Sunday, May 23, 2010

Streetcar Named Expire

Cincinnati has demonstrated some sense.

Two thirds of those polled by our local newspaper voice disapproval of plans to spend gazillions for a streetcar that will carry inebriated UC students to a wider variety of bars than they can presently reach on foot.

Cincinnati's public transportation problem is not that it lacks public transportation modes. It's that it lacks the density of population and concentration of jobs to support a robust public transportation network.

And for a city that, like most, can't afford the princely and princessly pensions it promised to its civil servants, spending large numbers of dollars for that most inflexible of public transportation modes hardly seems timely.


steve-o said...

First, this Enquirer survey can harldy be considered scientific. It is well understood that the Enquirer caters to a urban prejudiced clientele that enjoys mocking all things city.

The poll mistates some of the facts about the issue, inquiring about the city "borrowing" $64million dollars when 1) it is a $64million bond; a bond is different than borrowing and 2) this would be the city's cost with the lion's share of funding coming from federal funds. Also, the options offered included the streetcar being a risky proposition. I would agree that it is risky, but favor the issue.

I view the streetcar not as an issue of public transportation but as urban economic stimulus. It will encourage retail growth along the corridor and strengthen the attractiveness of the urban core to the burgeoning young professional population. And, as evidenced in the recent Brookings Institute study, these are the people that are returning to the cities providing them with a renewed tax base. True, the city is up the creek because of their pension commitments, but this is hardly a Cincinnati issue. The post-WW2 promises were utopian and will have to be rectified by municipalities across the nation. My opinion is that we cannot stop future investments because of the mistakes of the past. I actually enjoy seeing progressivism in our fair city.

Finally, I find all this ironic since the Enquirer rarely covered the cost of the development of a new exit ramp to the Michael Fox Highway in Butler County off I-75, despite the fact that this one interchange cost taxpayers more than the entire streetcar project.

steve-o said...

One more thought concerning the Enquirer's polling: the poll was only done via landline. We abandoned our home line over five years ago and few people under the age of forty still have one. This would skew the data towards an older demographic who probably still consider Over-The-Rhine to be a ghetto. Again, this is about the Enquirer making a statement rather than statistical proof.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

How is a bond not borrowing? The bondholder gives money to the issuer of the bond. The issuer pays interest to the bondholder. On maturity, the issuer pays the principal back.

If a streetcar is not public transportation, where's the stimulus? Of course it's public transportation, and that's why it's a dicey proposition to sell it on any other basis.

Note well that a similar project in city with far greater population density, namely Tampa, failed utterly. Why should it succeed here? Need we mention that the stadium fund is in the red?

Note that the Enquirer overcame the landline problem by meticulously adhering to the demographics of the region in selecting participants. Note also that their editorial board actually supports the project.

The Fox Highway was a boondoggle. Do we therefore need a second, urban boondoggle to offset it? Note also that people actually use highways, and they're paid for with fuel (usage) taxes. Those same taxes also subsidize public transportation, a good and necessary thing. But this public transportation will be subsidized at a rate far higher than that for other forms, namely buses.

So how much is a young, urban professional worth? Enough to continue to constrain bus service in Cincinnati so that yuppies can pub crawl without a DUI?

Like you, SWNID likes urban places, affirms their social and economic necessity, and so supports urban renewal. This is too much for too little, however. Far too much for far too little.

steve-o said...

I still hold that the Enquirer is keeping a foot in either camp to increase readership. While the editorial board supports the issue (while still demanding a plan [which is already on the city's website]) it published articles that takes shots at the projects. They want to have their cake and have people pay them to eat it.

As per my bond/borrow comment, I should have written "a $64million bond sounds different than borrowing." Obviously there's no difference between the two, but the poll language could definitely manipulate the response. I'm convinced any notion of government borrowing in this time would be viewed negatively, regardless of the issue. Yep, it's semantics, but I think it comes into play here.

I'm not sure the comparison to Tampa is apt. I've witnessed there streetcar and it's not very practical; it caters only to out-of-town tourists taking a cruise. Cincinnati's route has a greater density along the proposed route; it will lend itself to locals, traveling near both housing and our largest employment centers.

In the end, I'll openly admit: I'm drinking the Kool-Aid on this one. I actually believe that this public transportation will help the city reap economic benefits (propagandized best at I'm not sure if it's my location near the urban core, or my interaction with young professionals who I know would locate in OTR or Clifton and sell their automobile to adopt this lifestyle that has forced me to buy in. Would the increase in the income tax base and retail development offset the initial investment cost? I naively believe it would.

And at the very least, as you point out, it would make Mothers Against Drunk Driving happy.