Friday, February 17, 2012

A New Era Began on Friday.



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- An asphalt patch replaced one of the cobblestones that was ceremoniously uplifted for the streetcar groundbreaking earlier in the day.
A few blocks away, the Liberty Street station of the city's subway sits underground quietly. Its tunnels never saw any trains after political posturing and global financial upheaval forced the project to be abandoned. In 1951, the last streetcars ran on the tracks in front of Memorial Hall, where I was standing. These cobblestone flanked rails are the last few that weren't buried under asphalt when rail transit within the city disappeared. Just a few hours earlier though, everything changed. Ground was broken, the new Modern Streetcar project began and a new era in the city has been ushered in.

Just a few hours earlier, hundreds of people gathered outside Memorial Hall. The crowd was estimated at around 400. A lone protester stood on the fringe of the ground - a fitting symbol of how the blatant lying of the opposition failed to stop this project multiple times. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, lined up with Mayor Mallory, Vice-Mayor Qualls, City Manager Dohoney and longtime rail activist John Schneider. Their shovels uplifted the cobblestones and ground was officially broken on a project that has faced numerous ridiculous challenges, despite strong local support.

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- Local 12 reporter Jeff Hirsh preparing to do an evening report from the site of the groundbreaking.

I saw the groundbreaking as it streamed live while I worked at my desk. Due to meetings, I wasn't able to go down there. Event though I wasn't standing there among friends at the ceremony, I couldn't help but feel excited. Despite similar projects proven to be major successes, both from an economic and transportation perspective, in countless other cities - many here remained opposed. Talk radio fills the suburban airwaves with nonsense and lies (remember when I disproved Bill Cunningham?). Special interest groups lead by a lawyer from Anderson Township tried to bring forth multiple ballot issues and had a loss handed to them two times. Their tactics of comparing the streetcar to 9/11, blaming the deaths of children on it and generally lying have failed them.

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Aside from Detroit, Cincinnati is the largest city without some form of rail transit. That's changing. The streetcar is the first step of what could be a larger rail system and one that complements our existing public transit nicely.  This groundbreaking was a victory for those who believed Cincinnati could become something better. As new skyscrapers rise, parks come to life and businesses keep moving to the city - the streetcar will be there to lead it all in.

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- Markings already in place for construction.

Whether you like it or not, it's coming. Friday was a great day to be a Cincinnatian.

3 comments:

  1. I was also there and to be honest, it was impossible not to notice the absurdity (and I think that's the right word) of several hundred supporters vs. one lone naysayer standing off in the fringe. His presence only reminded everyone of that.

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  2. Hi, I'm one of those guys from outside the city... actually I used to live in Northside and Clifton but couldn't stand it anymore and left... The opponents of this project seem to be a very mixed bunch, some with what sound like reasonable arguments, and some nuts. At any event, whenever there is a proposal to spend a great deal of tax money, it seems to me that the burden of proof should be on the supporters of the expenditure not on those opposing.

    That is where I've been unconvinced. Maybe you can help me there. How is this supposed to work? The tax payer spends a bunch of money (about $90 million) on a street car that goes (last I checked) from roughly fountain square to roughly Findlay Market. OK, then what? After that supporters seem to always jump to "a new era of greatness and prosperity dawns", but the mechanism has never been explained to me.

    I *like* street cars, and kind of feel a wish for this thing to succeed, but the supporting evidence and message has been kind of weak. I mean, it's all been about "how cool is this?" I was convinced on that part of it, it's "how is this extremely cool thing going to improve things, pay its way, and pay back something on its cost?" that I've never heard much about.

    Can you fill in the blank for me? How does it get from here to "a major success" and how will we know that it did?

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    Replies
    1. John,
      I think the answer to your question is that it's not reasonable to expect the streetcar to pay for itself in any direct way. Very few public endeavours are expected to do so. Would we say of the library that it's great it's giving out books and all, but where's the money? What's it's business model?

      I also have a lot of (mostly rhetorical!) questions about the details of the plan for the streetcar, but it's also important, I think, to note that in the context of other transportation spending(even locally), the $100,000,000 expense is actually not that high at all. The projected cost of the addition of another highway bridge across the river is somewhere over 3 billion now I think and that plan is sliding forward with no opposition. That's THIRTY times higher than the cost of the streetcar. We also just spent more than a billion on widening the highway to Dayton. Again, no opposition, and no proof or expectation that it will pay for itself.

      I guess I point those two projects out to ask why the streetcar and it's supporters should bear the burden of proof when no one else ever has. And also of course, to point out that perhaps other transportation projects should be held to the same exacting standards.

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