Over the New Year’s holiday, I went down with a few friends to New Orleans to support the Bearcats at the Sugar Bowl. We were only there for a few days, and since our hotel was right by the French Quarter, there wasn’t much reason to leave our area of the city. But having never been to New Orleans before, I didn’t want to limit myself to seeing just one part.
The day after the Sugar Bowl, we decided that we wanted to check out one of the city’s famous above ground cemeteries. The concierge at our hotel recommended Lafayette Cemetery #1, which was in the Garden District. It was a mere three and a half miles away, so walking wasn’t completely out of the question. We did drive from Cincinnati, so we did have access to a car, but the walk would have taken up the entire afternoon, and getting the car out of the garage seemed like a waste of time, especially when New Orleans has one of the most famous historic streetcar lines still running in America.
I suppose the bus would have been an option too, but considering how easy it was to look at a map and see where we got on and off using the streetcar, trying to figure out the bus route didn’t even cross our minds.
The streetcar system being proposed in Cincinnati is considerably more modern than the one in New Orleans. Nevertheless, New Orleans’ historic streetcars are still fully functional. The streetcars travel in packs of threes to accommodate large amounts of passengers, and the fare was only $1.25 each way. Judging by the large number of passengers who rode the cars with us in both directions, I think it’s safe to say that the streetcars aren’t just some gimmick they keep around for the tourists.
The Garden District proved to be notably different from the French Quarter. It was still distinctively New Orleans, but the wide streets and large houses were quite a change from the French Quarter’s congested nature. If you had to compare it to Cincinnati, the Garden District would be like our Hyde Park. Similar atmosphere and similar distance from the city center.
Getting back to the hotel was just as easy. We just boarded the streetcar on the opposite side of the street from where we got on and rode it straight back to the hotel. Had the streetcar system not been in place, I’m not sure that I would have taken the time to visit other parts of New Orleans, since there wouldn’t have been a means available for me to just impulsively get on and get off in another part of town without being worried I would find myself hopelessly lost.
Now compare the ease I had visiting the Garden District against how difficult it would be for a visitor to get to Hyde Park from Downtown Cincinnati without using a car. The concierge in New Orleans simply had to pull out a map and tell me where to board the streetcar and where to get off. There was no need to worry about if I was boarding the correct streetcar at the stop, or if the routes had changed since the concierge last looked them up.
For people without cars who visit downtown Cincinnati, getting to the nearby neighborhoods isn’t so easy. They would have to either familiarize themselves with the bus routes in advance (and no, there isn’t an iPhone app for that) or take a taxi. Taxis may be plentiful near bars at closing time, but good luck trying to find one if you’re out to explore the streets of the city in the middle of the day.
Now, I’m aware that the first stage of the proposed Cincinnati Streetcar doesn’t go out as far as Hyde Park yet, but with all of the shows, sporting events and conventions downtown that draw visitors, even moving them as far as Clifton and the University of Cincinnati is a considerable improvement on what we can offer them now. Once built, the streetcar can expand into our various neighborhoods, and visitors will be able to more of what this city has to offer. (And maybe some locals will start venturing into other parts of town they’ve never explored too.)
But for Cincinnati to be easily accessible for visitors, first we need to start laying down some tracks.
Guest post by Cincinnati resident Allister Sears