Cincinnati City Council has adopted a plan to construct the Cincinnati Streetcar between the Banks, Clifton and Avondale, and there are plans to extend other lines to Price Hill, Northside, Hyde Park, the East End, and Mount Lookout. Covington and Newport, which both support the project, could easily connect to the Cincinnati Streetcar. Utility relocation could begin late this year, and the streetcar could be operating by the spring of 2012.
Streetcars travel silently and smoothly on state-of-the-art welded track. You board at curb-level without steps – sort of like a moving sidewalk. The cabins have large windows and unlimited headroom. You can bring your bike or scooter on board. Electric motors generate no local pollution and enable the vehicle to accelerate quickly. Streetcars block traffic less than buses do, and hardly any downtown parking spaces will be lost on account of the streetcar. The wires are barely visible, and they don’t spark. The Cincinnati Streetcar is a relatively small consumer of electric power, and people traveling by streetcar rather than driving will cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half.
Suspend the notion that streetcars are a wasteful subsidy for Yuppies. Streetcars are serious transportation that will enable Cincinnatians to live easily in our dense urban neighborhoods. Streetcars are car-competitive, meaning people will use them instead of driving. With people walking more and waiting at streetcars stops, our sidewalks will feel safer, and retailers can count on having real customers rather than begging for government handouts. Downtown and Uptown visitors will be able to park once and visit numerous destinations on the line.
The Value Proposition: We need to repopulate our city. We need more jobs for Cincinnatians, many of whom now leave the city to find employment. We need to keep our young people here and attract newcomers by providing better opportunities. When Cincinnati last had streetcars, many people worked closer to home and could buy things in their own neighborhoods. They walked more, and they were healthier. Of the 172,000 Cincinnatians we’ve lost since 1950, fully 20% of them moved from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine alone, and these are just two of ten or so neighborhoods to be served in Phase One of the streetcar project. The streetcar will encourage people who work at UC or one of the hospitals to live in Avondale, Clifton and Mt. Auburn, some of them walking to work and reducing highway congestion and pollution. Who is not in favor of that?
Since Cincinnati must build parking garages for new developments in places like Downtown or Uptown, it has trouble competing with the suburbs. Because this parking is so expensive to construct, city homes tend to be smaller, and they cost more. There streetcar will mean less of this parking needs to be built. Some of the 92 acres of downtown Cincinnati now devoted to surface parking can be converted to more profitable use.
Cincinnatians spend 20% of their take-home on local transportation, more than residents of almost any city in America. This is because we have few car-competitive choices. Over time, this will only get worse as fuel prices rise. The Cincinnati Streetcar is an alternative to driving everywhere!
Few people dispute that development follows the tracks, just as property investment follows highway interchanges and airports. Economists determined that for every dollar spent to build and operate the streetcar over the next thirty-five years, almost three dollars of present economic value will be generated. This is an astonishing rate of return for any kind of project, public or private. Highways seldom have this rate-of-return. We’re doing this for the long run — no electric railway that has opened since 1945 has ever gone out of business.
Because property near the streetcar line will become more valuable, it will yield more property tax revenue for schools than before. People who work and live in the new and renovated buildings along the streetcar line will start paying city earnings taxes to fund police, parks, and other public services in our city’s bedroom communities like Westwood, College Hill and Mount Washington. The streetcar will make money for the city.
Property owners on the streetcar line will benefit from the investment, and so they will pay a large share of the cost to build and operate the Cincinnati Streetcar. The city of Cincinnati has pledged not to use general tax funds to build and operate the streetcar. Although fares and overall policies will be set by city council, the Cincinnati Streetcar will be designed, built and operated by a private company that is expert in those tasks.