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Monday, March 24, 2008

A challenge for those who demand better

Are you tired of the same old stall, do-nothing politics? Do you yearn for a day where Cincinnati is a leader and doesn’t wait for something to catch mass appeal before it takes that particular path? Can Cincinnati shed the Mark Twain complex that is seemingly as tied to Cincinnati as Skyline Chili, Pete Rose, or WKRP?

Cincinnati has been working on the development of a streetcar system for the city. The necessary steps have been taken, stakeholders approached and funding outlined. This process started years ago by the quiet and often unnoticed efforts of many individuals. The process has reached a critical point and has the majority support of city council, Mayor Mallory, City Manager Milton Dohoney and scores of residents across this fair city.

It should be noted though that this process has been stagnant now since October 24, 2007. It has been five months since any real action has been made by city council or the finance committee. In terms of inflationary costs alone this inaction has cost taxpayers roughly $2.12 million. John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls have been working very hard to keep this process from moving forward, and they have succeeded now for five months.

I urge you to demand change from our local leaders and let Cranley/Qualls know that you do not stand for the same old stall and do-nothing politics of old. These actions are costing the taxpayers money, city staff time and exhausting the many pro-bono efforts that have been made by local citizens.

If you stand for change let them know and share this message with as many people as possible. Let the politicians know that they aren’t going to grandstand/posture on the taxpayer’s dime. Let them know that the time for politicking is over, and most importantly, let them know that your support hinges upon this.

Roxanne Qualls
801 Plum St. Rm 352
Cincinnati, OH 45202-1979
Phone: (513) 352-3604
Fax: (513) 352-3621

John Cranley
801 Plum St. Rm 356
Cincinnati, OH 45202-1979

Phone: (513) 352-5303
Fax: (513) 352-4657


Anonymous said...

Is there not a case for waiting until there is a new administration in Washington that supports public transit and will reauthorize the ISTEA funding.

Randy Simes said...

The more time we waste - the more money we waste...and most importantly it is more wasted time.

Joe Wessels said...

Why not find out why they are against it and report that? As I pointed out in my column last week - and as predictable as the sun coming up immediately got e-mails telling me I was wrong - it's important to ask questions when such an important community issue is on the table. Despite assertions otherwise, not all the questions have been answered. Uh, like the one the first commenter pointed out.

Randy Simes said...

Joe I have lots of respect for you, but sometimes you have to ask yourself the important questions and say...what is it we're waiting for?

Is there something specific we're waiting out to get? If we take Qualls' route then we'll have the same end product. At this point the timeline would be a wash between the two - which would be the best end result. However if her argument fails then we end up delayed years and possibly without anything to show for our efforts.

A new admin is a year away...and ISTEA is certainly not going to be the first thing that admin tackles. If McCain gets elected then don't even consider it...but the best case would be Obama or Clinton and that is still years off at best.

Time is money, and like I said...time is also time. We can not afford to sqaunder either one if we want to become a national leader instead of a habitual follower.

Chris S said...

No, not all the questions have been answered and no one asserts that they have. The actual assertion being made by most supporters is that we have reached a stage where it is appropriate to approve the funding plan and see what monies can be raised in the private sector. There are still many more steps to go, but to try to plan everything before even giving preliminary authorizations, well that is both costly in terms of the overall cost of the system due to the time value of money delays, and further, there is still much time to plan and think before digging up streets. We don't need to prethink the next 20 years before we can agree to move forward. Thats what was attempted in the 1981 Cincinnati 2000 plan as well as the MetroMoves plan. And its sad to hold millions of dollars of good intentions and thorough planning in your hands.

This project is not the same. Its a seed. Plant it, and grow the demand for such services from that seed. Its much smaller scale and its better for it.

There are more questions to be asked for sure. But those questions can be asked and answered at the same time as moving forward on the first phase planning.

As far as questions of whether we should wait until the next administration maybe approves a block grant funding program, that Cincinnati might be eligible to apply for, sometime years in the future is asking to increase the costs of the system by 10s of millions of dollars just to wait and see if "maybe". To me, the better plan is to move in phases. Small managable chunks. The political will to keep this moving is HERE, right now, on the ground. And that will will sustain if things can move forward progressively. The people who have developed the current plan have a good feel for what pots of money these plans can be funded from. There are current federal programs that can potentially be tapped. One thing that can move our application along in that process is that we have actually invested local money into a project that is tangible (not just on paper).

I think most of us have a pretty good idea why both Cranley and Qualls stand the way they do on this issue. We just disagree with that stance.

Chris S said...

Oh and Joe, I want to extend the invite to come over to the forums and take a look at the amount of discussion that has gone on with regard to the streetcar proposal.

I think alot of the angst at your last column was due to the fact that there has been substantive discussion of these ideas for quite a long time now, and while some of us may be quick to pull the trigger on our arguments, its largely because we've talked this to death, and still have our disagreements over what is best.

Jason said...

There's absolutely no good reason to wait any longer getting this project started. Quall's argument that she wants to see a guaranteed plan for the uptown link is pointless. Why not just get the downtown loop started and do the planning and fund gathering for the uptown link at the same time? I really don't understand their motivation for delaying this any longer. Do they really think that after the downtown loop is done it will be hard to get an uptown link approved and funded? I don't see how thats a valid concern.

Anonymous said...

Time is money, but if there is a way to get more federal funding in the near future that little bit of time could mean less of a local burden.

I would assume that the finance committee is well aware of the discount rates and timing issues, they aren't delaying this to make it more expensive, they are trying to explore the various funding options which are multiple and complex.

I for one appreciate the consideration that is being given to this issue because it is an expensive capital project that we will be stuck paying for for a long time.

Did everyone scream and shout to get the stadiums built in a hurry too?

Anonymous said...

Here's what I wrote. this is my fisrt time posting on your blog. I have posted a few times on Urban Ohio.

Ed Wildey

Ms. Qualls

I'm sending you this e-mail urging you to reconsider your apparent "stall tactics" in getting the first phase of the streetcar built. As a vendor at Findlay Market, I feel that the
introduction of the first phase of the streetcar line from downtown onto Over The Rhine would greatly enhance and insure that the market remains a vital part of the rebirth
of our entire city. While Findlay Market still enjoys a relatively healthy Saturday market. as I'm sure you know, the rest of the days of the week that the market is open:
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, the market traffic is very light to almost negligible. I can assure you that the Market is struggling to be a successful venture.
For many of the vendors, one good day is not enough to be able to survive in the long term, this is why a huge chunk of the market remains vacant.

The current proposed streetcar line running along Elm Street would greatly affect the attendance at Findlay Market. One easily can envision downtown workers and
residents hopping the streetcars during lunch hour to do some quick shopping and grab a bite to eat. I also see less apprehension from the
suburban workers who might be afraid to venture into the neighborhood but would be willing to leave their cars parked downtown and take a clean, quick
and safe mode of transportation to explore OTR and Findlay Market. Saturday's market would also be greatly enhanced because our parking lots during peak season
are filled to capacity for most of the day, but with this mode of transportation, once again the downtown residents would have little reason to drive. Oh yeah, let's not forget the
tourists visiting Cincinnati, staying downtown being able to easily visit one of our true Historic attractions.

I spoke briefly with Mr. Tarbell while he was buying some flowers from me. I asked him if he thought that the streetcar was going to pass the city council vote and he was
cautiously optimistic. I also asked him why you were so opposed to the plans where the first phase was to be built and used as leverage for the second phase
which will ultimately reach UC. He said that he did not know that I should write to you asking for your support of the current plans. I didn't think I needed to as the Enquirer
indicated that the measure had enough support to pass. Well, It looks as though you and Mr. Cranley stalled the referendum again dalaying the vote for another
two weeks. Maybe if I and most streetcar supporters understood what you are trying to accomplish with your obvious stall tactics, then we could stomach them better. Time
is of the essence we only have a short window of opportunity to get this accomplished. The streetcar, I'm sure ,will not just be an enhancement to Findlay Market, it will make the
whole city a better place in which to live, work and visit. Findlay Market's viability is in jeapody, and is just one entity that could certainly thrive because of the streetcar being built
much sooner than later. How many millions of dollars do you think it would cost the city to build a long discussed parking garage big enough to make Findlay market successful?
I say lets kill two birds with one stone, build the streetcar so the garage won't be necessary.

Until then, I regret Mr. Tarbell's forced retirement from council and you specifically as being made his replacement. Mr. Tarbell was and is OTR's greatest advocate.
I feel that ,if he were still on council, we would be laying track much sooner.


Edward Wildey
Wildey Flower farm

Chris S said...

In comparison to the stadia, this is a small small project. Nearly an order of magnitude smaller in terms of dollars and development effort.

More federal money is a good thing, but one of the whole thoughts behind the phased approach is that federal dollars don't come without local commitment first (or at least its very very very rare if you aren't proposing a highway). Portland was one of the first cities to see federal small starts money for their latest streetcar extension and thats only after spending 3x in build money as cincinnati is considering putting in the ground in its phase 1. This is why most of who are pushing to get financing approved want a small phase 1, so that we can build incrementally on that, and with each phase there is more and more evidence of local dollars in the ground to get those federal dollars.

I disagree with the notion that they are "considering other financing" since that is not at all what they are doing here. They aren't going out and seeing whether there may be more federal programs available.

Honestly, at this point, in this committee, its not really about funding options, its about how big of a chunk to bite off in the first go. Some on council are insisting on biting off such a large chunk that it will be the single largest modern streetcar system built in this country. Personally, I think we should look to how other systems have proceeded with their first steps. (as small as a 1 mile line to as large as 3.5 mile line, but nothing even close to the notion of doing downtown and the uptown connector at the same time)

I agree that one thing that needs to happen is there needs to be serious financial alternatives analysis done. That said, funding has already been identified for the first phase loop in CBD/OTR. Where we really need to have the alternatives studied is for the uptown link because getting federal dollars is uncertain, and there needs to be some contingency planning. That said, given how long it will take to approach private parties to get the private money contributions required to start anything, these things can happen in parrallel. We don't have to have all of our ducks in a row for the entire hypothetical future system on day one. That just isn't how large scale rail systems have or will be built in the future. It is always incremental, and you bite off what you can chew today. Today we have the wherewithal to bite off the CBD/OTR circulator. It may well be that when the time is ripe to get money from whatever new federal program may be available that we can get those funds. However, is it really prudent to sit on our hands and do nothing on that possiblity when we have the ability to get started now?

Sean F. said...

I actually did some study last year on the federal funding structure for rail initiatives both in the current administration and in the Clinton admin that preceeded it. Federal funding, including ISTEA projects, have historically gone to 1) transportation architecture (trains stations, etc.) 2) fund studies for BRT 3) rail transit only when there is a significant investment from the local government.

If federal money will be spent on streetcars, we will be competing with about 30 other cities for a first phase. We are much more likely, if we build the first phase ourselves, to receive that federal money for subsequent additions to both the streetcar line, and possibly the addition of LRT.

Again, just my opinion, but waiting puts us in the same boat as many other areas, and I have no faith in our federal reps to bring that pork home.

Jimmy_James said...

I agree with Chris S, we have nothing to gain by waiting. Waiting doesn't make this city need rail less, waiting doesn't make the project cheaper, and waiting doesn't make us more likely to get federal funds. It actually does the opposite of those three things. I don't understand why we can't just work out the details for uptown while building phase 1, and then seemlessly move the work crews on to Phase 2 the day that Phase 1 is completed (3 FULL YEARS from now). It's not as if we can dig up every inch of the line and lay rail all at once anyway.

Justforview: "they aren't delaying this to make it more expensive, they are trying to explore the various funding options which are multiple and complex."

^ I disagree. It's entirely possible that they are delaying precisely to make this more expensive, because the bigger that price tag gets, the more negative headlines it draws. Maybe that isn't their motivation, but that remains to be seen. Also, Dohoney has laid out an incredibly resourceful list of funding options for the city's portion of the cost. Unfortunately, he can't approach "other sources" until this gets through the finance commitee; an opportunity that Qualls and Cranley seem reluctant to give him.

Anonymous said...

I understand that the people who want streetcars feel it's been talked about enough and just needs to be done. But the vast majority of Cincinnatians, including me, don't feel that just because you've been talking amongst yourselves and are convinced that you're right the city as a whole should spend so much money on a project that benefits so few.

Cincinnatians can be too cautious and too afraid to make mistakes. But I still don't get WHY the streetcar is needed, when the bus service runs to the same places AND MORE.

I've heard:
the streetcars run on time - more than buses? why? how?

the streetcars are easier for to take strollers onto - easier than buses? and how many parents with kids in strollers are there that go between 4th Street and Liberty?

the streetcars are easier to take packages on - again, easier than buses?

I think it comes down to the cool factor. And most of Cincinnati isn't prepared to spend $102 million for people in 2-3neighborhoods to feel cool. Not when it could be spent in ways that would benefit far more people and improve life in more material ways.

The downside to the streetcar I can foresee is that it is not financially viable and drains transit money from the Metro, which serves the entire city and actually needs to be expanded, not subsidize an expensive streetcar serving a few blocks.

Travis Estell said...

I'm on vacation in Chicago and I saw some great postcards with the L trains on them. I seriously considered buying 2 and sending them to Qualls and Cranley with a nice handwritten note on the back.

Randy Simes said...

^^Anonymous, you will be able to have the vast majority of your questions answered here:

It should also be noted that this entire process worked to engage public input in a variety of ways. There were numerous public input (Q/A) meetings with the feasibility study team and members of City Staff.

It really is not the fault of those involved if the public chooses to not engage themselves in the process. It would be like asking for a new set of debates from the presidential candidates after they have held 20 or so, because you chose not to watch those debates and get informed on their stances.

Anonymous said...

I understand that people think there will be an explosion of development along the line, but I just don't believe it. No one is citing Cleveland's Water Line, which is similar in scope and purpose to what's proposed here. It's failing miserably and is a big drag on the resources of the Cleveland transit system. And yes, before you say it, it's light rail. Which, according to the FAQ you cite is related to streetcar. I think there's more similarity to light rail in Cleveland than streetcars in Portland.

People haven't been involved in this process because they don't believe in the product. That's got to tell you something.

If people in Pleasant Ridge push for a $102 million dollar investment in a 2.2 mile loop running through Pleasant Ridge, averring that fantastic economic development will occur, would you support it? Or would you push for something that benefitted more people than lived in that small area?

Yes, the streetcar is downtown and downtown is a hub. I support further development of the downtown as a destination and residence. But this streetcar plan benefits so few to the possible detriment of so many--those who don't live in the area as well as those who depend on Metro elsewhere but will be faced with higher costs because of the drain a non-sustaining streetcar system will have on the transportation system as a whole.

Chris S said...

Cleveland's water line just isn't in the same category. Look at where the line runs, and where the stops are. Its not the same class of rail. Take a look at the other actual streetcar lines to compare apples to apples. Lines that were developed as circulator routes, not point A to point B destination routes.

Honestly, if studies indicated that there would be the same amount of development in Pleasant Ridge for the same investment, I would be hard pressed to say it wasn't worth investigating. The catch is that the Pleasant Ridge area doesn't have the same development potential as OTR/CBD.

The question of whether the streetcar can be run without overburdening the existing transit systems is something that can be addressed at the financing stage, and several council members are trying to do just that. The streetcar will be its own entity, and it will rise or fall on its own merits.

The grand visionary dream of a lot of the people involved in this project is that we can expand from the original line into other neighborhoods, with ciruclator routes designed to benefit those neighborhoods. We would all love to see that happen. However, no matter what other neighborhoods a line may eventually go to, there is no doubt in my mind that it will need to be in the CBD/OTR as well. Given that that area is the hub, it just makes sense to start there.

On the scale of projects that are under development in this city, the streetcar is a medium sized and budgeted project. (especially if we can convince council to stick with the OTR/CBD circulator as the phase 1). And yes, it is an experiment, but the results along modern streetcar lines in other cities seem to indicate that it could well be a success here. We have similar population densities to those other cities, and similar amounts of developable real estate stock along the proposed line. Anyhow, it is my contention that while the development and transportation impacts will be in primarily one area of the city, it is an area that will need to be served by better mass transit if we want to grow the city. Second, in an ideal world, the success of this line will prompt the expansion of the line to many other neighborhoods. And perhaps, just perhaps, real commuter light rail in the future. But baby steps, lets do something that works, then move on from there.

Randy Simes said...

So Anonymous, you find it more appropriate to compare the proposed streetcar system in Cincinnati to a heavy rail system in opposed to comparing it to another streetcar system in Portland.

Your logic is severely flawed...the same thing comes up when people refer to Buffalo's rail line. It is a different system altogether, but if we're able to compare apples to oranges like that why don't we look at St Louis' light rail line that has seen increasing ridership every year.

If you want to compare Cleleland's system to something being proposed in Cincinnati a more apt comparison would be to the Oasis Line that is part of the Eastern Corridor Project.

Anonymous said...

Cleveland's water line is light rail, not heavy rail. And the scope and purpose of the the water line and the proposed street car in Cincinnati are the same.

David Carney said...

Look at the old steetcar tracks on Elm Street near Washington Park. Look at the sections of abandoned, never used subway. No politician wants to be remembered for having an enormous public transit development running out of funding and halting construction on his or her watch.

No streetcar system would operate equitably that did not transport people from poorer neighborhoods into areas where jobs are located. Cincinnati taxpayers are loathe to underwrite the transportation of poor people anywhere. Especially during times of economic recession, there is no upside to helping the poor, even if the effort helps everybody else as well.

djc @

Kevin LeMaster said...

Hey, djc...

I like how you put words in my mouth and make assumptions about my views on gentrification in your blog today.

Perhaps you can allow comments on your blog so that people can tell you that they don't appreciate assumptions you make about them when they report objectively.

Your beef is misdirected. It was Cole's idea, not mine.

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