Washington, D.C.-based railway manufacturer CAF USA created renderings of the Cincinnati streetcar.
CAF USA Washington, D.C.-based railway manufacturer CAF USA created renderings of the Cincinnati streetcar.

It is gratifying that the issue of public transportation is of such interest to so many people. My post on the Cincinnati streetcar drew a lot of responses. The Cincinnati Enquirer also picked it up, put it on their splash page, and elicited even more responses. This is good, because it means that people care about how we connect the dots and more importantly, how we connect the communities in our cities.

First, let me offer a mea culpa for a mistake and make a clarification. It is true that the Haile Foundation led a syndicate that promised up to $900,000 per year for ten years, not $1 million, to help defray the streetcar’s running costs. My apologies. Second, it is also true that the reason the second phase of the streetcar, which would connect to the University of Cincinnati and the adjacent hospitals, will not be completed anytime soon is that Gov. John R. Kasich withdrew state funding after he was elected in 2012.

Let me also be clear about what I was trying to say: Though I do not think that the streetcar offers enough of a benefit for the amount of money it costs, I still think it should nevertheless be built. It connects neighborhoods that are relatively close to each other, and that have many other ways in which they are connected. I do not understand how the streetcar will offer a tangible benefit commensurate to the investment—but—there are there are three reasons why I support the project despite misgivings.

First, once started, it should be completed. Cincinnati has a history of abandoning projects it starts: The streetcar will pass over the tunnel of a subway system started in 1920 and abandoned before it ever opened. As a community, we should finish what we have set out to do.

Second, as I tried to point out, any investment in public transportation under the circumstances is good and the streetcar will be a fact in the ground that will be difficult to discontinue (unlike, say, bus routes). I also hope that this leg will be followed by a second phase.

Third, the streetcar also symbolizes the transformation of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, an area that combines some of our greatest cultural treasures with extreme poverty, into a place with a lively park and more good restaurants and stores than you will find in the whole rest of downtown. If the streetcar will serve any tangible purpose, it will be to bridge a gap of underdeveloped areas and parking lots between downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

A rendering of the Cincinnati streetcar interior.
CAF USA A rendering of the Cincinnati streetcar interior.

The streetcar thus is, above all else, important as a re-commitment by this city to making a connected community. Its costs are high, but, as I pointed out in my last post, I notice little discussion of the much higher costs to create highway improvements. I hope the streetcar is only the beginning of a realization, in both senses of the term, that we need to invest in all those things that bring our environment and us together.

Finally, to those who asked who gave me the right to opine about such matters: Nobody! I try to bring my training as an architect and several decades of observing, analyzing, discussing, and sometimes helping to improve the human-made environment to the debate, and welcome all those who would join in a thoughtful manner. These are important issues and the more we focus on them, the better.

Aaron Betsky is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.