Greg Landsman: Riding the Cincinnati Streetcar to Success

Downtown to Uptown Cincinnati Streetcar RouteWhether you were for or against the streetcar, here are the facts: contracts have been signed, millions spent, and construction is fully underway. The proverbial train has left the station. Now it is up to both public and private sector leaders to ensure that this new transportation system and driver of economic development is a success.

Like so many, I had been frustrated with the way in which this project had been managed. But with a new and serious project manager in place, my own pragmatism, and firm desire to see Cincinnati succeed mean that I and others get fully on board – and help lead.

To achieve success, the following must happen:

  1. We need a credible operating plan, and it needs private sector support. Taxpayers should not have to pay the full cost to run the streetcar, and with the right deal makers and plan, meaningful partnerships can get done.
  2. The streetcar has to go to Uptown (the Clifton and University of Cincinnati area). So, let’s make it happen. Businesses, property owners, and our institutional partners in Uptown could very well work with the City to ensure the Uptown Connector (Phase 1B) not only happens, but happens as soon as possible.

If elected in November, I pledge to focus on getting the streetcar up the hill to Uptown, not to mention a credible, privately-supported operating plan in place. In fact, I believe we should have a framework for both plans within months, not years.

The work will not end here, of course, and our entire transportation system needs updated. The streetcar should be a catalyst for transforming our transportation system, one that better connects people to jobs and where they want to go – and does so faster.

Cincinnati is on the verge of a major comeback, but long-term growth is not inevitable. Our momentum is real but fragile, and the decisions we make now will determine whether or not Cincinnati is a great city again. Getting the streetcar right, and to Uptown, will be critical. Failure is not an option.

Greg Landsman is a Democratic candidate for Cincinnati City Council. He is currently the executive director for the Strive Partnership, a non-profit dedicated to improving public education, and previously served in the Ted Strickland (D) administration. If you would like to have your thoughts published on UrbanCincy you can do so by submitting your guest editorial to

  • ScottG13

    Greg is serious about regional transit which means I am serious about Greg’s candidacy. Thank you for the post, Greg. I look forward to hearing more about your vision for our region’s tranportation infrastructure.

  • Matt Jacob

    Part of the operational plan needs to include cross-modal coordination with Metro and Tank buses. Connecting high-frequency bus corridors like Metro Plus or BRT to the streetcar system will ensure both systems continue to improve the mobility in our region. Right now the bus routes through downtown and OTR are a confusing mess that the average rider can’t comprehend. Using the streetcar backbone and well thought out bus corridors and links to the streetcar system, we can expand the impact of this new system into the neighborhoods to really help the region grow.

    • The streetcar could definitely serve as the backbone. Imagine an east-west crosstown route that goes down Liberty Street and doesn’t enter the CBD at all. Downtown workers however could transfer to the streetcar to get to the CBD or to Uptown.

    • JacobEPeters

      As long as the service is frequent enough, I could see that working. Currently, from my understanding, there are only 6 streetcars for the first phase, and the round trip from Findlay Market to the Banks and back will be just under 30 minutes. This means that at most the streetcar could run at 5 minute frequencies during rush hour if all vehicles were in use, which is not a smart strategy for managing a fleet. To operate at 5 minute frequencies to and from Uptown we would need 15 vehicles.

      I’m more of a fan of having a rush hour BRT terminal within the Riverfront Transit Center, and a 24/7 crosstown BRT bus only lane along MLK running from 71 to 75 serving the non rush hour oriented University and Medical campuses, with the streetcar acting as a spine connecting these two commuter destinations. Mostly because splitting the difference with a bus route between Uptown and Downtown would lead to quite a few riders having to back track more than a mile in order to reach their destinations.

    • Matt Jacob

      Personally I envision it turning into more of a network of Metro Plus style bus services[with even a more limited numbers of stops] (maybe eventually true BRT) between multiple separate streetcar systems that are well coordinated. The bus arrives 2 minutes after the last streetcar got there, picks up and then leaves, then the next streetcar arrive 2 minutes later, which facilitates quick exchanges. Common fare system and maximum per day rate inside the urban zone(like London does) make transfers as easy as scanning an electronic fare card and hopping on.

      You have the current streetcar and maybe 1-2 more streetcar circuits in the downtown basin; then a separate uptown streetcar around maybe CUF, Clifton, the hospitals/zoo, and Corryville. Instead of trying to make it up the hill with streetcars, you have 2-3 higher frequency Metro Plus/BRT style bus routes down Vine, Sycamore, and maybe Clifton or Ravine that pick up at only 1-2 of the uptown streetcar stops on their way towards downtown from the suburbs and then terminate at the downtown/OTR streetcar stops. You could further expand on the concept by doing separate streetcar systems in Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, Oakley, Westwood, Price Hill, & other city neighborhoods that connect to the rest of the system through buses. Basically you create clusters of separate streetcar systems in neighborhoods around their business districts and connect them with higher frequency, limited stop buses. Much cheaper than light rail I would think because the Metro Plus/BRT becomes your commuter transportation system and the street cars become the circulators.

      With the current system it should only start as one well coordinated downtown/OTR streetcar spine with multiple Metro Plus routes terminating at some of the stops.

    • Jake Mecklenborg

      We are getting five streetcars, and four will be in operation in normal circumstances, probably three on Sundays. Although the uptown connection is presently planned to travel up the Vine St. Hill, if we are in fact starting a citywide system a tunnel or tunnels to Uptown from the basin will speed travel times, giving the streetcars a distinct advantage over cars and buses, and will reduce the number of streetcars necessary to deliver the same level of frequency. For example, two more streetcars were to be ordered for the Uptown connection prior to the Kasich state funding cut, but with a tunnel, perhaps just one would be necessary.

      The obvious tunnel route given what is planned for Phase 1 would be between a portal at Race and McMicken and either Short Vine at Corry or Jefferson at Corry St. The distance would be about 4,500 feet and the travel time would be about 90 seconds as opposed to at least 5 minutes via the Vine St. hill.

  • David Thomas

    Won my vote

  • Nazcaproperties

    This man now has my vote.

  • common sense

    Street cars are running deficits wherever they are found. Ridership is
    down in Portland. I would be in favor of them if they were profitable.
    Where is the city going to get the money to pay for the operating
    deficits. Good idea if profitable.

    • I disagree that the government should only do projects that are “profitable”. What about the money spent on Washington Park, Fountain Square, and Smale Riverfront Park? Those places make our city a better place to live, work, and spend time. They’ve been hugely successful. But they don’t turn a profit, nor should they.

      Also, I believe the same standard should be applied to different forms of transportation. Interstate highways are allowed to lose money year after year — federal gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993, so we use general taxpayer funds for maintaining them. We also subsidize aviation by funding air traffic controllers, the TSA, and subsidizing flights into smaller, more rural airports. So why should rail be expected to make a profit? Either we cut subsidies for all forms of transportation (which I think would be a disaster), or we start to diversify our investments into several different modes.

    • John Schneider

      Streetcar ridership is down slightly in Portland for two reasons: (a) Portland Streetcar is now charging fares, whereas most of the line used to be free; and (b) last year Portland doubled the length of its streetcar line from 8 miles to 15 miles, but the necessary additional streetcars are only now being delivered with the result that frequency at peak has gone from every 10 minutes to about 18 minutes making the system temporarily less convenient and less reliable.
      By the way, “common sense,” how profitiable is I-75, Columbia Parkway or the street in front of your house? Public infrastructure projects are undertaken because the benefits are so widely distributed that costs cannot be equitably allocated between users and non-users. That’s common sense to people who live in the real world as opposed to some abstract and unachievable libertarian paradise.

    • common sense

      Comparing roads to the streetcar is like comparing oranges to apples. Also why have a streetcar when there are Metro buses for transportation. What is wrong with using the Metro for transportation? My worry is that the streetcar will be a financial boondoggle like the two stadiums, which I never voted for in the first place. The streetcars are slower than the Metro buses anyway. I remember how the stadiums were going to be magically financed through a sales tax, which fell short of expectations.

    • Steven Fields

      Why have a bus when you have cars?

    • matimal

      why have a car when you can have a helicopter?

    • Steven Fields

      It was an analogy to his thinking.

    • matimal

      Mine was too. My absurd comment is meant to draw attention to what I see as common sense’s absurd ‘argument’.

    • matimal

      I’m comparing dollars to dollars. a dollar spent on roads is a dollar not spent on something else. what is wrong with road users paying for the roads they use? they don’t pay for half currently. I remember when gas taxes paid for roads and when local taxes paid for local roads. I-275 is a massive boondoggle. it’s users don’t remotely pay its true costs. THERE is something you should complain about instead of a small demonstration streetcar line that will cost a hundreth as much.

    • Eric

      Comparing the stadium deal to the streetcar is the kind of uneducated criticism you get from people that simply have a disdain for city politics.

    • matimal

      … and who aren’t Cincinnatians.

    • Derek Bauman

      He had me at boondoggle…

    • matimal

      roads are running massive deficits wherever they are found. I would be in favor of them if they were profitable. where are the states and the Feds going to get the money to pay for the deficits in the highway fund? it doesn’t even cover half of the operating expenses of state and federal highways today.

    • Eric

      A better argument would have been that streetcars should be private ventures like the M-1 in Detroit, but I don’t think you can reasonably argue against only one specific form of transportation.

    • matimal

      Why, roads aren’t private ventures?

    • Eric

      Many of the historic streetcar systems were built and operated by private companies. I’m saying it’s an argument you could make that they be private since they were historically in many cities.

    • Passenger railroads used to be profitable businesses, before the federal government came in and built “free” (taxpayer-subsidized) interstate highways. If private companies had built the interstates and changed tolls, we might still have decent passenger rail service in this country.

      You can’t expect the government to subsidize some forms of transportation (roads, aviation) but expect other forms (rail) to remain profitable. Either subsidize them all equally, or not at all.

    • matimal

      the choices we have today are what matter. For profit streetcar companies only worked in the past because the competition (roads) weren’t subsidized as they have become in the last forty years.

  • Eric

    I don’t view connecting the two largest employment centers as that critical right now. Does anyone have the numbers on how many people live downtown and work uptown or vice versa? I don’t find most of the rush hour traffic to the uptown campus and hospitals to be coming from downtown, it’s coming from the east and west suburbs down Ludlow and MLK. It sounds nice to connect two employment areas, but I’m not sure how that fits into the original purpose of the OTR-downtown “pedestrian accelerator” connection.

    • RyanLammi

      You could also work in either downtown or uptown and frequently need to get to the other. Some people might commute to downtown for work from a suburb or other neighborhood, then have frequent business to do at the hospitals or UC.

      A lot of students at UC and residents in the Uptown community could also use the streetcar to go to Reds games, Cyclones games, bars, restaurants, Fountain Square, Washington Park, etc.

      It isn’t only for commuting purposes.

    • Eric

      I’m just curious if “connecting the two largest employment centers” is becoming a political tagline. It’s probably safe to say that commuters should be your most frequent riders if the system is going to be successful and I don’t view building the streetcar to connect to leisure activities with built-in parking as that critical, if that was the case just connect to the neighborhood business districts to the east.

    • More than 70% of all trips made each day have nothing to do with commutes. What this means is that people make a lot of trips to places like the grocery store, pharmacy, yoga class, post office, bank, etc than they do their one trip to and one trip from work.

      What urban circulator systems, like the Cincinnati Streetcar, do is accommodate those 70% or so of all trips instead of solely focusing on the less than 1/4th of commute-related trips. Certainly the streetcar may pick up some commuters who are making the trip from Over-the-Rhine or Downtown to the university area, but the largest number of users will be those making those normal everyday trips that are needed in life.

    • matimal

      but streetcar opponents don’t want cincinnatians to have improved choices for their daily living. that’s the point.

    • matimal

      “True commuter transit” would cost a hundred times more. Where on earth would you get the money when funding a simple demonstration streetcar line has become something akin to a holy war?

    • It is a little bit of a tagline. The real purpose in my eye is two-fold: 1) connecting UC students and Uptown area residents to nightlife downtown, and 2) connecting the increasing # of UC’s graduate students and hospital workers living downtown/OTR to work/class Uptown.

  • common sense

    Eric, your comment makes no sense, just like support for streetcar. In 1996 the voters of Hamilton County were lied to about the financing of the stadiums. Now in 2013, there will be difficulty in paying them off. The streetcar will go the same route. And the city has a potential 1 billion unfunded pension fund. I like street cars if they could operate without a deficit.

    • Eric

      This stadium is a separate issue. Transportation improvements are transportation improvements, plain and simple

    • matimal

      So, ALL transportation is “apples” after all. Only you want to keep getting more than your paying. Cincinnati has gotten shortchanged, not West Chester or North Bend. I’m sick of paying for either. I never use them and think they should start paying their own way.

    • matimal

      but you aren’t a cincinnatian, common sense. Why do you care about a place you don’t live in?

  • runofthemill

    Too bad I’m not moving back until next fall, Landsman would have my vote. Moroski too. Need more progressive blood in Cincy, and I don’t mean Rahm Emanuel style neo-lib policy. You want transplants to come back to their hometown of Cincy, then changes need to be made. Folks like “common sense” seem to want the city to stay in a perpetual state of 1985. I still talk to a lot of friends that graduated high school between 2000-2001, they’re all over the country: Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, NYC, LA, to name a few. Let us think about why many of them swear they’re not coming back to Cincy.