Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Streetcar to Nowhere

The town that I love and hate all at the same time (Cincinnati) is building a streetcar that will run from the downtown area through an very unfriendly part of town and then on to the south part of the University of Cincinnati campus. It will run by Findlay Market, one of the few remaining historical markets in the United States. The problem is, most people in Cincinnati do not live in the downtown area and a vast majority of the population lives outside the city limits. Actually, out of the approximately 2.2 million people in the metropolitan area, only 300,000 actually live inside the city limits. This being said, accessing the street car will be a problem for most.

In order to board the street car residents must drive downtown, pay the $7-10 to park in a parking garage, walk to the streetcar, pay the fee to get on the streetcar, take the 5-10 minutes ride to Findlay Market or wherever they are headed and then take the streetcar back to the parking garage then head home. Any sensible person knows that this is a huge waste of time. Making matters even worse, Findlay Market has plenty of parking right next to it. I know this for a fact because I've been to Findlay more times than I can remember. Furthermore, the south part of UC is loaded with vehicle parking. To make matters worse, a huge part of the operating costs will be subsidized by state funding. The streetcar will run in the red with no chance of even coming close to paying for itself. Finally, check this out. This one really gets me going. Because of the stops that the streetcar has to make, it would be faster to walk than to take the streetcar. Streetcar planners say that being in the streetcar will make people making this transit feel safer which begs the question, WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO PAY TO RIDE THROUGH AN AREA WHERE THEY FEEL IT NECESSARY TO BE PROTECTED BY SHEET METAL!?!?!? Hopefully you now see how confusing this whole project is.

Obviously this is a terrible plan. Building the light rail would not help anybody. After visiting Findlay while I was back home this summer I saw lots of signs all around urging voters to vote for passing the streetcar bill, so apparently the owners of Findlay Market think they will get some sort of benefit from the streetcar. The bill proposed funding the streetcar from tax payer money, so whether Findlay get more money from additional visitors than it loses from its taxes is a long mathematical equation but if I had to make a guess, the benefits will probably not outweigh the costs in this case.

The city council, by building this streetcar, wants more people to frequent Findlay Market, the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and downtown. There are numerous ways to do this without spending $95 million on a streetcar. Subsidize parking garages downtown. Instead of parking being $7, make it $3. Subsidize parking meters. Build more street parking near Findlay Market (even though there is more than enough places all around it). Build bill-boards that have advertisements for this area. TV commercials, radio commercials, anything but a streetcar. This is way out there, but consider building a city wide rail system like the Metra in Chicago that transports so many people in the Chicago suburbs to the city. My point is, there are so many ways to accomplish the goal of promoting Findlay Market without having to spend $95 million on a streetcar.

Let me make an assumption here that may blow some people away; the real reason the city council wants to build the street car is NOT to promote Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, or downtown, it is to make money for somebody, somewhere. If I had to make a wild guess, I think the city council may be nervous about the upcoming elections and having this on their resume would be something they could point to as something they did while in office to improve the city. The labor unions and companies building the streetcar would benefit from the bill being passed. This opportunity to make money off the streetcar contract would make them the bootleggers in my mind. Findlay Market may get some more exposure from the streetcar, and if in fact they did get some benefit from this, they too would be considered as a possible bootlegger. The baptists here would be the taxpayers who are forced to pay for the streetcar. They get no choice whether to pay the taxes, they probably won't use it, and it probably won't benefit them at all.

To sum up this article and this issue; the streetcar is obviously not about making smart financial decisions (it will run in the red permanently), it is not about improving transportation (walking the route would take less time), and it is not about making a majority of resident's lives better off (it would only possibly "benefit" those along the line), the streetcar is about a select few (bootleggers) making money off of the taxpayers. This is another ridiculous idea that is being called for under the name of city planning and betterment of the city, but as is the case with lots of public projects, it will probably hurt the people it is trying to help.

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