System Designs Unveiled, Operating Agreement Reached for Cincinnati Streetcar

Officials with the City of Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) made several major announcements last week pertaining to the rollout of the Cincinnati Streetcar system.

While the design of the rolling stock and the system’s color scheme were revealed more than a year ago, the official branding for the new mode of transit for the Cincinnati region had not. SORTA officials say that the branding will be utilized all throughout the system including its fare cards, ticketing machines, uniforms, wayfinding, brochures, website and social media, and, of course, the trains and their stations.

The branding scheme was put together by Kolar Design, whose offices are located in the Eighth Street Design District just two blocks from the nearest streetcar stop, after competing with more than 100 other firms interested in the opportunity to developing the design scheme.

Project officials say that the $25,000 cost for the branding effort was paid for through Federal funds.

Founders Club Card Sales
At the same time, SORTA and City officials announced the availability of 1,500 Founders Club Cards. The sale of the cards, officials said, would help raise some initial funds to be used to help offset initial operating expenses.

Project officials have informed UrbanCincy that approximately half of the 1,500 cards were sold within the first 24 hours of going on sale; and that more than 1,000 had been sold by Friday. A limited number of Founders Club Cards are still available for purchase at the Second Floor Cashier’s Office at City Hall, Metro’s sales office in the Mercantile Arcade across from Government Square, and online at Metro’s website.

There are three card options available. The first goes for $25 and allows for unlimited rides for the first 15 days of service, which is currently pegged for 2016. The second and third options go for $50 and $100, and allow for unlimited rides for the first 30 and 60 days, respectively.

The commemorative metal cards and matching metal cases were seen by some as one of the first ways for Cincinnati Streetcar supporters to show their support. Having experienced strong sales thus far, it seems as Metro’s strategy may prove to be a success.

“This is one of the first tangible opportunities streetcar enthusiasts can show their support,” said City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R), Transportation Committee Chair. “This is a great idea that Metro has developed to generate excitement. I think many will appreciate the privilege of being a Founding Club Member with this commemorative card.”

Operating Agreement Finalized
Perhaps lost amid the other news was the signing of an official operating agreement. Under the current structure, the City of Cincinnati is building the system, and is its owner, but will contract out its operations to SORTA.

The Cincinnati Streetcar Operating & Maintenance Agreement first came out of Murray’s Transportation Committee and was approved 7-2 by City Council in early November. It calls for expanded on-street parking enforcement in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine until 9pm, an increase in parking rates in those two neighborhoods, and a set streetcar fare of $1 for two hours.

The agreement also utilizes an innovative technique that would lower property tax abatements 7.5%. This is an important component of the agreement as it addresses a longstanding call from opponents for those benefiting from real estate valuation increases to cover more of the costs of modern streetcar system. It also eliminates the need to utilize the Haile Foundation’s $9 million pledge, and would instead only tap into those funds in a worst-case scenario.

Project officials estimate that the system will cost approximately $3.8 to $4.2 million annually to operate, and that those costs would be covered by $1.5 million in additional on-street parking revenue in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, $1.3 million from fares and advertising, and an estimated $2 million annually from the tax abatement reductions.

“This is the most innovative plan I’ve seen in the United States,” stated John Schneider, noted transit advocate and real estate developer, at the time of City Council’s approval in November.

The SORTA Board approved the agreement last week and touted the benefits of having operations of the Cincinnati Streetcar be handled through Metro, which also runs the region’s largest bus service.

In addition to the critical financing elements of the agreement, it also delineates various responsibilities once service goes into effect. To that end, the City of Cincinnati will be in charge of maintaining traffic signals, clearing blockages from the streetcar path, cooperation on utility interfaces, safety and security; while SORTA will be responsible for operating the system, maintaining vehicles and facilities, fare collection provision and maintenance, marketing and advertising sales.

Construction on the $148 million first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar continues to progress, with most track work in Over-the-Rhine now complete and track work now progressing through the Central Business District. Current time frames call for operations to begin in September 2016.

Collection of Young Entrepreneurs Open First-of-its-Kind Coworking Space in Over-the-Rhine

Another coworking space has opened in the center city; and like the others, this one has its own unique twist.

The Office, as it is casually called by its owners and users, is a small 800-square-foot space at the southeast corner Twelfth and Walnut Streets. The space is located next to HalfCut, which opened earlier this year, and is now directly connected with the beer café and its partner Gomez Salsa operations.

“Whether you’re looking to answer emails, hold weekly meetings, brainstorm new marketing techniques or partake in a game of ping pong on your lunch break, The Office is for you,” explained Jack Heekin, co-owner of HalfCut.

As of now, those operating HalfCut, Venn, Pedal Wagon, Squirrel Films, Gomez Salsa and Push Pull Studios are utilizing the space most often. Others that are interested in using the space can set things up by simply contacting Heekin at 513-382-2734.

The cozy space is a bit different from the other coworking spaces that have opened around the city in recent months due to its casual nature. Most striking is that there are no memberships or regular fees. The main requirement to be able to use the space, Heekin says, is a good attitude.

“We have created a space, where entrepreneurs can come and learn from each other,” Heekin said in a prepared release. “We focus on sharing the combined love for creating and developing ideas into unique experiences. Everyone brings different skills, contacts and energy to the table.”

The reason for setting things up like this, as opposed to charging traditional rates to use the space, is to create an atmosphere where ideas and skills can be exchanged quickly and easily.

“I believe we’ve developed a culture within this office that promotes fine-tuning ones strengths and discovering your passion,” Heekin concluded. “It’s a great feeling watching young companies challenge each other to become more successful, and deliver the best product possible to their customers.”

American cities should be more concerned about spreading poverty, not gentrification

Gentrification is one of those topics that is difficult to write about. Simply mentioning the word or hinting at its existence is sure to stir the pot and draw a wildfire of comments, both defending and condemning it. What is often left out of the discussion, however, is that the gentrification we all imagine in our minds when we hear the word is essentially confined to just three metropolitan regions in America. As a result, the bigger concern for most cities should actually be their widespread poverty. More from Vox:

That share of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods isn’t huge — around 8.9 percent of all Americans living in poverty in 2010, according to US Census Bureau data. But the population of high-poverty neighborhoods has doubled since 1970, from 2 to 4 million. Over that same period, the US population as a whole grew by around 50 percent. In addition, the number of high-poverty census tracts in cities nearly tripled from 1,100 to 3,100.

As City Observatory highlights, we often think of gentrification as a big threat to urban areas, driving up the cost of living for people living in poorer areas and eventually forcing them out. You would think that’d lead to a lot of these neighborhoods rebounding out of poverty, albeit with mixed consequences for people there originally. But it appears the bigger threat by far is neighborhoods remaining mired in poverty and new neighborhoods falling into it.

Support Continues to Grow for Daily Train Service Between Cincinnati and Chicago

Midwest Regional Rail ServiceOhio is surprisingly one of the nation’s least-served states by intercity passenger rail service, but All Aboard Ohio is working to change that.

Perhaps best well known for their fruitless advocacy for the 3C Corridor – an intercity passenger rail line that would have linked Ohio’s largest cities – All Aboard Ohio has regained relevancy as of late. While continually advocating for improvements on existing Amtrak service across the northern reaches of the state, the non-profit organization has also become increasingly involved with efforts to establish rail service between Columbus and Chicago, and Cincinnati and Chicago.

Columbus currently has no connections to the capital of the economically robust Great Lakes region, but Cincinnati does, albeit ever so slightly. As of now, Cincinnatians can get to Chicago via the scrappy three-day-a-week train service offered on Amtrak’s Cardinal Route. In addition to not being daily service, trains infamously arrive and depart in the middle of the night.

This is something, however, that area leaders and All Aboard Ohio officials are working to change. One potential example, they say, is to extend existing service offered on Amtrak’s Hoosier Route. The combination of Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier routes offers Indianapolis daily service to Chicago. From there, the hope is to make gradual improvements to bring the service up to 110mph speeds.

“There is a buzz and excitement in southwest Ohio about connecting to Indy and Chicago that is palpable,” explained Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio. “Even those that have not necessarily been fans of previous rail projects see the necessity of connecting to Chicago – the business and commerce epicenter of the U.S. between the coasts.”

The energy Bauman speaks of was recently seen at an area meeting held by All Aboard Ohio at the Christian Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine. According to Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio, such meetings are typically pretty dull, but this was not the case in Cincinnati.

“Our free local meetings are usually less extravagant than our statewide meetings, and are more akin to briefing or coordination gatherings,” Prendergast told UrbanCincy. “They generally only draw a dozen or two dozen people, so this meeting’s attendance was pretty good.”

All Aboard Ohio welcomed Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R) as their special guest. Over the past few months Murray has taken on a bit of a leadership role in the discussion about establishing daily rail service to Indianapolis and onward to Chicago. Her leadership has also come at a time when Hamilton County Commissioners, in a surprising fashion, voted unanimously in favor of studying the establishment of such service.

Bauman says that All Aboard Ohio has been working with the OKI Regional Council of Governments on a potential scope and funding plan for a feasibility study on the manner, following the unanimous vote from Greg Hartmann (R), Todd Portune (D) and Chris Monzel (R). He says that the group has also been meeting with local jurisdictions and business leaders to grow support even further.

“A big part of this is educating stakeholders on what our competitor regions throughout the Midwest are doing,” said Bauman. “For example, Detroit has three Amtrak roundtrips a day, Milwaukee has seven, St. Louis has five, and even Carbondale, IL has three. Simply put, we are being left behind.”

Some of that recent outreach has included both Hamilton and Oxford – communities that sit along the existing Cardinal Route and would be prime candidates for stops in a case where service is enhanced. To that extent, both communities, in addition to Miami University, have expressed their support for the effort. Now, according to Bauman, the next steps are to reach out to Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.

“As we continue to work with business and government leaders toward establishing at least daily service to Cincinnati, coordinating with our regional institutions of higher learning will be a growing and vital piece of our advocacy partnership focus,” Bauman explained. “Bringing back proper inter-city rail services will be transformative for our region and positively impact the lives of people.”

VIDEO: A Day in the Life of a Downtown Cincinnati Ambassador

DCI’s Downtown Ambassadors have become a fixture in the center city over recent years. Those working, living or just visiting downtown can easily spot them in their brightly colored uniforms.

Tasked with polishing up the public right-of-way and select buildings, working with panhandlers and the homeless, and providing guidance for the millions of annual visitors, the ambassadors serve a critical role in maintaining the success being experienced downtown.

Thanks to SaucePanCinematic, we now have this approximately three-minute, behind-the-scenes look at a typical day for a Downtown Ambassador.