Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cincinnati Streetcar - Virtual Tour

- Streetcar tracks of Cincinnati's past lay dormant on Elm St. in front of Music Hall.

Right about the time I started this website in October 2007, I began hearing about the proposed Cincinnati Streetcar project. I had remembered learning about the abandoned subway and the failed 2002 light rail initiative, but at the time the idea of a modern streetcar in Cincinnati was news to me. As updates about the progress of the project continued to come forward, so did the skepticism and opposition of the project.

Streetcars had once helped Cincinnati thrive into a prosperous American city and with any luck, they will again.

As I continued to explore and adventure all over Cincinnati, my love and interest for this city grew. Whether I was commuting to my place of employment, heading out to shoot photographs and explore, or coming downtown for a Reds or Cyclones game, I often found myself the victim of Cincinnati's notorious traffic problems. The idea of light rail running across the region straight to the Riverfront Transit Center always piqued my interest as an excellent alternative to sitting in gridlock on 71, 74, 75 or 275. Likewise, the idea of being able to take a streetcar around town seemed like a great alternative to having to return to my car and find another parking spot to pay for at the next destination.

- A conceptual image of the Riverfront Transit Center below 2nd St. Streetcars are depicted above ground with light rail and buses depicted below ground. Currently the transit center serves only as a bus terminal during large events downtown, but could eventually be utilized for it's full purpose.

The modern streetcars of today are not the trolley's of the past. These sleek vehicles are environmentally friendly, have a higher capacity than buses and the permanence of the rails in the ground means the route is not likely to change for some time, encouraging economic development along the streetcar line. In the city of Portland, OR, an estimated $2.8 Billion dollars in economic value has been added to the city since their streetcar opened in 2001.

- Conceptual image of what a modern streetcar would look like as it traveled along Walnut St. past the Aronoff Theatre.

As the city moved ahead with the project, so did the resistance and opposition to such a progressive idea. Many dubbed the project as the "Streetcar to Nowhere," or claimed the area through which the streetcar would travel was too dangerous. I had my first run in with the streetcar opposition back in April, when local radio host Bill Cunningham dared me on air to venture into the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine at midnight, an area through which the proposed streetcar would pass.

As the debate over the project escalated, I felt many misconceptions and blatant exaggerations were being spread about the project, especially the route it would travel. To make a point that not only was the route safe, but had great potential for a streetcar line, I set out to create the Cincinnati Streetcar Virtual Tour. I spent one day walking the entire downtown/OTR circulator route, and another walking the uptown connector line.

(Above) Currently under construction, The Banks development will be located between Great American Ballpark and Paul Brown Stadium on the southern end of the streetcar line with the new Central Riverfront Park as it's centerpiece. The first phase of this mixed-use development is set for completion in early 2010. 
(Below) An artist's rendering depicting what 'The Banks' will look like upon completion.

After walking this route and seeing just where the streetcar will travel, I have seen firsthand the points of interest, entertainment venues, attractions and jobs that the streetcar will connect as well as the vast potential for economic redevelopment and revitalization along it's route. In the tour you too will see these locations as well as businesses that are already relocating to be on the streetcar line and how our existing Metro bus system would compliment this new form of public transit. After completing this project I am more convinced than ever that the streetcar would be a valuable asset that the city of Cincinnati can not afford to pass up.

At present, the vitality of the streetcar project is being threatened by Issue 9. Opponents of the streetcar have encouraged their supporters to vote "YES to reject the streetcar." Issue 9, however, affects more than just the streetcar project. If passed, Issue 9 would place an amendment on the city's charter requiring a public vote on any and all passenger rail projects within the city limits of Cincinnati. This amendment would affect all funding sources whether they be at the local, state, federal or private level. In a day and age where the State government is looking to passenger rail as a means to help alleviate our region's traffic congestion and connect Ohio's three major city's, and as the federal government seeks to unite major midwestern cities via high speed rail, Cincinnati simply can not afford to be left off of the map. The amendment is designed as a political obstruction to discourage our elected officials from seeking interest in developing any type of passenger rail project for the city. If our local officials can not do the job we elect them to do and if we have to stop, vote and campaign for each and every dollar that would potentially be spent on passenger rail transportation, Cincinnati will be further and further behind the rest of the country and miss out on the opportunity to seek funding for these projects. Regardless of your stance on the streetcar, Issue 9 affects much, much more. Because of the vague language and absurdity of this amendment, I encourage you on Nov. 3, 2009 to vote NO on 9!

EDIT: Due to a server crash in 2014, the "virtual tour" (aka just a flash based photo gallery) is no more. 

That, however, is my opinion on the matter. For a neutral source that outlines the effects and consequences of the proposed charter amendment, check out Kevin Lemaster's excellent, comprehensive article on "Building Cincinnati" to learn about the issue.

Virtual Tour Credits:
Photographs by Ronny Salerno
Conceptual Images by Bradley Thomas
Portland Photographs by Jake Mecklenborg
"No on 9" campaign image by David Cole

Updates | Oct. 7, 2017:
  • The "virtual tour" flash-based photo gallery is long gone thanks to a server crash (and wouldn't work with most modern smartphones anyways). 
  • Issue 9 was defeated. Issue 48 attempted to do the same thing in the next election, but was also defeated. The Cincinnati Streetcar was completed and opened in September 2016


  1. This is really great work...thanks for doing all this.

  2. nice tour, but the Main Library of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has no affiliation with the Lane Library.

  3. Anon, thanks for the correction.

    I grew up always going to Lane libraries, kind of went on autopilot with that one. I'll correct it when I get some free time again. Thanks for pointing it out!

  4. Thanks for creating that! It's a great tool for visualizing the value of the streetcar initiative. Hope we get to see the real thing soon.

  5. Well done, really enjoyed this. I think it puts to doubt anyone who still calls it "The Streetcar to nowhere." I really think linking the two largest job centers of the city will help it be a success, allowing the city to expand that success out to other neighborhoods.

    Thanks for taking the time to make this.

  6. Thanks! I was born, and grew up in the Greater Cincinnati Area. I am retired USAF living in France. It does my heart good to see the Queen City taking a forward looking stance. You have made me a little homesick. I just need a five way, or a bag of white castles to complete my virtual journey.