Tuesday, August 26, 2008

OHIO/CINNKY: Why I don't support the Cincy Streetcar (Part 3 of a Series)

Two quick things before we begin this evening...

1) It is true, Connect Our Dots is a pro-streetcar blog, but some of their criticisms (granted, from 2007) could have come from me. Ta da:
The issue here is that transit funding is hard to come by, especially when citizens don’t want it. If we want the Cincinnati region to get on the transit bandwagon (or railcar, more appropriately) we need to show a big transit success story. Because the Eastern Corridor line runs through so few neighborhoods and would have such low ridership, it would be hard to market as an astounding success. In fact, at such a high cost ($411 million plus $19m per year) it would be an easy target for transit critics of why we shouldn’t do more transit projects.
2) I am a supporter of public transit. I am happy to hear about this.

So let's continue this charade, shall we?

Part I: Why I don't support the streetcar
Section 4: "Busses aren't cool"
One of the lasting lessons from GEO 451 -- arguably the only lesson I took from there -- was my nerdy professor proudly stating that "busses aren't cool." People don't want to ride them. They're dirty, they reek of other people, they are slow, and don't have that "hip" feeling that a train does. It's much cooler to be able to take the tube or the subway and just hop wherever we're going real quick in a sterile environment where we can pretend, even if for a moment, that we're in New York.

LA suffered from this. Tried to take millions of dollars away from the bus system to fund a suburban train system that was barely used. That's when we got the highly effective Bus Riders Union.

Brasilia knew it was a problem before and so they sought to "cool up" the bus system they had there, and we got this:

And, btw, they have a highly successful bus system.

My point is this: we're just trying to build something that feels cool and looks cool so that we can fall further into the "look how big a city we are" mode. Well, sad to say, a lot of major cities in this country do not have a public transit system outside of busses and are doing fine, and at a faster rate than us.

This is not the end-all, be-all of economic development, and just because we're not "cool enough" to say "oh yea, just jump on the streetcar to get there" to tourists, doesn't mean we aren't cool.

Section 5: Traffic Congestion
The streetcar will cause congestion, and I'm gonna bet some parking problems. Just because they are on a set track doesn't mean that they aren't going to be getting in the way of cars.

Drive down Elm Street, where are those cars parked along the street gonna go? The street is packed as it is.

Section 6: Where is the plan for the suburbs?
Even if I grant that the system will cause some transportation benefit to the downtown area... we're a suburban city. There's a lot of people out there. In fact, lets even grant that it increases the population (read: white, middle class population) of the downtown region. How does that help the burbs -- even as close as St. Bernard, Western Hills, Mt. Adams, Avondale... not to say such out there burbs as Fairfield, Hamilton, West Chester, Springdale, Lebanon, etc. etc. etc. In the end, aren't those the people we are trying to attract back to the city??? Well, hell, aren't we trying to attract somebody back downtown... which we've started to do, which I think is admirable.

How many people commute into the city every day? If we desire so much to clear up traffic congestion or encourage people to spend some time (and money) downtown, then don't we want to *ahem* throw a bone out that direction. Their usage, at the moment, would be severely limited by major events (games, fireworks, etc) when the whole system will be filled by the sheer numbers of people trying to use it.

Even the current plans for "spurs" don't account for a lot of the burbs, and certainly not anytime soon. And the idea of "park-and-ride" is not even part of the equation.

Section 7: "It will bring people to shopping and dining downtown"
No, no it won't. I'm sorry, people can't afford the goods downtown, or the restaurants. We should, maybe acknowledge that there is some benefit to, say, Meijer's or Target in the world (or even Walmart -- COUGHCOUGH) because that's where people can get the majority of what they need easily. The current plan seems to acknowledge that development in the city is disjointed and doesn't seem to be responding to any centralized plan (or is reacting to the lack of centralized plan). Thus, we must connect, and connect quickly!!!!

Part II: Suggestions for Improving the Bus System
Section 3: Create greater suburban access
At the moment, there's only a handful of busses that make it out to Butler County, and more (bus still few) that make it to Springdale. For people who use the bus as their primary form of transportation, how do they go shopping? How do they take advantage of other parts of the city -- still rightfully considered "Cincinnati," btw. More importantly, if it is lower class people who use the bus, and there is no industry, per se, downtown, wouldn't it make sense to improve the busses even as far out as, say, outer Kenwood (along Reed Hartman there are very few busses that make it out to Ethicon Endo-Surgeries, for example).

In addition, in order to "bring the region back to Cincinnati," there should be busses that run more regularly to places like Fairfield (Jungle Jim's anyone???), or Hamilton (one, downtown), or Oxford (for the students to come down and party), or Middletown (uh... I don't know anything out there either), or West Chester. And not just centered around the work schedule. Saturdays, Saturdays, Saturdays. The Metro has a plan for you to buy tickets out those directions, but they run few and far between, and I can't imagine -- especially in Clermont or other rural areas -- that they are really, really accessible.

Thus: advertise. Create a bus station. And tell people it's there.

And make the fare cheaper.

Section 4: Integrate TANK and Metro
There, I said it. We are one metro region, even if we don't like to admit it. Of course, I'm also a big fan of regional governance, but that's just me.

Make them one system. TANK has some great things about it. And have a bus that just runs the Newport-on-the-Levee to Govt. Square route (and, once its built, the Banks). Every 15 minutes. On the weekend and in the evenings.

I have nothing else to say about this except that your Metro card won't get you to the airport.

Section 5: Actively seek out corporate bus passes
My employer allows me the opportunity to ride the bus -- FOR FREE -- because our Student Senate approved a contract with Metro that a UC ID will get you on the busses and let you ride around and around and around for free. I'm lucky in that way. Does any other organization in the city offer this?

What would be the effect if, suddenly, Kroger's or P&G or Great American made a similar agreement...? Would you significantly alter your mode of travel if they said "here, this is free."

Metro should actively seek the corporations to do this. They pay one big lump sum (I think, I'm not a financial guy) and their employees can ride for free. Maybe throw in a little advertisement to sweeten the deal. Actually, if current trends and moods toward the busses hold out, my guess is that Metro will get a lot of money and no one will ride. :-)

Part I: Why I don't support the streetcar...
8-23: Section 1: It doesn't serve enough people
8-25: Section 2: It's an "economic development tool"
8-25: Section 3: It's going to take too long
8-26: Section 4: Busses Aren't Cool
8-26: Section 5: Traffic Congestion
8-26: Section 6: Where is the plan for the suburbs?
NEXT: "Well, that was cool..." and we never see you again
NEXT: It's not a long term solution to our transit issues

Part II: Suggested changes to the Metro
8-23: Section 1: Improve intra-neighborhood service
8-25: Section 2: Improve the technology
8-26: Section 3: Create greater suburban access
8-26: Section 4: Integrate TANK and Metro
8-26: Section 5: Actively seek out corporate bus passes
NEXT: More professional bus drivers
NEXT: Increase midday service


Anonymous said...

You have some very good points Barry!
I'd also like to add:
The TANK?Metro idea is fantastic! QCM has some serious people-issues at all levels, and the people at TANK are fabulous. I speak from direct experience. We (Cincinnati Transit Historical Assn.) got kicked out of the Queensgate garage for their renovation, and were never invited back... TANK welcomed us with open arms, and we even benefit from their ownership of a historic bus fleet as well. TANK's customer-relations are wonderful. They send a sampling of their historic fleet to many car shows every year to spread the word about TANK and what they offer people!
And the professor that said "buses aren't cool" should be shot... I think buses friggin rule! I'm even gonna shoot for a co-op out at Gillig Corp. near San Fransisco next year when I start my co-op for UC...

Fernando Dalacqua said...

The image of a bus stop is from a Brazilian city called Curitiba, not Brasilia.