Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Comprehensive Planning: the case for the Cincinnati Streetcar system

I have been reading all the blogs and all the information can find regarding the proposed Streetcar system and I would like to make the argument FOR this system to go forward. Now the majority of negatives I have heard have been from people living in the burbs who maybe work downtown but don't stay downtown for any period of time.

Let me make this point by explaining what has happened in Indianapolis and drawing the comparisons. Now Indianapolis is larger and more spread out than Cincinnati but when you are talking about core downtowns, Indy has a small downtown core basically defined by White River on the west I65-70 on the North/south/and east. This makes a compact area where most of the business is and the downtown neighborhood are either in this area or just the other side of the area.
Indianapolis HAD one of the best interurban systems in the country that was dismantled in the 1950 and 60's. While Indianapolis has a good bus system it is used only by people in the service industry who cant afford to live downtown and cant afford the high cost of parking.
The Indianapolis downtown 10 years ago was where Over the Rhine is now. Some Urban Pioneering, some smart developers building but there were tons of surface parking lots and residential lots throughout downtown and near downtown neighborhoods. Most Residential was low income and overwhelmingly rental.
Fast forward to now. There is a vacant lot in Chatham Arch for sale for 300,000.00 you can build a townhouse on it. As long as it costs at least 500,000.00. In our neighborhood close to downtown a 15 minute walk to the business district a buildable lot 40x120 sells for 40-50K . The downtown surface parking lots now either have townhouse starting at 500k or low rise 4-6 story buildings with 1200 sq foot condos starting at 300K. The latest low rise development in the industrial area is 450K to 1.2 million dollars and they are about 3000 square foot. Condo projects everywhere.
Surface parking lots are a thing of the past downtown. Indianapolis has gained 40,000 people in 6 years downtown. Parking costs have gone through the roof and meters parking is hard to find and time limited. It is not uncommon to pay 60-150 a month for parking. This adds to business costs to attract quality employees. Indy has a farmers market but NOTHING like Findlays. We have 1 grocery store downtown. Land is too expensive and its not cost effective for somebody to come in and build another. Poor people dont live downtown. They cant afford it. Section 8 has been pushed out to the east and west sides of town in what were middle class Speedway and Warren township. There are now homeless shelters and soup kitchens in the burbs.
The very people who lived in the burbs who thought people were nuts to live downtown are the very ones snapping up 1/2 million dollar condos and townhouses. Why? To get away from the crime coming to the burbs and the horrendous commute time.
The city is now had an overburdened freeway system, lack of parking downtown and the fact there are so many people downtown. Transplanted suburbanites still want their two cars and that means downtown is overcrowded. The city is talking light rail and the costs are astronomical bacause Indy is so spread out. The city is in the early stages of the Cultural Trail downtown which promotes walking or biking to work. Biles and scooters are coming into favor but slowly. Indy is putting bike racks everywhere to encourage alternate forms of transport. And they are adding bike lanes to major roads in and out of town this summer and widening sidewalks to endcourage bikes and walking.
Indy had motorized trolleys in the 80's and dumped them. They were great because they went out into nearby neighborhoods. BUT back then there was no one living there. To replace the fleet now will be very expensive.
Cincinnati NEEDS the trolley system. It is FAR cheaper to do it now than when the area is fully developed. They need to take it steps further to develop bike lanes. They NEED to figure out away to revitalize the subway project and tie that to light rail. If only to get the servcive industry people downtown, becaus in 10 years downtown Cincinnati will be unaffordable for those people to live in. Its not far fetched at all, look at Indianapolis where a two bedroom house close to downtown rents for 1500-2000 a month. And apartments downtown, If you can find one because most are in condo conversion rent for 850-1200 for a 1 bedroom!
Cincinnati ,in my opinion has a great opportunity to get ahead of the game on transportation issues now. If they dont start now the cost will be higher later on and its MUCH more difficult to do construction in a occupied Over The Rhine than the one it will be 10 years from now. People will be moving downtown as gas prices increase. It is an economically driven reality. The Burbs will become the dumping ground for the low income. No one likes to admit it but its a fact. Indianapolis downtown now is mostly white and afluent and looks very much like the suburbia I grew up in as a child. There are 12 Starbucks in a 9 block area. When we moved to this neighborhood here in Indy people thought we were crazy. It had 20 percent owner occupancy in 2001. Its now over 80 percent. There is NO low income housing here now and a 2 bedroon half double will run 1200 a month. Houses start at 250K now.
People are already saying 'Why go to Cincinnati and Over the Rhine?" Because its nice to go somewhere , that you KNOW what will happen next!

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