Complete the Cincinnati Streetcar

If the streetcar project in Cincinnati is indeed cancelled, as newly-elected mayor John Cranley promises, it won’t be the first time that city has cancelled a transit project already under construction. A subway under construction in the 1920s was halted, and the website dedicated to that history is well worth checking out. It should also give pause, considering the notable redevelopment efforts in the area in recent years, and the way in which a permanent, quality transit service could complement the improved urban fabric in Cincinnati.


The proposed streetcar route would link Fountain Square in the downtown core, through the Over-the-Rhine district (shown, courtesy 3CDC) and the historic Findlay Market. Thoughtful coverage on the issue has been provided at The Atlantic Cities and Next City. As those and other stories note, the streetcar has been contentious. Recently-elected mayor Cranley, who takes office in early December, has floated the idea of rubber tire trolleys as a more flexible and less costly alternative. As well, the feds have indicated that if the project is cancelled they’d like their money back. Keep in mind construction has already begun. Stopping it would be a shame and quite costly.

Rubber tire trolleys linking other key destinations around Cincinnati may very well be a good idea, but there is something going on in Cincinnati that may well deserve the more permanent presence and service a streetcar can provide, even if it is more expensive. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, 3CDC, is behind the renovation of Fountain Square in the past decade and the ongoing redevelopment of the Over-the-Rhine District, also known as the Gateway Quarter, and they’ve done a fantastic job. When I visited nearly five years ago, the area was still pretty sketchy but showed immense promise. Now, much progress has been made, as one by one, lovely Italianate buildings are being renovated in to apartments, condos and retail space. Coupled with the renovated Washington Park, historic home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Findlay Market, the streetcar will serve numerous destinations in a wonderfully revived section of the city.

True, like many modes of transportation, it is hard to measure the economic benefit streetcars provide. One could argue that this urban revitalization is already occurring – why add a streetcar? Frankly, I’d argue the opposite – that a streetcar (a permanent one running on tracks) would be a perfect complement for the area – stringing together so many destinations, many of which are a tad too far from each other for a comfortable walk. Hell, some of them would have been connected for 80 years had that subway been completed. The Cincinnati Streetcar deserves to be completed and begin operation, as it can become the connective artery for the central city. Let’s hope in 80 years we aren’t uncovering a section of rails from another never-completed transit improvement.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is

4 thoughts on “Complete the Cincinnati Streetcar

  1. minneapolisite

    Oh, Ohio, you haven’t changed much have you? If you look at any of the most prominent Ohio cities they’re still by and large holding on to mediocrity as much as they can and in the past decade Cincinnati had started to buck that trend but once again took a step back. It was the only one to add two new and sizable revitalized neighborhoods to its roster of great neighborhoods. Cleveland saw a comeback of an commercial intersection of Detroit-Shoreway now dubbed the Gordon Square Arts District,Columbus saw a similar tiny stretch get filled in over in Olde Towne East (though the city approved ODOT’s plan to widen the highway and knock down a popular bar/music venue cutting the number of nightspots down to the gay bar a block north).

    It’s funny that it seems like the neighborhoods in Cincinnati feel upset about being neglected, that the downtown is getting way too much attention and money poured into it when Cincinnati did way more to revitalize its downtrodden neighborhoods than either Columbus or Cleveland, the latter of which put suburban strip-malls into one of their worst neighborhoods in *2008* and called that “urban revitalization”.

    If they want to see an actual example of a city that doesn’t bother to seriously invest in its neighborhoods (or invest at all) they can drive up to Columbus and visit Olde Towne East which should be a lower density version of Over-the-Rhine where ornate old mansions and large homes take the place of compact apartment buildings.While the homes have by and large been restored by private dollars from new residents who saw the potential here.

    The mile long Main Street just about as blighted as ever with no destinations to draw visitors local or otherwise. Without city investment it has taken nearly 30 years for a measly two commercial intersections to be revitalized elsewhere in the neighborhood to compliment the revitalization of residential properties. These pictures may be from 2009 but after a drive through there last December I can affirm that it still looks the same.

    Meanwhile I happened across this article detailing some new restaurants that opened up in OTR detailing only a handful of new destinations that moved in from 2009-2013.

    Disgruntled Cincinnatians really need to reconsider what they’re saying when they claim that the city only cares about Downtown and leaves the neighborhoods to rot when not one but two neighborhoods do a virtual 180 in a decade. The streetcar line is a starter line too and to be so short sighted to kill it only means it’ll be that much longer before it runs through their neighborhoods and benefits them. Or do they want a bunch of “Olde Towne Easts” like Columbus, a city that also let its streetcar die before a single track was laid? Judging by the election the answer seems to be a resounding “Yes!”.

    It’s no wonder all urban centers in Ohio continue to see populations free-falling: it gets old seeing progress precariously made only to be threatened or undone at every turn.After a while, the question of when will ________, Ohio be a real city for urban lovers in that state is answered with, ” too damn long”, so we simply pick up leave for a real city elsewhere.

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