John Schneider, aka Captain Transit aka Mr. Streetcar, was back on the radio this morning. He was invited to join Brian Thomas on his regular morning show on 55 KRC.
The two discussed the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar project in detail, and also discussed the merits of rail transportation in general.
“The fundamental problem with Cincinnati, and the fundamental opportunity is we’ve lost population and we need to repopulate our city. We have a city that was built for 500,000 people, but we only have 300,000 people today,” Schneider explained to an agreeable Thomas. “But the snow still falls on Martin Luther King Boulevard and it has to be plowed, the grass still grows in Mt. Airy Forest and it has to be cut.”
Schneider went on to explain that investing in the Cincinnati Streetcar will help stabilize the city’s tax base and repopulate the city, in perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity the Queen City has.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Thomas spent almost the entire interview using anecdotes and anti-city hysteria to support his points, but he did loudly profess how much of a bus fan he is. You can listen to the full interview on 55 KRC’s website, or stream it below. The interview lasts approximately 30 minutes.
Opponents of the Streetcar complain that it “doesn’t go anywhere” but the reality is that the Cincinnati Streetcar will follow the densest route in terms of population and employment centers—giving the city greatest return on its investment.
This Map shows two different possible routes of the Streetcar. Which route connects more residents and jobs?
The Blue Route. Despite only running 1/6th the length of the Red lone, the Blue route has greater residential and employment coverage than the Red route
Here is the proposed route of the streetcar. It serves 62,136 residents and 54% of the jobs in the City of Cincinnati. It has a projected cost of $185 million.
Here is another possible route, covering a much larger distance. This route runs 47 miles, but only serves 60,627 residents and approximately 43.7% of the jobs in the City of Cincinnati. It has a projected cost of $1,104 million ($1.1 billion), assuming the same per mile cost as the Blue Route.
The blue route serves eight neighborhoods, the red rote serves twenty two. The Blue route costs only 17% as much as the Red one does, but the Blue route serves more people and jobs.
Why build the Streetcar along blue route? Because it has a much lower cost and connects our largest employment centers and major attractions. It is a dense, efficient route that will drive investment and create jobs along the line, leading to increased tax revenues that can be spent in all 52 of Cincinnati’s Neighborhoods. Support the City–Build the Streetcar.
- 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.
Fifty-eight years ago, Cincinnati’s last streetcar went off duty. At that time Cincinnati’s population stood at over half a million—the 18th largest city in the country. Over the next fifty years, the city’s size declined. By 2000 our population had fallen by over 170,000, a loss about 33%. Not all neighborhoods lost population equally. Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, some of our densest and most transit dependent neighborhoods both lost more than 70% of their residents over the past half century. Over-the-Rhine alone lost twenty-three thousand residents — more than the entire population of Norwood. The historic and irreplaceable architecture of Over-the-Rhine remains, but much of it stands vacant.
Cincinnati needs to grow its population in order to grow its tax base. It costs the city the same amount to plow a street full of vacant buildings as it does to plow a street with a hundred residents. Vacant buildings need police and fire coverage, but produce little in the way of tax revenues.
Streetcars are a good investment for the City. An analysis by the University of Cincinnati confirmed that for every $1 the city invests in the Cincinnati Streetcar, it will reap $2.70 in benefits.
The Cincinnati Streetcar will connect our two largest employment centers, Uptown and Downtown, which contain over half off all the jobs in the city. It will help redevelop empty parking lots and vacant buildings in our urban core by reducing the amount of parking needed to build new condos or apartment. The streetcar will make the city safer by increasing the number of pedestrians, putting more eyes on the street. And building the streetcar won’t raise taxes.
But the main benefit of the Cincinnati Streetcar is the economic development that will occur from attracting new residents and businesses into our city. To often those people who want to live in a dense, walkable and lively urban neighborhood served by public transportation go to Chicago, Portland, or somewhere else away from here. Our Universities graduate thousands of students every year, but too many of them leave the city, never to return.
Building a streetcar will help create those vibrant urban neighborhoods here, which will help retain some of the best talent in our region. Increasing our population and the new investment along the streetcar line will increase our tax base and provide Cincinnati with more resources to use to improve all 52 neighborhoods. Investing in the Cincinnati Streetcar will help the entire Revitalize Cincinnati — Build the Streetcar.