Up To Speed

Is it time to rethink regional transportation funding?

Is it time to rethink regional transportation funding?.

The Charlotte region may be on the brink of revamping how the region funds its transportation infrastructure. With three states, 15 counties and countless municipalities, is it time for the Cincinnati region to start rethinking the way it funds its transportation infrastructure? More from the Charlotte Business Journal:

It’s becoming clear the $119 million extension of the fledgling streetcar line may not survive the city’s budgeting process. It’s becoming equally clear that it might not matter…In fact, the failure to fund the streetcar line, which is now caught up in the nearly $1 billion Capital Investment Plan being negotiated by City Council, could trigger a much larger revamp of the region’s entire transit planning and funding process.

Up To Speed

Will Cincinnati be left behind in the latest passenger rail station boom?

Will Cincinnati be left behind in the latest passenger rail station boom?.

Inter-city rail is also booming as Amtrak experiences record ridership numbers, and is beginning to implement the first phases of the nation’s planned high-speed rail network. Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, however, sits waiting investment to allow additional passenger rail service. Meanwhile, throughout the rest of the nation, cities are investing to support this growth with new and improved central train stations. More from Denver Urbanism:

Los Angeles Union Station opened in 1939 and is often referred to as “last of the great railway stations in America.” And for the past 3/4 of a century that superlative has been largely correct. As rail travel declined, so did rail station design. During the latter half of the 20th Century, many cities replaced their grand historic depots with so-called “amshaks”, cheap and awful buildings that have more in common with utility sheds than anything else. But now that’s all changing, and soon Los Angeles will have to give up its title.

Business Development News Opinion Transportation

Lagging air service at CVG may mean more trouble than just Chiquita’s departure

In 1987, the same year that Chiquita announced its move to Cincinnati from New York City, Delta Airlines began its first non-stop flights to Europe from what was then called the Greater Cincinnati Airport. 18 years later, the airport’s “Hub Era”, as the period is described on the airport’s own website, drew to a close just as a third north-south runway was completed. Since that $250 million runway opened in 2005, total annual passengers at CVG have fallen from 22.8 million to 7.9 million.

In 1998, at the height of the Delta hub’s growth, the Cincinnati Metropolitan Growth Alliance hired Michael Gallis, a Charlotte-based planning consultant, to deliver a report on the state of Cincinnati [Download the Gallis Report] and how it must position itself for the 21st century. Given this week’s news regarding Chiquita, this passage from the report is especially prophetic:

“The Airport cannot be taken for granted. There is strong competition for airline activity and hub status among metro regions. Therefore, it is essential to continue involvement with the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to assure its continuing status as a major global hub.”

Unlike in Europe, where government-owned airlines don’t shift their hub operations, American cities are at the mercy of the finances of those airlines that serve them. Chiquita is moving to Charlotte primarily because of the relative health of US Airways versus Delta — the City of Cincinnati has no say in the affairs of Delta Airlines or even the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport.

Charlotte will add Chiquita to its corporate roster in late 2012.

So is Cincinnati finished as a viable location for international business because of Delta’s 2006 bankruptcy? Since second-tier cities like Cincinnati and Charlotte are at the mercy of their airport’s hub operator, won’t Chiquita find itself in a similar situation when US Airways inevitably suffers similar financial problems?

The great frustration is that all of this could have been avoided if at the cusp of the jet age a major airport had been built in Butler County so as to draw from the combined 3-plus million population of Cincinnati and Dayton. Such an airport could have attracted all of the development that now occupies Boone County, Kentucky, and the larger combined population would have ensured multiple major carriers.

Is a continued reliance on CVG a strategy that dooms Cincinnati’s potential? There is a temptation, given the billions invested in that facility over the past 60 years, to dismiss any notion of constructing a new airport in Ohio. But with no futuristic transportation mode on the horizon, it appears that jet travel will continue in a form similar to what exists now for decades to come.

A new airport in Butler County, served by I-75 and a new rail transit line linking downtown Cincinnati and downtown Dayton, is the sort of investment that area business leaders and the State of Ohio should be pushing to ensure southwest Ohio’s competitiveness.

Business Development News Politics Transportation

New report confirms potential economic impacts of the Cincinnati Streetcar

A new report released by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development finds that transit investments like the Cincinnati Streetcar are winning economic winners. The report studied the three most recently opened light rail lines in the United States and discovered that urban portions of the lines were most successful at spurring economic activity and ridership.

Contrary to popular belief that rail transit is only successful in liberal bastions like Portland, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia or Seattle, the report looked at three modest cities in terms of political affections: Charlotte, Denver and Minneapolis.

Rails to Real Estate: Development Patterns along Three New Transit Lines also identified Charlotte’s Blue Line as the most successful despite being the having the least number of years studied of the three and being the smallest of the three transit lines. The economic patterns were consistent though, with each transit line experiencing anywhere from six to ten million square feet of new development since they opened. The report attributes the success is to five main considerations:

  1. Proximity to downtowns and other major employment centers
  2. The location and extent of vacant or “underutilized” property that might offer opportunities for development or redevelopment
  3. Block patterns that influence “walkability”
  4. Transit connectivity
  5. Household incomes

“We need to make transit investments that unlock the potential for TOD, but we need to make them in the right places,” said the director of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, Sam Zimbabwe.

Cincinnati’s modern streetcar system has recently been challenged by Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) in regards to its ability to generate economic investments and create jobs. This challenge goes against economic studies performed by HDR Economics and confirmed by the University of Cincinnati’s award-winning economist George Vredeveld. When applying the key findings of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development’s recent report Cincinnati’s streetcar system looks to be an even bigger winner than expected by the OKI Regional Council of Governments (OKI) and Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) which have both enthusiastically supported the project.

The Cincinnati Streetcar meets all five of the reports key considerations for economic success along transit lines. The system runs through downtown Cincinnati and connects the regions two largest employment centers, and serves areas that include vacant and underutilized properties that offer opportunities for development or redevelopment. The Cincinnati Streetcar also connects with the region’s focal point for bus transit, serves a block pattern that is extremely walkable, and includes a diverse range of household incomes.

And while the report shows Charlotte as the big winner, its findings show that the Cincinnati Streetcar could be even more successful than the Blue Line’s approximately 9.8 million square feet worth of real estate investment between 2005 and 2009. The main reason is, of course, location.

Cincinnati’s streetcar line will serve an area better equipped and positioned for transit-oriented development (TOD) when compared to Charlotte’s Blue Line which saw economic investments drop off precipitously after leaving that city’s downtown (Uptown) and adjacent residential neighborhood (South End). When compared to Charlotte, Cincinnati’s downtown and adjacent residential areas (Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights, Mt. Auburn, Corryville, University Heights) served by the streetcar line represent significantly greater land area prime for TOD.

Major economic investments are already occurring on and around the Cincinnati Streetcar line in anticipation of its opening in 2013. In Clifton Heights the $70 million U Square at The Loop mixed-use development derives its name from its proximity to the streetcar’s connection to Uptown. In Over-the-Rhine Rookwood Pottery, Christian Moerlein, the $400 million Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati and dozens of small businesses have expressed their hopes for the eventual opening of the modern streetcar system. And in downtown developers of The Banks and other major developments have begun using the Cincinnati Streetcar as a marketing tool.

In addition to the existing positives for Cincinnati’s streetcar system when it comes to TOD, the planned streetcar system also has local planning efforts supporting it. In 2010 Cincinnati City Council passed a measure that will reduce or eliminate parking requirements at residential developments within two blocks of a streetcar stop. The streetcar system will also be managed with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) which currently operates Metro bus service and plans to coordinate the two systems.

The report noted that while transit improvements were a factor in the real estate investments, that coordination with longer-term efforts to revitalize center cities was greatly important.

“This study marks an important step in understanding the impact of transit investments in three regions, and the implications for other communities looking to transit investments as a source of long-term economic prosperity and competitiveness,” Zimbabwe stated. “Investments in neighborhood infrastructure and amenities are critical for unlocking the potential for TOD.”

When the study examined the differences between the lines in Charlotte, Denver and Minneapolis it showed that the urban portions were most successful at attracting economic investment. Charlotte’s Blue Line (9.6 miles) saw approximately 1,021,000 square feet of development per mile, while Denver’s Southeast Corridor (19.1 miles) and Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Line (12.3 miles) saw 408,000 and 545,000 square feet of development per mile respectively.

The results from this study are clear for transit-oriented development. An urban setting with opportunities for development, close proximity to job centers and transit connectivity are critical for economic success. Suburban areas show diminishing returns in the form of economic activity and real estate investment along transit line. The Cincinnati Streetcar represents all of the key considerations and more, and is exactly why the project has received TRAC’s highest score for two consecutive years out of every transportation project in Ohio.

Development News Politics

Building a great city

A recent comment by John Schneider got me thinking about this concept. Schneider said the following comment in reference to a recent trip he made to Portland, OR.

“The quality of the new buildings, starting at the airport and evident throughout the city, the mass of people walking the sidewalks, on the streetcars, and at events, was amazing. They are building a great city there.”

Cincinnati for the longest time was building a great city. Our park system, boulevard network and grand collection of diverse architectural styles has always been impressive. Cincinnati is considered to be the birthplace of contemporary American urban planning when it became the first major American city to endorse a comprehensive plan in 1925 that complimented the Park Plan of 1907 that we still follow today.

Our urban environment was methodically planned out and carried out with the highest quality until about the mid-twentieth century when we started engaging in the urban renewal and suburban sprawl policies sweeping the nation.

New Columbia Square development in the heart of the historic Columbia Tusculum NBD

Cincinnati is not certainly alone in this regard, but what can be done to counter this trend. I think most of us can agree that the quality of buildings, the urban form, social and cultural institutions pale in comparison to what we used to build here in Cincinnati.

Cities like Portland, Seattle and even Charlotte to a lesser extent seem to be getting it right with their recent actions. Their history does not come close to Cincinnati’s and they will never be able to boast many of the amenities we have today, but we have lost much and they are building great cities today, while we seem to be content with building sub-par city based around anything but the people who live here.

New development in (clockwise from top-left):
Seattle, Washington; Portland’s Pearl District; Charlotte’s South End
Seattle & Portland photos by Jake Mecklenborg