Do you find yourself frustrated by traffic congestion, lack of bike lanes or sidewalks, inability to take a bus or train to your destination? Well, Building America’s Future has released an updated version of their ‘I’m Stuck!’ app that allows people to directly send messages to their Congressional representatives – urging them to start funding the necessary improvements to make our communities mobile and safe. More from Streetsblog Capitol Hill:
Among the new features of their app redesign, BAF has added a way to tell Congress you need better bicycle infrastructure… According to BAF, the app has been downloaded 11,000 times and 3,500 messages have been sent to Congress. The old version didn’t let them track how many were complaining about sitting in traffic versus how many were complaining about inferior transit. And as we mentioned last time, you’ll have to customize your message if you want to make sure Congress knows that you’re not asking for more car lanes but rather a transit line that would get you off the road altogether. And remember, distracted driving rules apply.
A recent study found that while Metro does more with less than 11 peer cities, it woefully lags behind the rest when it comes to the amount and diversity of its service. In fact, Cincinnati was one of only four regions studied without any rail transit, and was the largest of those four. One of the peer cities studied is Minneapolis, which already has light rail and commuter rail in addition to its bus service, and now is moving forward with two, possibly three modern streetcar lines. More from the Star Tribune:
The transportation and public works committee gave the green light to move forward with an environmental review and “pre-project development activities” on the proposed $200 million, 3.4-mile Nicollet Avenue streetcar line. They simultaneously approved moving forward with a jointly funded alternatives analysis to study the possibility of building streetcars along West Broadway in North Minneapolis…Planning for a third transit line – possibly streetcars – is also underway for the Midtown Corridor. That process is being led by the Metropolitan Council.
I visited Utah earlier this year to see what they were doing with their transit systems, and was stunned to see the amount of investment made in transportation infrastructure. The Salt Lake City region boasts new highways, commuter rail, light rail and streetcars, bike share, bus improvements and inter-city passenger and freight rail enhancements. But how is this possible in one of the most conservative cities and states in the U.S.? Well it’s simple; they have increased taxes and relied on the business community to sell those tax increases to the public. When and if the business community in Cincinnati will ever step up and do the same is a great question to ask. More from the Salt Lake Tribune:
McAdams noted that the approach of selling transportation as a way to improve the economy helped build support needed for the Utah Transit Authority to just complete adding 70 miles of new rail lines two years early and under budget, and for such highway projects as using local money to rebuild Interstate 15 in Utah County.
McAdams noted that state and regional planners for highways and mass transit in Utah recently issued a unified plan for projects needed through 2040. The Utah Foundation issued a subsequent report saying current taxes would fall $11.3 billion short over 30 years to fund priority projects identified in that unified plan…Utah business and civic leaders have used such data to persuade the Legislature this year to study how and whether to raise taxes to fund projects in the 2040 plan. For example, its Transportation Interim Committee is scheduled Wednesday to discuss potentially raising gasoline taxes to meet some of the needs.
A couple of years ago, an engineer designing our streetcar mentioned Cincinnati wouldn’t be installing the type of streetcar rail used in Seattle and Portland because that Austrian-made product doesn’t comply with “Buy America” requirements. He said not to worry, that the type of rail Cincinnati would be using would open up more possibilities for the future. I never thought much more about it …
… until a couple of weeks ago when I studied the end-profile of the rail they’re installing on Elm Street right now. I could see it wasn’t the streetcar rail I’m used to seeing in the Pacific Northwest. It was common “T” rail used on all kinds of rail systems across the country. So I called my engineer friend and others associated with the project, and sure enough, Cincinnati is building tracks through Over-the-Rhine today that can someday host light rail trains.
There is a similar story in Tacoma, which wants light rail to Seattle someday. Tacoma built its “streetcar tracks” to light rail specs and is now running streetcars similar to ours until the time is ripe for light rail. You can look it up: Google “Tacoma Link Light Rail”. You’ll see pictures of streetcars, not full-on light rail trains.
What Cincinnati is building on Elm Street today could easily become the light rail spine through the heart of the region, slicing diagonally across the downtown basin with seven Fortune 500 corporations, two-thirds of our region’s cultural institutions and thousands of potential new homes within a few blocks of the line.
Prowling around the web site of our streetcar-manufacturer, CAF, I found this. This is the Cincinnati Streetcar, which CAF calls a light rail vehicle (LRV). Cincinnati is buying five of these three-section Urbos vehicles shown here, but CAF makes five- and seven-section Urbos too. Even nine-section ones if you need to move enough passengers to fill a 747.
I asked around some more, and it turns out the engineers have also designed the radii of the curved track to accommodate longer trains. In order to run light rail on our streetcar line someday, we’d have to boost electrical power, change the signal wiring, and lengthen the platforms where the trains would stop. But those are small potatoes in the big picture.
You’ve heard it before, many times: “The streetcar doesn’t go anywhere,” or “I’m not crazy about the streetcar, what I really want is light rail.”
After new light rail tracks were installed in front of Music Hall, refurbished cobblestones were restored along Elm Street. Photograph by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.
It doesn’t have to be this way forever. Using the Cincinnati Streetcar tracks now under construction, we could have light rail in the I-75 Corridor sooner rather than later. Cincinnatians who believe that rail is “just about downtown” need to look at this from 30,000 feet.
Here’s why. Our streetcars will travel north along Elm until they pass Findlay Market where they will turn east to head up the hill to UC. Longer, faster light rail trains can follow the same path on Elm, but turn west north of Findlay, head over to Central Parkway and then to I-75 where a rail corridor extending throughout Hamilton County is being preserved as part of the highway work now underway. That was a requirement of the I-75 Corridor Study, which found that a newly widened I-75 would attract many more cars and trucks by induced demand and that only the construction of light rail in the corridor would keep future freeway congestion in check.
The I-75 light rail might not always run alongside the highway; it probably can’t in some places. And anyway, the rail line probably wants to leave the highway here and there in order to penetrate neighborhoods and business districts where people live and work.
So our new mayor and city council can choose to cancel the Cincinnati Streetcar at great financial and reputational costs to our city. Or they can move forward and complete the project, allow Cincinnatians to become accustomed to using rail transit, and — when we’re ready to resume the community conversation on regional light rail — have the keystone building block in place. This is an important frame for the decision our city is about to make.
It’s a big decision, a defining moment for Greater Cincinnati. If we turn away from the expanded transportation choices in front of us now, we probably won’t have this chance again for a long time.
John Schneider is a local businessman who has long been an advocate for rail transit. In 2002 he helped lead the MetroMoves campaign and was instrumental in both Issue 9 and Issue 48 victories. He has personally led hundreds of Cincinnatians on tour of Portland’s streetcar and light rail system, and the development it has caused. Schneider is also the chairman of the Alliance for Regional Transit and sits on Cincinnati’s Planning Commission. If you would like to submit a guest editorial to UrbanCincy you can do so by contacting our editorial team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cincinnatians have experienced first-hand what good public policy and investments can do to improve quality of life and economic value. New parks, improved infrastructure and expanded mobility options are sweeping through Cincinnati and it has been noticed nation-wide. Cincy’s not the only place taking this approach..Charlotte has also been investing in light rail lines, a streetcar, improved infrastructure and other public facilities like parks. More from the Charlotte Observer (including a video):
As soon as he was hired to lead Mecklenburg County’s parks seven years ago, Jim Garges heard the same criticism people had been saying about uptown Charlotte for decades. It had no life after 6 p.m. – it was nothing but a grand office park. Now on Labor Day weekend, Garges wants everyone to look at uptown again and explore its latest addition – the 5.2-acre, $11 million park to honor renowned artist and Charlotte native Romare Bearden.
“It’s a game changer,” said Garges, director of Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. “People aren’t laughing anymore about uptown. It’s become the place to be.” It’ll take three days to grandly open the park that – with BB&T Ballpark next door and Bank of American Stadium blocks away – is sure to transform a piece of Third Ward that was once remnants of industrial buildings and gravel parking lots.