Streetcar – Funded – 2012

3.9-mile new north-south route runs through the city’s Downtown, from waterfront to north downtown

6,400 projected daily riders

$128 million cost;

$25 million provided by U.S. DOT Urban Circulator Grant

Relevant article on the Transport Politic: Cincinnati’s Riverfront Transit Center Attracts Criticism, 7 July 2009.

click photos to enlarge


The most likely streetcar route through downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Uptown route not included.



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Modern Streetcar Proposal

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Cincinnati's proposal was modeled after the system in Portland, OregonThe streetcar line was conceived as a way to energize housing and development in Over-the-Rhine, Downtown Cincinnati, and the "uptown" neighborhoods that surround the University of Cincinnati. The fundamental goal of the streetcar proposal is to create transit-oriented development.

At the end of the twentieth century Over-the-Rhine, which is adjacent to downtown, was one of the most economically distressed areas in the United States. Over-the-Rhine's instability was preventing growth and investment in the city's Central Business District which, in turn, has been affecting the health of the entire region. Ideally, the streetcar line would attract downtown (and uptown) workers to live near the line, provide economic stimulation and development, and provide transportation for local residents and tourists. The streetcars appeared in Cincinnati's massive 2002 transit plan, MetroMoves, which was rejected when taken to a public vote In July of 2010, the city received a $25 million federal grant, which makes the construction of the streetcar system in the near future almost certain.

Feasibility studyA feasibility study was completed in 2007 that focused on a 3.9-mile (6.3 km) loop from The Banks, through downtown and Over-the-Rhine. According to the study the city would gain between 1,200 and 3,400 additional residences, raise an additional $34,000,000 in property taxes, and yield $17,000,000 in retail activity per year from new residents Within a quarter mile of the line there are 97 acres (390,000 m2) of surface parking lots along the downtown and Over-the-Rhine line. The potential yield of the parking lots for redevelopment is 3,787 housing units or 7,412,900 sq ft (688,680 m2) of commercial/office/hotel space The study says lots would create between $54 million and $193 million additional redevelopment per year, with a conservative estimate of $112 million per year. A total property value premium of $379,000,000 plus $1,480,000,000 of redevelopment over 10 years (conservative estimate) would equal a total of $1,911,000,000 of benefits for the city. The study concludes that the benefit-cost ratio of the downtown and Over-the-Rhine line would be 15.2 to 1, which means for every dollar Cincinnati spends it will receive $15.20 in return. The University of Cincinnati "checked the math" of the study and found that the "projections of the benefits of ridership and economic development" are "credible."

The study projected that a 2010 opening year would draw an estimated 4,600 riders of the downtown and Over-the-Rhine portion of the line each weekday. According to city leaders, if 2 percent of downtown workers, and 2 percent of convention attendees, and 2 percent of Over-the-Rhine residents ride the streetcars it will meet that daily ridership. By 2015 about 6,400 people are estimated to ride the streetcars per weekday. Ridership numbers for the uptown line were not included in the study.

The 2007 study also claims the streetcar system would have four significant economic effects:

--Customer base and customer access will expand for existing businesses.
--Improved market values of existing properties.
--Catalyst for new transit-oriented development where less parking is required.
--Supporting neighborhoods by making them more walkable.

The most likely streetcar route through downtown and Over-the-Rhine. Uptown route not included.The streetcar route would connect various Cincinnati landmarks and businesses to 92 acres (370,000 m2) of surface parking and dozens of abandoned or underused buildings. According to city leaders the parking lots and abandoned buildings are "ripe for redevelopment."

The line would start on Freedom Way, near 2nd Street. The line would then travel north on Main Street through downtown until it reached 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine. The line would then turn west on 12th street. The streetcar would continue until it reaches Elm Street, where it would turn north. The line continues heading north until it reaches McMicken Avenue, at which point it would turn south-east a short distance before turning south on Race Street. The line would follow Race Street until it reaches Central Parkway, where it would turn east. The last turn would be south on Walnut Street where it would continue until it returned to Freedom Way.

The south portion of the line, below Central Parkway, would provide service to Cincinnati's Central Business District. Places of interest directly on the line include The Banks, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Great American Ball Park, Government Square (Metro's main bus hub), Fountain Square, Aronoff Center, Contemporary Arts Center, Mercantile Library of Cincinnati, Court Street Historic District, and Cincinnati Public Library (Main Library). Other places of interest that are within walking distance of the line are U.S. Bank Arena, Paul Brown Stadium, Taft Theatre, John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, Carew Tower/Tower Place Mall, Piatt Park, Lytle Park Historic District, Taft Museum, Yeatman's Cove, Sawyer Point, and The Purple People Bridge. Major employers on or within walking distance the line include Fifth Third Bank, Procter & Gamble, Duke Energy, American Financial Group, E. W. Scripps Company, Convergys Corporation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The center portion of the line follows Central Parkway and southern Over-the-Rhine, in a small area that is home to much of Cincinnati's performing arts. Places of interest that are directly on the line include Music Hall (home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Opera), Gateway Quarter, Ensemble Theatre, Memorial Hall, Know Theatre, Emery Theatre, School for Creative and Performing Arts, and Washington Park. Kroger Corporate Headquarters is along this portion of the line.

The northern portion of the line would serve residents of Over-the-Rhine. Places of interest include Findlay Market and Rookwood Pottery.

Line extensionsThe feasibility study suggested the possibility of several extensions or future additions including a line through Cincinnati's "uptown" neighborhoods to the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Zoo, and to the neighborhood of Clifton. Other extensions include a line through the West End to Union Terminal, a line to the East End neighborhood using an abandoned track, and a line across the Taylor-Southgate Bridge to Newport on the Levee in Newport, Kentucky. The cities of Newport, Kentucky and Covington, Kentucky across the Ohio River officially supports Cincinnati's streetcar proposal, and would like to install a system that links with the Cincinnati system if it is built.

On April 23, 2008 Cincinnati City Council voted 6-2 in favor of building the lines that link downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and uptown. Originally, the city wanted to build the line that connects Over-the-Rhine and downtown in the first phase, and then build the uptown link in a second phase However, a council majority wanted a mixture of both in the first phase Opening of the first streetcar line would not take place before 2011 or 2012.

The uptown extension has not yet been finalized, but the most likely candidates are the Vine Street hill or West Clifton Avenue. Vine Street was a path for the original streetcars, but an "extreme hillside" to the west of the street and a city park and an elementary school to the east leaves less land for development when compared to West Clifton Avenue. West Clifton Avenue passes through Clifton Heights, which is one of the densest neighborhoods in the city due to its concentration of UC studentsThe final path to uptown will be based on whether or not West Clifton Avenue is too steep for streetcar travel, and which path could tap into more federal funding. Other paths to uptown, which are less likely to be chosen, include Ravine Street and Gilbert Avenue.

Cost and fundingThe Downtown/Over-the-Rhine line would cost $102 million. A Downtown/Over-the-Rhine/University of Cincinnati line would cost $128 million. The full Downtown --Over-the-Rhine-- University of Cincinnati-- Uptown-- Zoo line would cost $185 million. The cost estimate for the Downtown/Over-the-Rhine line includes approximately 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of track and overhead power supply (for the route and storage/maintenance), 6 streetcars, 18 streetcar stops, a maintenance/storage facility for the streetcars, as well as a 15% to 25% contingency on project line items.

The money to fund the $102 million Downtown/Over-the-Rhine line would be attained from a variety of sources. Of those, $25 million would come from capital bonds; $25 million from tax increment financing from downtown property taxes; $31 million from private contributors, partners and sponsors; $11 million from proceeds from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport; and $10 million from state grants. The remaining $80 million to $85 million for the full Uptown system was planned to be built later, mostly with federal funds. However, after city council approved the streetcar plan they decided to look for an additional $35 million to "get up the hill" to the University of Cincinnati. (Engineering and construction costs for the uphill portion of the line would cost more than the portion of the line built on flat land.) The $35 million would only take the streetcars up to the University, that money would not extend it to the Cincinnati Zoo.

Annual operating costs were estimated between $2.0 and $2.7 million per year for the Downtown/Over-the-Rhine line. The estimate includes labor for streetcar operators, for maintenance of the streetcars, track and other facilities, and for ongoing management and administration of the service. A portion of the cost would be covered by a fare, if there is one. The fare policy has not been decided and could cost anywhere from "the current local bus fare" ($1.50 as of 2009) to free. According to City Council member Chris Bortz, the remaining operating cost could be covered by a variety of means, the most likely being revenue from advertisements inside and/or outside the streetcar—similar to how ads are done with Cincinnati's bus system.

Due to the severe economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 the city has had trouble raising the full $35 million needed from private sources. (Duke Energy has promised to donate $3.5 million.) City officials have made several trips to Washington to lobby for federal money for the streetcar system.

As of May 2010 the city has raised over 90 million in funds, and expects federal grants in the summer of 2010 to cover the remaining cost.

$15 million from Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC)
$64 million in bonds by the City of Cincinnati
$2.6 million in local funds
$15 million from the Ohio Department of Transportation
$4 million from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments
$25 million from the United States Department of Transportation's Urban Circulator Grant Program

Cincinnati's proposal was modeled after the system in Portland, Oregon