Barely. Or to Monfort Heights in the other direction. Downtown Cincinnati to Downtown Dayton alone is more than 50 miles.

    A transportation system connecting the airport to dayton via downtown Cincinnati and spurs to the East and West would be over a hundred miles, easily. This is not a light rail system. It would be a heavy rail commuter system, which are SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive – both per mile and overall, as they obviously use far more miles of track in a longer system. A system of that magnitude would easily surpass the miltiple-Billion (with a B) dollar mark.

    The idea behind the Cincinnati streetcar is not to bring commuters from their home to their place of employment. It is meant to use existing right-of-way, move people around an urban core, piggyback off the scale of development that is already occurring, and help shift market demand to projects that wouldn’t be built otherwise.

  • Pyjack

    Very interesting discussion. While I am a streetcar supporter, I do see what Dale Brown is saying. It is important to point out though that a streetcar system and light rail system would serve different purposes. A streetcar is important to revitalize our urban core and bring growth to a part of town that is essential to our future as a region. A light rail system is important as an alternate form of transportation to quickly move between different parts of the region, not necessarily as a catalyst for economic development.

    Personally I’m not enjoying the current price of gas, and I will enjoy it even less when it passes $5. Perhaps if our local and state government looked more than five minutes into the future we would actually have a serious development into a streetcar system, light rail system, and high speed rail system.

  • Zack

    I would think in-road rails is actually better, not only as Jake points out re: station location, but also that construction wont close clog up existing right of ways to the extent they did in Charlotte, where they elevated the track in the highest traffic’d areas.

  • Dale Brown

    “New report confirms potential economic impacts of the Cincinnati Streetcar” – Your title Randy, not mine. Is that not a correlation?

    David – What do you call what they have in Denver, Minneapolis, Charlotte or St. Louis? Or Houston? “Light rail or light rail transit (LRT) is a form of urban rail public transportation that generally has a lower capacity and lower speed than heavy rail and metro systems, but higher capacity and higher speed than traditional street-running tram systems.” From Wikipedia. So if your argument is that the street car is not one of these nor does it provide services to the same type of areas, then thanks for supporting my point that this article is irrelevant to the discussion.

    Selfishly I’m not thrilled that the street car was canceled (I live in NKY so I’d use it but wouldn’t pay for it) but I don’t think it serves the community as a whole. Getting around downtown isn’t a problem; its getting to downtown that’s the problem, as well as lack of unique offerings, pathetic leadership, and the City’s wonderful perception.

  • Development patterns are dictated by the type of transportation infrastructure in place. When you build roads you get the sprawl that comes with them and when you build dependable permanent rail infrastructure you have a higher likelihood of getting TOD type development. I think the better question is not how much development was created by rail transit in the 2000’s (the building boom was for sprawling subdivisions too, not just condo’s and apartments) but how viable these developments are today with the damage from the housing bubble. I wouldn’t be surprised if the development around these three cities have retained their value better than their suburban counterparts and are more than likely to generate more tax revenue for their cities than cities without key rail investment or with more auto-oriented development patterns.

  • Dale –

    Streetcar is not light rail, and light rail is not heavy rail, and heavy rail is not high speed rail. These are all different types of transportation systems. Yes, there are some similarities (they all look like choo choo trains!!!), particularly between light rail and streetcar. These are both WAY less expansive than the other 2, and are intended to be smaller systems as well. However, light rail and streetcars differ in their scope and cost. Streetcars functions as urban circulators. Light rail moves people farther than that, but not far enough to be a true commuter system.

    The similarities that Randy draws from the article stem from the fact that the development output from these two similar but different transportation inputs tends to look and behave similarly. Put another way, jelly beans and pizza are both foods, but they are different types of food. If you eat too many of either, the outcome, fatness, will be the same, despite the differences between the two foods.

    Instead of quoting wikipedia articles on LRT you might want to research in your big boy books what TODs look like and how they function. The output, (good development) is the point here. John’s response above captures the sentiment well.

  • Dale Brown

    David – Ohh, big boy books. Internet tough guy here.

    “The similarities that Randy draws from the article stem from the fact that the development output from these two similar but different transportation inputs tends to look and behave similarly. Put another way, jelly beans and pizza are both foods, but they are different types of food. If you eat too many of either, the outcome, fatness, will be the same, despite the differences between the two foods.”

    So your still saying that this report is irrelevant to the street car as the only similarity is they are on tracks? Thanks for clarifying.

  • Zachary Schunn

    Dale:

    Randy wasn’t claiming that the success of these 3 lines shows promise for Cincinnati’s streetcar. He was saying that the findings of the report show promise for the line.

    In other words, the lines travel through different areas: suburban/urban, walkable/not walkable, etc. And by studying the lines one could glean five factors that made portions of the lines more successful than others.

    From Randy: “The Cincinnati Streetcar meets all five of the report’s key considerations for economic success along transit lines.”

    I’ll be honest–and I truly don’t mean this to sound mean–but I’ve seen a lot of comments from you on Randy’s posts and sometimes I wonder if you actually read his posts, or just carelessly skim them. A lot of the confusion would be prevented if you more carefully read his points.

  • Joe

    Randy – Your case studies of the Hiawatha, RTD, and Lynx are all light rail systems that are not comparable to the Cincinnati Streetcar proposal. All three are much longer and are part of a comprehensive transit system which acts as a feeder system for the light-rail in the urban core. Streetcars in general are much slower and have a much smaller capacity than the systems you are comparing the Cincinnati Streetcar to. To find an appropriate case study you could look at Tampa’s Teco Streetcar System that is 2.3 miles long or another stand-alone streetcar system. The Tampa line has seen some economic development but as a functional transit system leaves a lot to be desired. Its ridership is dismal at about 400,000 a year and is mostly tourists not residents. Also it is operating on a deficit of over a million dollars a year, exactly what Cincinnati’s already strained budget needs, more red ink.

    Also comparing Cincinnati to Charlotte, Denver, and the Twin Cities is a quite a stretch. Find a rust belt city to make comparisons.

  • Dale Brown

    Zach – as pointed out by myself and many others, these are completely different systems built for different purposes. Yes, it can be argued how similar or different they are. But it doesn’t really meet all five criteria, especially household income and transit connectivity. It also is based widely on real estate increases, which we know were bogus. Please feel free to tell me how I’m wrong on household income (pretty sure the streetcar location would have the lowest incomes in the area), transit connectivity, or that real estate numbers from 2003-2009 are skewed.

    And someone else pointed that a 13 mile light rail wouldn’t really get you anywhere; well, that’s definitely not true if it went south, and besides, who’s problem is that? What county lost population while every other surrounding county gained it? There are larger problems than the lack of an urban circulator in Cincinnati. Downtown needs people with money, ie, people living in the hated suburbs, to come downtown. A streetcar doesn’t do that.

    Again, as pointed out, an unbiased look will compare real estate increases close to the lines to those in the rest of the city; it would define what is vacant, because OTR isn’t really a vacant lot. It would talk about who these people where that moved into these areas and use the light rail.

    Or, look at it this way; would you invest in a home building company or corporate real estate company based on data from 2003-2009?

  • “Downtown needs people with money, ie, people living in the hated suburbs, to come downtown. A streetcar doesn’t do that.”

    Wrong approach. We want them to WORK and to LIVE downtown. A non-city resident’s afternoon jaunt downtown 2ce a year is helpful to the economy, but its not what the economy is built on. It is built on the tax base of companies that choose to make downtown their home because it makes good economic sense to do so. It is built the tax base of residents who live there because it fits their lifestyle and their wallet. And it is built on those small businesses that support these residents and employees.

    Right now this city has one of those – the big businesses. The streetcar does not, in an of itself, create the other two. But, it is a piece of the puzzle that helps to drive the demand for them.

    Would a larger, more comprehensive rail system be better? Absolutely. But we tried that and you people said no. So we walk before we run. Cincinnati moves at a snail’s pace while the young and educated – who have a good 40+ years of high income potential in front of them – flee for the cities that already have the opportunities we want.

  • @Joe: It’s funny. At first it was not acceptable to compare Cincinnati to Portland or Seattle. Now evidently it is not acceptable to compare Cincinnati to another Midwestern city like Minneapolis, or another modestly sized city with similar political leanings like Charlotte. Where is an acceptable city Cincinnati can study from which to learn…or should we just dig a hole, live in it and not ever look at or learn from what other people are doing around the world?

  • Let us review the five criteria that the Center for Transit-Oriented Development found were key to a successful transit system and compare to Cincinnati’s situation in each:

    1) Proximity to Downtowns and other employment centers – I think this one is obvious: Uptown and Downtown are the two largest employment centers.

    2) The location and extent of vacant or “underutilized” property that might offer opportunities for development or redevelopment – Again, pretty obvious. OTR has an extremely high rate of underutilized property along the line that would offer opportunities for redevelopment as well as vacant lots for development.

    3) Block patterns that influence “walkability” – Go to http://www.walkscore.com and look up streets in OTR. Each one I found receives at least a 90/100 whereas most other locations around Cincinnati struggle to get a 50. And if you don’t believe the site, go walk the streets yourself.

    4) Transit Connectivity – The streetcar will connect to Government Square and the Riverfront Transit Center (which is not in use yet, but very wisely included in the development at the riverfront). You may argue that there is no light rail or high speed rail connected to the streetcar, so it is not connected to any transit (besides buses), but you have to start somewhere. I think small, local transportation in where to start.

    5) Household Incomes – With the rising condo market in OTR and downtown, as well as the market rate apartments and low income residents all in the area, the streetcar is bound to get a huge mix of ridership from people who rely on the system and from people who use it as a luxury. It will serve all levels of income. Many new condos are opening every year, and if the streetcar gets built in 2013, there will be a lot of condos sold between now and then (as well as additional ones brought in by the streetcar and the energy entering the area on its own after its completion). Also, you cannot look at the population loss in Hamilton County (or even the City of Cincinnati for that matter) because those are not the areas being affected by the streetcar. It is the neighborhoods adjacent to the project that matter (which have almost all been increasing).

    To everyone – Please quit rehashing the same issue of the light rail lines not being comparable, or the report is from a source that has bias. Of course the source is bias – but it is bias in the sense that a restaurant chain is going to tell its franchise restaurants how best to make money. Also, it is not a report on the effectiveness of rail transportation. It is a report detailing the requirements for the most successful rail projects.

    Obviously, the Center for Transit-Oriented Development is laying the guidelines for successful rail projects so that they are successful and we don’t end up with many poorly planned projects that will not generate any development. They aren’t saying that all rail is good everywhere for everyone. They are saying that projects that follow these guidelines will generally see success and Cincinnati has met and exceeded most of the prerequisites recommended.

    We can bicker for years if you want, but point out another city that has a better opportunity for redevelopment by a streetcar system than Cincinnati.

  • Joe

    Randy – The River Rail Streetcar in Little Rock would be a better comparison due to the fact it is a midwestern city and that it is a stand-alone system without additional light rail or other mass transit options found in Portland, Denver, and Charlotte. It is also is comparative in length at almost four miles. Little Rock’s Metro area is slightly smaller but it is comparable in most other aspects. Too bad the Columbus Streetcar is on hold, if it had been built a few years ago Cincinnati could have gotten a good idea of what they were getting and possibly learn from miscalculations.

  • @Joe: Arkansas is not in the Midwest region of the United States — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midwestern_United_States

  • dale brown

    The crux of the issue is this; all three that are mentioned had a base of riders. It took people from home to job replacing their existing commute. The streetcar connects two job centers that have little in common. You never have any inertia with the streetcar because demand isn’t there

    David points out he wants people to live and work on the streetcar line. But that’s not what any of the three studied created. They replaced a demand already present and then it was backfilled to some extent with new development.

  • Dale – I am planning on living in OTR/Downtown this fall. I go to UC. If the streetcar were there, I would take it daily to get up the hill and to campus. I have five other friends who are all doing the same. I know that six people does not demand make, but you can’t just say there is no demand without any evidence to back it up. You just make claims without any evidence.

    Name a city that is better suited, with more potential for a new streetcar system than Cincinnati. Explain.

  • In response to Dale brown, who wrote:

    “Selfishly I’m not thrilled that the street car was canceled (I live in NKY so I’d use it but wouldn’t pay for it) but I don’t think it serves the community as a whole. Getting around downtown isn’t a problem; its getting to downtown that’s the problem, as well as lack of unique offerings, pathetic leadership, and the City’s wonderful perception.”

    I did not know the street car was cancelled. I hope I am not wrong, even though I cannot see myself riding it more than once. I live in Over the Rhine, and would rather walk to the UC area, or to downtown, than take public transportation. Anyway, I think a street car would serve the community as a whole, because its main purpose is to benefit the community’s most unique offerings. As it is, the areas to be served by the street car are the most unique in the Cincinnati region: some of the the chain stores and restaurants only have locations there, there are a lot of independent businesses, and the architectural heritage is the best in the region. I would go so far as to say that Cincinnati’s best selling point—the thing that singles it out from other cities—is the historic buildings in and around Over the Rhine; so, to help those buldings through development generated from a stree car line would be to serve the community as a whole.

  • Zack

    @ TBoondoggle: As to #4: What about the 20 parking garages, along with the 1000+ spaces that will be under the Banks between the stadiums? Christ if that isnt a transit hub i dont know what is! You hit the rest correctly though.

    As for income; the article from the enquirer yesterday nails it: young professional, empty nesters, both with much more disposable income than West Chester residents, or Mason, will be moving in less than a month. Never mind the other 12,000 that live downtown.

    But its not all income. That would be like P&G moving their office to Indian Hill because the highest earners live there. Commercial biz will benefit and will develop along the line. And frankly probably at a higher and more successful rate than residential.

    @Dale: Demand is there. They polled the public. 72% approval. I demand it. Randy does, Jake does, my neighbors do, businesses on Main st. do. Residents and students near campus do. Cincinnati has lived too long under the “wait until we are overflowing” to make a change. Isnt that what they are doing with the BS bridge? Wait until its doubling its estimated usage to actually fix it? Maybe Ruby wishes he didnt wait until the boat drifted away to make sure the moorings were solid.

  • dale brown

    Strawmen abound!!!! Again, you are free to have your opinion on whether or not the streetcar would revitalize downtown. You can quote all the anecdotal evidence you want. How does a comparison of three trains that go from suburban areas to a downtown metropolitan area and serves a demand that is needed because of congestion, with the main thrust of the report being entirely in question, in any way correlate to the streetcar.

    The streetcar is a solution looking for a problem; what this report is saying is that light rail from suburban neighborhoods to city centers works to some degree. Why is that? Because the demand is already there. People are stuck in traffic coming from NKY, the East side, the West side, Butler county. This is real demand.

  • Zachary Schunn

    “How does a comparison of three trains that go from suburban areas to a downtown metropolitan area and serves a demand that is needed because of congestion, with the main thrust of the report being entirely in question, in any way correlate to the streetcar[?]”

    It doesn’t. I don’t think anyone here is comparing the streetcar to the ENTIRE downtown-to-suburban lines. They are comparing the sections of the lines that work best to those that don’t to develop criteria for effective rail systems.

    The report notes that largely urban rail seems to be most successful (among other criteria). So, isn’t beginning to build rail in an urban location–downtown-to-uptown–then hoping to extend light rail to suburbs once the rest of the county joins the 21st century a viable goal?

    Really, reading the page you’re commenting on does wonders for comprehension.

  • @Dale Brown: The idea that transit systems are only able to be successes when they take people from suburbs to downtowns is a myth. In Cincinnati, for example, only 17% of all trips made each day are work related. And of all the trips made each day, only 47% are made during peak hours.

    That means if you can connect dense, walkable neighborhoods with business districts via transit, then you can eliminate the need for an automobile for approximately 75-80% of all trips in that service area. That’s huge!

    The plain reality is that most of our trips are not from home to the office (and back). They are from home to the grocery store, school, a restaurant, the pharmacy, a friend’s house, or whatever else. These types of trips in an urban environment are best captured by building circulator systems. Commuter oriented rail lines should also be built, but they are not the end all, be all when it comes to transit.

  • John Schneider

    @Dale Brown: “Again, you are free to have your opinion on whether or not the streetcar would revitalize downtown.”

    Maybe Dale Brown should provide us with examples of where modern streetcars have failed to repopulate and revitalize the areas which host them — downtowns, main streets, a university neighborhood, waterfronts, medical centers, abandoned industrial areas – he has many examples to draw from. Having been in all of those areas served by modern streetcars, I’ll be eager to read his response.

    See, this is the problem with guys like Dan Brown. The Cincinnati Streetcar was proposed for the purpose of repopulating downtown Cincinnati and uptown Cincinnati. And so, failing to establish why that is unlikely to occur, Dale Brown changes the subject to make it a debate about regional transportation. This is what they do — divert, distract, deny and eventually … lose all credibility. Dale Brown appears to be well along that path now.

  • Patrick

    Anyone ever discuss the Buffalo rail system? I was in Buffalo once and didn’t think that system was in high demand and there were an abundance of empty storefronts. It might just be because it was Buffalo, but incoming development was not evident.

    I’m all for putting in rail in Cincinnati, but think we also need to do things to upgrade the existing SORTA system to increase ridership on transit in general.

  • Patrick-

    I’m grew up in Buffalo. The issue with the Buffalo rail system is Buffalo. They decided to put their NFL stadium out in Orchard Park (it’s kinda like the Mason of Buffalo), while Cincinnati put its downtown along with the Reds ballpark and an (admittedly aging) arena. The Buffalo NHL arena is downtown and pretty well served by the rail system there, but its not ideal the way Cincinnati would be.

    Cincinnati had the fantastic foresight to put UC very close to downtown. Buffalo put the University of Buffalo on 2 campuses, both a bit of a ways away from downtown. The rail connects to the closer one, but a lot of the UB activity occurs at the other campus, which is farther north.

    Cincinnati’s casino will be in the heart of downtown and well served by this system. The casinos around Buffalo are 30 mins away in Niagara Falls, 45 mins away on some American Indian reservations, and in Canada.

    Buffalo has a large empty lot on its waterfront that is a lot like the Banks here in Cincinnati, but is still very separated from downtown by water (its on a peninsula, but accessed by a bridge that would need some significant investment to be worthwhile) and by a highway system that was expressly designed to get people OUT of Buffalo. While the Banks in Cincinnati are seeing significant investment and development, nothing has been done on the Buffalo waterfront for, wow, probably 20+ years I think? There have been rumblings of development for years and years, but the financing just isn’t there to make it happen.

    The Buffalo system doesn’t run by many residential areas. Cincinnati, on the other hand, has a dense, beautiful housing stock that is experiencing a metamorphosis right in the middle of the planned line.

    The buffalo system also operates in its own right of way on a street that is completely closed to automobile traffic, unlike the Cincinnati streetcar which would run on the streets with the cars.

    Add to all this the less-than-desirable weather for 6 months out of the year, and the blanket disinvestment from downtown, and you’ve got a very different situation from Cincinnati.

    However, with all of that said, the vast majority of development and street-level economic activity in Buffalo has occurred on the rail line. Have you seen the rest of Downtown? Bleak. Yea, the economic activity along the rail line isn’t great, but the rail line helped to direct development toward the part of downtown Buffalo that has the highest potential for growth. They have seen investment along that line in a way that, in my opinion, would not have been there without the rails in the ground. But to compare the systems would be a mistake, in my opinion.

    Sorry that was such a long response.

    By the way, how would you like to upgrade SORTA? I agree that some upgrades are necessary, just curious about what you would recommend.

  • Zack

    Dont need to upgrade SORTA to up rider-ship. Gas prices will do that on their own.

  • Jeff Wood

    The report was not meant to edify anyone’s preconceived notions. Folks at the Reason Foundation have said that it backs up their ideas and folks at the New Urban News have said it backs up theirs.

    What it does show along with the Portland development reports and the situation in Seattle is that transit doesn’t necessarily drive development but rather shapes it. If you have a transportation corridor and a market for new development, it’s possible to take that market and focus it with investments in transportation. What I have found over the years and understand with this report is that the market for urban development is tied to a gravity center such as a downtown or major employment hub. I believe this was Randy’s basic point, that development can be shaped closer to downtown with the help of transit. What it does is increases the walk shed and the shorts the perceived distances between places. What used to be a 15 minute walk is now a 5 minute ride. This pulls the gravity of the market outwards. Ultimately roads do the same thing with the suburbs, they push the market for development outwards.

    So if you’re desired outcome is more walkable neighborhoods surrounding the core, you need a transit mode that weaves into that fabric and extends that goal. A streetcar is able to meet that goal as long as it’s a package deal with development and investments in other infrastructure along the corridor.

    It’s also part of a system. While I like to quibble over LRT and Streetcar etc, the thing is you need all of them. Sidewalks are Peds, Streets are Streetcars and buses and bikes, Arterials are light rail and BRT, Highways are Heavy Rail, and County Roads are Commuter Rail and Express buses. They all make up a transportation system. And the investments in your network beget investments and returns in the built environment.

    *full disclosure, I am not the author of the report but I did have a hand in it.

  • I think a lot of you will find this story published in the Minnesota Post yesterday quite interesting. It discusses urban economies, transit, economic development and how they all fit together.

    http://www.minnpost.com/steveberg/2011/03/30/27033/census_msp_grows_but_only_on_the_edge_experts_see_trouble_ahead

  • Zachary Schunn

    Randy,

    You’re right, that article is definitely informative, and gives a nice context to this discussion in regards to the Twin Cities.

    In my view, while MSP can be defined as a doughnut hole, Cincinnati’s population shift since 2000 is more like a bullseye in concept. Sure, the city is shrinking and the suburbs are growing. But the urban core is gaining population; it’s the inner suburbs that are losing the most people.

    What do you think are the implications of this in respect to rail? At face value, it seems MSP’s LRT system is not bringing people from suburbs to inner cities, but vice versa. Thus, maybe a plan like 2002’s Metro Moves plan is not the way to go.

    Has any thought been given to shrinking the Metro Moves plan, essentially creating an LRT system that does not reach past city limits? I would think this would benefit (and thus grow) inner suburbs in-city and thus also raise tax revenue in-city.

  • New South

    Ironically, the real experiment will be Charlotte again. The Queen City of the South is moving forward with their streetcar, since it doesn’t require any State match.

    And if Ohio is crazy enough to kill economic development for a city having the reverse population trend of Portland, then by all means, send your money South. That would be consistent with where Ohio has sent many of its people.