Cincinnati Fares Poorly When Examining Centralization of Jobs Throughout Region

A December 2014 Salon article, using statistics from an April, 2013 Brookings Institute report shed light on an increasingly-present paradox in the American economy – America’s next generation of workers prefers urban living, but jobs tend to be decentralized and located far from most region’s urban center.

The report found that from 2000 to 2007 the share of jobs located within two miles of a major urban area’s central business district declined 2%; and that by 2010, a nationwide average of 43% of jobs were located at least 10 miles from the CBD. Only 24% of jobs, meanwhile, were located within two miles of most regions’ primary downtown.

The pattern is more acute in Cincinnati than in most other metropolitan areas, where a robust urban turnaround has been taking place. Compared to the national average of 22.9%, only 17.7% of the region’s jobs were located within three miles of the CBD, which in Cincinnati’s case would also include Uptown. Furthermore, 52.8% of the region’s jobs, approximately 452,000, lie between 10 and 35 miles from downtown.

In the first decade of the new century, which was defined nationally by the huge job losses of the Great Recession, the Cincinnati region lost a total of 76,845 jobs. Of those, 67,122 were within 10 miles of the CBD. While total jobs declined 8.2%, the jobs within 10 to 35 miles of downtown Cincinnati increased 3.3%, with both other areas experiencing declines.

While these recent gains tend to buck the national trend, the Cincinnati region’s employment remains more sprawled than the average American metropolitan area. But while the region has fewer jobs than average within 10 miles its CBD, the Cincinnati region has more jobs within 10 to 35 miles than all but three Midwestern regions (Detroit – 77.4%, Chicago – 67.4%, St. Louis – 62.1%). Columbus and Cleveland come in at 35.4% and 46.5%, respectively.

What this seems to indicate is that Cincinnati has a lower reliance on jobs from manufacturing and agricultural industries than most of its Midwestern peers.

The Brookings Institute went on to find that the Great Recession stalled this trend across the board, as hard-hit industries like manufacturing and retail tend to be the most decentralized. Yet, from 2000 to 2010, 91 of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation saw the number of jobs within three miles of their CBD decline.

Washington, DC, which serves as a national economic outlier for its massive job and wage growth, was the only metropolitan area that saw downtown jobs rise as both a percentage and gross number.

Researchers say that the land-use and zoning policies of each metropolitan area affect the geographical characteristics of jobs within that area. While metropolitan areas with over 500,000 jobs tend to be more decentralized, large metropolitan regions like Chicago, Atlanta or Detroit include large secondary clusters of employment outside of their traditional downtown.

While talented young workers increasingly show their preference for walkable urban communities, jobs continue to decentralize throughout the United States. This distribution creates problems for the region in terms of building and maintaining infrastructure. It also does not bode well for more sprawled regions, like Cincinnati, in terms of being able to attract a new workforce to take the place of aging Baby Boomers.

Wanderu Introduces One-Stop Booking Site for Intercity Bus, Train Operators

For years, travelers have been able to compare prices and schedules between multiple airlines in one place by using sites like Kayak.com. With the rising popularity of intercity bus options like Megabus and BoltBus, it has been a wonder why a similar functionality was not in place for those modes of transportation.

Until recently, there was no site that offered this service. Comparing these providers required making a separate trip to each company’s website – much like one must make separate trips to each individual carrier’s terminal or station.

Wanderu, however, was launched in 2012 and solves this problem by aggregating schedules from dozens of bus and rail services, including Amtrak, Boltbus, Megabus, and Greyhound. Wanderu originally focused on the northeastern United States but the site’s coverage now stretches across the country. After launching services in the Midwest in August of last year, co-founder Polina Raygorodskaya reached out to UrbanCincy to explain how it all works.

“Wanderu is the simplest way to find and book bus and train travel,” Raygorodskaya wrote. “We are the first ever comprehensive ground travel search in North America and have partnerships with Megabus, Greyhound, Boltbus and over 28 other major brands to help millions of people find and book the best trip at the best price in just a few clicks.”

We recently tested out the site by looking for travel options from Cincinnati to Cleveland on the morning of Monday, March 9. As a comparison, we also searched Kayak.com for flights on the same date.

Wanderu presented us with several Greyhound and Megabus options, with prices starting at just $1 and a travel time of around five hours. On the other hand, the cheapest flight available was $221 on US Airways, and still took over 9 hours as it required two layovers. The cheapest flight with only one layover was $284; and there were oddly no direct flights available for this busy route.

We also searched Wanderu for trips to other destinations, and were able to find service from additional carriers such as Barons Bus Lines.

While the service is akin to Expedia, it is a bit different in that when you select a trip on Wanderu you are sent off to the carrier’s website to make the purchase. Raygorodskaya says this is because Wanderu is not set up to handle the financial transaction.

An added convenience that could be added is the ability to book all aspects of a trip, including hotels and rental cars, the same way that sites like Kayak.com or Expedia allow. An even better service might be to create an integrated search of all travel options – bus, rail, and air – so that users can compare them side-by-side.

Until then, if you are looking to take a trip without the hassles of airport security and expensive in-flight wi-fi, you can search Wanderu to find the bus or rail option that best fits your needs.

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.”

Ruling From Judge Stich Potentially Very Damaging for Local Governments in Ohio

Cincinnati Streetcar Phase 1 RouteThe Business Courier reported yesterday that Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Carl Stich (R) ruled that the City of Cincinnati must pay for the relocation of Duke Energy’s utilities along the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system.

As learned from a leaked internal memo last December, this decision was expected by city officials who will now be on the hook for an additional $15 million in costs – expenses that will be covered by the project’s existing contingency fund.

In Stich’s ruling, he cited an Ohio Supreme Court case from 1955, Speeth v. Carney, that stated government-owned transit systems are proprietary functions, not government ones. This is important because that is what lays the foundation for Stich’s ruling, but also sets a potentially far-reaching precedence for what costs local governments are expected to bear when making infrastructure investments.

As a result, former city solicitor John Curp says that Cincinnati should appeal the ruling.

“The troubling element of the ruling for local governments is that the court looked under the hood of the streetcar and based its decision on one debated effect of the project rather than principal operation of the project, which is transportation,” Curp told the Business Courier – an UrbanCincy content partner. “Nearly every government project is justified as an economic development project. If applied more broadly, this decision could add significant costs to local government infrastructure projects.”

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black seems to agree, and says that the city will in fact appeal the ruling.

Furthermore, Judge Stich did address the fact that the rulings used to make his decision were quite old and rendered during a time when private companies owned and operated public transit systems. This is a notable difference from today where that is largely non-existent, and would seemingly change the entire discussion in a case of this nature.

“The court noted that the case it found controlling was an anachronism to a bygone era where private companies ran public transportation,” Curp said. “The current reality is that government heavily subsidizes almost all forms of public transportation. No one mistakes public transportation as a proprietary, money-making venture. An appeal would help ensure that all local governments are working on equal footing and none have a competitive advantage on costs for new infrastructure projects”

In addition to Duke Energy, there are a half-dozen other utility companies that are within the project area, but all of those companies had come to terms with the City prior to the commencement of construction. The question now is what financial obligations, if any, those companies will have on future infrastructure projects pursued by City Hall.

Furthermore, the decision shines an interesting light on how infrastructure projects and their associated costs are rarely neatly defined. These utility costs, for example, are being covered through the budget for the streetcar, but have nothing to do with rail transit. In fact, a large sum of the budget for the Cincinnati Streetcar is actually allocated to things that have nothing to do (e.g. buried utilities, utility upgrades and relocations, and road resurfacing) with the direct construction or operation of the transit system.

The project, however, brings up a very convenient and cost-effective time in which to make such improvements. As has been discovered thus far, many of these improvements have been sorely needed. In Over-the-Rhine, for example, broken water mains, wooden pipes and other outdated infrastructure has been discovered and either repaired or upgraded as a result of the project.

This is a coup for any utility company that can have the cost of upgrading their systems shouldered by the taxpayers, instead of their ratepayers, as such is the case in this Duke Energy example.

Since much of the costs for the project are related to non-streetcar items, it seems to lean toward Curp’s concern of the ruling being applied more broadly.

“The case is also important for other cities in Ohio,” said City Manager Black. “The decision may ultimately dictate who pays for local infrastructure improvements that require the movement of utilities on public property: the taxpayers or the utility.”

With an appeal forthcoming, it appears that lawyers will continue to reap the benefits of this political battle. Meanwhile, construction progresses on the Cincinnati Streetcar project on-time and on-budget.

Why did so few people vote in Tuesday’s election?

Election day was a great day for Republicans. It was was not, however, a good day for our democracy. President Obama notably commented on the fact that two-thirds of the nation chose not to participate in the election in his remarks the day after results came in. But perhaps most depressing is that Ohio set a record for the lowest turnout in history for a gubernatorial election. More from the Columbus Dispatch:

Ohio just set a modern record low for turnout in a gubernatorial election. And it wasn’t even close. Although provisional ballots and some absentees remain to be counted, the rate with all precincts reporting election-night totals to the secretary of state’s office is 39.99 percent.

The previous low since statewide voter registration data have been kept (1978) was 47.18 percent, when Republican Gov. Bob Taft won an easy re-election victory in 2002.