GUEST EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Could Learn from LA’s Regional, High Growth Mentality

There is perhaps no more controversial word to utter in Cincinnati than streetcar. The roughly three-mile rail project connects the riverfront to Over-the-Rhine’s Findlay Market, passing several points of interest and centers of employment along the way. The total cost for the streetcar is roughly $100 million, and it is fully funded without taxpayer assistance.

To anyone familiar with transportation projects, this price tag is on the low end of the spectrum, and actually appears to be quite affordable when compared to highway construction and more comprehensive light and heavy rail systems, which both often have project costs well exceeding a billion dollars.

In spite of this, the Cincinnati Streetcar project has been met with a very vocal public opposition from day one. The project has faced and defeated two ballot initiatives aimed at stopping the project completely, has adapted to a smaller route after having more than $50 million in state funding revoked, and has generally persevered through every challenge the opposition has created.

The question I want to answer is not whether the streetcar is a good idea; nor do I want to speculate on the future success or failure of the project. What is far more compelling of an idea to explore is the root causes of the unrelenting opposition to what is actually a modest and simple transportation and economic development project.

Perhaps no better city serves as a juxtaposition to the Cincinnati experience than Los Angeles. Having lived, worked, and studied urban planning in LA for the past 4.5 years; I was able to witness firsthand the differences from Cincinnati in the attitudes towards transit, and more generally, the city itself.

532472_608157281591_764452968_nPassengers board the Blue Line LRT in Los Angeles. Photo provided by John Yung for UrbanCincy.

In 2008, over 67% of Los Angeles County residents approved Measure R, a 30-year half-cent sales tax increase to support transportation projects. As a result of the passage of Measure R, LA is now in the process of building:

  • The so called “subway to the sea” connecting Downtown LA to Santa Monica;
  • An extension of the Green Line light rail line to connect to Los Angeles International Airport;
  • An extension of the Gold Line light rail line to serve the far eastern suburbs; and
  • Phase two of the Expo light rail line connecting Culver City with Santa Monica (phase one connected Downtown LA with Culver City, and opened in 2012).

Additionally, a downtown streetcar project (sound familiar?) was proposed a few years ago, and in late 2012, nearly 73% of downtown residents voted to create a special, localized tax district to partially fund the project.

In 2013, Los Angeles has transformed from a city known for its sprawl and obsession with freeways and cars, to a city with multiple rail lines under construction simultaneously and a regional population that has twice voted in a super-majority to increase their tax burden to fund transit. Instead of simply chalking up the different experiences in Cincinnati and LA as being the result of differing demographics, I think that there are two main underlying differences between the cities that help explain the reactions to transit.

High Growth vs. Low Growth
While the City of Cincinnati has been hemorrhaging population since the 1970s, the metropolitan area has seen slow and steady population growth. Although slow growth is better than regional decline, a la Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the growth rate of the Cincinnati region pales in comparison to growth experienced in the Southern and Western parts of the country that constitute the Sunbelt.

Conversely, the Los Angeles story has been one of explosive growth at both the city and regional level since the 1940s. The slow growth of Cincinnati creates a situation where municipalities in the region compete with each other not just for jobs, but also residents, potential customers for businesses, and resources. The insecurities of slow growth repeatedly surface in the opposition to the streetcar. “Why not spend $100 million in my neighborhood?”

The streetcar represents an investment in part of the city that will almost assuredly give it an advantage over other parts of the metro area. As such, it is seen as a threat to the population and employment bases to many communities in the region. In Los Angeles, however, while there is still competition among municipalities, the situation is not a zero sum game, and therefore does not elicit the same threatened response that we see in Cincinnati.

The second of the two underlying factors that help explain the difference in attitudes toward transit in Cincinnati and Los Angeles is regionalism. Los Angeles is often described as the prototypical polycentric city. Rather than one core, Southern California is dotted with hubs of commerce, retail, and population. The city of Los Angeles itself has multiple clusters, and there are several other cities in the region such as Pasadena, Glendale, Santa Monica, Long Beach, and Anaheim that serve as nodes on the regional map.

A result of this polycentricity is interdependence among different parts of the region. Someone who lives in Burbank might work in Downtown Los Angeles, shop in Pasadena, go to the beach in Santa Monica, and take their kids to Disneyland in Anaheim. When you think regionally, it is easier to view the improvements of one community as indirectly benefitting yourself.

As most regions in 2013, Cincinnati is also increasingly polycentric. However, there is a strong monocentric legacy in Cincinnati; where downtown was the undeniable heart and hub of the region. Neighborhoods take pride in their unique identities, and often times regionalism is viewed skeptically, as embracing it necessitates a departure away from the hyper-localism that Cincinnati prides itself on. With this type of perspective, it is harder for individuals to see how a transit improvement elsewhere in the region would benefit them.

The monocentric legacy of Cincinnati also has led many people to feel attached to downtown in a way that does not exist in Los Angeles. Much of the streetcar opposition is from people who live outside of the City of Cincinnati, from people who feel that, despite living far away from the project, they still have a right to comment on it because downtown is perceived as being almost a public good for the region to consume.

In Los Angeles, opposition to transit projects seems to come from groups that have a specific issue that they object to. For example, the Expo Line came under attack by environmental groups when Metro announced that a sizeable number of trees had to be removed for construction of the line. An environmental group having a problem with trees being cut down is a logical complaint that is able to be placated relatively easily. In Cincinnati, stopping the city from progressing seems to be an interest group in itself, with broad support from a variety of different populations. This type of opposition is what stymies Cincinnati, and keeps the region in relative stagnation.

There are deep, underlying issues that contribute to these attitudes- far more than I could cover in this post, but I believe that low growth and lack of regional thinking are the two underlying issues at the root of much of the opposition to the Cincinnati Streetcar. Los Angeles, for much of its existence, was the poster child for sprawl, automobile dependence, air pollution, and many other associations that are incongruent with a pro-transit city. Somewhere in the past 20 or so years, LA made a switch.

Perhaps it was a re-exposure to rail transit following the construction of the Red Line subway in 1993, LA’s first rail line since the removal of the extensive streetcar network that covered the city. Or maybe Angelenos finally got fed up with the infamous traffic that has snarled Southern California for decades. Whatever the tipping point was, Los Angeles has positioned itself as a leader of transit in the 21st century. The high growth Los Angeles region is transforming before our eyes. It’s time for Cincinnati to take a look.

This guest editorial was authored by Patrick Whalen – a Cincinnati native who currently lives in the city’s Mt. Adams neighborhood. Patrick is a member of the Urban Land Institute’s Mission Advancement Committee, and graduated from the University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy. He now works for Urban Fast Forward – an urban real estate and planning firm based in Cincinnati. If you would like to have your thoughts published on UrbanCincy you can do so by submitting your guest editorial to

  • matimal

    Most suburbanites think of downtown/otr as one place. People often have odd ideas about the relative distances between places. If they saw streetcars traveling between different places, they might think of them differently.

  • Jonathan Hay

    From a regional perspective It’s totally crazy that we would give huge incentives to move from one place in the region to another (for example just across the river).

  • TimSchirmang

    “Fully funded without taxpayer assistance”

    What? Is Santa Clause picking up the tab? Some of the opposition to the streetcar is rooted in the relentless parade of questionable or laughably ridiculous financial claims put forth by supporters. For such a modest and simple project, an honest discussion about the economics has been remarkably elusive.

    • matimal

      economics has nothing to do with opposition to streetcars. streetcars are a symbol of change in the ethnic homeland of members of the tribe cincinnati on which they can direct their collective fears. Kasich took ALL state money, even federal money given to ohio and meant for public transit, and STILL streetcars have assumed almost religious significance for non-cincinnatians. why else would such a ” modest and simple” project receive such manic hysterical attacks?

    • TimSchirmang

      The project has ‘assumed almost religious significance’ for its supporters too. It has been sold by leaders and adopted by followers as an unquestionably ‘good’ thing for Cincinnati. There are level headed folks who care about where tax money is spent, particularly in this economic downturn and era of downsized government budgets. Yes, there are others who have put forward hysterical attacks against the streetcar, but their positions are not everybody’s despite the preachings of streetcar backers. Not every critic is a heretic.

      For some, economics has everything to do with it, but the record is absolutely riddled with misinformation. This article adds to that trend. $100M is not the total cost of the streetcar, not even Phase 1 of it. The remark that ‘it is funded without taxpayer support’ is not worthy of a second response.

    • I think what Patrick was trying to say is that we are able to build the streetcar without raising taxes, unlike the larger MetroMoves proposal which would have required raising sales tax.

    • matimal

      so, you admit it isn’t about money for many of the most rabid opponents. are you a legal resident of cincinnati, Tim?

    • TimSchirmang

      Yes, I’ll side with you on your first point. I don’t know anyone from COAST, I really can’t say what motivates them. When the referenda came to a vote though, ‘rabid’ opponents did not make up the majority of the 40% or so voting ‘against’ the streetcar. I also know a number of reasonable folks that voted for it because the language against ‘all rail, forever’, was too broad. For many or most (on both sides), money was/is a big issue.

      Not sure on point/question two, I’ll call it a tie.

      Yes, I also operate a business located within the city.

    • matimal

      There wouldn’t have been referenda if there hadn’t been a rabid, predominantly non-Cincinnatian opposition in the first place. You know what people told you, you can’t know if or how they voted. Streetcars are a symbolic issue in Cincinnati. They may have told you want they thought you wanted to hear. Businesses don’t get a vote. Only people. If you are a legal resident, we are equals with respect to Cincinnati government.

    • TimSchirmang

      1. OK
      2. Possibly. It’s also possible that a reasoned opposition might have succeeded.
      3. True. Everyone might be lying.
      4. Business suffrage and self esteem were not part of my earlier remark. I was simply showing I am invested in long term Cincinnati success.

    • matimal

      1. Who started what really is the entire issue here.
      2. Who would have gone to the enormous effort of organizing TWO referendums if not those intensely opposed to streetcars for whatever reason?
      3. Between everyone and no one is someone. That’s where the truth is almost always to be found.
      4. Glad to hear it.

    • Tim, I also get frustrated when endless cheerleading leads to twisted facts. It happens on both sides in any political battle. But the reasoned argument is out there and has been for the 6+ years it’s moved forward. If you want the reasoned argument I can point you to some of the people behind the project; talking with the cheerleaders will obviously get you nowhere.

      I will say, I agree that the hyper-localism has helped contribute to much of the opposition not just to the streetcar but really any new investment in the city. Which is why I get frustrated when I constantly read on this board, “If you don’t live in Cincinnati you don’t deserve a voice in our region.” Maybe the reverse should be true… maybe city folks (like myself) should take a more active interest in suburban affairs and show them they are a valued part of the region. Maybe suburbanites wouldn’t be so anti-city if city dwellers weren’t so anti-suburbs. (Oh, and let’s please not ask the chicken or egg question here. It doesn’t matter who starts the fight; it matters who ends it.)

    • matimal

      If you don’t live in Cincinnati you don’t get a vote in Cincinnati. Simple fact, deal with it. Suburbs were created (largely by the government) as anti-city projects. You can’t be anti-city and not be pro-suburbs (unless you are a farmer or a hermit and reject both.) Why can’t people accept that different places are in competition?

    • We’d probably be better off agreeing to disagree, but let me give it a shot…

      Obviously, you can only vote in the jurisdiction in which you live. But telling someone they cannot vote and telling someone they don’t get a voice are two different things. You may think you’re shutting down the opposition, but you’d be surprised how many people who live OUTSIDE the city support the streetcar. You may get the impression suburbanites are anti-city, but in my experience that is not true for most. Most suburbanites (or N.Ky-ers) I know still come downtown or OTR and love it… they just choose to live in the suburbs because of work, family, etc. Many live in the suburbs out of necessity, and would love nothing more but to move into the city. (I myself used to be in this camp. Thankfully no one banned me from pro-streetcar events and told me, “You can’t vote here, so you don’t deserve a voice.”)

      Yes, different areas are in competition. I’m all too familiar with the fact that city neighborhoods fight for NBDSP funds, and that localities fight for development and infrastructure dollars from the state and federal govts. But this idea that it’s the progressive city against the regressive suburbs is nonsensical. Reading, Montgomery, Bellevue, KY, Mason, and Fairfield Twp.–to pick several examples–can’t be lumped into this one anti-city, pro-suburb camp. They’re all very very different places with very different goals. Again, most suburbanites are not anti-city… many people just think that because of groups like COAST.

      Two reasons the streetcar was originally introduced were, 1) because it would lead to downtown development that would be good for the REGION, and 2) because it would prove the worth of mass-transit and ultimately lead to a REGIONAL system. Again, many in the region, outside the city, are on board with this. Newport and Covington have voiced their support for the streetcar. Do they not deserve a voice? Are they anti-Cincinnati just because they’re across the river?

      One more point on regional competition. Remember after Chiquita left, when Nielsen jumped across the river to take their place, and several other businesses jumped from one side of the Ohio to the other? Do you know what that did for job creation? Zilch. Politicians spent lots of time and energy moving businesses a couple miles, when they should have been attracting businesses from other parts of the country. Cincinnati is a top-30 city in regional population. We should be in competition with other top-30 cities. We should NOT be in competition with ourselves.

      Maybe my argument will have no effect on you, but let me say one last thing: spewing anti-suburb hate makes you no better than those spewing anti-city hate. It’s one thing to say you don’t want to live there–I don’t want to live in suburbia either–but belittling others does not help you “support the cause.” In fact, as Patrick points out, this anti-regionalism is a big part of what’s holding the region back.

    • matimal

      People don’t ‘choose’ in a free market in property or transportation in the U.S. Take away mortgage interest deductions along with road that are free to use and that aren’t paid for by gas taxes alone and American cities would look very different. If people start to pay their own way then these debates will dissolve away. The problem is that it is hard to convince people that have been subsidized their entire lives to pay for what they were given before. If we align “voices” and “votes” Cincinnati and everywhere else in America will be much better.

    • Thad Miller

      LOL. “an honest discussion about the economics”. Dude you are about 5 years late to the game. This thing has been studied, vetted, referendumed, studied, researched, referendumed again, and survived through 3 city councils and a mayors election.

      I challenge you to find a transportation project, in the entire country, that has survived such scrutiny.

      I think what you meant to say was, “let’s continue to discuss this project, until I like what I hear.”

    • TimSchirmang

      Rather than considering the project from a current objective view, supporters seem trigger happy to dismiss anyone that questions the project. This last spring when the cost overruns came to light and council had to decide whether to fund the increase, there was a chance for Cincinnati to be intelligent. The chance was lost because loud voices on both sides want to fight yesterday’s battle.

      You reference being 5 years late as if the holiness of the streetcar is some immutable principle discovered in 2008. The remark is precisely the kind of blind, religious following that the article author ascribes to the opposition, but is in fact practiced by supporters too. Thank you for volunteering to be exhibit A.

      A new and very significant economic discussion is on the table if anyone cares to look at it. I was happy to see Dan Hurley insert it directly into the mayoral debate last week. If you talk about the streetcar being a useful and rational investment, the most significant justification for the upfront costs is the economic activity and property development to be spurred by the investment. In 2007 this question was ‘studied, vetted, studied, vetted’ as you say, and enough people felt the project was justified. I wasn’t concerned at all with the project to hold an opinion one way or the other – wasn’t on my radar screen.

      When the same question was asked of council this spring, the original 2007 reports were dusted off and reused. Nevermind that an enormous portion of the ‘potential’ development justifying the streetcar in 2007 has come to reality in the last 6 years – without the streetcar. Level headed minds would recognize that the development landscape is very different from 2007, put their spiritual egos on the shelf, and at least investigate whether using taxpayer resources on the streetcar is still the best use of those resources, today. As Qualls demonstrated in her deflection of Hurley’s question, it is difficult to get an honest discussion going about the economics of the project, today.

    • matimal

      We can’t play time traveler. We can’t know what would have happened in an alternative reality. Interstate highways never had to be justified on economic grounds. They were political projects to serve corporate interests that benefitted from the demand for construction materials and cars to drive on the roads. Streetcars are no different. OTR could increase population, property values, and investments enormously. No single part of OTR is even remotely ‘done’. Every block of OTR could produce more income for Cincinnati. Interstates transformed almost worthless cornfields into hugely valuable pieces of real estate. Streetcars can do the same for each block of downtown and OTR that isn’t currently used for anything but parking now. Cincinnati isn’t ‘done’. We need to stop talking as if it is.

    • TimSchirmang

      I’m not sure I follow your first paragraph. It’s not so much motivation but brief amusement that I get, and ‘symbolism of streetcars for streetcar supporters’ could mean anything and it could mean nothing. I’ll abstain.

      We don’t need to play time traveler to conduct the same sort of development studies today as were conducted back in 2007. Would you suggest turning every cornfield into an interstate? Probably not. At some point the marginal benefits are not worth the costs. Same goes for OTR, or any other development area.

      Without getting into it in depth, I’ll point out that the streetcar vs. highway cost-benefit analysis is totally lacking the recognition that highways enable a massive amount of economic activity via freight transport. I think this gets lost in the discussion about how to efficiently move people around town.

    • matimal

      Describing the “blind religious faith” of those you disagree with doesn’t sound like “brief amusement” to me. It sounds like thinly veiled contempt. Almost every cornfield within 25 miles of Cincinnati HAS already been turned into an interstate. We have no idea what the ‘marginal benefits’ of interstates might have been in the U.S. since people don’t have to pay to use them. If people had to pay tolls and those tolls had to pay for the loans and maintenance of the roads they paid to use, then we’d know the ‘marginal benefit’ of those roads. My best guess is that any additional ‘marginal benefits’ to new interstates disappeared in most areas in the 1970s. OTR is far from ‘done’. It can produce FAR more income for Cincinnati. The same is true for every neighborhood of Cincinnati. Cincinnati could double its population comfortably with no additonal infrastructure. If highways are valuable to people they should be willing to pay for using them. They are massively subsidized today. Gas taxes in the U.S. today don’t even cover half of road spending. Talk about subsidies! When others start paying their own way, THEN they can start to criticize Cincinnati’s efforts to improve its property values and its resultant tax income.

    • TimSchirmang

      What am I missing here? Your reply is exactly what my comment was pointing out. Moving people around, asking folks to pay tolls, declining gas tax revenue, etc., etc., are all just ancillary matters in the bigger picture of highways as a public investment. The real value of highways is not tied to Suburban Soccer Mom bouncing around town. It’s freight. Those big boxes on I-75 aren’t just rolling billboards, there’s actually stuff inside. You want to see economic stagnation – start closing highways.

      Even if you look at ton-miles as a measurement (which heavily favors rails based on what they often carry, dense bulk materials), long distance trucking still carries almost the same amount of freight. This doesn’t include the fact that once the train gets to Queengate, regional distribution still requires a truck to finish the job in most cases. In the end, highways pay for themselves plenty in terms of the economic activity they enable. Gas taxes are a bonus.

    • matimal

      did you ever consider a diplomatic career? anyway, what am I missing here? there are no “ancillary issues” in sources of transportation money and its expenditure. it all ‘counts’. money comes in from various sources and is used to pay for the construction, reconstruction, and maintenance of transportation infrastructure. a buck is a buck wherever it comes from or goes to. are you disputing the claims I linked to that gas taxes DON’T remotely pay for road spending today? if so, what evidence do you have that roads do “pay for themselves”? all public investments are public investments. $100million spent on roads is equal to $100 million spent on trains. are you suggesting that freight companies couldn’t operate if they had to pay the true cost of the roads they use? bizarre. the huge imbalances between who pays and who uses publicly funded transportation is the problem today in the u.s. you don’t have to worry about understanding “ton miles,” just get people to pay for what they use and everything will sort itself out.

    • Freight used to travel via independently owned and operated rail lines. That is once again becoming the case. I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the govt. should subsidize billions in interstate construction for freight when rail can and did serve just fine.

      As for the development that’s occurred in OTR since 2007: anyone who has kept up with the neighborhood clearly knows that 1) much of the development occurred due to promise of the streetcar, 2) there is still plenty of development to be had, especially in the Brewery District, 3) momentum is continuing to build and development continues to snowball, and 4) a major event like cancelling the streetcar could not only stop future development, it could also lead to dis-investment undermining the development that’s already occurred. The city largely wants development to increase the tax base, but if new developments are later abandoned property values drop and the tax base disappears.

  • David Cole

    Readers might be interested in an article I wrote about LA transit about two years ago, in which I go a bit further into its history and physical characteristics.

  • I consider myself a strong supporter of expanded mass transit (i.e. The Streetcar) in general. Yet, I’m not sure if this analysis is quite on target. Primarily I would note that growth (specifically, population growth) has little, if any, correlation to other indicators such as economic performance (gross regional product, productivity). Further, high-growth does not necessarily equal high-quality of life.

    I would argue that Cincinnati certainly does cause some head-scratching with it’s long and storied history of killing off projects such as the subway and possibly now the Streetcar. If I were to search for the roots of this sort of behavior I would suggest that the city/region does have a history of investing in and building big transportation projects. Unfortunately, it seems to have often bet wrong, or perhaps it has been a bit behind the curve. For instance the City/Region invested heavily in Canals and resisted the development of Rail. Likewise, the City/Region has invested heavily in its Highways while neglecting nearly all other modes. In response the City/Region has grown more tepid in overcoming its mistakes and adopting anything “new.” This of course all plays into the conservative culture that runs deep throughout the area. (I don’t mean conservative in a pejorative sense BTW)

    • Matt Jacob

      I agree with your comments over what is presented in the post. There is certainly a very historical basis for our city’s tendencies to be cautious to the “new” thing even when embracing the “new” is in our collective best interest. Being overly cautious has bit us in the past and other cities like Chicago have taken advantage.

      The only way that I see the level of growth in each city coming into play is that when you are growing faster you can afford to take more or bigger risks because you can grow your way out of any setbacks. Slow growth means one or two setbacks can sink the boat. Cincinnati can’t take as many big risks as LA so it has to make smart bets. The rewards will hopefully play out like we all expect and that will enable us to make even more smart bets to increase our own growth.

      I concur that it is in Cincinnati’s best interest to embrace regionalism, however the conservative mentality of the region makes it a much harder task than it should be to implement. It’s going to be a long road but I think over time we’re moving in that direction.

      I’d also like to point out the large amount of misinformation about the streetcar project presented here. The best source of thecorrect information is The last thing we need at this stage in the game is to give people fuel to fire up opposition to the project.

  • Ben Davis

    I really like the viewpoint of this article, I think some of the opposition to the streetcar or other projects related to otr and downtown could come from the myopic view that the neighborhoods in the city are in competition rather than the fact that they are all part of a whole. Yes they may be in competition for grants or other funding from the government, but something good for otr is also good for kennedy heights. Something good for downtown is also good for price hill. Something good for westwood is also good for hyde park. We forget that the things that attract people to a region such as jobs, culture, transportation, entertainment, schools, need to be strong in every part of the region for the region as a whole to grow. Also, every time there is an improvement in each part of the region or neighborhood, that shines light on the city and region as a whole. Something that I want for cincinnati that this article talks about for l.a. is a comprehensive regional transportation system that connects everyone in the region and makes it easier for them to get from place to place within the region. I think we are making baby steps towards this, and I’m glad that we are making progress.

  • Stephanie Byrd

    Patrick, I think your article was very well-written. I’m proud to be a former classmate!

    Having never lived in Cincinnati and reading this post as a classmate supporter, it’s hard to comment on its streetcar. However, I love how LA is used as the POSITIVE example in transit, that’s certainly a welcome change! LA certainly hasn’t had it so easy with these developments, though. The extension of the purple line to UCLA, for example, seems like it will NEVER happen because of NIMBYists in Beverly Hills and Westwood.

    From briefly comparing the two streetcars’ websites, a huge difference in marketing jumps out at me. LA’s streetcar is also part of a much larger preservation-driven movement (Bringing Back Broadway) that I think gained it a lot of support, Cincinnati’s jumps right into the flawed argument of streetcar=development, streetcar=jobs, etc. as if a new business or facade improvement is required with each foot of track. Personally, I would have a problem with that if I were a Cincinnati voter/resident, and can understand the opposition in that sense.

    • Patrick Whalen

      Thank you for commenting, Stephanie! The Cincinnati streetcar is being constructed through the CBD and the adjacent, historic residential neighborhood (Over The Rhine). This area is finally seeing widespread revitalization after decades of neglect, similar to the Historic Core area of DTLA. It also represents the return of rail transit to Cincinnati, which is a huge first step for a region that has rejected previous attempts at a taxpayer funded regional transit system. The ~3 mile line is only intended to be the beginning of a larger network that spreads out to other neighborhoods. Hopefully phase one will be a huge success, and Cincinnatians will warm to the idea of expanding the streetcar system, so future phases won’t have to endure these same fights.

  • Guest

    So this is floating around. lol

  • Eric

    LA is a good case for improving regional transit, but like the Chicago comparisons we often make, both are out of scale. Grand Rapids, MI- similar city and regional population and staunchly conservative (hometown of Gerald Ford and Justin Amash)- is a far better comparison since Cincinnati is a non-Global, Midwestern city. In 2011 voters passed a millage increase to fund expanded transit and their first BRT line because it was sold as a TRANSPORTATION project enhancing transportation equity throughout the region. The debate both for and against the streetcar really has gotten away from it’s primary function. Some info:

    • I hear what you’re saying about the size difference between LA and Cincinnati, but isn’t it a disservice to only look at peer cities when trying to improve yourself?

    • Eric

      I don’t consider LA a peer city to Cincinnati. You have to write what you know, but it comes down to passing a millage and what other similar cities in the MW have done so and how/why did they do it. You can’t ignore regional politics.

    • I understand what you’re saying. To me this guest piece was more about the way in which they approach things rather than the logistics of actually getting it done. Obviously that would be very different between any two places due to different local laws, policies and social/economic realities.

    • And for the record, Cincinnati’s MSA and CSA are both about twice as large as Grand Rapids. 🙂

    • Eric

      296,550 (Cin) to 190,411 (GR); versus 3.858 million (LA) to 296,550 (Cin)

    • Los Angeles MSA: 12,828,837
      Cincinnati MSA: 2,130,151
      Grand Rapids MSA: 1,005,648

    • Eric

      MSA is way over who would be voting on an RTA millage.

    • A lot of the opposition comes from people that think Cincinnati is too small and too car-dependent for rail transit. They think it should be reserved for cities like LA and New York.

      But, most people are shocked when you tell them over 50 cities in the country have rail/BRT transit and Cincinnati doesn’t. Portland can’t be the only case study. What about Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland (BRT), Charlotte, Tacoma, Norfolk, New Orleans, Galveston, Memphis, Buffalo, Albuquerque…

  • On regionalism: Cincinnati deals with not just NIMBY-ism but also NIYBY-ism (not in YOUR back yard). People are seriously upset, and often jealous, when another neighborhood/city/township wins out over theirs. As stated in the article, it’s the sense that neighborhoods are all competing to be king of the region, and sometimes this leads to neighbors stabbing each other in the back. Very unfortunate.

    The NIYBY-ism hurled upon downtown/Over-the-Rhine is so bad largely because of the media pumping up coverage. The streetcar gets at least 10x the coverage the Eastern Corridor, Kennedy Connector, MLK re-construction, and I-75 expansion do. Everyone knows about 3CDC, but ask them about Focus 52 or form-based codes and many are clueless. We all know about Mercer Commons… but how many people know what’s going on with the Milhaus Development in Northside, or about Oakley Station?

    The first step to stopping this rampant NIYBY-ism and actually moving forward as a region will be stopping the meaningless attacks on other neighborhoods, townships, and cities. I’m not getting my hopes up.

  • Peter J Voorhees

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece. A couple technical points:

    LA’s first contemporary rail transit line was the Blue Line, a light rail line between downtown LA and Long Beach. The Blue Line opened in 1990; last I checked, it was the busiest light rail transit line in the US outside a downtown area. (Several US Rail rapid transit lines, which are fully separated from streets, are busier.)

    Also worth adding to the list of LA rail projects in construction: the “Regional Connector.” This light rail subway through downtown LA will unify the County’s light rail lines into a single network. Today, the lines terminate at the edges of downtown LA.

    Great blog, please keep up the good work.