Monday, August 24, 2009

Is the Streetcar a Superhero?

Back when Over the Rhine was given the dubious distinction of "most dangerous neighborhood in America," we said that nobody would be stupid enough to seriously consider streetcars as an effective antidote to crime. Evidently we were wrong.

Since then all sorts of blue-sky claims have been made about the streetcar. Reading some local blogs, you'd think the only thing standing in the way of world peace and curing cancer, is lack of a trolley. But the most outlandish of these claims is that streetcars are somehow an investment in public safety.
"The benefits for the rest of the city will be considerable. A cleaner, safer Over-the-Rhine..."
-CAAST Blog, Why go through Over-The Rhine?

"The streetcar will attract more residents, transport over a million people a year through the neighborhood, and increase the number of eyes on the street, further reducing crime."
-CincyStreetcar Blog, Over-the-Rhine and the Streetcar

"The streetcar will cause less car use and will promote a dense, walkable neighborhood. Buildings will be more vertical, and there will be more customers for street-level merchants. And the streets will be safer."
-John Schneider comment on CityKin, Findlay Market Needs Streetcar

"How do you explain to the common Joe, in a soundbyte, economic development, perceived permanence, crime reduction through occupancy,..."
-Quimbob, Blogging isn't Cool
Moreover, the City Council majority seems to have embraced the magical crime fighting powers of streetcars over the more conventional cop solution. The two biggest issues facing this council during this election season are police layoffs and trolleys. Here's a summary of their public postions on each:
Mark Malloryanti-coppro-streetcar
David Crowleyanti-coppro-streetcar
Jeff Berdingpro-coppro-streetcar
Greg Harrisanti-coppro-streetcar
Chris Monzelpro-copanti-streetcar
Cecil Thomasanti-coppro-streetcar
Laketa Coleanti-coppro-streetcar
Chris Bortzpro-coppro-streetcar
Leslie Ghizpro-copanti-streetcar
Roxanne Quallsanti-coppro-streetcar

Perhaps we should nickname our first streetcar "Shadow-hare." Or maybe it's time we bypass our hopelessly out-of-touch council and cast our ballots directly. Enact the pro-vote charter amendment.


  1. COAST, thanks for taking the time to read my post. The recent layoffs of our police force are not only controversial, but unfortunate. However, you failed to mention that the capital funds that would be used to pay for a streetcar can not be diverted to pay these police officers. Even if we weren't talking about a streetcar, these police officers would still be laid off in an effort to cover the city's budget shortfall.

    The hope with the streetcar is that the economic development it could potentially spur along it's line could help revitalize a neighborhood that in the past has been known for it's poverty and crime. Even now District One of the CPD are working hard to fight crime in Over-The-Rhine as part 1 crimes there have decreased greatly over the years.

    I don't think anyone in the quotes you've provided is saying the streetcar itself will be directly responsible for fighting crime, rather that the other benefits it could provide would have an effect on the reduction of crime in the area.

    In the second quote, the CincyStreetcar Blog is referring to an "increased number of eyes on the street." This refers to how streetcar operators would potentially have the ability to contact police dispatch directly via radio much like our METRO bus drivers currently have.

    In the last quote provided, Quimbob talks about "crime reduction through occupancy." OTR is currently one of the most vacant neighborhoods in the city. Build the streetcar, spur development and increase the number of occupants in the neighborhood, you'll be making it less appealing for someone to commit a crime there since there's more people to witness it (in theory.)

  2. Also, just letting you know, the quote you attributed to me is actually from the CincyStreetcar blog, as I noted.

  3. "However, you failed to mention that the capital funds that would be used to pay for a streetcar can not be diverted to pay these police officers."

    CAAST - Thanks for taking the time to read COAST's post. However, you fail to mention in your response that the estimated $2 million plus in streetcar operating losses each year will have to come from the City's general fund, where it will have tpo be pulled from existing programs like paying Police salaries.

  4. Bris, while true, the fact still stands that even if there was no streetcar talks or plans, these officers would still be laid off today. If/when the streetcar is built, it is uncertain to say what condition the police force budget will be in. Like any start up transit line, the streetcar would most likely operate at an initial loss, but if it pans out to be a success like other similar systems, the revenue collected from it's fares could be used to pay into the city's general fund to pay for existing programs like paying police salaries.

  5. That's a big if CAAST. It seems to me like that's a chance you can afford to take in good economic times. An additional $2 million loss each year in bad economic times, however, could mean the loss of an additional 138 cops each and every year. It's a big gamble, especially since many existing streetcar systems, even successful ones, run at an operating loss and require government subsidies.

  6. By the way, thank you for coming on this blog to have a good discussion on the issue. It's appreciated.

  7. Bris, you're welcome. Myself, COAST and yourself may see differently on issues but good conversation, even if it ends in disagreement is at least more civil than this blog has been in some time.

    One thing we can agree on though, is that these are certainly not the best economic times. Building the streetcar in this environment would be a risk, but could be a "gam changer" for Cincinnati, to quote the the Cincinnati Business Courier. A streetcar if successful could help Cincinnati get back on top and get a head start on economic rebuilding. I would rather see the capital funds spent on a streetcar line than Chris Smitherman supported public housing projects.

  8. The problem is that those potential revenues are just that - potential.

    The concern of many on the anti-streetcar side is that the City will be stuck with it's own version of the County's struggling stadium fund. The County will need to pull $13 million from its already strained general fund to cover that debt next year because revenue growth promises proved illusory.


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