Streetcar comeback … makes a comeback!

Cincinnati streetcar, provided by CAF, under live power testing in 2015. Photo via Dilemma-X.

Cincinnati streetcar, provided by CAF, under live power testing in 2015. Photo via Dilemma-X.

For a while, eager naysayers and rail transit critics said the return of streetcars to American streets — the modern-day streetcar renaissance — was over. They brandished problems with various streetcar projects, including the political cancellation of a line in Arlington, Virginia, missteps with Washington, DC’s new streetcar project, troubles with rolling stock procurements in Oklahoma City, and political cancellation of the planned streetcar starter line in Providence, Rhode Island.

But out of the gloom, new streetcar projects are succeeding, with more on the way. Those vehicle procurement problems have been resolved, and Oklahoma City’s project continues to proceed. Here’s a list of what seem to be currently the major projects in the mix:

Seattle — First Hill Streetcar, an expansion of the original streetcar system that began with the South Lake Union line, opened January 23rd. The 2.5-mile-long project was installed at a cost of $134 million.

New Orleans — The Regional Transportation Authority’s 1.6-mile North Ramparts-St. Claude Streetcar Line Project, budgeted at $40-41 million, is nearing completion, with opening expected this summer or early fall.

El Paso — The city’s 4.8-mile heritage streetcar line project, budgeted at $97 million, is now under way, with the legacy fleet of stored historic PCC cars now being renovated and restored by Brookville Equipment Corp.

Oklahoma City — A 4.6-mile, $129-million streetcar starter line project continues to proceed, with rolling stock supplier designated as Brookville Equipment Corp.

Milwaukee — The city’s 2.1-mile, $124-million downtown streetcar starter line project is now well under way.

Detroit — The 3.3-mile, $140-million M-1 streetcar project, mainly routed on the city’s iconic Woodward Avenue, continues to move ahead.

Kansas City — The 2.2-mile-long, $102-million project is nearing completion, and expected to open in a few months.

Cincinnati — The city’s 1.8-mile, $148-million core area streetcar project (see photo at top of post) is nearing completion, and expected to open this fall.

Washington, DC — Officials are now hoping the problem-plagued, long-delayed 2.2-mile H St.-Benning Rd. streetcar project, costing approximately $200 million so far, will at last be completed and able to open within a few weeks.

Tucson — The city’s 3.9-mile Sun Link streetcar starter line, opened in 2014 at an investment cost of about $199 million, continues to exceed its ridership projections.

Atlanta — The 2.7-mile-long Peachtree district streetcar starter line, completed at a budget of $93 million, also opened in 2014. ■

Cincinnati hosts APTA streetcar events

John Schneider, Cincinnati's "Mr. Streetcar" and a co-principal of Urban Rail Today. (Photo: L. Henry.)

John Schneider, Cincinnati’s “Mr. Streetcar” and a co-principal of Urban Rail Today, addresses APTA Streetcar Committee meeting on Dec. 15th. Photo: L. Henry.

Cincinnati, Ohio — Roughly a hundred streetcar planning and development professionals — including Urban Rail Today co-principal Lyndon Henry — converged here in mid-December to attend a business meeting and technical tours sponsored by the Streetcar Subcommittee of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The main meetings spanned two days (15-16 December 2014), covering topics ranging from technical issues to the nuts-and-bolts of Cincinnati’s long political saga, navigating through public referendums and electoral permutations to finally secure the streetcar project now fully under construction. A highlight of the meetings was a presentation by John Schneider, Cincinnati’s “Mr. Streetcar” (see photo at top of this post), who chronicled and explained Cincinnati’s convoluted path to a rail transit system. (John is also a co-principal of Urban Rail Today.)

But special tours were also a major highlight of the APTA event, including a Dec. 14th tour of Cincinnati’s “subway-that-never-ran”, the remnants of subway tunnels beneath the center of the CBD. Built after World War I and into the 1920s, but eventually abandoned when city leaders scuttled the project, the subway is a creepy, sad, but fascinating artifact of urban industrial archaeology, with ghostly stairways, waiting platforms, and ticket kiosks constructed for passengers that would never come, and stringers ready for tracks that were never laid and trains that never ran. (Municipal bonds were not finally paid off till the 1960s — a kind of object lesson in the drawbacks of lack of perseverance and excessive misplaced frugality.)

For more information, history, maps, and photos, see:

Cincinnati’s Abandoned Subway — history and photos

Zach Fein (Cincinnati architect and photographer) — excellent modern photos

Cincinnati’s Abandoned Subway — link to PBS documentary available on

APTA tour group walking through darkness of Cincinnati's never-finished subway on morning of Dec. 14th. (Photo: L. Henry.)

APTA tour group walking through darkness of Cincinnati’s never-finished subway on morning of Dec. 14th. Photo: L. Henry.

Most of Cincinnati’s modern streetcar starter line project is now under construction, and particular features were inspected via another APTA Streetcar Committee tour on Dec. 16th. It’s a roughly 1.8-mile route, end to end, with about 3.6 miles of track and 17 stations. As the map below illustrates, the route has a sort of elongated “Figure 8” configuration, forming a long, narrow loop with tracks for each direction on parallel streets — no double track.

Map of Cincinnati's Phase 1 streetcar project, the first phase of hopefully a much larger urban rail system for the city. Map: City of Cincinnati.

Map of Cincinnati’s Phase 1 streetcar project, the first phase of hopefully a much larger urban rail system for the city. Map: City of Cincinnati.

In the middle segment where the alignment runs east-west for a short distance, the bottom (southern) track is routed in the median of Central Parkway, and the upper (northern) track along 12th St. Central Pkwy. was constructed atop the site of an old canal, and it was this canal that got drained and converted into the ill-fated subway that never opened.

Cincinnati’s famous Over-the-Rhine (OTR) district is the area above (i.e., north of) Central Pkwy. The district once was home to a substantial population of German immigrants who dubbed the old canal the “Rhine”. The area declined over the many decades since the subway debacle and the rustbelt decline of Cincinnati, but the neighborhoods adjacent and near to the streetcar line are experiencing quite a revival.

Streetcar rolling stock is being supplied by the Spanish railcar manufacturer CAF through their U.S. subsidiary CAF USA. Five cars for the starter line will be the first 100% lowfloor streetcars deployed in America (see simulation graphic below). Each will be 23.6 meters (77.4 feet) long, with four doors per side, 32 seats, and a total capacity of 154 passengers. Up to 6 bicycles can also be accommodated in the car.

CAF Urbos 3 streetcar for Cincinnati. Top: Interior. Bottom: Exterior. Graphic: CAF.

CAF Urbos 3 streetcar for Cincinnati. Top: Interior. Bottom: Exterior. Graphic: CAF.

CAF’s Urbos 3 car is actually a fully robust light rail transit (LRT) car adapted for streetcar application. The cars are double-ended (i.e., bidirectional) with a maximum speed capability of 70 km/h (about 43 mph).

As illustrated in the photo below, the streetcar project is being constructed predominantly with curbside tracks and stations that simply protrude outward from the sidewalks.

Members of APTA Streetcar Committee inspect streetcar station-stop under construction on Walnut St. in Cincinnati CBD. Photo: L. Henry.

Members of APTA Streetcar Committee inspect streetcar station-stop under construction on Walnut St. in Cincinnati CBD. Photo: L. Henry.

The photo below shows a completed section of track next to a station in the OTR district. The track diverges slightly toward the station platform, in part to minimize clearance needed for the platform edge and to maximize clearance with respect to the parking lane.

Completed section of streetcar track veers slightly toward station platform. Photo: L. Henry.

Completed section of streetcar track veers slightly toward station platform. Photo: L. Henry.

The use of recycled cobblestones to embed some sections of the track is shown in the photo below. This kind of treatment (if other motor vehicle lanes are left smooth) may tend to dissuade motorists from excessive running in the streetcar lane, giving it a bit of the quality of a semi-dedicated lane…

Section of streetcar track embedded in cobblestone paving. Photo: L. Henry.

Section of streetcar track embedded in cobblestone paving. Photo: L. Henry.

The system’s initial carbarn (storage-maintenance-operations facility) is under construction at the north end of the current route, at Henry St. The photo below, looking south, shows the main building and part of the storage yard. While the system will start with just five cars, the facility has space for 13. The revenue track wraps around on Henry St., on the carbarn’s north side (i.e., behind the camera in the photo below) to effectively reverse direction and head southbound.

Carbarn main building and portion of streetcar storage yard under construction. Photo: L. Henry.

Carbarn main building and portion of streetcar storage yard under construction. Photo: L. Henry.

In the photo below (facing north, toward Henry St.), track workers are performing thermal welds on one of the fan tracks leading into the carbarn. The street just beyond them is Henry St., which streetcars will use to turn from northbound to southbound and thus loop around the carbarn.

Workers performing thermal weld on track leading into carbarn storage yard. Photo: L. Henry.

Workers performing thermal weld on track leading into carbarn storage yard. Photo: L. Henry.

Cincinnati’s streetcar project is clearly not only well on its way, but planners are already scoping out the next extension, reaching further north to the University of Cincinnati. Furthermore, with a system designed for and deploying fully capable LRT rolling stock, an eventual transformation of the basic streetcar system into a faster, high-capacity LRT system is a distinct possibility for the future. ■

Cincinnati: “Our city confirmed its will to continue along path to a balanced transportation system”

Cincinnati: Simulation of streetcar running downtown. Graphic: City of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati: Simulation of streetcar running downtown. Graphic: City of Cincinnati.

By John Schneider

This commentary has been adapted from a December 19th statement by the author to supporters of the campaign to continue Cincinnati’s streetcar project, immediately after the favorable vote by the City Council.

With the City Council’s vote on December 19th to resume Cincinnati’s streetcar project, our city confirmed its will to continue along the path to a balanced transportation system. Our path has been up and down with lots of twists and turns and leaps of faith that took us to unknown places. But we soldiered-on, and now the path is wider, flatter, and clearly marked for others to follow, not only in Cincinnati but in other cities that want to gain more citizens and become more competitive.

There are so many people to thank, but first and foremost, I want to thank former Mayor Mark Mallory, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, and City Manager Milton Dohoney. Even though we reached our goal on December 19th, we wouldn’t have even been in the game were it not for their leadership of the Cincinnati Streetcar over many years. Their support cost them dearly, and we should be forever grateful.

And to our long-time champions on City Council — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young whose eloquence and persistence following the election, working with PG Sittenfeld, brought their colleagues, Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilmember Kevin Flynn, along to enable us to continue along our path.

Immediately after the December 19th vote, Mayor John Cranley was very gracious in offering his congratulations to me and to others. I hope this period of divisiveness now passes and that we can all join with him and Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn, and Amy Murray to foster the city we all want to have.

Were it not for Ryan Messer, who parachuted-in to lead this effort in early November, we would not have succeeded. The kind of leader who emerges every ten years or so here, he brought new energy to our movement. Early-on, he recruited our attorney, Paul DeMarco, who used his contacts at the highest level of our nation’s government to bring about the results we achieved, to assure the Feds we knew where we were going. Early-on, without a hint of hesitation, Karen Blatt volunteered our spiffy campaign office, and Ryan hired Scott Allison to execute the flawless campaign to gather signatures. Others including Jean-Francois Flechet, Sean Lee, Rob Richardson, Jr, Margy Waller and Brad and Karen Hughes did whatever had to be done and were the wisest advisors and best team-players anyone could have.

There are so many others that contributed so much to this effort that I cannot mention them all but they are all strongly appreciated. Suffice it to say that this effort could not have been sustained over all these years without all the people who have been involved.

Eric Avner of the Haile Foundation raised $9,000,000 in a little over 48 hours, enough to make City Council comfortable that the cost of operating the streetcar was assured for the first ten years. This was the keystone of the plan to save the streetcar.

There were many memorable moments in this campaign. One I’ll never forget was the December 10th meeting at First Lutheran Church near 12th and Race, where 450 people showed up to sign-out their petitions. Chris Heckman and Kristen Myers are members of the congregation, and they quickly arranged for the church to open its doors twice to us. I’m certain this set the tone for the whole campaign.

John Schneider photo

John Schneider, Cincinnati’s “Mr. Streetcar”. Photo:

Speaking of the campaign, we now have 11,000 Cincinnatians’ names and addresses for our efforts going forward. The planning and execution of the signature-gathering was orchestrated with great precision by The Strategy Group and its able leader, Ian James, who made a critical judgment that the number and intensity of our volunteers was more than adequate to gather the signatures. We wouldn’t need paid signature-gatherers. Plus, it gave us all an opportunity to tell the streetcar’s story in the way we know it. And by the way, we registered a bunch of streetcar supporters to vote in the process.

Our thanks go well beyond Cincinnati to the many people in many cities who have been watching our project intently, including especially Portland’s mayor, Charlie Hales and his wife Nancy, who have joined us on many of our trips there over the years. When he was in the private sector, Charlie helped plan the Cincinnati Streetcar, and he has been a guiding light for me. We’re not finished with the Portland trips. They have an early spring there.

Most of all, we should all thank our spouses, families, employers and co-workers for tolerating our absences over the past days and nights. They were soldiers in this too.

I hope that in this new year everyone will continue to work harder than ever to bring more diverse transportation choices to our city, Cincinnati, or to whatever city where you live.

Merry Christmas, Cincinnati! Streetcar project resumes work

Cincinnati streetcar on order from builder CAF. Simulation: City of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati streetcar on order from builder CAF. Simulation: City of Cincinnati.

For supporters of urban rail, it’s been a clenched-teeth political action movie in Cincinnati, as newly elected Mayor John Cranley tried to implement his campaign promise to pull the plug on the city’s streetcar project — even though construction was well under way, tracks had already been laid in the street, and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) was threatening to demand repayment of of millions of dollars in grants if the project were cancelled.

Besides the new mayor, the election of three new councilmembers meant a council majority against the rail project, and on December 4th, the council voted to “pause” further work pending an independent audit by consulting firm KPMG. In response, the FTA issued an ultimatum: Resume the project by Dec. 19th, or forfeit the federal grant and pay back funds already transferred.

Meanwhile, the prospect of scuttling an ongoing project and wasting funds already invested sparked a local grassroots rebellion involving not just rail project supporters but a wider spectrum of Cincinnatians. A powerful mobilization for a referendum on a city charter change to require completion of the rail project collected roughly twice the number of signatures required — also attracting national media attention. This show of force seems to have helped in starting to move councilmembers’ leanings.

Recently laid Cincinnati streetcar trackage in Elm St. on Nov. 8th. Original granite pavers are being reinstalled to restore historic appearance. Photo: Travis Estell (Flickr).

Recently laid Cincinnati streetcar trackage in Elm St. on Nov. 8th. Original granite pavers are being reinstalled to restore historic appearance. Photo: Travis Estell (Flickr).

In addition, as described by a New York Times article (Dec. 22nd), “KPMG’s audit showed that completing the line would cost the city $68.9 million; canceling would run between $16.3 million and $46.1 million, not including the potential costs of litigation, which could be astronomical.” Thus, noted the Times, streetcar proponents were able to argue that “The city could spend millions of dollars and have a streetcar with the potential for return on investment, or have nothing to show for it while facing a tangle of lawsuits ….”

On the brink of the Dec. 19th deadline, the project was also reprieved by a written commitment, honchoed by the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation and involving roughly 15 private-sector backers, to cover as much as $9 million of the line’s operating costs over its first decade, if necessary.

On Dec. 19th, just hours from the FTA deadline, the Cincinnati city council voted 6-3 to resume the project. “We’re going to have a streetcar” Mayor Cranley announced at an afternoon news conference with new Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had spent days helping forge the private financing agreement.

It represented an amazing victory for the broad swath of Cincinnati streetcar supporters, who had turned out by the hundreds to gather many thousands of signatures on the referendum petition. It’s also recognized as a huge victory for rail advocacy and for urban livability, and a terrific model for communities throughout North America.

According to the Cincinnati Business Journal (Dec. 23rd), Work on the project resumes on Dec. 26th, with delivery of an additional set of rails on Elm St., and “The installation of rails will be underway again on Friday, as crews restart their jobs north of Findlay Market.”

More details on this issue are summarized in a recent online article on the Railway Age magazine website:

Cincinnati streetcar survives political turmoil

Another Railway Age article by Urban Rail Today co-principal Lyndon Henry draws a parallel between citizens’ efforts for urban rail in Austin, Texas and those in Cincinnati:

Cincinnati and Austin: Community urban rail proponents challenge City Hall

Getting the streetcar route right in Cincinnati

Another simulation view of the CAF streetcar on order for Cincinnati. Graphic: CincyStreetcar blog.

Another simulation view of the CAF streetcar on order for Cincinnati. Graphic: CincyStreetcar blog .

by John Schneider

An early turning point — there have been many of them — in the long-running effort to build the Cincinnati Streetcar occurred in one of the meetings that evaluated five potential routes. The early consensus favored a straight route on one-way parallel streets anchored by Cincinnati’s convention center, which has been expanded twice in the past thirty years.

Then something remarkable happened. The CEO of Cincinnati’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau stood up and said, “Look, don’t build this for tourists — they are looking for things to do and they will find the streetcar wherever it is. Let’s build this for Cincinnatians.”

So an alternative quickly rose to the top — a diagonal alignment from southeast to northwest across the basin of downtown Cincinnati that puts just about every major destination within a couple of blocks of the line.

What proved to be key is the connection between employment and housing. While Cincinnati is a small city, it is home to a surprising number of large corporations, including Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, and the Kroger Company. There are seven Fortune 500 companies within a couple blocks of the streetcar line.

Most of these companies, their law and accounting firms and other support services are clustered a few blocks north of the Ohio River. Our region’s bus system is concentrated at the center of this agglomeration, and about 20% of downtown workers commute by bus. The streetcar line would end up flowing through the middle of this too.

At the other end of the line is Over-the-Rhine, so-named by German immigrants who compared the river they knew in their homeland to an early Cincinnati canal bordering OTR. Crossing the canal and going downtown was like “going over the Rhine.” And the name stuck.

Once home to perhaps 35,000 residents, OTR’s population dropped to around 5,000 or so in the 1990’s. Mostly vacant but blessed with beautifull (and mostly intact) Italianate townhouses, the neighborhood had been experiencing a slow comeback for several decades but was losing the battle to the elements and parking lots.

It was an obvious match: downtown workers are the best prospects to repopulate a neighborhood near lots of jobs but not really close enough to be walkable by everyone in all weather and at all times of the day. The streetcar solves that problem.

So the route will traverse the one-way couplet of Main and Walnut in the CBD, cross east/west at its midpoint to travel on another couplet, Elm and Race, which bracket Findlay Market, one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the country. And perhaps the most authentic and diverse place in all of Cincinnati.

What else is along the Cincinnati Streetcar route? Plenty.

Fountain Square is the symbolic heart of our city and a focus of major investment. When the Reds win the World Series again, thousands of Cincinnatians will gather on the Square to celebrate. No one will require an invitation. It will just happen. The streetcar travels along the edge of the Square.

Speaking of the Reds, the Great American Ball Park is located near Stop #1 for the Cincinnati Streetcar. And Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Bengals, is four blocks away. These facilities are co-located in a huge Ohio River redevelopment project now known as The Banks, a billion dollars of new housing, restaurants, hotel and office space.

For 222 years, Cincinnati didn’t have a flood-proof riverfront, the Ohio River having a nasty habit of fluctuating wildly depending on upstream rainfall. As a result, not much could ever happen there. Now it will, because the parking for the teams — eventually to become one of the largest underground parking garages in North America — provides an invisible, floodable pllatform for the development above. The center of The Banks is about four blocks from Fountain Square with an uphill walk, so the streetcar will help bridge the distance and make commercial and hotel development there more promising.

There are other important destinations along the route of the Cincinnati Streetcar:

• Two-thirds of all the major cultural attractions in the Cincinnati region.
• Two new parks, one on the riverfront, the other in Over-the-Rhine.
• Cincinnati’s main library, now the busiest library building in the United States. There is also a historic private library on the line — one of its founders, a U.S. president.
• A new $72-million-dollar K-12 School for the Creative and Performing Arts, the first of its kind in the nation, which was originally established a half-mile away.
• Several new hotels and more in planning plus three large apartment buildings.
• Many bars and restaurants all along the line and more on the way. Cincinnati is getting to be a foodie town.

While the streetcar is mostly associated with Over-the-Rhine, economists estimate that the greatest real estate gains will occur in the north frame of the CBD. Over-the-Rhine is intimate and charming, and that’s why it is cherished by Cincinnatians. But most of the large parcels of land and buildings suitable for re-use as housing are in the “Empty Quarter” of the CBD between Fountain Square and OTR. Except for the Aronoff Center for the Arts, very little happens there nights and weekends. The streetcar will give this area new life.

City officials plan to extend the streetcar up the hill to Uptown area, to the University of Cincinnati with its 42,000 students and to the several hospitals near it. Downtown Cincinnati is the largest employment center in this 2.1-million-person region. Uptown Cincinnati is second.

A long-awaited sight: streetcar construction on Cincinnati's Elm Street. Photo: Travis Estell.

A long-awaited sight: streetcar construction on Cincinnati’s Elm Street. Photo: Travis Estell.

The key takeaway from Cincinnati is diversity of uses — connecting the two largest employment centers in the region with underpopulated historic districts between them, a large and growing public market, plus parks, schools, libraries, hotels and restaurants. When you put it all together, you have the likelihood of the streetcar’s near round-the-clock use almost every day of the week.

The Over-the-Rhine loop of the Cincinnati Streetcar will open for testing in mid-2015, the CBD loop about a year later.

Great things are happening in Cincinnati. Plan to visit soon.

Cincinnati’s “Mr. Streetcar” makes case for Cincy project on radio

John Schneider photo

John Schneider [Photo:]

Cincinnati, Ohio — This city’s streetcar starter line project is under way … but so is the continuing fight against it by rail transit adversaries.

On Thursday, July 18th, local airwaves became a debate forum as John Schneider (co-principal of Urban Rail Today) sparred with 55KRC talk radio host Brian Thomas over the pros and cons of the city’s project, now surging forward with a fresh infusion of necessary funding (see Cincinnati signs streetcar construction contract). Here’s a brief description from the CincyStreetcar Blog:

John Schneider, aka Captain Transit aka Mr. Streetcar, was back on the radio this morning. He was invited to join Brian Thomas on his regular morning show on 55 KRC.

The two discussed the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar project in detail, and also discussed the merits of rail transportation in general.

The discussion started with Brian Thomas going on an uninterrupted prelude where he discussed the City of Cincinnati’s finances and its lack of ability to proceed with the project.

“The fundamental problem with Cincinnati, and the fundamental opportunity is we’ve lost population and we need to repopulate our city. We have a city that was built for 500,000 people, but we only have 300,000 people today,” Schneider explained to an agreeable Thomas. “But the snow still falls on Martin Luther King Boulevard and it has to be plowed, the grass still grows in Mt. Airy Forest and it has to be cut.”

Schneider went on to explain that investing in the Cincinnati Streetcar will help stabilize the city’s tax base and repopulate the city, in perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity the Queen City has.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Thomas spent almost the entire interview using anecdotes and anti-city hysteria to support his points, but he did loudly profess how much of a bus fan he is.

CincyStreetcar Blog also provides its own link to a nice, compact recording of the full 55KRC program, lasting about a half-hour.

Yak jock Brian Thomas was not only adversarial, but also somewhat overbearing. After long orations of his own view, he’d ask John Schneider a question, then interrupt him about a couple of sentences into his response. In fact, it didn’t appear that John was ever able to complete a response without interruption. Neverless, John maintained a cool, professional demeanor and seems to have presented a good case for the Cincinnati project.

Much of the de facto on-air debate focused on Thomas’s claims that buses could do the job at less cost (the “Just like rail, but cheaper” argument). But (before being interrupted each time) Schneider managed to emphasize some of the major advantages of rail transit.

It’s almost a sure bet that rail transit opponents actually ride public transit extremely rarely, if ever — and, especially before an audience similarly unfamiliar with the actual differences, this sophistic anti-rail rationale can effectively hoodwink some observers. But the reality is that a streetcar is far more attractive to the public than a bus, even for what will be, in the Cincy CBD, short circulator trips. There’s more personal space, you can board/deboard much faster, the stops are far nicer, the trip is faster.

As a result, significantly higher ridership is attracted. And, in most cases, in turn, rail’s operating and maintenance cost per passenger-mile is lower than for similar bus service.

One of the more curious aspects of the debate was Thomas’s argument on the claimed drawbacks of rail’s route permanence, and his praise for the supposed superiority of being able to “flexibly” change a bus route at will. Despite Thomas’s professed devotion to bus transit, almost any seasoned regular bus rider might seriously wonder whether he really rides the bus as often as he claims. As most regular riders know all too well, “flexible” route diversions are one of the greatest banes of bus passengers, especially when these diversions occur frequently because of special events such as parades, marathons, street fairs, and similar activities.

What this “flexibility” means for many a regular commuter, for example, is that you walk vigorously to your usual bus stop for your after-work trip home, only to find it closed because your bus has been re-routed six to eight blocks away — and you can’t possibly make your bus on time. (But it’s probably delayed by all the street activity and re-routings, anyway.)

In short, while route “flexibility” might be very handy for the transit agency (and muncipal public works roadway department) … it’s hell for the passengers. The people of Cincinnati — and, indeed, any community considering rail vs. bus alternatives — need to ask themselves if this is the outcome they really want.

Walkable City book applauds John Schneider for “single-handedly bringing streetcars to Cincinnati”

[Graphic of book cover: CNU]

by Lyndon Henry

My Urban Rail Today colleague John Schneider is given some much-deserved kudos in Jeff Speck’s acclaimed book on urban livability and new urbanism, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.

A review posted on the website of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) describes Speck as ” a city planner who advocates for smart growth and sustainable design”; he’s also the author of Suburban Nation, depicted as a “landmark bestseller”.

“Bursting with sharp observations and real-world examples, giving key insight into what urban planners actually do and how places can and do change, Walkable City lays out a practical, necessary, and eminently achievable vision of how to make our normal American cities great again…” reports the review.

One of the “real-world examples”, cited on page 140 in a chapter titled “Let Transit Work”, is “John Schneider of Protransit, who is single-handedly bringing streetcars to Cincinnati, someone out there hunting down federal and state dollars, leading fact-finding junkets, and otherwise fighting the good fight for mass transit.” (Protransit is a Cincinnati-area group advocating rail transit alternatives for the city.)

John (known locally as “Mr. Streetcar”) declines credit for “hunting down federal and state dollars”, but he’s certainly forged new paths in terms of “leading fact-finding junkets” — through organizing enlightening trips, year after year, from Cincinnati, Ohio to Portland, Oregon, for groups of various regional civic officials and community leaders to visit Portland and inspect the metro area’s globally acclaimed rail transit systems first-hand. Those eye-opening excursions have clearly played a key role in persuading local community leaders (and similar participants from other communities) to back rail transit in Cincinnati and elsewhere — and represent a highly effective model for urban rail supporters to nurture local support in their own cities.

The CNU review includes excerpts from Speck’s book and a link for ordering a copy from Amazon.