Monday, March 26, 2012

Cincinnati streetcar project breaks ground

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They've done it! On Feb. 17th, Cincinnati finally broke ground on its streetcar project.

Cinn. streetcarstartThey've actually got a video of a backhoe digging into the street to prepare the way for track installation. At left, as well, is a snapshot of initial construction. It's small (about 3 miles of track), but it's a start.

Why is this such a big deal? It's taken a very long effort ... a struggle, really ... no, actually, more like an urban war ... to finally make this rail transit project a reality. The first vote, for a full-performance light rail transit plan, lost a popular vote (for funding) back in 2001.

Planners and advocates then shifted to a more modest streetcar plan, affordable with available city revenue — but rail opponents forced a popular vote in 2009.

And the opponents lost! Rail won!

But Cincinnati's transit war didn't end there. Last fall, opponents forced yet another popular vote to try to stop the rail project.

And the rail adversaries lost again! Voters were clear that they wanted some kind of rail transit for Cincinnati.

But the war's not over, even yet — more on that in a moment.

Central to the Cincinnati rail transit success has been an intrepid, indefatigable rail transit advocate by the name of John Schneider — aka "Mr. Streetcar," as he was described in the groundbreaking ceremony last month. A real estate developer and New Urbanism fan as well as a rail advocate, John has worked tirelessly for over a decade, trying to educate and inspire Cincinnati community leaders about light rail, streetcars, and what benefits rail transit can bring to Cincinnati.

StreetcarPortlandHis signature effort has been to organize tours of sizable groups of public officials and civic leaders to visit what he regards as the premier model of good urban design and rail transit — Portland, Oregon. Year after year, John built community support through taking groups of key individuals on these first-hand "immersion" experiences with Portland's MAX light rail, modern streetcar system (photo at left), and face-to-face meetings with Portland planners and leaders.

Obviously, this effort has paid off for Cincinnati. And it's not a bad public education model for other cities.

But, like I warned, the war's not over. John suspects that Cincinnati rail opponents are now trying to cut the streetcar project off at the pass, via an intervention from the Ohio legislature. So far, Cincinnatians have proved quick on their feet in the face of previous curveballs by opponents.

With guys like John Schneider on the team, they've got a lineup that's hard to beat.

Lyndon Henry

Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, investigative journalist, and transportation consultant currently based in Central Texas. He holds a Master of Science in Community & Regional Planning, with a focus in Transportation, from the University of Texas at Austin, 1981. From 1973 to 1989 he was executive director of the Texas Association for Public Transportation, and presented the original proposals and feasibility studies for light rail that led to the inclusion of rail transit in the Austin-area planning process.. From 1981 to 1985 he served as a transportation consultant to the Hajj Research Centre at King Abdul Aziz University, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He has also served as a transportation planning consultant on several other transit projects in the USA. In 1983-84 he was a member of the Austin-Travis County Transit Task Force which recommended a transit authority for the Austin area. That agency, eventually named Capital Metro, was created in 1985. From 1989 to 1993, Mr. Henry served as a board member and vice-chairman of Capital Metro. From 1990 to 1992 he was an Adjunct Faculty member at St. Edwards University, teaching a course in public policy. Since 2000 he has served as a technical consultant to the Light Rail Now Project, and from 2002 to late 2011 he served as a Data Analyst for Capital Metro in Austin. He is also a member of APTA’s Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Subcommittee and Light Rail Transit Technical Subcommittee.