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.