I’ve heard some people recently claim that Cincinnati shouldn’t have streetcars because they are too expensive. They say that if we have $200 million to spend on streetcars, then we ought to have enough money to buy more buses, or for a jail. I see your point, but several problems exist in these statements.
First, the city is not going to spend $200 million on the streetcar. The most ambitious streetcar plan proposed by the City is a 7.9 mile route running from the Zoo in Avondale to the Riverfront for a cost of $185 million. That figure represents the total capital cost, which will be divided between Federal investment, State grants, city capital, TIF revenue, private donors and other sources. The city capital contribution will be in the neighborhood of $60 million. That $60 million is either Tax Increment Financing, which must be spent Downtown, or capital funds, which are used for building infrastructure and making long term investments. Capital Funds can’t be used to hire more police officers or fund recreation centers—bridges and sewers are examples of capital projects.
Second, a streetcar is not a bus, and a bus is not a streetcar. While both are intended to move people, the results are quite different. Buses rearrange their schedules to follow where people are, whereas rail transit directs and creates development. Opponents of the streetcar often boast about how flexible buses are, but the reality is much different. When the bus routes change, it seems they only cut service altogether or follow jobs farther into the suburbs.
If we want to bring new jobs, vitality and a larger tax base to a specific area – a beautiful, historic area like Over-the-Rhine for instance – then we need to install the infrastructure to do so.
In city after city, rail transit causes development. Cities across the country have implemented these systems, and when they do, development occurs at a much higher rate around the tracks than elsewhere in the city. Kenosha, Wisconsin’s 2-mile downtown streetcar loop had an economic impact of 23:1, and Little Rock, Arkansas saw an economic impact 10:1 when they installed their streetcars. These numbers are possible because developers want to know that several thousand transit-riders per day will roll past their property. Because streetcar routes are permanent, they attract permanent investment.
Finally, stop using the jail or stadiums as justification for why streetcars aren’t a good idea. The jails and stadiums you are referring to are controlled by the county, not by the city. There are completely independent pools of money dedicated to these issues, so an investment in streetcars will not detract from funding dedicated to the jail. On the contrary, investing in infrastructure will grow the tax base, increasing the revenue of both the city and the county. If you want more money in the county to build a new jail, support an investment in streetcars, don’t oppose it.
Instead of complaining that there isn’t enough money to go around, start looking for ways the city can make more money without taxing the people. Council did just that, and found that a modern streetcar system will generate more money. That’s called an investment.
David Ben graduated from Xavier University in 2008 with an Honors Bachelor of Arts double major in Philosophy, Politics, & the Public and History. David has studied public transportation as an economic and community development tool since 2007, and will soon begin working for Steve Driehaus’ (D-OH) Congressional office. David intends to enroll in the University of Cincinnati’s Masters in Community Planning program in the Fall.