Potential ballot proposal a serious roadblock to Cincinnati’s future

Advocates for job growth, economic development, alternative transportation and Cincinnati’s future have stepped up to the plate once again. What seemed like a grand-slam finish to beginning the first steps to rail transit in the city is now contested and seemingly up for debate. Again.

Despite clear indication from the voters, the city, and (at one time) the state and federal level that the Cincinnati Streetcar project was a positive contribution to changing Cincinnati for the better, there are those who would rewrite the rule books. The first vote was not enough. It is time for another.

A small but persistent group is at it again, collecting signatures to put yet another proposal on the ballot for the fall election.

This petition, however, would prevent ANY rail transportation systems to be funded or built until 2020. A ten-year ban would force Cincinnati to miss out on an entire generation of building infrastructure, in a time when gas prices are certainly not getting any cheaper, and Cincinnatians will be desperate for options to get around.

“Nothing even remotely like this has ever been proposed in any American city. In a era of rising energy prices, Cincinnati would be handcuffing its flexibility to develop alternative means of getting citizens to work and doing the everyday things of life,” says local transit authority and activist John Schneider. “And since regional rail lines wouldn’t be able to connect within the city limits, this has serious regional implications too.”

Cincinnatians for Progress has broken down the exact language of the ballot proposal, to demonstrate how much is at stake:

What it says:
: “The City shall not spend or appropriate any money on the design, engineering, construction or operation of a Streetcar System, or any portion thereof.”
What it means: This phrase prevents the city from spending any money on anything related to preparing any kind of passenger rail transit in Cincinnati.

What it says: “Further, the City shall not incur any indebtedness or contractual obligations for the purpose of financing, designing, engineering, construction or operating of a Streetcar System, or any portion thereof.”
What it means: This language would make it impossible to accept federal grants, to issue bonds, to enter into public-private partnerships for passenger rail. Even private investment in a rail system in the city limits would be illegal.

What it says: “This Amendment applies from the date it is certified to the Charter, and will continue in effect until December 31, 2020.”
What it means: The arbitrary 10-year ban on preparation is designed to force new transit planning to start from square one in 2021. Because permanent infrastructure requires many years to develop, this language would guarantee Cincinnati sees no rail-based transit for a generation.

What it says: “For purposes of this Amendment, the term ‘Streetcar System’ means a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way …”
What it means: The term “streetcar system” in this amendment would ban all rail that runs in on Cincinnati streets or rights-of-way. That would prevent commuter rail and streetcars alike; even restoring the city’s historic inclines would be outlawed.

What it says: “…The term ‘City’ includes without limitation the City, the Manager, the Mayor, the Council, and the City’s various boards, commissions, agencies and departments …”
What it means: Under this language, even Cincinnati’s Metro system could not consider taking advantage of future national and regional funding programs.

What it says: “…The term ‘money’ means any money from any source whatsoever….”
What it means: This language would not only lock out local, state and federal funds, but make it illegal for corporations, non-profits and individuals to pay for rail-based transit.


Says CFP co-chair Mark Schmidt: “[The ballot proposal is] the laziest piece of legislation ever written and an insult to the people of Cincinnati… especially those public servants who play by the rules and commit themselves to the slow and steady process of making this a more perfect union through the hard work of collaboration and compromise.”

The deadline to file a ballot with enough signatures is August 10th. If the measure succeeds, there is a tough road ahead to ensure that this debilitating piece of legislation does not get past.

Readers, please don’t give up. Not everyone supports the streetcar plan in its current form- this is not about the streetcar. We are tired and frustrated at the ways the realities of the situation have unfolded. It’s not fair. It’s not right.

It’s not over.

If you’ve been waiting to get involved, to help out with a cause you believe in, Cincinnatians for Progress could use your support. Sign up to volunteer, donate (time or money) to ensure our great city a chance at the future.

At the very least, continue to educate yourself and help inform others. We will see a day in Cincinnati where the economy is improved, jobs have been created, tax and population base in the city is up, and citizens are not chained to their cars in order to get where they need to go.

Comatose comic by Nick Sweeney.

  • Margaret McGurk

    Thank you for this outstanding statement!

  • I think whether or not you agree with the streetcar concepts in their current design or not, handcuffing the city against even considering such options until 2020 is just plain stupid. Technology is evolving at such an incredible pace that we have no idea what will be available in 2 years, much less 10. Same with federal legislation on infrastructure initiatives, with funding to back it. Putting blinders on our City Council just reinforces that we are not a progressive city open to development at all – which is exactly the image we’re trying to move away from if I’m not mistaken.

  • Bill

    The hurdles that the transit projects have to pass never seem to stop. How many times do the voters and the city have to show their support of a new system that can lead to success in so many other areas and new development yet certain groups continue to show their willingness for stagnation. The streetcar proposal is a very reasonable one, and still some maintain a vision that is lacking vision for the future.

  • Meanwhile a $100 in West Chester to “improve” 2 lanes is a no brainer. throw some buzz words around and no one questions road improvements.

  • Ryan L


    What road is being “improved”? Do you have a link I can see?

  • Jortz

    Here’s a link:

  • Bill D

    I’m a bit confused by this whole thing. This will cover an area that’s already pretty well served by buses. Has anyone discussed adding a bus route with a couple cute trolly looking buses that don’t require track to be installed along a fixed route? That way, if it’s under-utilized, the route can be adjusted as needed. After being the sole passenger on Detroit’s People Mover train a few times, I have low expectations for things like this.

  • Margaret McGurk

    Thanks for the useful link, John Yung. Development follows permanent infrastructure, such as rail lines. Buses don’t have that effect.

    There is another element which as far as I can see has never been quantified. But if you have ever ridden on a modern streetcar, you understand that it is a different experience. Getting on a bus requires climbing up into a narrow entrance. Getting on a streetcar is more like stepping onto a moving sidewalk. Think of the people-movers at the airport; definitely not bus-like. That’s also where the accessiblity advantage comes in; it’s just as easy to get on a street car with luggage, a stroller, a bike or a wheelchair as it is to enter unencumbered. Can’t say that about a bus.

  • Bill D
    Buses have been running downtown since 1951 when they pulled out the streetcar, can you explain what buses have done for the city in the last 60 years?

    Margaret and John: people are not transport neutral they prefer certain types of transport over others and buses are at the bottom of the list a modes of transport that people will choose.

  • Bill D

    Thank you, John Yung for pointing me to the excellent article. The street cars are definitely nicer than the buses in a lot of ways. If I thought they’d actually be well-used and crowded, and could be done without Federal dollars, I’d be all for them. I’d really love to see them succeed.

    5chw4r7z: You ask what buses have done for the city? If you look at each bus trip as representing about 35 cars, they’ve greatly reduced the need for parking garages and reduced traffic congestion. This makes it easier for suburbanites to come Downtown and spend money. Unfortunately, most suburbanites don’t see the need to come Downtown. They’re intimidated by parking and by not knowing how to take the bus, and there’s no compelling reason for them to learn.

  • no compelling reasons to go downtown?
    Pro Baseball
    Pro Football
    Pro Pop music
    Pro Symphony & associated orchestras
    Pro Opera
    Pro Ballet
    Pro Theater
    Semi Pro Theater
    Semi Pro Pop music
    Semi Pro Jazz
    Modern Art
    Classical Art
    Betts House
    Events @ The Main Library
    Entertainment @ Fountain Square
    (soon) Entertainment @ the Riverfront Park
    Unique Restaurants, Bars & Retail (yeah, the region is chock full of ’em)
    but Sak’s, Tiffany’s?
    A Mall
    Federal offices
    County offices
    Dope Dealers
    Just north ya got all the UC stuff – college sports & arts
    If you just want to drink beer & watch TV – Fountain Square
    Monster Trucks
    Pro Wrestling
    Convention Center Expos
    WTF do you want?
    granted, if you want to strum your guitar at the Tyler Davidson Fountain you’re probably SOL.

  • What is amazing to me is that COAST still maintains any credibility within the Cincinnati region at all. They continue to push forth their frivolous lawsuits against Mayor Mallory, and are wasting taxpayer dollars in the process. Their effort has already been defeated handily by voters in November 2009, and now they’re coming back with more of the same.

    COAST stands for nothing more than the special interests of the few members that run the organization. Cincinnati voters may not have to vote on this issue again if it doesn’t get enough signatures to go on the ballot, but if they do, I predict that they’ll tell COAST to take their anti-rail obsession and go somewhere else. It’s pathetic really.

  • No offense to the commenter above, but it is shocking that several years into this issue, we still have citizens asking simple questions like, “Isn’t Downtown Cincinnati well-served by buses already? What good will a Streetcar do?” Streetcar advocates have been providing detailed answers to these questions for years but the local media refuses to spend any significant amount of time looking into the issue and educating the public. Instead, the Enquirer and local TV stations try to boil the whole thing down to a 2 minute story to the effect of, “Streetcars would help downtown but can we afford it?” Of course citizens are still confused. It is extremely frustrating that any debate of the project quickly comes back to these very basic questions that have already been answered.

  • John:

    You linked to good points. All plenty of reasons to build the streetcar. But he misses one point, and it’s starting to frustrate me that more people don’t see it:

    Streetcars can REPLACE buses.

    Because streetcars have greater capacity per driver (170 vs. 45) and use less expensive energy (electricity vs. gas), among other benefits, they are considerably cheaper to run than buses. AND, they are more popular with riders, businesses, and developers.

    In other words, for what is realistically a very small investment, we can institute a cheaper, more popular system that also sparks development, increases property tax revenue (as more businesses move in), and has added environmental benefits.

    End of story.

    And because of this fact, the “what if ridership is lower than projected?” argument is totally invalid. Even if ridership ONLY equals what it would on buses (not likely), the added cost and development benefits of streetcars make them worth the investment.

    On another note, regarding the actual ballot issue…

    Is it a sure thing that this is even GOING to be on the ballot? It looks like they’re not even 3/4 of the way to the signatures they need by the “soft” deadline. (Can anyone help explain “soft,” btw?) And aren’t plenty of those signatures going to be invalidated in the checking process?

    I wouldn’t put it above COAST to be sitting at Tri-County Mall, collecting signatures from people who don’t even live in the city…

  • PS: Just answered my own question regarding the “soft” deadline. (Or rather, the Enquirer answered my question.) The actual deadline is Sept. 9 (60 days before the election). But they need time to post the ballot and get it formally recognized.

    Sounds like it’s going to get enough signatures, but it’s kinda telling how poor a job they’ve done getting people to support it. NO ONE SIGN IT!!!

  • Jason

    They’ll get the signatures, but it doesn’t matter. We will defeat them easily. Its a joke that they’re even trying this. All of their supporters live outside city limits and all of the people that are still trying to say that the streetcar is a waste live outside the city too. What I can’t figure out is why they care if they don’t even live here? Its weird and things like this only seem to happen in Cincinnati for some reason.