Streetcar Supporters to Announce Expanded Coalition Urging for System’s Expansion Uptown

AcDowntown to Uptown Cincinnati Streetcar Routecording to officials at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which governs Metro, more than 1,000 of the 1,500 Founders’ Club cards were sold within the first three days of going on sale.

The rate of sales is exceeding expectations, and many believe the remaining allotment will be sold within the next few days. In fact, $25 cards have already been taken off of Metro’s website, with a very limited number remaining at City Hall and Metro’s sales office.

The remaining $50 and $100 cards can still be purchased online, but it is not clear for how much longer due to their dwindling supply.

Streetcar supporters are pointing to this as clear evidence of the excitement surrounding the project, especially given that those buying the cards will not be able to use them until the system goes into operation in September 2016.

“Selling $72,000 worth of fare cards for a starter line that’s nearly two years from being operational shows the level of support and enthusiasm for the Cincinnati Streetcar to finally be up and running,” Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, told UrbanCincy. “This is the definition of pent up demand.”

Of course, there is also the financial benefit. Selling all 1,500 of the cards will net Metro $72,000 in fare revenue nearly two years before the Cincinnati Streetcar goes into operation.

The news comes as Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots coalition that formed a year ago to save the project from cancellation, has organized a press conference to announce a broad new coalition of organizations and community leaders urging for the expansion of the streetcar system to Uptown.

“While we must celebrate the success we have had over the past year with construction of tracks in the OTR loop nearing completion and the downtown loop well underway, we must also be looking forward,” explained Ryan Messer, Founder of Believe in Cincinnati.

The path forward, evidently, goes uptown, and not to Northern Kentucky even as leaders there are calling for an expansion of the system south across the Ohio River.

“As of today, we still do not have an official plan in place for our uptown expansion that will link downtown and OTR to the University of Cincinnati and the uptown neighborhoods,” Messer wrote in an email. “We are ready to ignite these conversations and be prepared to implement these plans into action.”

The growing support for an uptown expansion comes at a time of large investment occurring along the initial starter line – investment that many streetcar supporters are crediting for the $18 million budget surplus at City Hall in 2014, and the rosy tax receipt estimates for 2015.

“Imagine what the impact will be when we connect Cincinnati’s core, with its 40,000 jobs and growing residential population, to the 30,000 jobs and 40,000 students in the uptown neighborhoods,” Bauman exclaimed. “This vision is as exciting as it will be transformative for the City of Cincinnati.”

The Believe in Cincinnati press conference will be held at the corner of Race and Elder Streets, near Findlay Market, and where track stub has been constructed for the accommodation of a future uptown extension. Organizers say the event will take place at 10am and will show off the new, expanded coalition of streetcar supporters urging for its expansion.

 

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.

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.”

How is Tucson’s New Streetcar Line Performing Compared to Expectations?

Construction on the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system is well underway. While the project has been well documented in the media over the past decade, it is not often viewed from a perspective of where it stands in the national conversation.

Tucson recently opened their first modern streetcar line and their program administrator, Shellie Ginn, sat down with Jeremy Hobson from Here & Now to discuss their project. The two discuss both the pros and cons of such systems, while also highlighting the specific results being realized in Tuscon.

“We actually have higher ridership than we’d estimated. We have a lot more people riding that we hadn’t anticipated,” Ginn explained in terms of the perceived notion that only tourists would ride their streetcar. “We’ve had a really good response on taking advantage of the streetcar as well. It’s about a four mile line and it connects our University of Arizona Medical Center to some shopping districts that also connect to a downtown, and over to a western redevelopment area.”

Similarly, Cincinnati’s first modern streetcar line is 3.6 miles in length and connects a downtown, shopping districts, riverfront entertainment district and a neighborhood ripe for redevelopment. Should future phases extend the system to Uptown, it would connect the initial line with the University of Cincinnati, the region’s medical district and several other large employers and attractions. An extension across the river into Northern Kentucky would add additional shopping and entertainment districts as destinations.

Designs Released for Two-Way Street Conversions in East Walnut Hills

Following an open house held in late November, officials from Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) have released preliminary drawings that illustrate how portions of E. McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road will be converted from one-way to two-way streets.

The two-way street conversion is under consideration now and will take into account public comments submitted through December 1. This particular project is a continuation of earlier two-way conversions on these same streets in 2012.

At the time residents in East Walnut Hills resisted the two-way street conversion, which then instead progressed only within Walnut Hills. Due to the success of that traffic pattern conversion, City officials say, neighborhood residents and leaders in East Walnut Hills have asked for the full project to continue as originally planned.

This second segment would convert E. McMillan Street between Victory Parkway and Woodburn Avenue, and Woodburn Avenue between E. McMillan Street and Taft Road. Once completed, the total project will have converted both streets from Woodburn Avenue on the east to May Street on the west near I-71.

The potentially biggest change will come at the intersection of Woodburn Avenue and William Howard Taft Road. According to the drawings, the existing center island at the three-way intersection would be substantially reduced in size in order to accommodate the new traffic patterns. A smaller version of the existing island would remain after the conversion.

The project is supported by the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, and is located in an area that is experiencing an influx of new businesses and private investment.