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.”

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.

Transit Users Will Need 7 Hours to Commute to ODOT Public Transit Meeting

An event making the rounds on social media hosted by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) provides an opportunity for citizens to tell Governor John Kasich’s (R) administration about public transportation improvements they’d like to see in their city. The public meeting to discuss statewide transit needs is hosted on Friday, October 31 from 10am to 12pm at the Warren County OhioMeansJobs Center in Lebanon.

While the gathering has good intention, it fails to meet the basic criteria of planning a public involvement meeting:

  1. Never host a public meeting on a holiday.
  2. Never host a public meeting on a Friday or weekend.
  3. The location of a public meeting should be accessible to all members of the community and able to attract a diverse group of citizens.

By car, Lebanon is roughly a one hour drive north of Cincinnati, and a 30-minute drive south from Dayton. It’s also the city where the regional ODOT office is located; understandably why the administration would opt to hold a public involvement meeting here. What went unconsidered are the needs of people that the public meeting is focused on: citizens reliant on public transportation.

The closest Metro bus stop to Lebanon is 8.3 miles away, near Kings Island in Mason. Let’s say we’re feeling ambitious and attempt to take the bus, then bicycle the remaining journey to Lebanon. It would take 48 minutes to cycle to the meeting in addition to the 1 hour, 11 minute ride on the bus. Cincinnati Metro, the region’s bus system, only offers select service to the northern suburbs. In order to arrive on time for the 10am meeting, a person dependent on transit would have to catch the 71x at 7:45am, arrive in Mason at 8:52am, then continue to the meeting on bicycle.

Getting back home is another story. The public involvement meeting adjourns at 12pm, but the bus route that services Mason is a job connection bus, meaning it only runs traditional hours when people are going to and from work. After another 48 minutes of cycling back to the bus stop, the inbound 71x picks up shortly after 3pm and returns to Cincinnati at 4:40pm.

In summary, if a citizen dependent on bus transportation wishes to give ODOT their input, they would spend 7 hours commuting to the two hour meeting, and need to able-bodied to ride a bicycle for eight miles. What about senior citizens and people with disabilities? Who can afford to take an entire day off work to attend a meeting? As a transit rider who has a car, driving an hour each way to attend the meeting –in the middle of the work day– for me, is inconvenient and unfeasible.

The poor choice of trying to combine Cincinnati and Dayton into one meeting was an unfortunate oversight in event planning. Instead, meetings should be hosted in the downtown of each city, just like they have been in Columbus and Cleveland which are also participating in the ODOT series.

Since 2011, Governor Kasich has cut $4 million from the state’s public transit budget, leaving Ohio with one of the lowest funded transit systems in the country. If there’s a genuine interest in hearing how those cuts affect the people that rely on public transportation the most, the administration needs to schedule a second meeting in Cincinnati near Government Square where those people can actually get to.

Of course, this isn’t the first time area transit users have been ignored when it comes to public meeting locations. Earlier this year, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) upheld a decision to relocate Hamilton County’s Board of Elections office to a location that would take up to four hours to access by transit.

16-Bit Bar+Arcade to Open Largest-Ever Location in OTR at Mercer Commons

Troy Allen announced through our friends up north at Columbus Underground that the wildly popular 16-Bit Bar+Arcade will open a Cincinnati location in 2015.

The Columbus-based business opened its first “barcade” to overflowing crowds late last summer and added a Cleveland-area bar in Lakewood earlier this year.

It’s the kind of place that is perfect for those that want to cherish their memories of the late 1980s. Not only do the arcade games date back to that time, but the cocktails served at 16-Bit Bar+Arcade also take their names from the icons of that era.

While there is no food provided, Allen says that customers are always able to bring food in from neighboring restaurants. That means that you can hang out, eat and drink inside while playing throwback arcade games and enjoying music and television from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“It’s a throwback concept; when you step inside, you’re really immersing yourself in the ’80s and early ’90s,” Allen explained. “It’s next to impossible not to smile about something.”

The barcade would have opened in Over-the-Rhine even sooner had 3CDC had its way, but the owners were not quite ready for expansion a year ago. Allen did say, however, that they have been looking at spaces in Over-the-Rhine for the past year; and that he’s happy to finally have the paperwork signed.

Occupying 4,300 square feet at Mercer Commons, the Cincinnati location will be the largest 16-Bit to-date. Allen says that it will have almost the same style as their locations in Columbus and Cleveland; and that they will have the same amount of arcade games, but with a bit more room to move around. Located at the corner of Walnut and Mercer Streets, the location will also have garage doors that open up along Mercer.

“We are dedicated to giving everyone that walks through our door a killer experience while exceeding their expectations,” Allen said. “We truly appreciate the feedback and input, we will continue to evolve and refine the business to meet as many expectations as possible.”

Once open, 16-Bit Bar+Arcade will be open Monday through Friday from 4pm to 2:30am, and Saturday to Sunday from 12pm to 2:30am. The owners are aiming to open up sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All five photos were taken by Flickr user Sam Howzit in July 2014.

Federal Reserve Data Reveals Cincinnati Economy is Out-Performing Regionally, Lagging Nationally

New data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, which covers Ohio, western Pennsylvania, the West Virginia panhandle, and the eastern half of Kentucky, provides a glimpse into the recovery and transition of the region’s economy.

According to the newly released data, spanning from 2001 to 2012, this Federal Reserve region has weathered an incredibly tumultuous 11 years.

“Historically, much of the region has specialized in manufacturing, a sector that has been particularly hard hit over the past few decades,” noted Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland research analyst Matthew Klesta in his data brief. “Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, however, the decline in manufacturing employment has slowed. In some places, employment has even grown.”

Since the first year of recorded information in this data set, all 17 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in the region, with the exception of Wheeling, WV, saw losses in manufacturing employment – the region’s historical economic stalwart. MSAs like Dayton and Steubenville posted losses of almost 50%. Cincinnati, meanwhile, saw its manufacturing sector decline by nearly 25% – a mark that is low by regional standards.

International trends in trade in the early 2000s, like China’s entry into the WTO and the increase of offshoring from developed to developing nations, combined with the Great Recession, dealt a critical blow to the area’s manufacturing sector. Excluding education and health services, every other industry in the region saw significant jumps in the annual percentage of jobs being lost during the Great Recession.

For example, between 2001 and 2007 the average loss per annum for the manufacturing sector was a little less than 3%; but from 2008-2009 it jumped to nearly 7%. Since the Great Recession, however, many MSAs in the area have posted modest gains in manufacturing employment, while still falling well below baseline levels in 2001.

While the manufacturing sector has declined throughout this Federal Reserve region, health and education sectors have grown. Despite a nationwide average of 1.2 health and education service jobs gained per 1 manufacturing job lost, only four MSAs in the region (Cincinnati, Columbus, Huntington, Pittsburgh) can boast an overall replacement of lost manufacturing jobs with health and education employment.

The replacement of manufacturing jobs with health and education employment does not bode well for the region’s workers. According to the data, the health and education sectors pay, on average ($44,000 in 2012), significantly less than manufacturing ($55,000 in 2012).

But while this changing economic landscape has meant a smaller presence for manufacturing in the region, this Federal Reserve Bank region continues to be highly specialized in that economic sector. Perhaps as a result, population loss continues to plague many MSAs within the region.

From 2001-2011, while the national population grew by 10% the regional population posted an average gain of only 1.6%. In fact, only five (Cincinnati, Huntington, Akron, Columbus, Lexington) of the 17 MSAs in the region saw their population rise over that time period. Of those five metropolitan areas, only two (Lexington and Columbus) posted gains in both population and private-sector employment.

Pittsburgh and Wheeling, meanwhile, managed to post positive gains in private-sector employment while still shedding population. The remaining 10 MSAs all posted losses in private-sector employment and population.