Monday, December 02, 2013

Fighting Cincinnati mendacity, with money

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Passenger rail supporters looking long-range on a post-Thanksgiving Monday morning aren't ignoring the latest obstacle confronting California high speed rail, nor are they oblivious to the Metro-North accident fatalities of Dec. 1, 2013. But many are focusing on a political mashup courtesy of an anti-rail mayor who assumed his role in Cincinnati the same day. And they're offering financial support to counter that stance.

John Cranley has vowed to stop the Cincinnati streetcar, just about literally dead in its tracks. Pro-streetcar forces in the Queen City have been described by some as "complacent" in assuming the streetcar's arrival was a done deal. I don't buy that, based on discussion I've had with two of those battle-hardened representatives over the past months. They were well aware of Mr. Cranley's potential; they never took it lightly.

They still don't. And while they haven't asked the likes of those outside Cincinnati for financial support as December's darker days arrive, that financial support began flowing in earnest during this past Thanksgiving holiday weekend, presumably to help fight an expected move by Mayor Cranley Dec. 2 to get the new City Council to terminate the streetcar project, using several overlapping council resolutions and ordinances to accomplish the task.

If you want to contribute any amount, large or small, to help pro-rail forces combat such moves, you may do so here:

The usual caveat applies: Money doesn't solve everything. Please be aware that any contribution isn’t automatically going to sway a City Council or the new mayor, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee the survival of Cincinnati’s streetcar. What it does do, at minimum, is express support for those who have fought so hard and so long against an array of anti-rail forces at the suburban county (Ohio and Kentucky both) and Ohio state levels to bring something other than a 1950s transportation solution to  a venerable urban area.

That said, I sound this alarm here because I buy into what another pro-rail voice emailed me (and others) early this day: “This is not just a Cincinnati issue.  The anti-rail troubadours are going to use the same tactics in other cities to derail light rail” and, presumably, streetcar launches, when and where they can. Full disclosure: I made my own contribution at roughly 10:30 a.m., Eastern  Time, this Dec. 2.

For as we pro-rail folks know now, if we didn't before: Planning isn’t enough. Voter approval (in multiple referendums, yet) isn’t enough. Passenger rail projects remain under attack even as construction is ongoing and funds are committed. The public willing to pay for streetcars and light rail is finding its normal public funding just isn't enough; it apparently is meant just for cars. Even now. Even still. Even in the 21st century, when it should be more than apparent that "auto uber alles" just isn't cutting it in the U.S.

U.S. passenger rail progress, in short, remains held to high standards other land modes somehow simply skirt. It’s not fair, maybe. But it is the reality of the day. Here’s to helping Cincinnati pro-rail forces overcoming yet the next hurdle – as we hold our breath and see where the ongoing battle takes us all, in Cincinnati, and in so many other U.S. municipalities where transportation alternatives are a key ingredient of adaptation, if not outright survival.

Douglas John Bowen

Douglas John Bowen is Managing Editor of RAILWAY AGE. He also served as Editor of Intermodal Age from 1989 to 1991, and has held various positions at Inbound Logistics magazine, High Speed Transport News, The Journal of Commerce, and CNN/Money. Bowen began his journalism career at the Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey daily newspaper. A graduate of Rutgers University, Bowen resides in Hoboken, N.J. He served as president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) from 1987 to 2000 and again from 2004 to 2010, serving on the NJ-ARP board from 1984 until 2012; he remains a member of the statewide organization.