In 1950, after six decades of electric streetcar operations, Cincinnati had reached its peak population of 503,998. The next year, in 1951, Cincinnati discontinued streetcar service and its population went into a steep decline, especially compared to the rest of the region. This chart breaks down population changes in the region 1950-2006.
This clearly shows the decline of the City compared to the rest of the region. When Cincinnati operated a rail based mass transit system, they had the advantage of being the center of the region. Streetcars brought customers into Downtown and the Neighborhood Business Districts that lacked enough parking spaces.
After the streetcars were removed, bus ridership declined, and suburban malls, with massive parking lots began to dominate the retail scene. Cincinnati lost its advantage of centrality and easy access. It couldn’t function properly. With cars as the only viable form of transportation, the City, which was designed for walking and transit, couldn’t compete with suburbs built for cars. The suburbs flourished and the City declined.
Now we have the opportunity to put Cincinnati back on the path to growth. A strong center city will help the entire region. When people think of Detroit, they think of a vacant downtown, not an affluent outer suburb. People’s perceptions of a region are shaped by their urban cores, as most visitors to the area spend their time in or near a city’s downtown.
The Cincinnati Streetcar will make the city more competitive and more appealing to visitors. By contributing to a vibrant Downtown, it will improve the image of Cincinnati in the minds of the rest of the country. It will help us attract more graduates from out of state colleges and help us retain those who graduate from our great local institutions.
The same conventional thinking has caused 50 years of decline in this City. Why would people expect the same failed strategies to suddenly be successful? A new strategy is needed, one that capitalizes on the City’s strengths centrality and walkability. The streetcar, along with the Banks and the Gateway Quarter in Over-the-Rhine is part of that new strategy. Revitalize Cincinnati—Build the Streetcar.