You can thank Congress for all those tolls that will soon hit the Cincinnati region

This should be a wake-up call for not just the lawmakers who have failed to raise the gas tax since 1993 or peg it to inflation, but also every voter. Locally we hear constantly from the group opposed to the use of tolls to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge or I-75 reconstruction, but the Highway Trust Fund has been bankrupt for many years and surviving on bailouts from Congress year-after-year.

Yes, of course it’s far past time to raise the artificially low gas tax, but it is also time to change the way in which we collect funds to maintain our system and add to its capacity. Instead of a simple tax on gasoline consumption, we should move to a tax that charges people based on how much they use our roadways, not how much they consume gasoline. More from The Hill:

The Department of Transportation (DOT) on Tuesday moved up its projected bankruptcy date for the trust fund that is used to pay for road and transit projects, saying it will now run dry by the end of August. The DOT has warned that the transportation funding shortfall could force state and local governments to cancel infrastructure projects scheduled to begin this summer because federal money will not be able to assist with construction costs.

The Highway Trust Fund is normally filled by revenue collected by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The gas tax has not be increased since 1993 and infrastructure expenses have outpaced receipts by about $20 billion in recent years as Americans drive less frequently and cars become more fuel efficient. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that lawmakers will have to authorize $100 billion in new spending in addition to the $34 billion that is expected to brought in annually by the gas tax to approve a new six-year transportation bill, which is the length being sought by infrastructure advocates.

The suburbanization and segregation of American cities didn’t happen by chance

Most urban planners are taught that public policies, in addition to free market choice, led to the suburbanization, and thus segregation, of most American cities. In fact, some argue that public policies had a far greater role in influencing this migration than anything else. More from the Washington Post:

Suburbs didn’t become predominantly white and upper income thanks solely to market forces and consumer preferences. Inner city neighborhoods didn’t become home to poor minority communities purely through the random choices of minorities to live there. Economic and racial segregation didn’t just arise out of the decisions of millions of families to settle, by chance, here instead of there.

The geography that we have today — where poverty clusters alongside poverty, while the better-off live in entirely different school districts — is in large part a product of deliberate policies and government investments. The creation of the Interstate highway system enabled white flight. The federal mortgage interest deduction subsidized middle-income families buying homes there. For three decades, the Federal Housing Administration had separate underwriting standards for mortgages in all-white neighborhoods and all-black ones, institutionalizing the practice of “redlining.” That policy ended in the 1960s, but the patterns it reinforced didn’t end with it.

“Exclusionary zoning” to this day prevents the construction of modest or more affordable housing in many communities. Decisions about where to create and whether to fund transit perpetuate these divides. Government ideas about how to house the poor lead to Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini-Green, and then government’s fleeting commitment to those projects led to their disintegration.

Metro Has Begun Installing New 24-Hour Ticketing Kiosks Throughout City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has made a new push to expand ticket and stored-value cards by adding new locations and options for riders to make their purchases.

The first announcement was that Metro would begin selling passes at Cincinnati City Hall, starting April 1, inside the city’s Treasury Department in Room 202. The sales office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and will offer Zone 1 and 2 Metro 30-day rolling passes, $20 stored-value cards and Metro/TANK passes.

The new location marks the twelfth sales office for Metro including three others Downtown and locations in Walnut Hills, Tri-County, Western Hills, North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Roselawn, College Hill and Avondale.

The region’s largest transit agency also installed its first ticket vending machine. The new kiosk is located at Government Square and is available for use 24 hours a day. The machine only accepts cash and credit cards, and offers Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards.

According to Metro officials, this is the first of more ticketing machines to come with the stations in the Uptown Transit District to be the next locations to get them. Future additions, officials say, will be chosen based on the amount of ridership at given transit hubs throughout the system.

The new sales options come after Metro introduced a new electronic fare payment system in 2011. The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.

While the new initiatives show progress for the 41-year-old transit agency, they also show just how far behind the times it is.

The best fare payment systems in the world are tap and go systems that allow riders to charge their cards with whatever value they would like, thus eliminating any confusion of needing specific cards for certain time periods or values. Such cards also allow for perfect interoperability between various modes of transport including bus, rail, ferry, bikeshare and taxi.

In other instances, like Seoul’s T-Money Card and London’s Oyster Card, the systems even allow for the tap and go payment systems to accept credit cards and bank cards enabled with the technology – totally eliminating any barrier for potential riders wary of signing up for a new card they may not use all that often.

Similar to the fare payment cards, the new ticketing machines are outdated on arrival. Transit agencies throughout the United States that have had ticketing machines for years, like Chicago and New York, are currently in the process of transitioning to touch screen kiosks that are more user-friendly.

The dirty truth behind transit park and rides

Following the decade-long debate over the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, the region seems to be back on-board with the idea of regional transit. Heck, even The Enquirer is hosting regular visioning sessions about regional transit these days. As an updated regional plan is developed, let’s be wary about the purported benefits of large park and ride stations touting their “free” parking. More from streets.mn:

In Minneapolis, we’re lucky to have anything more than a sign at our transit stops. We have plenty of room for improvement for our local service. But we instead choose to binge on ridership growth on the fringe, no matter how much money it costs us to “buy” those riders. Yet there are opportunity costs: For less than the cost of two Maplewood park & rides serving up to (2×580=) 1160 parked cars, we’re building a full Arterial BRT line on Snelling Avenue scheduled to open next year. Those improvements will serve an estimated ridership of 8,700. And, unlike additional parking spaces, these amenities serve all riders (not just the 3,000 new ones). This is 7.5 times more productive than the same investment in parking.

It’s not wise for our transit strategy to attract ridership at all costs by subsidizing car storage. Nor is it fair to transit riders who, by their own choice, pay the same fare but do not consume the same expensive parking spaces.

What would moving Hamilton County BOE mean for those without cars?

Unsurprisingly, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has sided with his fellow Republicans in Hamilton County and cleared the way for Hamilton County’s Board of Election offices to move from Downtown to Mt. Airy. The ruling came as a result of the Hamilton County BOE’s deadlocked vote on the matter, which went along party lines.

Such a move will not happen for several years, but when it does it will make Hamilton County the only urban county in Ohio without its election offices located in its downtown.

Democrats seem to fear that the move will make early voting more difficult for the tens of thousands of residents who do not own a car. Republicans, on the other hand, seem giddy with the prospect of the new site being surrounded by an abundance of “free” surface parking options.

So what would the move mean for those living without a car in Hamilton County? In short, it would make voting a lot more difficult – especially for those in the eastern part of the county. It would also mean that the elections office and lone early voting location for Hamilton County would be moving further away from the population center and where most people work.

Those coming from the transit center at Anderson Towne Centre would see a four-hour round-trip, if they made all of their transfers seamlessly and nothing ran behind schedule. Those in the center city, the most densely populated area in the county, would need to block out several hours to account for the two-hour round-trip journey from Government Square.

If you are trying to get to the new Mt. Airy location from the Glenway Crossing Transit Center, Uptown Transit District or Kenwood Towne Center, your travel time would largely remain unchanged. That is if those people lived within a close walk to those transit centers like those near Government Square. The reality is that each of those three areas are much less walkable and would take considerable time accessing on their own right, thus adding significantly more time to the journey.

Cincinnati Population Density Cincinnati Employment Density

Should Greg Hartmann (R), Chris Monzel (R) and Alex Triantafilou (R) move forward with this it will in fact make the elections office and lone early voting location more accessible for those with cars in the western and northern parts of Hamilton County. It would also, however, make it less accessible for those with cars in the central and eastern parts of the county, and also worse for those without a car at all.

What is troublesome is that those with a car have access to the existing site. Yes, they may have to pay to park, but that is a minor inconvenience that absolutely must be weighed against creating hours-long journeys for those without a car.

The burden would be shifted to those who already have the least in our community. We hope Hartmann, Monzel and Triantafilou realize this would be morally wrong and decide to keep non-back office and early voting operations of the Hamilton County Board of Elections downtown.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Abandonment of Cincinnati’s 1914 Subway and Rapid Transit Loop

Cincinnati’s abandoned rapid transit project is a subject of continual interest. Although many are familiar with the unused two-mile tunnel beneath Central Parkway, little remains of the ten miles of surface-running right-of-way built in the mid-1920s between Camp Washington and Norwood.

This graphic by Andy Woodruff, from the UW-Madison Department of Geography, illustrates which sections of the so-called Rapid Transit Loop were built, which parts were replaced by expressways, and which parts were planned but not funded and built.

Cincinnati Subway System

So why was the Rapid Transit Loop started but not completed?

The project had several forces working against it, especially wealthy Downtown landowners who stood to lose money and influence if the city’s most valuable property shifted from Fountain Square north to Central Parkway. The likelihood of that happening was heightened by the Rapid Transit Commission’s decision to forego construction of the Walnut Street Subway as part of the project’s first phase.

Those who owned property lining Central Parkway knew that construction of a tunnel under Mt. Adams, linking the Loop’s never-built eastern half, would likely cost less than construction of the Walnut Street Subway and cause the loop’s traffic to bypass the city’s established epicenter entirely.

The second interest acting to scuttle the subway project was the consortium of seven steam railroads that commenced construction of Cincinnati’s spectacular Union Terminal in 1929.

An ancillary feature of the Rapid Transit Loop was its intention to serve the area’s electric interurban railroads at a multi-track terminal centered beneath the intersection of Race Street and Central Parkway. The interurban terminal’s more convenient location promised to erode the redundant services of the steam railroads.

Editorial Note: In addition to focusing on UrbanCincy’s transportation coverage, Jake authored a book about Cincinnati’s infamously abandoned subway and rapid transit project. First published in 2010, Cincinnati’s Incomplete Subway: The Complete History is considered to be the most comprehensive analysis of the events leading up to and after one of the city’s most notorious missteps.