East Side Commuter Rail Project in Doubt Following Vote to Develop Oasis Line as Trail

The fate of a long-planned commuter rail line along the eastern riverfront took an abrupt turn over the past month. With the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) Board voting 12-1 in favor of a plan to use it for the Ohio River Trail, it puts a severe damper on one day using it as commuter rail to the city’s eastern suburbs.

The commuter rail, commonly referred to as the Oasis Line, had been pursued by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune (D) for many years. Over time the Oasis Line had become a component of the much larger Eastern Corridor project, which is also now facing a very unclear future of its own.

SORTA purchased the right-of-way in 1994 for $4 million, after which it sold the more southern of the parallel-running tracks and easement to Genesee & Wyoming – the parent company of the Indiana & Ohio Railway Company – which also has the rights to utilize the northern tracks that would be paved over as part of this plan.

As a result, SORTA officials still need to work out details with G&W in order to allow the bike trail to move forward.

“After a comprehensive three-month review of all aspects of the issue, the SORTA Board has overwhelmingly endorsed the concept of a temporary bike trail on the Oasis Line,” said Jason Dunn, Chair of the SORTA Board. “We will do all in our power to work collaboratively with our partners to support the development of the trail.”

The 4.75-mile section of trail will complete the Ohio River Trail on the city’s east side. This segment is estimated to cost $4 million, of which $1 million has already been raised by Ohio River Way. Other portions of the Ohio River Trail, which connects to the Little Miami Scenic Trail, have been completed in a piecemeal fashion over the years.

Project supporters say that if everything goes smoothly, the multipurpose trail could open as early as 2017.

“The trail is an asset that the community clearly wants and it will be an enhancement to multimodal transportation in the region,” Dunn stated in a prepared media release.

SORTA officials say the next steps call for working out regulatory issues with federal agencies, and coming up with a design for the trail that is both safe and amenable to G&W.

While this move may hamper future efforts of developing commuter rail along this corridor, SORTA officials structured the agreement to allow for future flexibility. This includes the design of what the transit agency is calling a “temporary trail” that does not preclude from future passenger rail service along the Oasis Line.

To some passenger rail advocates, however, the prospect of the Oasis Line going away is a good one.

“The riverfront is a perfect place for a recreational trail, while light rail transit would be better-suited serving our neighborhoods,” Derek Bauman, Chair of Cincinnatians for Progress and SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, told UrbanCincy. “We should move forward with this plan to complete the Ohio River Trail, and then shift our attention to developing a recreational trail and light rail line along the Wasson Corridor.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: In August 2010, UrbanCincy provided an in-depth look at the plans for the Oasis Line. Then in February 2012, UrbanCincy published a controversial editorial that called for a new vision with the Oasis Line being utilized as a trail, and the Wasson Line as a combined trail and light rail corridor.

Asian-American Leaders Gather in Cincinnati for 25th NAAAP National Leadership Academy

The National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) came to Cincinnati for their 25th National Leadership Academy from March 6 to 8.

Designed for NAAAP chapter leaders from more than 20 cities in the United States and Canada, this marked the first time the non-profit organization hosted their annual leadership development training in Cincinnati.

With innovative breakout sessions and expert panels that helped individuals develop their personal and organizational leadership skills, attendees said they felt motivated after having the opportunity to meet and build connections with leaders from across the nation with a variety of professional and ethnic backgrounds.

“Our vision is to build a strong, influential community of Asian American professionals in Southwest Ohio through professional development, community service and networking opportunities.” Tessa Xuan, Academy Director of NAAAP Cincinnati, told UrbanCincy. “We will become stronger and more efficient being together.”

NAAAP invited corporate employees and leaders to participate in a leadership symposium on Friday that focused on how to effectively run Asian American employee resource groups, which Xuan says attracted more than 70 group leaders from dozens of companies around the country.

The two-day conference was opened by Dennis Hirotsu, Vice President of Corporate Research & Development at P&G, and University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono. Hirotsu gave brief opening remarks about the role companies have played in improving the diversity of Cincinnati, while President Ono gave a riveting speech about the progress and importance of embracing diversity and different leadership styles.

Both speakers discussed the issues from a distinctively Cincinnati perspective. At approximately 2% of the total population, Asians make up less of Cincinnati’s regional makeup than the 5.6% national average. With Asians now making up 36% of all new immigrants to America, the largest of any group, NAAAP Cincinnati leadership sees a bright future, especially when considering their growing membership and increasingly active and visible local community.

Xuan says she is also hopeful that the opportunities made available through NAAAP Cincinnati will help make the community even stronger.

“NAAAP offers a diverse range of professional development programs on the local and national level, engages its membership in community service, and organizes professional networking events,” she explained. “While we have a lot of contacts in big companies, we certainly do not want to miss anyone in our community.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: NAAAP Cincinnati hosted an open forum, called The Urban Asia, this past December. The event was moderated by UrbanCincy‘s John Yung, and focused how the Asian community can play a greater role in the many physical changes happening throughout the city.

Those interested in getting involved with NAAAP Cincinnati can do so by contacting staff@naaapcincy.org.

Cincy Red Bike users can use Dayton’s new Link Bike Share when it launches in May

While Cincy Red Bike is expanding and celebrating higher than expected ridership in its first six months, Dayton is preparing to launch a 24-station bike share system of its own. Link Bike Share is expected to begin operations in May and will also be part of the national B-Cycle network – meaning that Cincy Red Bike members can also use their memberships when in Dayton. More from WDTN:

Mayor Nan Whaley was the first to buy a Link membership. The first 100 members will get $10 off of the $65 dollar membership. Otherwise, renting a bike for 24 hours will cost $5, but will need to be ‘checked-in’ every 30 minutes at any kiosk. Link will be the 31st bike share program system in the country when it launches in May.

Transit Ridership Inches Forward in Ohio’s Largest Metropolitan Centers

While transit ridership nationwide inched upward and reached its highest level in more than a half century, it remained flat in Ohio’s two largest metropolitan regions.

According to new data released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), transit ridership in both Cincinnati and Cleveland remained essentially unchanged from 2013 to 2014. With a 3% ridership gain over the previous year, Columbus bucked the trend and posted the fifth highest bus ridership gain nationally.

“In 2014, people took a record 10.8 billion trips on public transportation — the highest annual ridership number in 58 years,” said Phillip Washington, APTA Chair and CEO & General Manager of the Regional Transportation District in Denver. “Some public transit systems experienced all-time record high ridership last year.”

In a nod to Columbus, Washington said that the increases were not just relegated to large cites, but were found in smaller and medium size communities as well. But according to Streetsblog USA, an UrbanCincy content partner, the national increases can be largely attributed to the large gains in New York City, which accounts for roughly 25% of American transit ridership.

Growth in transit ridership is expected to continue in the years ahead as dozens of cities throughout the United States build out regional rail networks and implement new bus services. In Cincinnati, that includes new services operating out of the recently opened Uptown Transit District and the forthcoming Northside Transit Center and Walnut Hills Transit District.

The opening of the first leg of the Cincinnati Streetcar is also expected to boost ridership in 2016. Until then, Cleveland will remain as the only city in Ohio to have both bus and rail offerings. Not surprisingly, Cleveland’s transit usage dwarfs that of both Cincinnati and Columbus.

While year-over-year ridership only increased nationally by 1%, that gain is seen as encouraging since it occurred at the same time as prices for gasoline plummeted. Transportation officials see continued transit ridership growth, in addition to VMT growth for the first time in nearly a decade, as a clear indication of a much stronger economy where more people are employed.

“Since nearly 60 % of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, public transportation ridership increases are seen in areas where the local economy is growing,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

In spite of Cincinnati’s growing economy, transit ridership actually posted a slight loss. That loss, however, is in line with national bus ridership trends. While Cincinnati saw an annual decrease of 1.8%, bus ridership across the country also experienced a 1.1% decline. All modes of rail transit, meanwhile, posted gains, which now accounts for 46% of all trips made by transit.

Light rail systems posted the biggest annual gain of 3.6%, while heavy rail and commuter rail added riders by 3.3% and 2.9%, respectively.

“People are changing their travel behavior and want more travel options,” Melaniphy concluded. “In the past people had a binary choice. You either took public transit, most likely a bus, or you drove a car. Now there are multiple options with subways, light rail, streetcars, commuter trains, buses, ferries, cars and shared use vehicles.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: APTA’s annual report does not include ridership data for the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK), which provides approximately 3.8 million trips annually. For the purposes of this analysis, UrbanCincy has used a constant 3.8 million annual trips from TANK in the Cincinnati totals presented in the above chart.

Connecting Cincinnati With What’s Happening ‘Inside The Beltway’

The dome of the United States Capitol, one of the most recognizable landmarks in our nation’s capital, is currently under construction. Scaffolding is draped against it, as the Capitol Dome is in the process of being restored. Many would argue that the scene of construction is an apt metaphor for what is happening in Congress today.

By many accounts, the Congress is broken—plagued by soaring partisanship, ineffective leadership, and near historically low levels of public approval. Despite all these things, the federal government is as important as ever to the well-being of states and municipalities.

Aside from the billions of dollars that make their way from the federal government’s coffers to localities each and every year, how does the federal government truly matter to the lives of people in Cincinnati? Washington is so far removed both physically and culturally from most of the country that many people feel both disconnected from and discouraged by the political process that they see as out of their control.

Many argue that the government that governs closest governs best, but that is not always the case, particularly when it comes to truly monumental issues. Besides the lack of fiscal capacity, states and municipalities are often strategically disincentivized to handle these issues alone.

This might include something like the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge, which has stakeholders in Kentucky and Ohio in a tizzy over how to reach a solution to fortify one of the Cincinnati regional economy’s most important assets. It might also include issues that seem far away, like climate change. In this case, no one individual actor has the appropriate role or responsibility to deal with problems of such a large magnitude.

From many people we are one. And there may not be a better time than now to be reminded that what happens in the city along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers has the potential to have a large effect on what goes on in a city along the banks of the Ohio River. Our government is a federalist system with power devolving from the top, and where even the smallest of decisions can have large and far-reaching implications.

Bruce Katz of Washington’s Brookings Institution, one of the city’s most venerable think tanks, has said on many occasions that “the cavalry (the federal government) is not coming…we (state and local governments) are on our own.” While I agree with his sentiment that there is much more that the federal government could be doing to help improve cities and regions.

In future writings I hope to illuminate some of the implications, both big and small, of federal action to show the power of decisions that happen in Washington matter for the places we call home. In addition, I hope to provide more of a data-informed perspective to the issues of the day in Cincinnati, and use this space as a platform to elevate the discussion around the importance of community-level data to better understand our regions, cities and neighborhoods.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Ben Robinson is a Cincinnati native that currently lives in Washington, DC, where he does not work for the federal government. He currently works as a data analyst for the Washington DC School System. As our new Washington correspondent, Ben will be covering topics from Capitol Hill for UrbanCincy as they relate to local issues and projects.

Ben is a graduate of Walnut Hills High School, and holds a BA in economics and urban studies from the University of Pittsburgh, and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Southern California. In addition to Cincinnati and Washington DC, Ben has also lived in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.