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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Two beats one:  Why I’ll have to vote FOR streetcars

Posted by The Dean of Cincinnati

Both sides of the streetcar debate are, as best I can tell, playing politics with the future of our region in terms more broad than the issue of streetcars alone.  This is a complete failure of leadership, on all fronts—a failure of our elected leaders and a failure of leadership on our grassroots front.  City leaders should have put the issue of a streetcar for public vote.  They failed.  The NAACP and COAST have failed by writing a so-called anti-streetcar petition that is actually much more.  So now, I am faced with the prospect of a vote that will affect three things:  the streetcar, Obama’s intercity rail plan, and the Eastern Corridor.  I support those two rail projects—which is a majority of what the ballot initiative will seek to delay and/or prevent (which is totally in line with COAST’s history of being anti-transit).

Cincinnatians for Progress have this recent blog entry, mentioning both of the projects.  I’d like to round up more details for readers, but let me say that I believe constantly waiting for a vote would create an “electoral roadblock” that could affect the willingness of partners to team with Cincinnati. 

Interestingly, the NAACP and COAST have not yet threatened a petition drive over the proposed Kennedy Connector, with a price tag of over $19 million.  Unlike the issue of fixing existing structures, this is about building a brand new road.  It is unlikely COAST will object to roads, either, as they have a long history supporting anything with cars and opposing everything else.  (These are the people likely to complain about Amtrak being subsidized federally, while saying nothing about the tax subsidies that drive down the costs of gas at the pump artificially. )

This article showcases lots of the various components of the Eastern Corridor—only one of which is rail:

Cox said the planning team is in the sixth phase of a 14-step process to design and build more than $1 billion in road improvements, transit solutions, bike paths and rail lines to improve commuter travel from downtown to Milford. The $20 million will enable planners to identify preferred routes for new roads, bridges and rail systems by 2010. And it should pay for much of the preliminary engineering in phase seven.

“Our partners had identified funding … to get to the end of step six,” said Cox.

Hamilton County Comm­is­sioner Todd Portune said the stimulus grant “puts us on track to introduce passenger rail service to our region in seven years.” He traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby House leaders to write the project into the next transportation bill.

“The project has the full support of the governor, lieutenant governor, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation,” Portune said. “It’s a major shot in the arm for us getting the Eastern Corridor written into the T-bill.”

Do we need to vote on building roads?  What about bike paths?  Then why rail?  Where is the line that makes one of these in need of public voice, but not the others?

I still think the streetcar differs because it doesn’t really have the same sense of scale.  Even supporters, like Chris Bortz, have reportedly told OKI that the streetcar is a development project and not a transit project.  There are so many weird things about the streetcar, with such a relatively high price tag, I don’t object to that particular vote.  At least not right now.  City leadership has failed to be specific with that plan, and that, in part, has fueled the opposition against it.  For all I know, the advocates will be able to address the final concerns I have, and maybe I’ll end up changing my mind completely, supporting all three of the issues enveloped by the badly written petition from COAST/NAACP.  (I doubt it, though.  Cincinnatians for Progress have ignored all three emails I’ve sent them.  Seems a weird strategy for gaining support. Another failure of leadership. )

This article also shows the difference between the local streetcar, versus participating on a larger scale with rail projects:

ODOT also continues to partner with Ohio’s eight major Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) which were directly sub-allocated $161.5 million in transportation infrastructure stimulus funds. To date, FHWA has authorized $20.2 million in projects sponsored by the MPOs in Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown.

So this is another difference.  Taking away Cincinnati’s ability to participate with the rest of the state without electoral roadblocks designed by anti-transit activists like those in COAST is a consequence blatantly ignored by petition supporters.  The NAACP and COAST do not discuss these other projects.  The call their issue an anti-streetcar issue, and in so doing they ignore the bulk of what they seek to stop.  That is dishonest, and a failure of grassroots leadership.

Therefore, I will be voting against the NAACP and COAST’s petition,  should it make it to the ballot, even if I don’t change my mind about streetcars.  Two beats one, and this broadly written petition includes two things I’m not interested in opposing.  So by default the badly written language will force me to vote for streetcars.


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  1. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    Thank you for making a responsible and well thought out decision.  If more people in our region took the time to dissect issues like this and really give them appropriate thought we would be much better off overall. 
    Though I still don’t agree with you on opposing the streetcar, I’m glad to hear that you are seeing the danger in allowing the NAACP and COASTs charter amendment to pass.
    I too will be voting against this charter amendment if it makes it to ballot and hopefully so will everyone else in order to prevent the long term damage it would do to our city if it were to pass.

  2. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    In the early stages, the line fed to the coalition was that any passenger rail projects would need a vote anyway—so there wouldn’t be a change.  But now it has been shown, I think, demonstrably false given the trajectory of the Eastern Corridor and Obama’s intercity rail plan.

    Therefore, since there are three issues this petition covers, with two being passenger rail and one being the streetcar, it stands to reason the petition is not about the streetcar at all.

    Are they really allowed to keep calling the initiative about the streetcar, even when it is about more?  Are they allowed to be so dishonest?

  3. Anon says:

    This is goofy from a public point of view. Obama’s intercity rail plan is hype. Choo choo trains failed across the country for a reason. Amtrak is a failure and would not exist without massive government subsidies. With improvements in battery technology and alternative fuels is it a good idea to step backwards to a rail system that has no flexibility? Is the panic about the end of fossil fuels a reason to spend billions for a system that won’t work to serve our current and future needs? This whole scheme is phony and will never be built by a one term Obama. We gave massive land grants to railroads across the country and this is a way for the public to now buy them back.

    I’ll use New Mexico’s Rail Runner as an example. The State of New Mexico bought the railroad line from Burlington Northern for $300 Million and left them with the right of use for freight. This was to provide rail service from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. In order to accomplish this the state bought the line from Belen (just south of Albq.) to Raton (the northern border with Colorado) about 300 miles of track. The people now pay for maintenance of the track although the Rail Runner only uses about 80 miles. This was heavily promoted by Gov. Bill Richardson and the public never got to vote on this boondoggle. They only get to pay the bill and provide more corporate welfare. Railroads are expensive and allow for no change as public needs change.

    Wouldn’t it be a good idea to see the plan before deciding that the big fix is what is needed. Haven’t we been deceived enough to catch on to the scam. Three shells and no pea is the game and the public can only win by not paying. By placing obstacles in the road we are using caution before squandering public resources to increase the bank accounts of the favored few.

  4. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    Amtrak is a failure and would not exist without massive government subsidies.

    Where would America’s recent history of gas-guzzling SUV-loving vehicle driving be without massive government subsidies for the gas industry?  These public resources have been squandered to increase the bank accounts of the favored few oil industry executives.

  5. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    I don’t understand the support for the highways, they’ve been the single most disruptive force for American cities. Cars are not private transportation Ànd the gas tax doesn’t come close to covering road construction and maintenance. Rails are essential to any sucessful urban area, they are not usually profitable nor have they ever been, but that doesn’t diminish their importance.

  6. Anon says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the problem. As long as we merely fix the blame we will never fix the problem. To borrow words from George HW Bush we need to “just say no” to the theives in high places. Seems the rarified atmosphere makes it conducive for the parasites to continue to feed off the host. Oil executives are no different than banking, health care, weapons or political executives. Maybe some executives need to be executed as many that held esteem for the public good have been.

  7. Freedom Fighters says:

    “Do we need to vote on building roads?  What about bike paths?  Then why rail?  Where is the line that makes one of these in need of public voice, but not the others?”

    Because the trolley is a luxury that only benefits the cronies in the development industry.

    The vote on the street car wilL put the power-players in check.

    They are willing to close pools for kids, to build street cars for their cronies.

    If the system doesn’t work, then the voters can repeal it.

    However, there would be a vote on the street-car and the voters will have spoken.

    It’s really simple, Dean.

    Has that mayor campaign gone to your head and now you know more then the voters ?

    Or crave the power ?


  8. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    Because the trolley is a luxury that only benefits the cronies in the development industry.

    For it to benefit “cronies in the development industry” the streetcar would have to
    spur private investment and attract patrons,tenants, and residents. Are you conceding that
    the streetcar will help redevelop OTR? Because it can’t do that without the support of
    ordinary private citizens.

    The vote on the street car wilL put the power-players in check.

    As Dean and others have repeatedly shown, there is no vote on the streetcar, only
    a vote on an anti-transit charter amendment.

    They are willing to close pools for kids, to build street cars for their cronies.

    Streetcar funding does not affect pools for kids or policeman on the streets or teachers
    in CPS, or city workers’ salaries. The funding for all those services comes from operational
    budget not from the capital budget.

  9. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    The so-called restricted nature of budget funds is a shell game.  How else can restricted parking funds pay for streetcar operations?

  10. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    Dean, I don’t disagree with you, but I don’t think the distinction is as arbitrary
    as you have implied.

  11. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    Can parking funds pay for Metro too? They do the same thing a streetcar would.

  12. NtotheC says:

    Anon says:

    Amtrak is a failure and would not exist without massive government subsidies.

    How would you describe the massive amounts of money that have been given to the airline industry over the years?

    As far as rail being a failure, look to Europe for how to properly deal with rail. Flights are utilized much less than trains for cities that are only several hundred miles apart because it’s faster.  We have plenty of land to put in high speed rail across the country and once the rail infrastructure is upgraded it will be faster to ride those to many cities than to fly or drive.

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