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First Look: Streetcar Launches in Cincinnati

Walker Evans Walker Evans First Look: Streetcar Launches in CincinnatiPhoto by Walker Evans.
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This Friday, the City of Cincinnati launches its first Streetcar Line, connecting The Banks on the Riverfront with Over-the-Rhine and all points in between. Officially known as the “Cincinnati Bell Connector” due to a naming rights sponsorship from Cincinnati Bell, the 18-stop line will service residents, workers and visitors in the Downtown core of the city.

Members of the media were invited to ride the streetcar in a preview event today, with Columbus Underground being the sole representative from Columbus to attend the event. A full loop on the Streetcar took approximately thirty minutes while passing landmarks including Fountain Square, Findlay Market and Music Hall.

The project was planned to cost an estimated $150 million to launch, and ended up coming under budget by nearly two million dollars. While the project’s launch is certainly a visitor for mass transit enthusiasts in the city, it wasn’t smooth sailing to get to this point. The project was first proposed nearly a decade ago and faced multiple ballot initiatives to cancel and defund the idea, and was challenged by many prominent politicians including Governor John Kasich, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and multiple members of Cincinnati City Council.

The cost for Streetcar riders is simple, with a one dollar fare to ride for up to two-hours and a two dollar fare for a day pass. Fare tickets can be purchased at kiosks located at the 18 boarding platforms.

For more information, visit www.cincinnati-oh.gov/streetcar/.

All photos by Walker Evans.











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  • dalias

    Poor ‘Nati and their outmoded transportation technology. Columbus is so far ahead by ignoring this and focusing on not yet fully developed and unproven transportation solutions.

    • John M


      • dalias
        • John M

          We have driver-less cars coming our way… RELAX … smgdh

        • timmons

          You sound like someone in the ’90s screaming about how awesome the fax machine is. Why would we need to spend hundreds of millions on a project that will soon clearly be outdated by hundreds of thousands of driver-less cars that can clearly be shared very easily among many, many people? Only a fool with their head in the sand can’t see the sharing economy and driver-less cars are the future. Thank God we elected Kasich and he was able to stop a TRAIN WRECK similar to California’s in Ohio and prevent us from flushing hundreds of millions of our tax dollars down the drain California style.


          • As I drove down 71 South this morning at 7:50am and saw the five miles of bumper-to-bumper northbound traffic stretching south from Downtown to Grove City, I thought to myself, “Man, if half of those vehicles were self-driving…

            … it would still be the same amount of cars and the same amount of congestion.”

          • timmons

            Not true about the same amount of congestion, self driving cars communicate with each other so traffic can keep moving with much more efficiency, it stops a few bad drivers from holding up entire lanes on the interstate, so even with the same amount of cars there would be much less gridlock. This is indisputable. Add to that the fact that there will in fact be fewer cars on the road, because fewer people will own cars, finally being incentivized to do so by the ability to have self driving cars pick you up on demand instead of the old model of having as many cars as users with an enormous number sitting idle at any one time.

            As that happens it is very likely companies like Uber will invest in larger vehicles that can pick up 6-10 people at a time, which will work because unlike old public systems they have the technological know how to feasibly accommodate extremely complex large numbers of users (having zero labor costs won’t hurt either), so you will see even less cars on the road per capita which will move more efficiently by inter-vehicle wireless communications. In fact I would imagine there will be rules that these cars have to pick up a certain number of riders to even get on the self driving parts/lanes of the interstates which will force less vehicles on the road.

            Now explain how rail can ever work in a city like Columbus that was unfortunately spread out way too much geographically when it was developed to ever have the needed density to ever make rail feasible. Even a hopeless rail romantic like you Walker should be able to see it will never happen in a city that is hopelessly and ridiculously oversprawled like Columbus when it has failed many times over in cities with much more density. Its obvious where the future is headed, and it’s clearly the sharing economy, and not rail.

          • I totally agree that if 100 percent of cars on the road are driverless, then you have an optimized system that can reduce (maybe even eliminate?) highway congestion.

            But if you have a 50/50 mix… then the automated system doesn’t work to its full potential, since it is not communicating with all of the human operated vehicles.

            I really do think driverless technology is great, but I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever zealots of an unproven new technology can’t even fathom realistic growing pains that come with the adoption of new tech. As if we don’t occasionally have problems with our phones or internet providers or the other tech we rely on.

            I think what a lot of people get confused with is that driverlessness is actually a tech improvement, not a transit mode shift to compete with other modes. You can have a driverless train or plane or bus or semi or forklift, just like you can a car. Still, when it comes to moving a large group of people from point A to point B, mass transit will always make more sense than single-occupant vehicles. This is indisputable. And while some people may not own the cars they ride in, not everyone is going to be down to carpool with strangers.

            Perhaps rail-based transit didn’t make sense in Columbus 20 years ago — which is where a lot of people mentally get stuck — but the city and region are growing denser every day. And it will certainly continue to be the case once those driverless cars make parking garages and surface lots more and more obsolete, freeing up more land for even more development.

            A multi-modal transit network is the best way to provide the most kinds of options to the most kinds of people who are making all sorts of different trips to where they’re trying to go. I’m not pro-train or anti-car… I’m pro-everything.

            Bring on the driverless cars — just don’t be too quick to put all your driverless eggs into that driverless basket.

          • timmons

            You make some fair points, and like I said I think they’re going to have to wall off a couple interstate lanes to be driver-less only to make it really work in the first few decades of the shift. But the opening sarcastic comment by Dalias pretending driver-less doesn’t have 100 times the potential of rail is patently absurd.

          • dalias

            100x of unproven potential vs. the proven potential to drive development that has occurred via the implementation of rail in multiple cities. Driverless has yet to demonstrate that it can translate into the associated development benefits that urban rail has in cities like MSP, Dallas and elsewhere. If that is documented, please cite.

            Columbus denigrates rail because we could never get it together and the leaders who failed pin our hopes on driverless technology evolving to a state that will compensate or lack of initiative to date.

          • timmons

            LMFAO, rail has failed over and over again in far more places than it has succeeded, and all the major successes are in places far more dense than Columbus, or in countries with vastly different cultures than ours. Best case it would only serve a few very small areas/major neighborhoods while driverless is unlimited in its possible scope. Also could you possibly be more disingenuous. You mean something that hasn’t even been completely invented hasn’t yet demonstrated benefits/proven its potential!?!?! Hilarious. Now considering driverless can affect every single resident while rail by definition never could, you can make more than a strong case that diverting rail investment into having the best or one of the best driverless infrastructures in the country would drive far more investment.

            Netflix and the 3D printing companies aren’t yet making any money whatsoever, but only the village idiot would deny that those technologies aren’t going to completely transform their industries, it’s the same with driver-less, and I work in an adjacent industry to auto that is going to severely hurt by driver-less over the next few decades. It is what it is, and it’s obvious.

            The cities political leadership will more often than not be a joke, it’s something you just have to accept if you live here, it would be the same in pretty much any place where one party gets rubber stamped into office no matter what they do with zero viable competition.

          • dalias

            Thanks for the citations.

          • Brian Boland

            Actually it would be more of both. And some of them would be ZOV’s: Zero Occupant Vehicles–on their way to pick someone up and just adding vehicles to the road and adding to the total miles driven.

          • Sam

            That’s unlikely. Driverless cars will keep more consistent, smaller spaces between other cars in traffic. They also won’t slam on their brakes unnecessary or make unsafe, aggressive lane changes that cause others to slam on their brakes. Those two things alone will greatly increase road efficiency and capacity.

          • AkronRonin

            Sounds like someone’s been drinking the “high tech will fix all of our problems bullshit kool-aid.”

            You can have your unproven driverless car that will probably end in a burning inferno of lawsuits the first instance in which someone dies in a wreck because of one. I’d rather invest in tried and true technology that once made this country an unparalleled industrial powerhouse, and that could again do wonders for the quality of life and economic opportunities possible for millions.

            Oh, and Kasich is a fucking buffoon. His anti transit stance gets him a grade of F on national security, something that anyone thinking they have the chops to be President these days needs to grasp right out of the gate. If our oil supply gets cut off tomorrow, this car-dependent country is thoroughly screwed. Building out our mass-transit would end our reliance on foreign oil and provide us with a far more resilient means of getting around in the worst case scenario. Good ol ‘Murican pride and arrogance about super-duper magical techno-fixes like driverless cars will be our ultimate undoing as a country.

          • timmons

            “Kasich’s anti transit stance gets him an F on national security,”

            That’s so incredibly asinine I don’t even know where to start. How the hell is our oil supply going to get cut off tomorrow when we were basically energy independent due to domestic production before the price fell? If the price rises due to supply falling drastically as you contend we will go back to being virtually energy independent through domestic production!!!!! Try reading The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times instead of The Daily Kos sometime, it will help stop you from embarrassing yourself so thoroughly. The fact you are so hilariously anti-technology fits the rest of your ignorant narrative perfectly.

            U.S. Net energy consumption as a share of production:

          • AkronRonin

            You fool. Oil is not an unlimited resource. The world is round, not flat, and sooner than later, our resources in the ground are going to run dry.

            Efficiency and renewables, and not expediency and expendables, must be the name of the game. Rail remains one of the most energy efficient and most secure forms of mechanical travel in existence. We can power it by electricity, energy that can be generated through near-limitless solar and hydro power.

            Your techno-arrogance will lead you right over the edge into a ravine, figuratively, if not literally.

          • timmons

            LMFAO! Does your back hurt from moving those goalposts so far?

            Good to know your hilariously irrational fear of technology ends as long as the technology in question fits your political narrative.

          • DC

            Don’t worry bro, California is doing just fine. Believe me, nobody who lives or works or travels to California for tourism or any reason wishes that small town Kasich could save them from much of anything. The positives of long term infrastructure development are not always seen by short-term corporate shills and profit-hungry naysayers who bend over for the oil lobby.

          • timmons

            Fine? More like billions upon billions of tax dollars wasted with no end in sight. Keep the hilarious propaganda coming about how great your precious rail is doing in California, can’t let facts get in the way of your narrative BRO!


          • DC

            Construction has begun. Over budget, wow! How does this hurt the average citizen of California? Some tax money going to build some infrastructure for our grandchildren. You act people are facing impending doom. Ha. A few farmers, nimbys, and political hacks whining in the land of plenty. How is this to be avoided? Nobody will remember Kasich or some rust belt doper, who would probably spend the money on another prison, when they are cruising across large distances in the USA with an IPA and some Sushi on the tray in front of them. If Japan can do it, So can the US. Get real dawg

          • Generosus

            your right but how will the Dems get any shakedown money from those building it ?

  • Yokosukm

    As a Columbus transplant in Cincinnati (for college), and a Real Estate Agent I cant wait to see what this does for the local market. As a Columbus native I can’t wait to have pasanger rail in our city!

    • Looks like it’s already had an effect based on how many new construction projects and renovations that I spotted today along the route.

  • I hope some of Columbus Underground’s readers will come down to Cincinnati for the streetcar’s opening weekend. It’ll be free to ride from September 9th to 11th.

  • kimberly

    ..and Under Budget!! Way to go Cincinnati!

    • Generosus

      Dont worry it will cost 4x this to subsidize it. BTW if you are off by 2 mill you are not a professional.

  • Kyle Fullenkamp

    I hope they extend it uptown to UC and the hospitals. I feel students would use it like crazy to go downtown.

  • CbusIslander

    Columbus was smart to avoid the streetcar. Now intercity rail from surrounding counties will be much more worth an investment.

    I think driverless vehicles will be a game changer in transportation. It is already happening. First uber and other car sharing services. Then trucking industry will be next. Imagine the drastic changes then. Trucks can be timed to go through cities during the evening only limited to the fuel tank. A great number of accidents could be limited right there. Then how about this driverless buses always on time carrying large numbers with less overhead.

    Then Cincinnati will enjoy their limited rail transport system.

    • AkronRonin

      Driverless cars are a hack attack way from being a catastrophe. Maybe they will work out in some meaningful way over the long haul, but I’m not convinced that they are any kind of magic bullet for transportation in our lifetimes. We still need mass transit and rail, which could happen in our lifetimes, but probably not until more Boomers are in retirement and barred from driving.

      • Driverless cars will not solve any of our transportation problems. They will continue to encourage people to live farther away from cities and commute even longer distances to work. Any gain in efficiency will be offset by more development happening in the suburbs and our roads will be just as congested in the end. On top of it, only the rich will be able to afford the luxury of driverless cars. If people successfully lobby for more government money to be invested in driverless car technology, we’ll have even less to invest in our existing transit systems that lower income people use.

        • Brian Boland

          Driverless cars, Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) whatever you call them, here’s what I don’t understand: So you’re going to take your 25 or 30 minute drive to work and remove the driving part, so you can what, look at social media? How about this, live closer, have a shorter drive, and stay home for an additional 30 minutes a day. Sleep in just a bit longer, or do that social media thing at home. Highways have become bleak, horrible landscapes. Cars, as comfy as they are, are just not as nice as my couch at home, and I can do whatever I want instead of being held captive to the commute.

          • CB_downtowner

            I think people are misunderstanding the point of driverless cars. I don’t know of any proposal that is pitching driverless cars as a 25-30 minute transportation option. The proposals I’ve seen, it’s to offer transportation in low income neighborhoods where there aren’t good public transportation options to take someone to, say, a hospital. In Easton, it’s used to create last mile connectivity — for those who don’t live close to a bus stop, a driverless car can take you to and from the stop to your house. The point of driverless cars is to create public transportation to those who lack infrastructure and to create MORE access to existing public transportation options, not to replace public transportation altogether. Unless we’re talking about short-range public transportation which might replace a short bus loop, but I don’t think that’s what people are concerned about. Driverless cars can be a brilliant complement to the 25-30 minute public transportation ride.

          • CbusIslander

            The problem with a majority of the rail networks being constructed today in the u.s. still don’t take in account that “last mile” to home and work, etc. which driverless vehicles can fill the void. Affordability is also an issue. Only the one’s with the means can live within walking distance to any fixed public transportation. At least driverless vehicles can be used in areas where it is needed in neighborhoods without that access.

          • DC

            +1 to that

      • CbusIslander

        The issue is driverless cars will keep boomers on the road into their 90’s and beyond. That is the possibility with driveless vehicles, anyone can use them. Elderly, the blind, wheelchair bound, teenagers to after school activities will no longer be limited to buses to get them around. They can live where they want go where they want.
        A hack attack is already here, our electric grid, smart phones, etc. can all be easily attacked.

    • DC

      Driver-less cars. Yay! Let’s all become drones, and then clone ourselves and ride around in a box :)

  • Jake Mecklenborg

    Thanks for the write-up. Those of us who have backed this project since 2007 have been through a lot. Now that it’s here the critics will be eating dirt.

  • DC

    Remember folks- driverless cars, “car sharing” apps, and so-called “smart technology” do everything to leach off the back of existing infrastructure (which is tax-subsidized), and absolutely nothing to spur growth, encourage development, and create the neighborhoods of the future. Please, show us otherwise!?>

    • Generosus

      What tax? Fuel taxes?

      • DC

        Fuel Taxes and similarly dubbed “user fees” account for around 5% up to 60% of road construction/maintenance costs, depending on the state. Even in the “glory days” of the 1970’s car era, this number rarely topped 70%. It is a myth that fuel taxes alone pay for roadways. Large funding blocks of taxpayer money are diverted from general funds to make up for the shortfall. So everyone pays, regardless of whether or not one drives, how far, etc. Of course, these numbers do not account for the massive societal costs of collisions, pollution, lost productivity time from traffic jams etc.

  • Generosus

    This is a just a way to fleece the contractors for political donations. Walt Disney studied the monorail from their property to the Orlando airport and did not do it. Not cost effective. $150 million to launch minus $2 million? LOL That is government math. Do not forget the cost to keep a cop on it once the gang bangers take it over.

    • Brian Boland


      “As of 2013, the [Disney Monorail] system is one of the most heavily used monorail systems in the world with over 150,000 daily riders.”

      • Generosus

        It is and to extend the rail to the airport 10 miles was nixed because it was not cost effective. You make my point. This project was and is a pipe dream. Wait till the bangers take control and beat people up on youtube and there wont be another rider except them. Just like DC

        • Jake Mecklenborg

          Theme park monorails and streetcars in real cities have nothing to do with each other. Also, the streetcar no longer travels through a high crime area.

          • Generosus

            Your first sentence touted the 150K Disney numbers right? But now they have nothing to do with each other? It “no longer” travels through poor neighborhoods? Who decided that?

  • JK

    This really does look good with the way they did the platforms and cobbled streets. I’d like to make a day of going to breweries in OTR then taking the streetcar to the banks to walk around.

  • JDS

    Columbus will always be behind. It is a laughingstock of Cleveland and Cincinnati. Columbus will always be “Cowtown”.

    • Spoken like a true Cincinnatian/Clevelander.

      • JDS

        No, I am a native of Columbus Ohio. I moved away in 1996 and try to keep up with what is going on there. The far west side has declined into a wasteland.
        Downtown just does not seem exciting anymore.

        • DC

          How much are you keeping up with stuff in Columbus? The far East side is fairly rough too, including inner-tier suburbs where I grew up. This is happening in most cities in the US.

    • ColumbusTravis

      I’ve lived in both Cincinnati and Cleveland and now I live in Columbus and I can tell you first hand, from my perspective, neither one of those cities have anything on Columbus.
      I’m definitely not the only one who feels this way… Census numbers continue to show big numbers of people moving here from both of those cities, especially from Cleveland.
      Also, both of those cities continue to lose population every year, while Columbus continues to grow at a rapid rate.
      If you don’t like it here, you’re welcome to move to either one of those places, but I would NEVER choose to move back to either one of those cities. There’s just an energy here that exists in a growing city that you just don’t feel in one that’s dying.

      • JDS

        I moved away in 1996 and try to keep up with what is going on with my hometown. It is a dying town, look at the far west side of Columbus where Westland mall used to be. Are there exciting venues in downtown anymore? Not from what I see when I go back for visits.

        • ColumbusTravis

          EVERY city has parts of town that go through declines.
          Of the big three C’s in Ohio, only one continues to grow in population, and that’s Columbus.
          I find it interesting that you moved away from your “hometown” in 1996, but you still try to put it down from a distance.
          Most of those of us who actually live here happen to be pretty happy with things. Maybe you can’t see that from afar?

      • TripleV

        Jeez. Here’s the truth: Columbus “grows” more because it moved its ‘city’ limits years ago to the freaking outer belt. Meaning it’s city limit basically equals it’s metro population. Cincy’s city limit is actually the CITY. According to 2010 US Census data, Cincinnati metro population is the LARGEST in Ohio. Don’t be a hater now.

        • traviscols

          Jeez. Here’s the truth.
          Columbus did not “move it’s city limits to the outer belt”, while the city has annexed land even further than the outer belt, there is actually quite a bit of land inside the outer belt that is not in the city of Columbus corporation limits (like Upper Arlington, Whitehall, etc).
          When I was speaking of growth, I was not speaking of the addition of square miles, I was speaking of population. While Cincinnati has actually been able to stop the bleeding when it comes to population lose and Cleveland is still losing quite a few residents each year, neither is growing anywhere near the pace of Columbus.
          Now, about metro populations…
          It makes absolutely no sense to use metro population figures when comparing cities. Think about it. Cleveland’s metro population includes Akron, and Cincinnati’s includes parts of Kentucky and Indiana.
          I’m not being a hater simply because I happen to love the city of Columbus now and am extremely excited about where it’s heading.
          Like I said, I’ve lived in all three big C’s in Ohio. Each has their problems and each has their positives, but I certainly prefer Columbus over both.

  • Tom Brademeyer

    How about a gandola running up and down Pearl Alley. I’m sure COTA could find a good used one out west or in Europe:) I think it really would work despite some obstacles.

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