Streetcar opponents don’t just oppose streetcars, they oppose all transit investments

We have heard it all before here in Cincinnati. In 2002 the problem COAST and others had with MetroMoves was that it was too big and too expensive. That county-wide transit tax lost at the polls and put regional rail and bus transit on the backburner. So what to do next? Well if that was too big, then let’s start smaller. So the City of Cincinnati decided to pursue a small component of that regional plan that could be implemented without raising taxes.

The problem opponents now cite is that the Cincinnati Streetcar is a “toy choo-choo train” that “doesn’t go anywhere.” Their alternative is to invest in Metro’s bus system and perhaps operate a center city, rubber tire trolley. While the regional bus improvements should be done regardless, the problem is that these opponents are not willing to commit to any funding for these improvements. They’re empty offers, and like Cincinnati, San Antonio is dealing with the same nonsense. More from The Atlantic:

The precise difference between streetcars and light rail may not be important to those opposing VIA’s plans. State Senator Campbell’s recent complaint to the attorney general reportedly stated that ATD funds should only be used “to improve San Antonio’s roads,” even though the law that created the ATD sales tax doesn’t impose that restriction. What’s being truly opposed here may just be rail projects in general, whatever their form. “For some folks, if it’s on a rail, it’s rail,” says Gonzalez.

Attorney General Abbott rejected VIA’s bond sales — a move that caught the agency by surprise, since Abbott had issued preliminary approval for them. The streetcar lawsuit was immediately dropped, with the opponents saying they got what they wanted.

Gonzalez says VIA is considering whether to use an alternative avenue through the court system to get approval for the bond sales. For now, he sees a situation rife with irony. For one thing, the streetcar opponents who claim to be fighting for taxpayers are actually costing the city money to deal with the lawsuits and the bond delay. Beyond that, the real losers at the moment are not streetcar advocates at all but the bus riders who use the transit centers.

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  • John Schneider

    With rail opponents, whatever the plan is, they always want a different plan.

    Over the years, poll after poll, focus group upon focus group, have shown that people generally like the idea of rail, and that support has been steadily increasing as people travel more and learn more about these systems.

    The opponents aren’t dumb. They know that to be totally opposed to any kind of rail won’t help their cause. So they pick at whatever plan is on the table — it’s “too large,” or it’s “too small,” or the “time’s just not right for it.” Or, the new meme, “we’ll have to lay off police to pay for it.” You’ve heard it all over the years.

    This has been going on for twenty years, and they have been losing a lot more than they have been winning. And the more wins we get, their road just gets steeper.

    I’m pretty convinced that the suburban-led rail opponents in Cincinnati could care less about the Cincinnati Streetcar. What they fear is light rall for reasons known only to them. Once Cincinnatians see one-car light rail trains — streetcars — operating on downtown streets, they will come to understand that longer, faster trains operating on those tracks can go to all parts of the compass throughout the region. That’s a threat to the status quo. A lot of people have invested for decades on the other side of that bet.

    One other thing I’ve noticed, and I suspect more and more politcal candidates across the nation have noticed too: rail opponents who are elected officials seldom advance to higher office while champions often do. I don’t understand this dynamic yet, I’ve just observed it. I suspect it’s because the most strident ones just get tuned-out over time. They get so far out on a limb, they become discredited. It’s an interesting development that bodes well for more transportation choices.

    • Eric Douglas

      I’m not sure what the streetcar’s impact on perception or the realization of a regional transit system would be. I think the Fixed Guideway Plan shows it best that the reasonable extent of streetcar lines should be Clifton, Avondale and Walnut Hills. Building the Eastern Corridor, light rail on the Wasson Line or 71 will likely be even more difficult than the streetcar.

    • ArcticSix

      I think the streetcar can have an impact. Boston’s MBTA started off as only the Green Line, which is light rail of a different kind, but a chunk of the anti-transit public opposed its construction (they’ve apparently been around for over 100 years). Then they saw it in operation, public sentiment changed, and now Boston has a full rail transit system.

      The big problem here may well be that many of the people who are opposed to the streetcar are too afraid of Downtown and OTR to go there. That group of people will be impossible to please, so all we can do is hope they’re smaller than their political voice.

    • Eric Douglas

      I think those opposed to the streetcar can mainly be faulted for not thinking about the city as a whole. I doubt there’d be the same push back if it were a crosstown streetcar from Uptown through east side neighborhoods.

    • TimSchirmang

      You’re right, a number of neighborhood dwellers opposed to the streetcar would prefer a downtown-neighborhood transit option – aka would prefer a project that actually moves people throughout “the city as a whole”.

    • Ian Mitchell

      That’s possible, this doesn’t have to be the end of the project- but it’s getting built where it’s needed most.

    • Eric Talbot

      Arctic Six, I understand what you’re saying about Boston’s MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) and what is now known as its “Green Line.”
      Actually, there wasn’t much opposition to its construction back in the late 1800s.
      Boston in the 1890’s had a very extensive streetcar system, privately-owned and -operated, known as “The West End Street Railway.” There were no subways yet, and streetcar congestion in downtown Boston had become impossible to ignore, so the city decided to construct what became the nation’s first-ever subway, called “The Tremont Street Subway,” because the majority of its route ran beneath it. It opened in 1897, even before New York City opened its first subway line in 1901.
      Around the time Boston opened the Tremont Street Subway, the West End Street Railway was taken over and operated by the Boston Elevated Railway Company, which expanded the Tremont Street subway and tied more surface streetcar lines into it until what is today the Green Line took its present-day shape.
      This was an era of rapid transit expansion: Boston built two elevated rapid transit lines, and then began constructing “heavy rapid transit” subway lines with high platforms and level boarding. The Green LIne has remained basically an underground and surface streetcar system, where passengers board from track- and street-level platforms.
      The Boston Elevated Railway fell upon hard times after the end of the Second World War, and in 1948, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the City of Boston and a number of outlying communities part of “Greater Boston” took ownership of the Boston Elevated Railway Co., and renamed the system the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The MTA was later renamed to become today’s MBTA when more surrounding towns and cities joined the system. The MBTA now operates commuter rail and ferry boats as well as the system inherited from the MTA.
      This is my long-winded reply to your comment. There’s really no comparison with what happened in Boston to what’s going on now in Cincinnati.

    • fuck you

      people are concerned the street car is only going to be an unneeded,overly expensive mobile robbery buffet for criminals to prey on citizens along with its planned route past the very shops,restaurants and what not that is already owned one very strong advocate for the streetcar whos trying to shove it down our throats for his own financial gain. I am totally against the streetcar because youre taxing suburban people, people who live no where near the routes and will see no benefit unless they go out of their way to patronize this kitchy cliche streetcar. It seems redundant to drive down,pay to park then pay to use the streetcar

    • And yet the streetcar has now become a very popular attraction for suburbanites. They come downtown, park once, and spend the day enjoying Smale Riverfront Park and Washington Park, perhaps the Contemporary Art Center or Fountain Square, and some of the restaurants and breweries in Over-the-Rhine along the route. Despite the predictions from people like you that the streetcar would become a “rolling homeless shelter”, I usually see the streetcar filled with 75% suburban baby boomers.

    • fuck you

      only a 1/3 would regularly use the streetcar. so how about you tax that third appropriately to pay for their endeavor

    • I don’t drive on I-74, why should my tax dollars pay for it?

  • Eric Douglas

    When the Feds make it so you have to fund transit the same way you’d fund school levies or other non-transportation improvements, it’s going to get political.

  • “opponents who claim to be fighting for taxpayers are actually costing the city money” Welcome to Cincinnati’s world San Antonio.

  • matimal

    Make no mistake, the most aggressive opponents are opposed to cincinnati’s very economic success at all. like an abusive husband wants his wife, they like their cincinnati to be weak and easily manipulated.

  • JWM

    It’s notable that hardly a cry was raised when the city had to go to the bond market for $20 million to complete the MLK/I-71 interchange. Cranley killed the parking plan that would have given the city the funds to proceed without a bond issue. Cranley also has stated that he has a parking plan. Where is it.?