INFOGRAPHIC: The Abandonment of Cincinnati’s 1914 Subway and Rapid Transit Loop

Cincinnati’s abandoned rapid transit project is a subject of continual interest. Although many are familiar with the unused two-mile tunnel beneath Central Parkway, little remains of the ten miles of surface-running right-of-way built in the mid-1920s between Camp Washington and Norwood.

This graphic by Andy Woodruff, from the UW-Madison Department of Geography, illustrates which sections of the so-called Rapid Transit Loop were built, which parts were replaced by expressways, and which parts were planned but not funded and built.

Cincinnati Subway System

So why was the Rapid Transit Loop started but not completed?

The project had several forces working against it, especially wealthy Downtown landowners who stood to lose money and influence if the city’s most valuable property shifted from Fountain Square north to Central Parkway. The likelihood of that happening was heightened by the Rapid Transit Commission’s decision to forego construction of the Walnut Street Subway as part of the project’s first phase.

Those who owned property lining Central Parkway knew that construction of a tunnel under Mt. Adams, linking the Loop’s never-built eastern half, would likely cost less than construction of the Walnut Street Subway and cause the loop’s traffic to bypass the city’s established epicenter entirely.

The second interest acting to scuttle the subway project was the consortium of seven steam railroads that commenced construction of Cincinnati’s spectacular Union Terminal in 1929.

An ancillary feature of the Rapid Transit Loop was its intention to serve the area’s electric interurban railroads at a multi-track terminal centered beneath the intersection of Race Street and Central Parkway. The interurban terminal’s more convenient location promised to erode the redundant services of the steam railroads.

Editorial Note: In addition to focusing on UrbanCincy’s transportation coverage, Jake authored a book about Cincinnati’s infamously abandoned subway and rapid transit project. First published in 2010, Cincinnati’s Incomplete Subway: The Complete History is considered to be the most comprehensive analysis of the events leading up to and after one of the city’s most notorious missteps.

  • matimal

    It always seems to boil down to the old boys club. The old boys clubs of Pittsburgh and Detroit failed entirely and were replaced by something different. The old boys clubs of old cities such as Boston, Philly, and many southern cities seem to be able to justify their position with relative economic success. Cincinnati’s old boys club manages to avoid failure but to remain in the way of success.

  • Dan

    Turn it into the most epic of underground bike lanes!

  • Eric Douglas

    The importance of Union Terminal as a transit hub lies more in local nostalgia than how long of a successful run it had.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I thought European transit systems were mostly public, with the exception of England and of buses across the continent. England has a privatization scheme for intercity trains that I’ve heard complaints about, though I’m not quite sure what they’ve done to get those complaints.

      Japan is a pretty good private example, though their government and corporations tend to collude an awful lot (think 3CDC on steroids).

    • neroden

      European countries nationalized transit pretty early for the most part, with the last major nationalizations being just after WWII.

  • margyartgrrl

    Imagine a station at Race and Central! It would be like 30th Street Station (Philadelphia) or Grand Central — right in the heart of the city and very convenient. Superhero headquarters (aka Union Terminal) is beautiful – but still….