This past Monday, Seicer and I were downtown checking out the construction progress of the new Queen City Square tower...
...and the progress on The Banks:
Coming North off of Walnut St. we noticed the surface entrances to the Riverfront Transit Center. Some of the benches and metallic facade around the entrances have already begun to rust.
Most people don't even know where these stairs and elevators lead to.
When viewed from street level, they've been known to fool out of town visitors or unknowing locals into thinking Cincinnati has some sort of subway transit system.
On the outside, their design is modern and appealing.
But on the inside, behind the locked doors, are stairs leading down into darkness.
Where do these stairs go? Well, to the Riverfront Transit Center...Or as I affectionately call it: Cincinnati's other abandoned subway (To read about the original Cincinnati Subway which was constructed from 1920-1927 then abandoned, leaving a network of tunnels beneath the city streets, click here).
Unlike it's abandoned predecessor, the Transit Center is not a failed or abandoned project, just one waiting to be utilized. Also, unlike the original abandoned subway, the Riverfront Transit Center may soon have a more active, useful future.
What is the Riverfront Transit Center? The Transit Center is an underground tunnel running beneath 2nd street with two portals on each end. The tunnel runs parallel to Ft. Washington Way and opens up to Pete Rose Way near the US Bank Arena on it's East end and to Central Ave. near Paul Brown Stadium it's West end.
The idea for the Transit Center was born out of the reconstruction of Ft. Washington Way and the construction of the new stadiums. Unlike Riverfront Stadium before them, Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium do not feature expansive plazas at street level for buses and taxis to park. The Transit Center was built to accommodate these buses which now required a new place to park for events like Oktoberfest, Riverfest, Bengals and Reds games, etc. Designed with the future in mind, the roof of the tunnel is raised and features large, industrial vents to accommodate rail transit, should Cincinnati ever embrace a light rail plan.
Aside from special events that bring large amount of buses and people downtown, the Transit Center remains closed, locked up tight in a somewhat abandoned state. I had only been down there on a few occasions before this day. Back in January of 08 I walked up and down 2nd St. checking the surface entrance doors to see if any were opened. I found one opened door and proceeded down the steps. I don't think that door was supposed to be unlocked, because once I got down there, there was hardly any light, no buses or vehicles and no people. I snapped one grainy photograph at 1600 ISO and left.
The next time I was able to get down there was during Oktoberfest Zinzinnati 2008. The doors were unlocked, the lights were on and there were a few buses parked down there. Seicer and I walked down to find the nice, modern light fixtures and hand crafted mosaics of the center's walls.
As we stepped into the center of the tunnel to take a wide photograph, a voice came over the loudspeaker: "Excuse me, you must exit the Transit Center, the Transit Center is not open to the public." Confused, we looked for an employee, a person or someone who was down there before we heard the announcement again. We made our way towards the stairs, heading back up to the street level as the same voice once again came over the speaker to say "Thank You."
It's a shame the transit center isn't used more often as it looks very nice and could be a great example of modern transit architecture. As a bus terminal, it pretty much fails except in the case of special events. Local bus operators such as METRO, TANK and MegaBus prefer to use Government Square due to it's location in the central office district at the heart of downtown. If the Transit Center were to be utilized for light rail or as part of the upcoming 3C Corridor, it would give Cincinnati a rail transit station in a key location right under the riverfront.
Despite the Transit Center now being locked up from the surface, Seicer and I were determined to see if any of the other entrances to the center were open.
So we headed into the Central Riverfront Garage, beneath the Freedom Center.
While there were clues indicating the Transit Center's existence, most of the signage throughout the garage only directed pedestrians where they could park, exit and where attractions such as the stadiums and freedom center were located. No signage indicated where the transit center could be located and even the elevator buttons leading to it had been disabled.
We exited the parking garage and got back into Seicer's car. Heading down 3rd St., we turned left on Central Ave. in an attempt to find one of the portals of the Transit Center.
Directly below 2nd. St., on each end of the tunnel are two parking lots, which block the tunnel's entrance and exit. This is not a problem for buses which exit and enter the transit center, considering there is no activity or buses utilizing the Transit Center. At the ends of the tunnel, at the back of the parking lots are large gates, barracading off the Transit Center.
Peering through the gates one can see the empty tunnel, which features few lights left on and rust beginning to form on some of the walls.
While I may jokingly refer to the Transit Center as "Cincinnati's Other Abandoned Subway," the Transit Center is not a failed project by any means, just an underutilized one. If adapted for light rail transit, the RTC could literally become an active subway station for the city, connecting to a regional light rail line. As the 3C corridor, a high speed amtrak rail line connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, is planned; the Riverfront Transit Center has been considered to possibly be the location of a new Cincinnati station on the 3C route. As progress continues on The Banks project and the new Central Riverfront Park, one is left to wonder whether or not the Transit Center will ever be used to it's full potential. Until the surrounding development is complete or plans for light rail and the 3C Corridor are brought to fruition, the Transit Center remains quiet and closed beneath the city streets, just like it's abandoned predecessor, waiting for a chance to come to life.
Today the Cincinnati Reds hosted the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies. Nearly 26,000 came out for today's day game, many in the crowd were young children visiting the ballpark with school or other groups. Due to the large amount of visiting groups, the underground Riverfront Transit Center was utilized to host all the buses:
Already showing some ware and tear, the Transit Center could use a little TLC. However, it was both interesting and exciting to see it operating in some capacity. Since it's only sometimes used for large events, it's a shame that this asset is not used to it's full potential.
To read more about and see photographs of Cincinnati's original Abandoned Subway system, click here.
To read about and see photographs of the construction of the Riverfront Transit Center, check out Jake Mecklenborg's Cincinnati Transit website.