Thursday, June 18, 2009

Brent Spence vs. Streetcar

Streetcar proponents are often furious that highway projects don't generate the same public hostility that mass transit projects do. Highways are used by cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, taxis, fire engines and campers. Routes and schedules are at the sole discretion of the traveller. Everybody uses and everybody pays, making our paved network the most universally democratic means of transportation ever invented.

Everybody pays for mass transit too, but it's used by only a small number of people going to a small number of places on somebody else's schedule. When asked to justify such a lopsided arrangement, "expert studies" are cited trying to convince people who can never use it that they should still pay for it.

So how will streetcar enthusiasts react to this recent study which shows that Brent Spence Bridge replacement delivers lower per-trip costs and two and a half times the return on investent as their beloved streetcar boondoggle?

Brent SpenceStreetcar
Capital Cost

$ 2,500,000,000

$ 102,000,000

Daily Usage

230,000 vehicles

6,400 riders

Capital Cost/Use*




$ 18,900,000,000

$ 315,100,000

Benefit : Cost

7.56 : 1

3.09 : 1

*=Capital Cost/(Daily usage x 35 year assumed life x 365 days/yr)

So much for mass transit being more economical.


  1. As long as COAST is going to produce this type of data for all future road projects, I don't think the streetcar folks have much to worry about.

  2. But it's not fair. If the Streetcar has to get a vote why shouldn't all transportation projects. I know that we YP elites could get off our butts and collect the signatures for some of these transportation projects, but we're just too lazy.

    It's not fair that the NAACP and COAST will work to put something on the ballot and we won't. I'd say more, but I'm a "busy" person like all young, single YPers and I have things to do.

  3. The Benefit/Cost Analysis of the Cincinnati Streetcar took operating costs into account over the 34-year life of the project. I don't see where the Brent Spence analysis did any of that. Question: what do you suppose is the Present Value sum of all the operating costs of the fleet of 230,000 daily cars and trucks, including depreciation, over the life of the new Brent Spence Bridge. It would be well into the billions.

    You'd also need to consider the dis-benefits resulting from the bridge construction over many years, the reduced air quality, the extra truck traffic that will be attracted to our region on account of it and the wear-and-tear on our highways that will result. The economists who studied the streetcar did all that -- construction impacts, air quality improvements, benefits to low-income persons, accidents.

    From what I see, the thing that was put out on the Brent Spence Bridge is pretty primitive.

    Good enough for COAST, probably.

  4. CincyCapell,

    You will notice the word "benefit" in quotes. Those numbers are lifted from their respective studies. Not only don't we claim them, we don't believe them.

    But since streetcar fanatics treat their studies with religious devotion, we thought it would be fun to play the "our B.S. is better than your B.S." card.

    And it is too. UC and HDR both have a vested interest in doing the streetcar project. They are hardly objective analysts.

    Bottom line is that the primary benefit of any transportation system is getting people from where they are to where they want to be as cheaply as possible. In that regard, the cost & usage numbers are a much better scorecard than the dubious "benefits" dreamed up by transit planners. And the bridge outscores the streetcar hands down.

  5. As a Libertarian-leaning conservative, I'm absolutely outraged that COAST would dare laud our road system as "universally democratic."

    The interstate highway system is probably the most purely Socialist government program in America. It's resources, benefits, and costs are not allocated democratically OR with anything approaching free market mechanisms.

    Also, I find it curious that you apparently approve of projects with a 7:1 benefit ratio, but not a 3:1 ratio. When did COAST take a vote on that? Because very few projects in the highway system EVER had projected cost/benefits higher than 3:1. So why do you so strongly support them?

  6. "Bottom line is that the primary benefit of any transportation system is getting people from where they are to where they want to be as cheaply as possible."

    This is precisely where you are fundamentally wrong. It has nothing to do with simply getting from point a to point b as cheaply as possible. That's the old dogma of the baby boomer generation and its also the one that's a dying breed.
    The real bottom line is that inner city rail transit gives people more options for transit, so that our only choice is not just cars. Rail transit like the streetcar project will help create an interesting more liveable and walkable urban environment where people don't have to depend on their car for every single transportation need. This is a huge benefit that you folks at COAST probably don't understand and probably never will.
    If your city charter amendment passes you will have effectively crippled this city from ever being a competitive part of the 21st century. The nation is moving away from the old idea that the automobile is the only form of transit we need. If we don't invest in rail transit now, the rest of the country will and we'll be left in the dust.

  7. lol ... I love the picture being used! "Image A" clearly shows why we need mass transit!

    God, I want to dump my car so bad, but this city is so auto dependent!

  8. ^ Amen. That first drawing is kind of counter-productive to the cartoonist's argument.

    I agree with some of the arguments about the "Capital Cost/Use" figure. What about the cost borne by each individual motorist when purchasing a car? Basic maintenance? The inevitable repairs? Gasoline? Time spent in traffic that could be better dedicated to something else?

    These are things that are NEVER included in any highway-based study.

    Another thing...the streetcar benefits are concentrated within a few hundred City blocks. What is the geographical reach of the benefits outlined in the Brent Spence report? How many of these 230,000 daily vehicles are just passing through and not contributing in the least to our local economy?

    DISCLAIMER: I'm not against the Brent Spence Bridge replacement, and I believe that the structure as it exists today is entirely inadequate.

    But I should also say that streetcar supporters aren't "furious" that highway projects don't generate the same amount of public outcry as transit projects. They're just nonplussed.

    And the fact that you refer to the federal highway program as "democratic" is laughable and shows that you don't know the first thing about the "good roads" movement or any of the federal decisions that followed.

  9. Anonymous said:
    "The real bottom line is that inner city rail transit gives people more options for transit, so that our only choice is not just cars."

    Your only choice for transit isn't just a car. You can hop on a BUS anywhere downtown and go to all of the places that the proposed streetcar will take you. Are you too good for a BUS??? Buses provide reliable and affordable mass transit.

  10. "Everybody uses and everybody pays, making our paved network the most universally democratic means of transportation ever invented."

    This is a false statement. In Cincinnati about 20% of the households don't even own a car. Then you can factor in that of the 80% that do, only a fraction use that particular interstate or any particular road. To say that everyone of those car-owning households uses a road does not also mean that they use every road built.

    To use your very own arguments, how do people in Blue Ash who commute downtown benefit from the BSB project? How do Alaskans paying into the gas tax benefit from the BSB project? Shouldn't these individuals have a direct vote so that their voice is heard as to whether they want to spend billions of dollars to repair I-75 and the Brent Spence Bridge?

  11. I say we start an initiative to kill the Brent Spence. Time to quit wasting my tax money for those who use it. I never need to go to Kentucky, so why should my tax money go toward that? You COAST people are fundamentally retarded, seriously.

    It would actually help if you read books and did research on topics rather than relying on knee jerk reactions to topics you obviously don't understand.

    Read about road systems vs rail and suburban sprawl. Sad to say, but you put in more lanes on a highway and it actually causes more traffic and more gridlock. Look at LA, it is a nightmare and 40% of the land use is roads.

    If you guys kill the rail system, not just the streetcar, but the whole 3C system feeder into Cincinnati and you will go down in history as the group that killed Cincinnati. Thanks in advance....

  12. One more comment on this:
    Ghiz who you quote in one of your other blogs as evidence as the streetcar is completely opposed to your ballot initiative. Please make a note of that somewhere on your blog.

  13. " Amen. That first drawing is kind of counter-productive to the cartoonist's argument."

    Kevin, No it is exactly the point the cartoonist was making. The cartoonist is trying to make the point that it is ironic that something that clogs up the roadways and causes traffic/pollution is a "public investment" while mass transit is "wasteful"

    Not sure if Mark posted this mistakenly to prove his point or maybe to illustrate the opposing viewpoint.


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