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Thursday, August 04, 2011


Oops, they did it again: Is the NAACP anti-public transit?

Posted by The Dean of Cincinnati

Photo courtesy of here.

The cat is out of the bag:  first Mark Painter’s item in the Enquirer a couple days ago, and then this item by Kevin Osborne in CityBeat from yesterday.  The Beacon spoke with public transit advocate Brad Thomas about this recent kerfuffle, just to clarify the problem with the NAACP’s approach to opposing the streetcar—an approach which ultimately resides in the phrase “streetcar system.”

According to Thomas, the proposed charter amendment “goes against the expressed will of the voters, it’s arbitrary, overly broad and deceptive in language and intent.”  Sound familiar?  This is the same reason why I revoked my support for the NAACP’s 2009 campaign—even though, back then, I had concerns about the streetcar plan.  But even for people who have legitimate concerns about the streetcar, it has once again become too dangerous to oppose it through this over-broad signature campaign.

For Thomas, arbitrary dates in the new proposal are troublesome.  ” It blocks rail for the rest of this decade for no apparent reason,” he explained. ” It would be illegal to design, engineer, construct or operate rail in Cincinnati on December 31st, 2020 but suddenly the next day it is fine to do so.  Obviously there is no way these rail opponents can predict out to 2021, so it is a bad idea to tie the hands of our city (and our region as the city will have to be a part of any regional rail plan) so far out into an uncertain future.”

Further, if Cincinnati voters were to decide they actually wanted to support a tax for the development of rail projects, this would prevent such an expression of the citizens’ will.  “It applies to ‘money from any source whatsoever,’”  Thomas clarified.  “Federal or private money would be barred. A dedicated tax for rail subsequently passed by city voters would be barred. It is entirely over-broad.  It would also be (to the best of my knowledge) the most restrictive anti-transit charter amendment in the country.  It would be harder (actually impossible) to build rail in Cincinnati than any other city in the entire country.” 

Of course, when you consider the role the far-right anti-tax advocates at COAST have in crafting the NAACP’s legal language for these amendments,  we can understand the potential for hidden agendas.  Such groups oppose all taxes, and the idea that people would actually want to support something of the sort is not acceptable to their ideology.

Ultimately, what this comes down to, in a legal sense, is the use of the word “streetcar system.”  In his Enquirer piece, Mark Painter explained the significance:

The drafters of this amendment define a “streetcar system” as “a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails primarily in existing public rights of way.” By changing “street or highway” to “public right of way” these special-interest groups have greatly expanded the scope of this anti-rail amendment.

The definition of “right of way” under Ohio law is expansive: “land, property, or the interest therein, usually in the configuration of a strip, acquired for or devoted to transportation purposes.” The city (or Metro) owns the rights of way where any rail system would travel. And any trains running in these rights of way would be prohibited for the next 10 years.

This broad definition of “streetcar system” would prevent any future rail planning without first amending our city’s constitution. What if someone wanted to bring back an incline, even mostly at private expense? Or if, in 2020, the federal government awarded a grant to cover 100 percent of the cost of a new rail system? The anti-rail amendment would ban federal grants or private donations as well.

Any competent attorney drafting this ballot language would first research the legal definition of “streetcar.” So the drafters knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote this new, broader definition of “streetcar system.” Or they are incompetent.

Brad Thomas agreed, especially given the fact the petition uses more words than necessary.  “The drafters of this amendment used 27 words when only 1 was needed,” he explained.  “If they wanted to limit this amendment only to the streetcar, the existing definition of ‘streetcar’ would have been sufficient (and they could have inserted the actual text of the existing definition of ‘streetcar’ if they wanted to just in case the definition of ‘streetcar’ were to change in the future’).”

It’s an important distinction.  Ohio Revised Code provides an exact definition of a “streetcar”:  “(R) ‘Streetcar’ means a car, other than a railroad train, for transporting persons or property, operated upon rails principally within a street or highway.”

“By creating a new term—‘streetcar system’— the drafters of this amendment have greatly expanded the scope of the amendment and done so in a way that is likely to confuse the voters,” concluded Thomas.  “Without independent research, no one would know the difference between a ‘streetcar’ and a ‘streetcar system.’  This is a deceptive measure that only serves to confuse voters and leverage perceived opposition to the Cincinnati Streetcar into a generation long rail ban for our city.”

Why is the NAACP once again trying to oppose all rail projects for the forseeable future under the guise of opposing only the streetcar?  Looks like they didn’t learn their lesson in 2009.  Let’s hope the voters do remember, and once again vote down this terrible concept—this time once and for all.


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  1. Miles says:

    Pssshhhhhhh… disappointed.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Could use a little more insight, Miles.

    Are you disappointed in The Beacon for their stance or are you disappointed in the wording of the proposed charter amendment?

  3. Justice says:

    If the streetcar is such a wonderful idea that will bring revitalization to the area that will rake in tons of money, why aren’t there private investors lining up to get a piece of the action?

    Instead of telling us how terrible the language is, why wont Mark Painter line up his rich friends who could surely foot the bill for the whole project? Cincinnati is the headquarters of numerous companies which could easily get this done WITHOUT ONE DIME OF PUBLIC MONEY. Why wont they step up since it’s such a wonderful idea?

    The streetcar is not a public transit project and should never be presented as such. Instead of name-calling the CINCINNATI public who do not want to pay for something that has no value to 99% of us, the streetcar supporters should just step up and get it done yourselves. Everybody knows that business people will never pass up the opportunity to make a buck. Stop looking for corporate welfare and put up or shut up. This project will never be profitable, it will only be a drain on the city coffers.

    Thank God for the NAACP for keeping the boot of the establishment off the neck of the people. Too bad no one did the same for us during the stadium deal.

    OK Justice wannabes, you may troll now.

  4. Cincy.Capell™©® says:

    Justice Slitherman:

    If building roads and bridges for cars are such a great idea why aren’t there private investors lining up to get a piece of the action?

    And the big dose of schadenfreude that’s coming at the end of the week when you and COAST don’t have enough signatures to make the ballot is going to be simply delicious.

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

    Justice, if this was really about opposing only a streetcar, why do they keep including rail generally with their language?  What is it?  Are they stupid, or sly?  Or is this all just a “coincidence”?

  6. Justice says:

    Dean, do you think the public should pay for private projects? I dont. Public money should only be spent on public projects, period. The streetcar is not a public transit project no matter what it’s called. Just say NO to corporate welfare.

    Remember the Bengals!

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

    I think rail can be part of a regional public transit system, and as such, I do not wish to support a charter amendment that allegedly addresses the streetcar while really interfering with public transit in a much larger sense.

  8. Justice says:

    Dean, do you think that any high speed or light rail system will require the use of public streets? Can you see traffic stopping at the corner of Reading Rd & MLK to allow a high speed train to pass by? Of course not.

    You know full well that the proposal will not affect any real rail systems. You are trying to be “sly” because you think the rest of us are too “stupid” to figure out this is a waste of taxpayer money. Well some of us are smarter than you, Brad and Mark give us credit for.

    Does Brad Thomas, Mark Painter or yourself have any kind of financial interest in the streetcar? Let’s hear about full disclosure from every supporter before we jump on their bandwagon. Thanks to the NAACP and Mr. Smitherman for looking out for the real people who count; the citizens of this city.

    Just Say NO to corporate welfare!!!

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

    No, I do not think they will require the use of public streets.  But I do think they will use public rights of way, and that is the key difference, and I think you know it.

    FULL DISCLOSURE:  I have no financial interest in the streetcar.  I live in Mt. Airy, which is not on the streetcar line.

    Anyway, your argument is betrayed by plain fact.  Scroll down to UU for the definition of “right of way” in Ohio Revised Code: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4511.01

    2) A general term denoting land, property, or the interest therein, usually in the configuration of a strip, acquired for or devoted to transportation purposes. When used in this context, right-of-way includes the roadway, shoulders or berm, ditch, and slopes extending to the right-of-way limits under the control of the state or local authority.

    So why are you talking about light rail on a street?  We’re talking about how the language bans passenger vehicles operated on rail from being placed on strips of land devoted to transportation purposes.

    That line in bold is simply a drag-and-drop use of the existing legal language, as crafted by the petition.  Anyone with basic reading comprehension can understand that, so long as they are shown it.  You are trying to prevent people from seeing it.

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

    If you’re going to build light rail to the centers of employment such as UC, the hospitals and the CBD, you’re definitely going to use both old railroad rights-of-way and city streets where the former do not exist. I mean, how else would you get the trains there?

    The ballot language absolutely kills the chance of having light rail here for much longer than the ten years during which the city is prevented from spending any money on it.

    Smitherman has been played by suburban opponents of light rail who probably don’t really care that much about the streetcar. Their goal is to keep public transit out of the suburbs. This ballot initiative does that. And I suspect Smitherman now finally realizes this. Or should.

  11. Justice says:

    John, transportation research experts recommend light rail transit to use existing train tracks, they do not recommend tearing up existing streets to provide front door service for getting people from point A to B. If light rail ever comes to Cincinnati, commuters here can do what they do all across the country by using buses to help get to their work places after they take the train.

    Smitherman is echoing the sentiments of the majority of the citizens of Cincinnati, period.

    Say NO to corporate welfare!

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

    No.  The existing rails are mostly owned by CSX, and are used for industry.  A long term solution will involve new tracks at some point.  But it doesn’t matter…

    Because that is not the point.  Why is the streetcar petition blocking new rail tracks for things that are not streetcars?

    That is not how you are selling this in the community.  That makes you dishonest.

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

    Say NO to right-winged propaganda!

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

    Justice speculated:

    “John, transportation research experts recommend light rail transit to use existing train tracks, they do not recommend tearing up existing streets to provide front door service for getting people from point A to B.”

    Really? Which experts are these? All over the world, Light rail trains almost always run on city streets to travel “the last mile” to concentrations of employment and housing because railroad tracks seldom penetrate those areas. And in any case, the anti-rail ballot issue would even prevent using railroad tracks for any kind of passenger rail in the city. Here are pictures of light rail operating on city streets in the Americas, Asia and Europe:

    http://www.protransit.com/PICS/Light-Rail.asp

    Lots of trains on city streets in those pics. It’s just the way it works. Everywhere.

    And as for imagining “traffic stopping at the corner of Reading Rd & MLK to allow a high speed train to pass by?” - no one has ever proposed such a thing. But Reading and MLK was the most important nexus outside of the CBD in the 2002 MetroMoves Regional Rail Plan with streetcars on MLK connecting with light rail on Reading Road. These trains would wait their turn at the lights just as the cars do. Because trains load and unload faster than buses do, traffic would be less affected and perhaps eeven lighter considering the 150 to 400 people who are no longer driving on the street but are instead on the streetcar or the light rail train.

    One thing I’ve come to understand: few rail opponents understand the similarities—and the differences—between light rail and streetcars. So here’s a pretty simple rule of thumb to remember: a streetcar is basically a one-car light rail train.

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

    The drafters of this amendment define a “streetcar system” as “a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails primarily in existing public rights of way.” By changing “street or highway” to “public right of way” these special-interest groups have greatly expanded the scope of this anti-rail amendment.

    so in essence, if they had kept the wording as “street or highway”, it wouldn’t come off as an attack on light rail, which will probably never happen here because light rail helps more low income folx get to jobs outside the 275 rim than buses do….

    the choo choo train is a bad idea, and I didn’t need COAST or the NAACP to tell me that….what’s going to happen to the downtown bus depot during and after? will it be torn down or turned into the streetcar stop?

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