Cincinnati Bell Connector

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Cincinnati Bell Connector
Cincinnati-bell-connector station-1-the-banks 09-11-2016.jpg
Streetcar in service in September 2016
Overview
Owner City of Cincinnati
Locale Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Transit type Streetcar
Number of lines 1
Number of stations 18[1]
Operation
Began operation September 9, 2016 (2016-09-09)
Operator(s) SORTA, Transdev[2]
Character Street running
Number of vehicles 5 CAF Urbos 3
Technical
System length 3.6 mi (5.8 km) (roundtrip)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 750 V DC, overhead wires

The Cincinnati Bell Connector, previously known as the Cincinnati Streetcar, is a streetcar system in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. The system opened to passengers on September 9, 2016.[3] The streetcar operates on a 3.6-mile (5.8 km)[1] loop from The Banks, Great American Ball Park, and Smale Riverfront Park through Downtown Cincinnati and north to Findlay Market in the northern edge of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Future extensions have been proposed to the Uptown area, home to the University of Cincinnati, the regional hospitals, and the Cincinnati Zoo; and to Northern Kentucky.

The project faced opposition on several occasions after being first proposed in 2007. Challenges included ballot initiatives to stop the project in 2009 and 2011, opposition from members of Cincinnati City Council, Governor John Kasich, and Mayor John Cranley (elected in 2013). However, both of the anti-rail ballot initiatives were rejected by voters, and a pro-streetcar majority was elected to City Council in 2011, allowing the project to move forward. Naming rights to the system were purchased by Cincinnati Bell in a $3.4 million, 10-year deal in August 2016.[4]

History[edit]

Context[edit]

At the end of the 20th century, Over-the-Rhine, which is adjacent to downtown, was one of the most economically distressed areas in the United States.[5] Over-the-Rhine's instability was preventing growth and investment in Downtown Cincinnati, the city's central business district;[5] this, in turn, has been affecting the health of the entire region.[5] Ideally, the streetcar line would attract downtown (and uptown) workers to live near the line, provide economic stimulation and development, and provide transportation for local residents and tourists. The streetcars appeared in Cincinnati's massive 2002 transit plan, MetroMoves,[6] which was rejected when taken to a public vote.[7] A "Phase 1B" was considered that would connect to the "uptown" neighborhoods that surround the University of Cincinnati.[8] The fundamental goal of the streetcar proposal is to create transit-oriented development.[9]

Feasibility study[edit]

Cincinnati's proposal was modeled after the system in Portland, Oregon

On May 31, 2007, Omaha-based HDR Engineers completed a feasibility study that focused on a 3.9-mile (6.3 km) loop from The Banks, through downtown and Over-the-Rhine.[10] According to the study, the city would gain between 1,200 and 3,400 additional residences, raise an additional $34,000,000 in property taxes, and yield $17,000,000 in retail activity per year from new residents.[10] Within one-quarter mile (0.4 km) of the line there are 97 acres (39 ha) of surface parking lots along the downtown and Over-the-Rhine line.[10] The potential yield of the parking lots for redevelopment is 3,787 housing units or 7,412,900 sq ft (688,680 m2) of commercial/office/hotel space.[10] The study says lots would create between $54 million and $193 million additional redevelopment per year, with a conservative estimate of $112 million per year.[10] A total property value premium of $379,000,000 plus $1,480,000,000 of redevelopment over 10 years (conservative estimate) would equal a total of $1,911,000,000 of benefits for the city.[10] The study estimated the cost to be around $100 million and concluded that the benefit-cost ratio of the downtown and Over-the-Rhine line would be 15.2 to 1, which means for every dollar Cincinnati spends it will receive $15.20 in return.[10] The University of Cincinnati "checked the math" of the study and found that the "projections of the benefits of ridership and economic development" are "credible."[11]

The study projected that a 2010 opening year would draw an estimated 4,600 riders of the downtown and Over-the-Rhine portion of the line each weekday.[10] According to city leaders, if 2 percent of downtown workers, and 2 percent of convention attendees, and 2 percent of Over-the-Rhine residents ride the streetcars it will meet that daily ridership.[9] By 2015 (assuming the system opened in 2010) about 6,400 people were estimated to ride the streetcars per weekday.[10] Ridership numbers for the uptown line were not included in the study.

The 2007 study also claims the streetcar system would have four significant economic effects:

  1. Customer base and customer access will expand for existing businesses.
  2. Improved market values of existing properties.
  3. Catalyst for new transit-oriented development where less parking is required.
  4. Supporting neighborhoods by making them more walkable.

Votes and political involvement[edit]

In 2007 the city completed a study to determine if installing streetcars would be beneficial.[10] On April 23, 2008, Cincinnati City Council approved a plan to build a new streetcar line.[8]

In 2009 and 2011 the city voted on referendums designed to stop the streetcar project, but in both cases a majority of voters favored the project.

2009 referendum[edit]

Special interest groups COAST (Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes) and the Cincinnati NAACP both oppose the streetcar system.[12] Both groups gathered signatures[13] for a ballot initiative that would amend the city's charter and force a public vote on the streetcars.[14] However, the amendment would have prohibited the city "from spending any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation."[15] This would have affected more than just streetcars, forcing a public vote on any rail-based system including the proposed high-speed rail that connects Cincinnati to Columbus and Cleveland,[12][16] and potentially even the "Safari Train" at the Cincinnati Zoo.[17] Since the amendment is usually described as a vote on the streetcars, CityBeat has suggested the amendment is "deceptive" and an attempt to reverse "COAST's waning political influence" in the city.[16] (COAST has been described as "rabidly anti-mass transit."[16]) The Cincinnati Enquirer, who wrote that the city is not ready for streetcars,[18] called the proposed amendment a "poison pill" that is "DECEPTIVE in its language and intent."[19]

A political action committee called Cincinnatians for Progress was formed to oppose the amendment proposed by COAST and the NAACP.[14] According to Cincinnatians for Progress, the amendment would unnecessarily delay projects by 10 to 12 months while the city waits on a public vote, and put Cincinnati at a competitive disadvantage with other cities.[14] In the November 3, 2009 local elections however, this city charter amendment proposal failed, losing 56% to 44%.[20]

2011 referendum[edit]

After losing at the ballot box in 2009, COAST and the local NAACP began collecting signatures in 2011 for a similar ballot initiative.[21] This referendum, known as Issue 48, differed by banning any spending on rail until December 31, 2020, rather than requiring a citywide vote for spending. It would have banned spending, no matter the source of money (federal, state, privately financed, etc.).[22] Critics believed the language of the amendment again applied to all forms of rail transit, including any plans for a streetcar, light rail, or commuter rail.[23]

The Cincinnati Enquirer endorsed a "No" vote on Issue 48, stating, "we vigorously oppose Issue 48 and urge voters to reject it. ... Issue 48 is a bad, bad, bad idea."[24] According to "a majority of legal experts" interviewed by the Enquirer, Issue 48 "is written so broadly it could stop other rail projects in the city."[25] Non-streetcar commuter rail projects that may have been affected included the county-backed Eastern Rail Corridor project, which plans to connect the eastern suburbs to downtown using an abandoned rail line.[25] Others who endorsed a "No" vote were Cincinnati CityBeat,[26] League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area,[27] and former leaders of the local NAACP.[28]

Issue 48 was defeated 52% to 48% on November 8, 2011.[29] This, along with Cincinnati electing a more progressive city council,[30] allowed the streetcar project to proceed.[29]

Construction begins[edit]

Construction of the streetcar system began with a groundbreaking on February 17, 2012, and utility relocation began at that time.[31][32] The contract with Messer/Prus/Delta JV for the construction of the tracks, power system, and a maintenance facility was signed on July 15, 2013.[33][34]

Former Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory, a supporter of the streetcars, acknowledged the possibility of reinstalling one or more inclines if the new proposal for streetcars is successful enough.[35] The city still owns the rights-of-way where the inclines once sat.[35]

Construction pauses after 2013 election[edit]

Testing of the first streetcar in November 2015

On November 6, 2013, in a mayoral election to replace Mayor Mallory, who is term-limited, Cincinnati Streetcar supporter Roxanne Qualls was defeated by streetcar opponent John Cranley. In addition, Laure Quinlivan, a council member and streetcar supporter, lost her re-election bid by placing tenth in a race where only the first nine are seated; Amy Murray, a Charter-endorsed Republican who opposed the streetcar, placed ninth. By the time the election was held, contracts had been signed, utility relocation had been ongoing for months, and nearly a half mile of track had been installed on Elm Street. John Deatrick, the Project Executive for the Cincinnati Streetcar, presented numbers to Council showing that it would cost nearly as much to cancel the project as to finish it. Cranley reiterated his intent to cancel the project; however, City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, one of the main critics of the streetcar during the election, opposed the cancellation of the project by then.[36] Still, five out of nine members voted to "pause" construction of the streetcar on December 4 to allow for an outside audit of the project.[37]

An independent audit confirmed Dietrich's estimates of the cost of canceling the project. However, Cranley and several council members expressed concern about the annual operating cost of the streetcar and the effect it would have on the city's operating budget. The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority offered to take responsibility for the streetcar's operating cost, but Cranley refused this offer and insisted that financial support must come from the private sector. Finally, after the Haile Foundation committed to providing $9 million in funding towards the project, City Council voted on December 19 to continue construction of the streetcar. Council Members Kevin Flynn and David Mann, who had supported the "pause", joined with four other Council members to vote in favor of the project. Since a supermajority of six Council members voted to resume the project, Cranley was unable to veto the ordinance.

Opening[edit]

On the system's opening weekend

The system opened to passengers at noon on September 9, 2016. The opening was celebrated with a weekend of free rides.[3] Over 50,000 rides were taken during the three-day opening weekend.[38]

Route[edit]

Cincinnati Bell Connector
Elm & Henry
Maintenance Facility
Elm & Elder/Findlay Market
Race & Elder
Elm & Liberty
Race & Liberty
Elm & 14th/Music Hall
Elm & 13th/Washington Park
Vine & 12th/Gateway Quarter
Main & 12th
Vine & Central Parkway
Main & Court/Court House
Walnut & 9th/Library
Main & 9th
Main & 6th
Walnut & 5th/Government Square
Main & 4th
Fort Washington Way
I-71 / US 50
Riverfront Transit Center
2nd/The Banks
† Diagram not to scale

The streetcar route connects various Cincinnati landmarks and businesses to 92 acres (37 ha) of surface parking and dozens of abandoned or underused buildings.[39] According to city leaders the parking lots and abandoned buildings are "ripe for redevelopment."[39]

The line starts on 2nd Street. The line then travels north on Main Street through downtown until it reached 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine. The line then turns west on 12th street. The streetcar continues until it reaches Elm Street, where it turns north. The line continues heading north until it reaches Henry Street, at which point it turns east a short distance before turning south on Race Street. The line follows Race Street until it reaches Central Parkway, where it turns east. The last turn is south on Walnut Street where it continues until it returns to 2nd Street.

The south portion of the line, below Central Parkway, provides service to Cincinnati's Central Business District. Places of interest directly on the line include The Banks, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Great American Ball Park, Government Square (Metro's main bus hub), Fountain Square, Aronoff Center, Contemporary Arts Center, Mercantile Library of Cincinnati, Court Street Historic District, and Cincinnati Public Library (Main Library). Other places of interest that are within walking distance of the line are U.S. Bank Arena, Paul Brown Stadium, Taft Theatre, John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, Carew Tower/Tower Place Mall, Piatt Park, Lytle Park Historic District, Taft Museum, Yeatman's Cove, Sawyer Point, and The Purple People Bridge. Major employers on or within walking distance the line include Fifth Third Bank, Procter & Gamble, Duke Energy, American Financial Group, E. W. Scripps Company, Convergys Corporation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A streetcar in service at 5th and Walnut, in downtown, on the system's opening weekend

The center portion of the line follows Central Parkway and southern Over-the-Rhine, in a small area that is home to much of Cincinnati's performing arts. Places of interest that are directly on the line include Music Hall (home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Opera), Gateway Quarter, Ensemble Theatre, Memorial Hall, Know Theatre, Emery Theatre, School for Creative and Performing Arts, and Washington Park. Kroger Corporate Headquarters is along this portion of the line.

The northern portion of the line serves residents of Over-the-Rhine and provides a link to the future Uptown Connector. Places of interest include Findlay Market, the Brewery District, and Rookwood Pottery.

The line has stops every couple of blocks, to provide easy mobility around the downtown area, and operates seven days a week for at least 16 hours a day.[40]

Possible extensions[edit]

The 2007 feasibility study suggested the possibility of several extensions or future additions including a line through Cincinnati's "uptown" neighborhoods to the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Zoo, and to the neighborhood of Clifton.[10] Other potential extensions include a line through the West End to Union Terminal, a line to the East End neighborhood using an abandoned track, and a line across the Taylor-Southgate Bridge to Newport on the Levee in Newport, Kentucky.[10]

Uptown Connector[edit]

On April 23, 2008, Cincinnati City Council voted 6–2 in favor of building the lines that link downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and uptown.[8] Originally, the city wanted to build the line that connects Over-the-Rhine and downtown in the first phase, and then build the uptown link in a second phase.[9] However, a council majority wanted to include the Uptown Connector in the first phase.[9] Soon after taking office in 2011, the anti-rail Republican, Governor John Kasich, pulled all $52 million in state money for the streetcar project, and plans for the Uptown route were scrapped as a result.[41]

Both Vine Street and West Clifton Avenue were studied as options for the Phase 1B connection from Over-the-Rhine to Uptown.[39] Vine Street was a path for the original streetcars, but an "extreme hillside" to the west of the street and a city park and an elementary school to the east leaves less land for development when compared to West Clifton Avenue.[42] West Clifton Avenue passes through Clifton Heights, which is one of the densest neighborhoods in the city due to its concentration of UC students.[42] Studies considered whether or not West Clifton Avenue is too steep for streetcar travel,[39][42] and which path could tap into more federal funding.[42] Ultimately, Vine Street was chosen as the route for the original Uptown Connector.

The lack of political will to advance plans for an extension has given advocates more time to study and reconsider the best way to take the streetcar to Uptown. In 2014, as the Vine Street route was further explored, the "Clifton Shortcut" was proposed as a more direct route to turn up Vine Street.[43] However, after further study it still suffered from many of the same issues as the originally proposed Vine Street route with major underground utility lines, narrow lanes with greater risk of accidents, and uncomfortable grades, which limit level boarding platforms for stops and hence economic development opportunities in the hillside areas.[44]

In 2015, an alternative plan of using two tunnels to get to Uptown has also been proposed. It includes extensions from Phase 1A northward up Main and Walnut to a southern tunnel portal under Mulberry Street at Main that daylights at-grade near Inwood Park for a station servicing Christ Hospital before returning underground until aligning with Jefferson Avenue near Daniels.[45] Past studies have shown that Mount Auburn has suitable geology that is conducive to building a $100 million tunnel that would connect downtown to Clifton,[46] however further study is needed to know the exact cost to implement this new plan. The additional cost of tunneling is believed to be justified in order to increase reliability and speed at the center of a regional light rail system that could be developed around this spine in the future through projects such as Wasson Way.[44][47]

Newport extension[edit]

In 2009, the cities of Newport, Kentucky and Covington, Kentucky across the Ohio River officially supported Cincinnati's streetcar proposal, and would like to install a system that links with the Cincinnati system.[48] A group called the Northern Kentucky Streetcar Committee is exploring ways to get a study funded to extend the route across the Taylor Southgate Bridge and into Newport.[49]

Cost and funding[edit]

Construction in December 2014

The Downtown/Over-the-Rhine line would cost $102 million.[8] A Downtown/Over-the-Rhine/University of Cincinnati line would cost $128 million.[50] The full Downtown/Over-the-Rhine/University of Cincinnati/Uptown/Zoo line would cost $185 million.[8] The cost estimate for the Downtown/Over-the-Rhine line includes approximately 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of track and overhead power supply (for the route and storage/maintenance), 6 streetcars, 18 streetcar stops, a maintenance/storage facility for the streetcars, as well as a 15% to 25% contingency on project line items.[51]

The money to fund the $102 million Downtown/Over-the-Rhine line would be attained from a variety of sources.[8] Of those, $25 million would come from capital bonds; $25 million from tax increment financing from downtown property taxes; $31 million from private contributors, partners and sponsors; $11 million from proceeds from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport; and $10 million from state grants.[8] The remaining $80 million to $85 million for the full Uptown system was planned to be built later, mostly with federal funds.[8] However, after city council approved the streetcar plan they decided to look for an additional $35 million to "get up the hill" to the University of Cincinnati.[8] (Engineering and construction costs for the uphill portion of the line would cost more than the portion of the line built on flat land.[8]) The $35 million would only take the streetcars up to the University, that money would not extend it to the Cincinnati Zoo.[8]

Annual operating costs were estimated between $2.0 and $2.7 million per year for the Downtown/Over-the-Rhine line.[10] The estimate includes labor for streetcar operators, for maintenance of the streetcars, track and other facilities, and for ongoing management and administration of the service.[51] A portion of the cost would be covered by a fare, if there is one.[51] The fare policy has not been decided and could cost anywhere from "the current local bus fare" ($1.50 as of 2009) to free.[51] According to City Council member Chris Bortz, the remaining operating cost could be covered by a variety of means, the most likely being revenue from advertisements inside and/or outside the streetcar—similar to how ads are done with Cincinnati's bus system.[9]

Due to the severe economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 the city has had trouble raising the full $35 million needed from private sources.[39] (Duke Energy has promised to donate $3.5 million.[52]) City officials have made several trips to Washington to lobby for federal money for the streetcar system.[39]

In May 2010, the city had raised over $90 million in funds, and expected federal grants in the summer of 2010 to cover the remaining cost.

  • $15 million from Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC)[53]
  • $64 million in bonds by the City of Cincinnati[54]
  • $2.6 million in local funds[55]
  • $15 million from the Ohio Department of Transportation[55]
  • $4 million from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments[55]
  • $25 million from the United States Department of Transportation's Urban Circulator Grant Program[56]

After the Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) pulled its portion of funding for the project, the city postponed the Uptown Connector and moved forward with a slightly shortened Downtown/Over-the-Rhine route. After receiving an additional Urban Circulator grant from the United States Department of Transportation, the route was extended to reach Henry Street to the north and 2nd Street to the south.

In 2011 Governor John Kasich took away $52 million in state money that had been awarded to the streetcar by the previous administration. Despite being the Ohio Department of Transportation's top rated project, the money was redirected to projects in other areas of the state.[57] In 2012, Congressman Steve Chabot added an amendment to the annual transportation spending bill that prohibits any federal money going to the streetcar.[58]

The final budget upon project completion in 2016 was $148 million.[59]

Possible benefits and drawbacks[edit]

There may be some benefits associated with building the streetcar system. The projections of the 2007 streetcar study indicated that the streetcars would have a 14:1 benefit-cost ratio over the next decade.[11][14] In addition, Downtown and Over-the-Rhine has 97 acres (39 ha) of surface parking lots within 0.25 miles (0.4 km) of the line, which is a lot of potential development.[10] Much of the recent investment in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood is based on the belief that the system will be built. Rookwood Pottery moved from Glendora Avenue in Corryville to Race Street in Over-the-Rhine, near Findlay Market, so that it would be on the streetcar line.[60][better source needed] Forty-six cities either have streetcars, or are trying to develop them.[61] For instance, Portland, Oregon, spent $57 million to build its streetcar system and recouped $1.6 billion in investment, so by the same projection, the investment in Cincinnati would yield nearly $3 billion in development.[61]

However, opponents say that a streetcar may not be as effective, or effective at all, at economic development in Cincinnati as streetcars seem to have been in certain other cities. That is, economic development is contextual and historically contingent. The NAACP, for example, has suggested improving existing utilities and economic sectors rather than building the streetcar system[62] In addition, the streetcar is designed to be symbolic transit, rather than being planned as an essentially functional part of the transit system—or to serve primarily as transportation as such—because Over-the-Rhine is already developing very rapidly without the streetcar[63][64] Other opponents say that the streetcar serves as a political cover for the easing of development restrictions[65] and that much or all development will be due to the easing of restrictions that would have otherwise been left in place, rather than a streetcar itself.[66] The streetcar also runs on the honor system. Even though inspectors are on board checking tickets periodically its unclear if the way fares are handled will lead to profitability.[67]

Equipment[edit]

Five low-floor Urbos 3 streetcars[68] were ordered from Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) of Spain, with an original delivery date of July 2014.[69] The first streetcar vehicle arrived on October 30, 2015.[70]

Streetcar number 1175 being unloaded on to the rails
Streetcar number 1175 being unloaded on to the rails

Commemorative beers[edit]

On October 23, 2015, Brad Thomas, a member of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, announced that the five different brewers that line the streetcars route had each agreed to brew a new specialty beer to honor the delivery of the first five vehicles.[71]

delivery schedule[71]
image vehicle
number
projected
delivery
date
commemorative beer
1175 October 30, 2015 "Ryed the Rails" by Taft’s Ale House
1176 November 23, 2015 "Desire" by Christian Moerlein Lager House
1177 December 11, 2015 "Traction" by Rhinegeist
1178 January 7, 2016 Christian Moerlein Tap Room
1179 February 5, 2016 "1179 Marzen" Brewer:Rock Bottom Brewery

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Coolidge, Sharon (October 6, 2016). "Full speed ahead: Streetcar operator will run more streetcars". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Gannett Company. Retrieved October 7, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Rinehart, Bill (September 9, 2016). "Cincinnati's Streetcar Is Open For Business". WVXU. Retrieved September 9, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Cincinnati Bell Named Sponsor of the Cincinnati Streetcar". Go-metro.com (Press release). SORTA. August 18, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c 3CDC, Over-the-Rhine Overview. Retrieved on April 2, 2009
  6. ^ Pilcher, James (August 20, 2002). "MetroMoves: What will it mean to area?". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved July 10, 2008. 
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  14. ^ a b c d 55KRC March 29th: What The Coast Transportation Ballot Initiative Prevents Our City From Doing. Accessed on May 3, 2009.
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External links[edit]

Route map: Google

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