By: Griff Bludworth
Cincinnati is bad at transit. Despite the grand proclamations of activists, our 3 mph, 1.6 – mile streetcar which has just begun test runs does not promise to eliminate the transit gap between Cincinnati and peer cities indicated by a new report by the regional chamber of commerce. No one will deny that public transit is a major facet of the modern city. “Millenials” do not want to drive. Gas is expensive, emissions are undesirable and parking in any downtown area is an ordeal.
While Cincinnati continued to disperse outward, this was a non-issue. When one chooses to live in a suburb, the consequent drive must be accepted as a necessary evil. But, as more and more development occurs downtown, in places like Over – the – Rhine and “The Banks,” and as young professionals become less and less fixated on the picket fences, yards and copious reproduction which made suburbs appealing, Cincinnati’s lack of transit becomes increasingly glaring.
So young people might be less inclined toward Cincinnati, with our paltry bus system, which, while efficient, runs only a limited set of routes. The recent study showed that, relative to 11 “peer cities” with similar growth trajectories and job markets, Cincinnati was ranked seventh in terms of number of people with jobs accessible by transit (only 22.5 percent of jobs) and last in terms of number of jobs located in areas serviced by public transit at all. When put against these numbers, 1.6 miles of track looks more like a King’s Island ride than a solution.
Cincinnati needs a plan if it hopes to attract young people and along with them, new businesses. Our transit history may be a soap opera, but it is time to put that behind us. Stop-gaps and half measures only make Cincinnati look sillier and more backwards.
I cannot provide a solution – I have no experience restructuring public transit. But I do see areas where we might look. For one, in light of this report there has been discussion that an overhauled bus system might prove serviceable. Massive expansion, perhaps on a 10-year plan, to reach much more of the city with much greater frequency could avoid the mess that comes with construction of above -or below- ground railways. This would require an extensive PR agenda to catch public attention, but it is certainly the most manageable means of making regular public transit feasible for the masses.
Another option might be to develop a plan for light rail along the interstate from the suburbs to a couple of points downtown. True, this does not make navigating within the city proper much easier, but if successful, it would provide a usable basis for more localized rail development. This is in stark contrast to the current streetcar which seems a paltry basis on which to build. In fact, a light rail system from the suburbs might provide the streetcar with practical use it currently appears to lack.
Both of these would be huge projects, if they are to affect any kind of demonstrable change in the way Cincinnati residents use transit now and in the future. However, they would give Cincinnatians a taste of what it is like not to be backwards and suggest to prospective newcomers that an urban lifestyle may yet be possible in Cincinnati.