Background: The Problem
The streetcar is fundamentally a solution to a problem. And to understand the solution, it's important to first understand the problem.
Cincinnati's population has been declining since about 1950.
In fact, there are almost 200,000 fewer people living here than there were in 1950. It's no great coincidence that's when Cincinnati dismantled its streetcar system.
When you make a shift away from transit and toward automobiles, you need places to store those automobiles when people are at work. So you see a lot of surface parking lots around town -- and surface parking lots are simply not great generators of economic activity.
So there's less space for businesses, and less places for people to live.
Population losses have led to urban flight and disinvestment. Properties fall into disrepair, and there is an economic loss.
The areas on this map in red, including the West End, Pendleton and Over the Rhine, have seen large losses of people.
The problem is also one of declining business.
Businesses follow people. And so when you see a loss of population from an area, you also see a loss of economic activity in that area.
Cincinnati also faces a problem of competitiveness.
The problem is keeping young, smart talent who want to be in active, walkable cities like Chicago, San Francisco and New York. Because Cincinnati's urban core hasn't been as vibrant as it should have been for the past 50 years, there's a problem in keeping smart, young people around.
How Do We Fix It?
Cincinnati needs more jobs, more development and more people.
A streetcar is a way to do that.
Streetcars = Development
A streetcar will help to drive development by elevating land that's currently used for parking to a higher and better use.
Surface parking lots are not great generators of economic activity. When you reduce the need for people to store their cars somewhere, those storage spaces can become something more productive. It's already happened at the Horseshoe Casino site, at the new School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and at dunnhumby's new headquarters.
This accelerates housing and commercial development and builds on some of the success already seen in Downtown and Over the Rhine.
In Over the Rhine specifically, there is still a long way to go in turning around that neighborhood (particularly when you look north of Liberty Street). The buildings there are likely to be occupied by people who don't want a place to keep their car – they want to be connected through a useful transit system.
So for all this development to be sustainable and cost-effective, a streetcar system is necessary to keep going.
Streetcars = People
Streetcars will also bring people by enabling denser, mixed-use development. It does that by reinforcing the city's walkability.
For 150 years, there were not cars in Cincinnati; so, a lot of what's built here – what's already here – is designed for people to get around on foot and by streetcar.
Streetcars can also help reduce development costs by reducing parking needs. As developers are making residences for people, it's very expensive to create structured parking spaces. The costs of those parking spots get passed onto to the homebuyers or renters, and cost can be a real deterrent.
By making development more affordable, you can control costs and bring more people to the table.
Streetcars = Jobs
Businesses follow people. A big part of what people want these days is to live near where they work.
With Downtown and Uptown being this region's largest employment centers, there is a demand by people who want to live near those jobs.
When people live nearby, they need all the things you have for daily life -- not only restaurants and bars, but also child care centers, beauty salons, flower shops, grocery stores and more.
When people who operate those kinds of businesses are looking to invest, they are encouraged through the certainty and permanence of fixed rails -- because you don't build a streetcar system for the next 10 years, or even for the next 20 years.
When you build a streetcar system, you're doing it for 100 years. And business owners have the confidence that those rails will be there, and they invest.
Buses and other rubber-wheeled systems simply do not have that kind of proven track record of attracting business.