St. Louis pizzeria to open in renovated AT580 building

In a cross-post between nextSTL, UrbanCincy, and the Cincinnati Business Courier, Alex Ihnen reports on Pi Pizzeria‘s expansion into Cincinnati:

“We’ve been admiring the Cincinnati market for a few years now but just started our search about a year ago,” Pi co-owner Chris Sommers told nextSTL. “We are amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR and had to be a part of it.” […]

Sommers said they waited out the streetcar debate before committing to a Cincinnati location.

“We choose our locations based on major transit lines and feel the streetcar will be game-changing for Cincinnati,” Sommers told nextSTL.

Pi’s original St. Louis location is located in the transit-rich Delmar Loop. The downtown St. Louis Pi sits atop a MetroLink station, and the D.C. restaurant is near both Metro Center and Chinatown Stations.

What if Cincinnati’s I-71/MLK interchange was held to same standards as streetcar?

Chris Wetterich of the Cincinnati Business Courier asks why a new highway interchange on I-71 isn’t being held to the same standards as the Cincinnati Streetcar by Mayor John Cranley and several council members.

Just for fun, I’d also like to consider how the Enquirer would cover the interchange if they used the same tone as their streetcar coverage:

  • They’d print a bunch of letters to the editor claiming that the new interchange “doesn’t go anywhere.”
  • They would use pictures of Model T’s and other antique cars instead of modern automobiles (like they frequently use photos of vintage trolleys instead of modern light rail streetcars).
  • They’d constantly refer to the interchange as “proposed” (even after contracts are signed and construction is started).
  • Instead of just reporting the facts, they would get a bunch of quotes from supporters and opponents of the interchange in a massive display of false equivalence.
  • They will finally come out in support of the interchange–but they’ll endorse a mayoral candidate who runs on a pledge to kill the interchange after it’s already under construction.

See also: Localizing Operating Costs for Streetcar Sets Dangerous Precedent.

Cincinnati Enquirer: Finish the streetcar

Even the Enquirer thinks it would be fiscally irresponsible to cancel the Cincinnati Streetcar project, which is very much under construction:

But now 200 construction workers are digging up Downtown streets, and 1,800 feet of rails are already in the ground. […]

Project manager John Deatrick estimates it will cost another $34 million to $47 million, and take up to a year, to stop it. There are streetcars under construction, tracks to rip up, streets and curbs to restore. By city estimates, we could spend $67 million to $80 million and have nothing to show for it.

And suddenly, the Enquirer understands that the streetcar will make Cincinnati more competitive with its peer cities:

A low cost of living is no longer enough to spur growth; we must also offer modern infrastructure and amenities, especially to the millennials and baby boomers interested in urban living. […]

To attract those kinds of jobs and workers, 20 streetcar systems are under construction or planned in the U.S., in addition to around a dozen in operation. They are in places like Charlotte, N.C.; Milwaukee; Austin, Texas; and Minneapolis –– places we compete with for people and jobs.

I wish the Enquirer would have considered these arguments years ago, instead of publishing ridiculous articles about Barry Horstman power walking the streetcar route.

And finally, what does the Enquirer say about their endorsement of John Cranley, who, uhh, ran on a promise to kill the streetcar?

In endorsing Cranley, we said he would “have to rein in his dictatorial tendencies and discipline himself to be diplomatic, respectful and collaborative.” What we’ve seen so far is a matter for concern. Hurling insults at professionals like streetcar project manager John Deatrick isn’t what we need.

Cincinnati Streetcar vehicles unveiled

UrbanCincy contributor Paige Malott writes on her website, CincyWhimsy:

The Cincinnati Streetcar is the first streetcar in the United States to be designed with curb level boarding at every stop, making it the most accessible in the nation. Curb level boarding means easy access for people with wheelchairs, visual impairments, walkers, or other mobility issues. Unlike a bus, they can enter the streetcar independently without the driver having to stop to assist them. Curb level boarding is also helpful for people with strollers, young children, or luggage.

And that’s just one of the many advantages of streetcars over buses.

No mechanism for electorate to challenge ODOT

A letter-to-the-editor from Jake Mecklenborg published in the Enquirer:

Much of the argument for reconstruction of I-75 and the Brent Spence Bridge is the “functional obsolescence” of those facilities (“The big I-75 fix” June 2). We are told that the elimination of left-side ramps and improvement of safety shoulders – at a cost of about $3 billion for a few miles of roadway – will usher in a new era of prosperity.

Since vehicle ownership and miles driven started their decline in the early 2000s, leading cities shifted away from highway projects and instead invested heavily in public transportation. New York City has no plans to improve or replace its innumerable functionally obsolete bridges, tunnels, and left-side ramps. Los Angeles is expanding its subway system and building a downtown streetcar rather than expanding its highway network.

Here ODOT is reconstructing I-75 and building a new Brent Spence Bridge for a future that will never arrive. However, the public has no say in the matter, since Cincinnatians have not voted on a road project since 1956 and no mechanism exists for the electorate to challenge ODOT’s activities.

While “anti-tax” groups and grandstanding governors feign outrage over the cost of rail transit projects, they don’t make a peep about much higher-cost highway projects. (Hint: they’re not actually upset about the cost; they’re upset because they see anything but road construction and suburbia as an attack on their preferred way of life.)

And even if we wanted to, we don’t have a way of forcing a referendum on ODOT. As a reminder, here’s a cost comparison of some local rail and highway projects proposed over the years (some of the numbers have changed since this chart was first published in early 2011):

Cost Comparison

MetroMoves: A Decade Later

Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy:

The election held earlier this month marked the 10-year anniversary of MetroMoves, the Hamilton County ballot issue that would have more than doubled public support for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). Specifically, a half-cent sales tax would have raised approximately $60 million annually, permitting a dramatic expansion of Metro’s bus service throughout Hamilton County and construction and operation of a 60-mile, $2.7 billion streetcar and light rail network.

Unfortunately, the 2002 ballot initiative failed, largely due to an anti-tax attitude following the county’s 1996 stadium sales tax fiasco, and Cincinnati’s five light rail lines never came to be.

But in the decade since, gas has jumped from $1.50 to around $4. Downtown Cincinnati has improved significantly, and been transformed into a place where so many people want to live that hardly any apartments are available and new condos are sold out before they’re finished. The city and affiliated groups have proven that they can handle large projects like The Banks, Fountain Square, Washington Park, and the Gateway Quarter.

Even with those factors, I agree with Jake that a county-wide transit tax would be unlikely to pass today, with the resurgence of anti-government furor from the Tea Party crowd. But Cincinnati will continue to move forward — we’re building the streetcar with city and federal funding, and it didn’t require raising taxes — and maybe in a few years the city will be able to launch a new light rail plan.

Sherrod Brown fights for Cincinnati

I wrote to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown regarding Representative Steve Chabot’s attempt to overturn the will of Cincinnati voters and insert an anti-earmark against bus and rail transit into a federal transportation funding bill.

Fortunately, Senator Brown sees the danger of the amendment, and replied:

I appreciate hearing your views on how important it is to fund transportation initiatives in Cincinnati. Recently an amendment was offered to the House appropriations bill that would restrict funding for light rail or “fixed guideway” systems in the City of Cincinnati. I share your concerns about this potentially overbroad language.

Should relevant legislation come before the Senate, you can be sure I will keep your concerns in mind.

On the latest episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we discuss Rep. Chabot’s amendment, which would ban future federal funding for any sort of light rail, commuter rail, streetcar, freight rail, bus rapid transit (BRT), or other “fixed guideway” system in Cincinnati.

We also discuss how the extreme politicization of transportation issues results in politicians “selling out” their own constituants and costs taxpayers much more in the long run.

Duke Energy’s ‘8 foot’ lie

Portland StreetcarLast week, Duke Energy announced that they were pulling out of negotiations with the City of Cincinnati to relocate utilities in the path of the Cincinnati Streetcar. They also claimed that for “safety reasons”, all utilities must be moved 8 feet away from the streetcar’s path, so that utility work could be performed while the streetcar is operating. Duke is insisting that the city pay the full cost of utility relocation.

But where did Duke Energy get this “8 foot” figure? The city planned on a 3-foot separation, which is the standard in other U.S. cities that operate streetcar and light rail systems—including Charlotte, where Duke is headquartered. Jake Mecklenborg has even put together a collection of 20 photos (like the one above) showing manhole covers directly adjacent to, and in some cases, in between streetcar or light rail tracks.

The real reason Duke is taking this position is that the gas lines under Downtown Cincinnati are decades old. Within the next 15 years, Duke will have to spend millions of dollars to replace these lines anyway, regardless of whether or not a streetcar is built. They are trying to take advantage of the situation and have the city pay this cost for them.

The city should pay a portion of the cost—after all, Duke now has to replace the lines a few years earlier than they otherwise would have needed to. But remember that Duke’s business model involves building infrastructure and charging customers to connect to it. The city should not pay the full cost and subsidize Duke’s profit.

Even with this minor setback, the official groundbreaking of the Cincinnati Streetcar will occur February 17.

Update (2/17): The Cincinnati Business Courier — apparently, our only local paper interested in doing investigative journalism — researched Duke’s claims, and found that an 8 foot separation is unnecessary. CBC reviewed practices in other cities and interviewed transit experts, and found that the city is right and Duke is wrong on the matter.

Have you written your letter to the Ohio Department of Transporation in support of the Cincinnati Streetcar?  It must be submitted to TRAC@dot.state.oh.us by today!  If you believe in the future of Cincinnati, do it now!

I wrote:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you to express my support for ODOT’s investment in the Cincinnati Streetcar project.  Last year, I moved to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati.  I was drawn to the revitalization that’s taking place in the area, with new businesses opening up regularly.  Most importantly, I was drawn to the idea of true urban living — having everything I need within walking distance.  The Streetcar will put even more of my needs within walking distance and could allow me to get rid of my car completely.  The money I now spend on gasoline, parking, and auto repairs would be freed up, allowing me to spend more at local businesses and support our state’s economy.

As a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati, I chose to stay in Cincinnati partially due to the promise that the Streetcar would be built.  Several studies have shown that my generation is more interested in urban living than the previous two generations.  To remain competitive, it’s time for Ohio to invest in improving our cities and building quality mass transit.  Building the Streetcar aligns perfectly with the state’s goal of retaining more of its college graduates.

Thank you for your time.

UrbanCincy has more information on why it’s so important to show your support for the project.

COAST doesn’t get it: Transit-oriented development is real

In their latest poorly-researched attack piece, the anti-rail group COAST claims that high speed rail will destroy our residential property values and that transit-oriented development is a myth.  However, the article is based purely on anecdotes and hearsay, and lacks any factual evidence.

According to a Sky News article and video referenced by COAST, homeowners near the future location of a high speed rail line in England are having difficulty selling their homes.  One woman claims the value of her home has been “completely wiped out.”  Yet Sky News did not attempt to find any data to back this up.

The Guardian provides some additional coverage regarding this particular issue. Residents’ concerns about the proposed HS2 route may be valid and deserve further consideration, but this particular controversy is specific to the British proposal and doesn’t negate the need for high-speed rail in the United States. There are bound to be aggrieved parties in any major infrastructure project, but our future cannot be held hostage by a handful of NIMBY activists.

COAST also repeats their talking point that transit-oriented development (TOD) isn’t real.  They previously made this claim in April 2009, saying that TOD has been slow to materialize near the Washington Metro system in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  I responded to their claim with specific examples of TOD where they claimed none existed.

Conveniently, COAST skims over a few big facts in the Sky News article. For example, a conventional-speed train line already connects the cities of London and Birmingham.  It has been so successful that the UK’s Department for Transport is now ready to build the high-speed system currently in question — a new 250 MPH line along the same route, cutting the travel time approximately in half.  This sounds very similar to Ohio’s plan for the 3C Corridor: get conventional rail up and running, and convert the route to high speed over time.

All three major political parties in the UK support high-speed rail. Even the opponents of this particular line support “upgrading the existing track, upgrading the existing trains,” and increasing the investment in rail, according to the Sky News video. Perhaps COAST should embrace the reality that even a conventional-speed train would achieve significant ridership and that rail must play a part of our multi-modal transportation network.

COAST can repeat their stale catchphrases like “snail rail”, “trolley”, and “boondoggle” all they want.  It doesn’t change the fact that rail transportation is a proven tool for creating new development and improving our mobility.

Originally posted to Metro Cincinnati.