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A Streetcar Named a Failure

By Kathy Y. Wilson · May 15th, 2013 · Kathy Y. Wilson
A limited-route streetcar line now costing a projected $133 million while the city faces a $35 million 2014 budgetary deficit seems a quaint and expensive distraction from the city’s steady gun violence, the treatment and sheltering of the ever-present indigent and mentally disabled population and the glaring absence of a sufficient urban grocery store in the city’s center despite being the national headquarters of that gangsta, the Kroger Company.

Aren’t the hipsters hungry?

As witnessed by City Manager Milton Dohoney’s memos to council outlining streetcar financing ideas that would rob Music Hall to pay Paul and the recent grilling he took — especially from O.G. streetcar hater Councilman Christopher Smitherman — this city is neither ready for a streetcar nor does it possess the planning know-how to finesse a grande scheme of this proportion.

Forget the bickering, back-and-forth and ballot measures.

That’s government. (Also see: “Congress.”)

What we’re now doing — and I use “we” to mean whomever accesses city coffers or pulls capital and/or operating budget purse strings — is putting the streetcar before public good and public interest.

In street parlance, our streetcar dreams are a H.A.M., a Hot-Ass Mess.

All the while, Dohoney, Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls are throwing imaginary money against the wall until some of it sticks, forgetting that it just does not make sense right now.

And, really, it never did.

Streetcar costs, with overruns and supplier inflation and gouging, are up from an original projected cost of $110 million; $20.5 million has already been handed over to the streetcar maker (of five cars) in Spain; if we scrub the idea altogether, we’re on the bubble for $14.2 million in close-out costs because, apparently, you can’t just walk away from a streetcar like you’ve pulled the chord when you get to your stop and we’d have to return $38.1 million in federal grants.

And on a side note, I’ve always wondered how many of the suppliers and various construction crews already lined up are minority-owned and -operated and when I say minority I do not mean undocumented Hispanic workers. 

I could count on one hand workers of color and/or women throughout different phases of work within the 3CDC theme park corridor of Vine Street.

You see, there are many rivers to cross before we reach that ever-elusive Big City status we’ve been chasing since we added one too many stadiums. 

And a casino does not a big city make.

I wish Dohoney and his crew would spend as much time and financial creativity figuring out how to keep police and fire ranks permanently fully staffed as they have spent figuring how to fund this streetcar debacle.

But a man can dream, can’t he?

Part of his May 1 memo to council sure sounded like a dream.

Dohoney wrote that the streetcar is “an economic development project that will promote the development of small businesses and residences along its route.”

And about that route.

The streetcar was originally proposed to run from The Banks north to the University of Cincinnati and the complex of hospitals — namely University of Cincinnati Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, connecting, as Dohoney has said, “the two major employment centers of the city” — and back again.

But since the good Gov. John Kasich yanked a whopping $52 million from the project in 2011, the route was also cut short, running from The Banks to “just north” (whatever that means) of Findlay Market.

And who came up with this route, anyway?

Dohoney says this route allows for the development of businesses where vacant surface lots and abandoned buildings now stand.

I say strengthen the existing yet stultified and laughable city Metro bus network whose routes have been gutted or reduced or sometimes confusingly combined to aggravating results for riders — many of whom could give a damn about a streetcar on a loop nowhere — and see what happens organically when the people who need transportation the most, and not because they’re sightseeing suburban tourists, can get to jobs, health care, day care and classes more efficiently.

Since Metro raised its fares from $1.50 to $1.75 while reducing service 12 percent in 2009, there are fewer buses running on some of the city’s densely ridden proletariat chariot routes (like the Nos. 17 and 31), which means it takes exponentially longer to catch and then transfer buses on what used to be a quick trip.

Add to your chances of successfully synching schedules, say, to get from Walnut Hills to the heart of Northside, the bad attitude and sometimes palpable glee of drivers who knowingly pass riders running to make the transfer and it can take a person 45 minutes to make what should be a 20- to 25-minute trip.

But few on council or in the mayor’s or city manager’s offices know anything about what it’s like to be a real person schlepping kids, strollers, backpacks, seeing-eye dogs, groceries, laundry and your own tired, hot ass onto a bus while striving to live a hardscrabble life in this Godforsaken city because they are woefully out of touch with the realities of the lower classes.

The streetcar is a metaphor for class.

In it, some see the shiny happy people who can afford to eat and play at The Banks and who treat “downtown” merely like a playground, forgetting that generations of working poor people counted that same downtown space as their neighborhood long before it was a twinkling dollar sign in some privatized developer’s eye.

What we’re missing is this: Besides a sign of advancement and technology, a streetcar is transportation, meant to move the masses forward. 

But it isn’t the light rail this city really needs.

Light rail would swoosh to compass points where laborers could get manufacturing jobs, children could access better health care and education and the rest of us could rest our luxury SUVs to mix on public transportation with folks we’d never otherwise see or sit beside.

I’d like a transfer, please.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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