My Response

This is a response to this post and this post.

Dear Sir,

I would like to clarify some points you have made about the Cincinnati Streetcar. The Streetcar will increase economic development, help raise support for public transportation throughout the City, and be the first step in larger transportation solution for our region.

First you claim it will not serve enough people, however Phase One of the Cincinnati Streetcar will serve a great many people. Namely the more than 8 million visitors to Downtown Cincinnati per year, around 500,000 conventioneers per year, around 450,000 non-convention hotel visitors per year, 65,000 daily workers of the Central Business District, around 15,000 people who live within a few blocks of the Streetcar, and the workers of OTR, a number I was unable to find.

You state “the grand majority of people who use public transit in the city are people who cannot afford public transportation.” Although I have not seen data to support this position, it may very well be true. However, a successful system needs broad based public support. The middle class must buy into a successful public transportation system or it will never be effective.

The public transportation system of a city needs to cater to all of its demographics; otherwise it will be difficult to find funding with only a limited amount of support. Rail attracts more riders of choice than buses. People who will never ride a bus will ride a train. The director of Seattle’s Department of Transportation has stated, “what we’ve found with streetcars, [is that] people who might not use other public transportation will ride on streetcars.” This is due to both cultural reasons, and also because rail simply provides better quality of service. Rail is more reliable and frequent than bus service, it provides a smoother ride than buses, and the routes are more clearly visible to a rider unfamiliar with the system.

Consider the state of public transportation in America. All of the cities with great public transportation have rail. I struggle to think of one ‘bus only city’ that has public transportation anywhere near the quality of New York, Chicago, Boston, DC, or any other city with rail—perhaps Madison, Wisconsin. However, Madison 1) has streetcars, light rail, and commuter rail proposed currently and 2) has a population of 208,903, of those around 42,000 are college students. Regardless, it is an exception at best and clearly not the rule.

You state “Clifton has always been a home for students first and everyone else second.” Even if true, students are likely to not have automobiles—especially those living on campus. A reason that Clifton may be “for students first” is the high cost of parking on campus and relative lack of transportation to and from school. The Streetcar will allow greater numbers of students to live Downtown, or in other places along the line and allow Clifton to return to a more balanced neighborhood.

You state the “Streetcar is not serving major areas that see high traffic, including:

Clifton- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area, available at

Ludlow/Hamilton Ave- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area

Queensgate- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area

Price Hill- Grade issues make Streetcar service difficult, but long range plans contemplate Streetcar service for the area [unable to find map]

Reading Road- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area, or this area would be an alternative route to Uptown.

Bond Hill- No Streetcar service is being considered for Bond Hill at present

Avondale- Plans call for the Streetcar to service this area.

The majority of places you state will not have streetcar service have planned streetcar service.

You state, “the fact the map highlights connects to restaurants and arts venues only reinforces the tourism focus.” This is not the case, although tourist will enjoy riding the Streetcar. The restaurants and art venues are listed to show some of the numerous destinations along the Streetcar line. Even if the Streetcar were designed to serve tourists, tourism is an industry that Cincinnati could and should grow to create more revenues to provide better services to those who live in all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

You state, “if the Streetcar is going to be an effective local tool, then it should go after those people who need public transit the most” later on, you also state the Streetcar is a “tool of gentrification” that will “push people out of their own neighborhoods.” This interpretation would mean that a Streetcar could not be built anywhere in the city. If built in a rich neighborhood, it would fail to serve those who need public transit the most, but if built in a poor neighborhood, it would displace the residents by “bring[ing] a lot of development.” In a middle class neighborhood, it would fail on both counts. Based on these internally conflicting statements, the Streetcar cannot be constructed anywhere.

Also the gentrification aspect of the Streetcar is speculative at best. Part A of the Streetcar will result in $1.4 billion of economic development. This amount is greater than either the Banks or the new tallest building at Queen City Square. To throw away such a massive amount of economic development to prevent a speculative harm is no way to run a city. Even if there is such harm the $270 million dollars of net present benefit the Streetcar will bring to the city, at a $102 million price tag, can be used to mitigate any such harm.

You ask, “except for entertainment purposes alone, who does it serve?” the first paragraph of my response addresses this issue. You also ask if you are going to use it for a “park and ride type system, where would you park?” The answer depends on many factors, but the riverfront garages currently under construction will be enormous. If you work on 4th Street , that is a comfortable walk, but if you work near the three courthouses in the CBD or anywhere in OTR, it is a long walk most people would not like to repeat every day. In addition the Hamilton county garage on 12th is underused, a Streetcar connection could increase monthly passes there.

You examine the fundamental role of government to state the Streetcar is unnecessary. While this may be your idea of the role of government, not all of the citizenry of Cincinnati agree with this interpretation. However, I think we can all agree that pragmatism, not any particular ideology should influence our governmental decisions. You admit yourself that Streetcars are an “economic development tool” that have “been used very effectively in other cities as a great tool of economic development.” That is a pragmatic reason to invest in the Streetcar.

You state “how long before [Part A] spreads out and winds out into other neighborhoods? In the meantime there is no plan.” Aside from the fact that calling the line ‘Part A’ implies there will be a Part B, acknowledging a plan, the current plan is to use the ‘Part A’ leg as a match for federal funding for the extension to Uptown. The federal funding process will push construction back several years. The choice then becomes, would we rather have Part A in 2011/Part B in 2013, or Part A and B in 2013? As the Streetcar will create economic development and as inflation will add millions to the cost of construction, there is no reason to wait.

You state, “it’s going to take too long” and ask, “how long will it take to put in ‘Part A’ of the Streetcar plan?” The answer is about 3 weeks per block. During this time the sidewalk will stay open and only one travel lane and one parking lane will be closed. Each block will be done individually, so the disruption will be minimal. This is a comparable amount of time to replacing the sidewalks in a neighborhood business district.

You also have numerous concerns about improving Metro service as a counter argument to building the Streetcar. However, both Metro improvements and the construction of the Streetcar should be undertaken as part of a regional transportation plan that includes light and commuter rail, streetcars connecting Cincinnati’s neighborhoods with Downtown and each other, and expanded bus service funded by and serving all of our communities.

Metro can and should be improved, but the funding sources of the Streetcar are not the funding sources of Metro, and building the Streetcar will not divert funds from Metro. The Streetcar will be primarily funded by TIF, capital funds, and private donations. None of these funding sources are currently used in any significant capacity by Metro. In reality, funding the Streetcar will increase Metro’s funding, allowing it to provide better service.

Metro is primarily funded by the income tax of the City of Cincinnati. Although the City, with a population of around 332,000, is the only major local funding source of our bus system, Metro serves the entire county of 845,000 people. Cincinnati alone, among the 49 jurisdictions of Hamilton County, funds metro with dedicated local revenue streams. The County does provide pass through funds from federal agencies. Some argue that since people who live in the balance of the county pay much of the income tax, it is proper for the City to fund bus service throughout the County. This argument ignores the fact that Cincinnati has exclusive control over how to spend its income tax receipts, and other jurisdictions, such as Blue Ash, collect income tax revenue from all over the county but exhibit much less altruism, nor are they expected to do so.

If Metro wants to expand its service, it needs to expand its revenue sources. One way would be to expand the demographics that use public transportation, which would make the passage of tax levies to support the system more likely. The Streetcar will attract riders of choice, expanding the ridership base and introduce many people unfamiliar with public transportation to its benefits.

Another way would be to increase the funding from outside the City. This should be pursued regardless of the Streetcar.

As the primary funding source of Metro is the City’s income tax, increasing economic development in Cincinnati will increase Metro’s budget. You acknowledge that the Streetcar will bring “lots of economic development.” This economic development will create new jobs, bring new residents to under-utilized areas (OTR’s population is around 15% of its peak and contains hundreds of vacant buildings that can be rehabbed before a single resident is displaced), and increase property values.

All of this economic development will increase the funding available to Metro, while failing to build the Streetcar will not increase the funding available to Metro because the funds identified for the Streetcar are not funds Metro uses, nor is there any indication they will be made available to Metro. Failing to build the Streetcar will derail public transportation planning for years to come, and further reinforce the ‘Cincinnati Complex’—that we are a city unable pull off big projects.

I think we both agree with the premise that public transportation needs to be increased in Cincinnati to create economic development, serve those who are too young, old, poor, or disabled to operate a automobile, decrease pollution and CO2 emissions, and make the city a better place to live. Metro and the Streetcar are two important tools for achieving that vision.

The Cincinnati Streetcar is way to serve the entire City of Cincinnati. It will first connect the downtown basin with the riverfront. It will then be expanded to connect Cincinnati’s neighborhoods with Downtown and each other. The resulting economic development will provide greater revenue streams for Metro, turn vacant properties into tax producing ones, and due to massive economic development, increase the taxes flowing into the City’s coffers, allowing increased public safety and economic development spending in Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

The Cincinnati Streetcar can be constructed quickly, it will support the investments the City has made and will make, it will generate economic development in the urban core, it will stand as an example of public transportation by exposing many people who have no experience with rail to a modern streetcar system, and, to put it simply, it will make Cincinnati a better place.


Brad Thomas