COLUMN: Cincinnati strives to improve economy and transportation with streetcars

Haleigh Miller

By Haleigh Miller, ’12, News Section Editor

On Monday Apr. 19, Cincinnati’s finance committee voted 6-2 to fund the planning process for installing streetcars in the city of Cincinnati. If passed, the streetcars would be a new form of public transportation, which would aim to improve the current system and hopefully revitalize downtown Cincinnati. (Whether or not this would actually work remains to be seen.) Originally, the committee planned to determine whether or not to fund the actual installation of the cars, but after the request of a council member, Finance Chair Laketa Cole postponed the vote, and just the decision to fund the planning of the streetcars was decided.

 As described on cincystreetcar.com, “a streetcar is a small train that runs on steel tracks in mixed traffic. They are modern, sleek vehicles that are electrically powered, quiet, and offer a smooth ride for up to 199 passengers on board.” The site goes on to explain that, as the proposal stands now, the tracks would be installed into an extant lane of traffic, and would simply be integrated into the flow of cars, as metro busses are currently. Plans also include modifications to the sidewalks where streetcar stops would be located, in order to allow passengers to enter and exit the vehicle directly from and to the sidewalk.

I live in North Avondale, very close to Clifton and downtown Cincinnati. Personally, I have no idea whether or not the streetcars would affect my life. They would eventually run pretty close, so I could conceivably use them. Right now, largely because the bus system is complicated and excessively difficult to use, I don’t use public transportation. If streetcars were installed, I won’t be first in line to jump onboard, because I’ve adjusted to getting around without them. I certainly see the benefit of knowing exactly where the stops are, and where the cars go, but unless I suddenly start hearing of the magical experience which streetcars provide, I won’t be the first in line to use them.

Alex Brady, ’13, who also lives in North Avondale, agreed. “I don’t think [streetcars] will affect me at all, I wouldn’t use [them],” he said. He went on to explain that, for his family, streetcars “could potentially affect us, but we’ve had to get cars [to get around]; I don’t think we’d switch to public transportation.”

In a similar state of mind is Montgomery resident Jules Cantor, ’11. “I feel like it could be an effective mode of transportation for people who don’t have another way to get around, but for average CCDS students, I don’t think it will affect us,” he said.

At this point, City Council is split: the majority wish to move forward with the streetcar initiative, but councilwoman Leslie Ghiz and councilman Chris Monzel are both opposed. Mrs. Ghiz, unlike Mr. Monzel, is not necessarily opposed to the streetcars themselves, but thinks the timing of the project poses a major problem.

“It is not the time to do it. We do not have money and we can’t be more clear about that,” saidMrs. Ghiz in an interview with ONNtv.

Personally, I agree with Mrs. Ghiz. Cincinnati hasn’t had great success in the past with public transportation, and now isn’t the time to be spending our scarce funds on something a) unnecessary and b) with a high risk of not being nearly as successful as predicted. Every situation is different, and while streetcars have greatly improved the economies of other cities, Cincinnati is so spread out that the majority of its population lives nowhere near and has no occasion to go downtown. I’m the exception to this rule (especially in the CCDS community, where most people don’t live close to the area the streetcars would be installed), and I don’t even think I’d use them much, if at all.

On the other side of the argument, Brad Thomas, founder of Cincinnati Street Car, is of the opinion that, in addition to drastically improving public transportation, the streetcars would also assist the struggling economy downtown. Drawing evidence and support from other cities which have successfully installed streetcars (most notably Portland, Oregon, which boosted its economy with $2.8 billion by attracting more people into the city center after investing $100 million in their streetcar system), HDR Consulting predicted an investment of $128 million by the city would lead to $1.4 billion of economic growth based on the increased number of people spending time downtown and ticket sales for use of the streetcar (like subway systems, streetcar riders would purchase tickets at a kiosk before entering the train).

If passed by city council, the first phase of the streetcar system will include a route “from University of Cincinnati, past Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine to the Reds stadium on the riverfront,” according to cincystreetcar.com.Later phases will connect Uptown to Downtown and Northern Kentucky and other Cincinnati neighborhoods.” The plans are only developed up to the “uptown” area, including Coryville, Clifton, University Heights, and the Zoo area, and also include development into northern Kentucky and Price Hill.

If the initiative passes quickly, supporters of the Cincinnati streetcar movement hope to have the cars installed by 2012, but this hope hinges on their ability to get the plan approved and passed by City Council.

Photo courtesy of http://www.cincystreetcar.com/what001.html