Typically I see eye-to-eye with "Willie" on a lot of issues and understand his points, but there is one issue I very much disagree with Mr. Cunningham on: The Cincinnati Streetcar. On his radio show, Bill has been an outspoken critic of the idea to construct the starter phase of a modern streetcar line in Cincinnati. I would consider myself a supporter of the idea and personally believe the construction of a modern streetcar is a good way to spur economic progress and growth within the city and may eventually lead to expanding transit options benefiting the entire tri-state region.
On Friday afternoon, "Willie" had Jason Gloyd, a representative of the "Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending Taxes (C.O.A.S.T.)," as a guest on his show. COAST had become the most vocal group speaking out against the streetcar. I was taken so aback by Mr. Gloyd's comments during the show that I felt compelled to call in. Mr. Cunningham and his producer Jack Crumley were kind enough to grant me an opportunity to speak on behalf of the streetcar plan and eventually sent me on an eye opening field trip to the heart of "Over-The-Rhine," a Cincinnati neighborhood commonly believed to be a major hot bed of crime. I went on the air as "Ronny from Fairfield."
You can listen to an approximately 8 minute clip that consists of Mr. Gloyd's interview followed by my on-air discussion with Bill here (launches a streaming mp3 in a new window). The entire podcast of Friday's show can be found on 700 WLW's official site here.
Jason really makes some ignorant and blatantly wrong statements when it comes to the streetcar, in fact, he often flat out lies. Here's some golden quotes:
Jason says that streetcars are "Coal burning locomotives in disguise."
- Not true, the streetcars run on electric motors powered by overhead wires. While the tri-state area gets some of it's power from various nearby coal burning plants, there would not be any need for any of these plants to increase production or increase the size of the region's power grid just to accommodate the streetcar system.
According to Jason the streetcar would be an example of "Fixed rail systems that can't change when downtown demographics change."
- Wrong. Just because it's fixed rail doesn't mean the lines can't eventually be extended or improved upon. As downtown continues to grow and change the streetcar could vastly be altered to include more, farther reaching lines to other destinations and stops within the city.
"It's environmentally unstable, socially unstable and economically unstable."
- I'm wondering how it's environmentally unstable when the streetcars would add no serious strain to the power grid and run on clean, electric motors. Economically unstable? No Cincinnati resident is currently being taxed to build the line, the city's money has came from other sources such as the sale of the Blue Ash Airport and a large portion of the funds will be financed by private donations. Socially unstable? How so Jason, maybe you should have elaborated. I fail to see how a development like this promoting development along it's route is "Socially unstable."
Bill Cunningham: "You're gonna go from the slave museum, up through Over-The-Rhine then turn around...and then what...turn around and come back?"
Jason Gloyd: "Turn around and come back."
- While Bill is right, the first phase of the streetcar would pass by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, or as he dubbed it "The Slave Museum," and through Over-The-Rhine, it will also pass by numerous other downtown attractions that are both along the Riverfront, throughout Over-The-Rhine and the areas in between. A full list of destinations along the streetcar's route can be found on the "Cincy Streetcar" website. I'd like to point out that the proposed streetcar route would pass right by Fountain Square, a major public gathering place where Jason is holding one of his "tea party" rallies this week. however, he would have you believe though that you just go to "The Slave Museum," through "Over-The-Rhine" and back.
According to Jason: "The energy percentage per passenger is far more efficient on a bus than it is on these coal burning locomotives."
- I'll just point out again that the streetcars run on clean, electric motors powered overhead electric wires, not on coal.
Jason mentions: "The argument is that this will benefit all of us, not just the select few downtown."
- Jason, I'm not one of the "select few" who live downtown. I'm a 20 year old college student in the process of transferring schools, currently living with my parents in the suburb of Fairfield. Would the streetcar benefit me? Yes, it would. I could definitely see myself utilizing the streetcar during the numerous times I work as a freelance photographer downtown or even just during the times I want to go down to an event such as a Cyclones, Reds or Bengals game. Having the ability to ride the streetcar would allow me to be able to pay for parking once then I could go on to enjoy dinner or entertainment at Fountain Square before hoping on the streetcar to catch a hockey game, baseball game or any of the other numerous downtown activities and locales.
"Everyone wants to point to Portland and Portland and Portland."
- You're right Jason, they do, because Portland has had great success with their streetcar system. Economic development along the Portland line has numbered nearly $2.8 Billion since it's completion. They're not just talking about Portland Jason, they're talking about Tampa, Little Rock and Kenosha too. Source.
"One of their big arguments is...fixed rail lines, that's a sign that we're really gonna be here and you can plan your development around it. Well, if you talk to the folks that run METRO, the vast majority of the METRO routes have not changed in 50 years, so what's more permanent than that?"
- What's more permanent than that? A fixed rail system is! Where does he get this notion that the vast majority of the METRO routes haven't changed over the past five decades? A claim like that is absolutely absurd. The METRO routes have continued to expand out towards the suburbs and have changed immensely within downtown as projects like the new stadiums, Riverfront Transit Center and the Fountain Square renovation have been completed. A fixed rail system is appealing, because it does show that the route is unlikely to change for some time and it has been proven to attract economic development in cities like Portland, Tampa, Little Rock, Kenosha and Seattle as they have installed similar systems.
Jason Gloyd and his C.O.A.S.T. cronies continue to pull at the heart strings of the public suffering from the current economic recession by advocating tax opposition, but when it comes to the streetcar they get it wrong. Organizations like C.O.A.S.T. continue to keep promoting the same old, tired misconceptions and stereotypes. Jason's interview on Bill Cunningham's show clearly shows that not only are they against the progress a streetcar would help promote, but they don't have all the facts right.
As for Mr. Cunningham's on-air challenge for me to go to the corners of 15th and Vine St. in the heart of "Over-The-Rhine" at midnight, I made good on my word. I told him I would go there, take pictures and email them to him. I did...
...and somehow I survived.
Bill, if you're reading this, I understand your concerns about crime in "Over-The-Rhine." Last year I rode along with three separate Cincinnati Police Officers during their regular patrols through "District 1" which includes Over-The-Rhine. I documented those experiences into a photojournalism essay entitled "Civilian Observer." I've seen firsthand the crime that can come out of that area. However, while there are legitimate concerns over crime in this part of town, it's often way over hyped. The streetcar would be used not only as a way to stimulate an economic revitalization of Over-The-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati, but as a way to help prevent and fight crime in the city. Streetcar operators would serve as an extra set of eyes on the streets with direct lines to police radio dispatch, similar to METRO drivers. This would be in addition to the Cincinnati Police Department's continued efforts to fight crime and help clean up Over-The-Rhine.
My "field trip" for Mr. Cunningham proves that Over-The-Rhine is not as dangerous as it's made out to be. Let's be real though, the area could definitely use some "cleaning up." However, with the continued support of the Cincinnati Police Department and the economic stimulus a modern streetcar would bring to the area, we can see real improvement not just in Over-The-Rhine, but within downtown Cincinnati in general. It's been proven time and time again in other cities: Streetcars impact communities both economically and socially in very positive ways! It would not only benefit the downtown residents, but also those of us who work, visit, play and enjoy downtown Cincinnati. This streetcar is a step in the right direction. Don't let the deceit and misconceptions of an organization like C.O.A.S.T. fool you. No one is currently being taxed to fund this line and it has not yet been made official as to whether or not federal stimulus dollars will be used in helping to fund it. Who knows, maybe this could be the start of something that is not only good for the city, but something that could be adapted to benefit the entire tri-state region in the future.