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Southbank sets sights on rail

Civic group considers downtown streetcar system

Cincinnati Business Courier - October 6, 2006

by Dan Monk

Senior Staff Reporter

 

I have been riding the Southbank Shuttle more lately.  I think it is a fantastic service.  It runs constant busses from Newport to Cincinnati to Covington.  The nice thing about it is that they run very frequently and kids ride free.  When I first rode it, maybe two years ago, I think it was 25 cents, now it is $1.  Very handy for getting quickly over to Newport on the levy or Octoberfest, etc...  Making it a rail line would only make it more successful and more utilized:

 

http://cincinnati.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2006/10/09/focus5.html

Forget about "Desire." The Tri-State's newest rail catalyst could be a streetcar named Southbank.

 

The Northern Kentucky civic group, Southbank Partners, is likely to make the promotion of a downtown streetcar system one of the goals in its next five-year strategic plan, due out in January.

 

Gina Douthat, who chairs Southbank's Public/Private Transportation Committee, sees growing support for the idea -- although she concedes that financing the $100 million-plus project will be a tall order. She said her 13-member group is likely to establish a timeline for building a Southbank streetcar system on a route that roughly mirrors one used by the Southbank Shuttle bus service.

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Just to throw this out there... One of the proposals for the use of the Blue Ash airport cash made by the Department of Community Development and Planning was to fund streetcars. No clue how it was received as it moved up the chain to the City Manager.

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John, I just got a call from a friend in Cincy that the city will be doing a cost-benefit study of five potential streetcar lines. An advisory committee is being set up and the study should be done by about April. Does that sound about right? Any more information you can share? Thanks!


"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."-Voltaire

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^That's great news.

 

I think I mentioned upthread that I think we should use Blue Ash Airport revenue to help fund a line. I've learned this week that that's even more unlikely than I previously thought.

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John, I just got a call from a friend in Cincy that the city will be doing a cost-benefit study of five potential streetcar lines. An advisory committee is being set up and the study should be done by about April. Does that sound about right? Any more information you can share? Thanks!

 

That's correct. HDR Inc., an international transportation engineering firm based in Omaha, has commenced a study of a downtown Cincinnati streetcar. HDR is involved in perhaps a dozen of so of forty similar studies underway in North America today. The consultants were in town this week scoping out potential routes. Part of the work includes a benefit-cost study of the investment, although about 75% of it involves the physical planning of the route.

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I don't know who Jeffery Jaucyk is, but he came up with a routing I like for two streetcar lines

 

http://homepage.mac.com/jjakucyk/portfolio/cats.html

 

cats2a.jpg

 

Just a couple of thoughts:

 

* The endpoints of these routes are getting outside the range of a streetcar's operation. I'm guessing they're each about five miles in length. Remember, streetcars are more like neighborhood circulators -- there are relatively few seats, the ride is not as smooth as LRT, and they run in mixed traffic. Five-mile alignments start to sound like light rail to me.

 

* The Downtown to Xavier route uses Clifton, which has a ruling grade in the range of 9.5%. That's a lot. You can size the electric motor to (maybe) manage that, but then you carry around all that extra weight as a penalty over the balance of the route. Much as I'd like to use Clifton, people I've talked with think it's a push.

 

Having said that, the idea of two rail routes crossing in Uptown is very sound. The devil is in the details.

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I think the reason Clifton was used was because the Road already is wide enough to facilitate a street car rail. The road is extra wide because it used to have rail through the middle of it. The other alternatives are Vine or Ravine, both of which have equal if not worse grade and aren't nearly wide enough.

 

The thing that strikes me is that when the line cuts from McMillan/Calhoun to Vine, it cuts through the middle of the University Plaza where Kroger is. There USED to be a road through there, but they built the plaza over it.

 

Just as a side not, what do the circles and ovals mean, sorry to sound stupid...

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^assuming they were an extremely small light rail system, what do you think about the routing?

 

I think, pretty good. The idea of connecting Hyde Park, Corryville, Clifton and Northside seems like a natural too me. The stops are too far apart for streetcar; they're more like urban LRT spacing. Rather than using Jefferson to get to Ludlow, I might simply continue on MLK to Clifton and then north on Clifton to Ludlow. That way, you contact UC better and pass Good Samaritan Hospital.

 

The city's traffic engineers would never allow rail on Vine through the CBD, even if it were made one-way again through OTR. Vine Street is about as steep as Clifton, and there is very little flat land to enable the placement of a level stop between the top and bottom on the Vine Street hill. If the goal is to get to Xavier, I'd probably use Gilbert or maybe Reading Road, assuming Uptown freeway-destined traffic gets diverted from there as part of the Uptown Transportation Plan improvments. Gilbert is pretty sweet - very wide in places, lots of excellent buildings, lots of vacant flat sites along the way. The problem is, you'd have to transfer at, say, MLK to get to UC, and that's a little roundabout.

 

Getting a direct rail route from the CBD to Uptown has always been the problem for rail planners here. The Mount Auburn Tunnel is unquestionably the best way to do it, but it's pretty expensive. But imagine: eight minutes from Fountain Square to Jefferson and University. And, once a regional system is built and you had the I-71, I-75 and Eastern Corridor lines running through the tunnel at two minute rush-hour headways between downtown and uptown, it would be so convenient you'd never need a schedule.

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Were there any streetcar lines that connected downtown to uptown? If so, what route(s) did they use?


"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."-Voltaire

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Were there any streetcar lines that connected downtown to uptown? If so, what route(s) did they use?

 

They do have a preference for a route connecting downtown with uptown, but their recommendation will have to run a long gauntlet through several city departments and councilmembers' offices before it sees the light of day.

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I was able to find the information for myself at http://homepage.mac.com/jjakucyk/Transit1/map70.gif

 

It looks like there were four streetcar lines at one time between the CBD and Uptown -- Clifton, Vine, Sycamore/Dorchester and Reading. Correct?

 

Did any of these have catches to prevent streetcars from rolling backward in the event of brake or motor failures?


"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."-Voltaire

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I was able to find the information for myself at http://homepage.mac.com/jjakucyk/Transit1/map70.gif

 

It looks like there were four streetcar lines at one time between the CBD and Uptown -- Clifton, Vine, Sycamore/Dorchester and Reading. Correct?

 

Did any of these have catches to prevent streetcars from rolling backward in the event of brake or motor failures?

 

I don't know the answer. Probably a question for Jake Mecklenborg.

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The thing that strikes me is that when the line cuts from McMillan/Calhoun to Vine, it cuts through the middle of the University Plaza where Kroger is. There USED to be a road through there, but they built the plaza over it.

 

This is most likely in line with the Uptown Consortium's plans to reconnect Vine St. with Short Vine.  This looks to be the layout of the reconnection of the two streets, and would therefore not be cutting through the existing plaza.

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Clifton, Vine, Sycamore/Dorchester and Reading. Correct?

 

There were also the incline routes.  What's amazing is that several metro routes still follow the incline routes, traveling down what are now obscure side streets.  I think it's the #53 which goes from Fairview to Hyde Park and the #48 or 49 which goes from the Zoo to Celestial St. in Mt. Adams, I'm going by memory so I might be off.  Apparently buses were carried up the Mt. Adams incline in its final one or two years before it was dismantled. 

 

incline-mtadams9.jpg

 

>Did any of these have catches to prevent streetcars from rolling backward in the event of brake or motor failures?

 

I don't know, there is still a safety stop on the Vine St. hill, as a joke my friends and I would make the safety stop too when we were in our cars.  Also people on that hill are in the habit of parking with one wheel up on the sidewalk, not sure of the reason for that. 

 

My guess is that the Clifton Ave. hill is steeper, using the measure tool I get 3,881ft. versus 3,727ft. to McMillan St., and McMillan is about 30-50ft. lower at that point.  The steeper grade was anecdotally proven to me when my old rear wheel drive Oldsmobile couldn't get up the hill in about an inch of snow but after retreating got up the Vine hill just fine.     

 

Just to throw this out, I think several streets around the UC area will be problematic due to emergency vehicles heading to and from the various hospitals and I think the fire station at Clifton & Ludlow might rule out surface rail at that spot. Even though streetcars once ran down the center of Clifton, I'd guess they'd have to hug Burnett Woods on the east side of Clifton Ave. south from Ludlow in order to avoid interfering with Good Samaritan Hospital and then hug the lawn in front of McMicken Hall as well to avoid Deaconess Hospital.

 

Don't understand at all why someone would suggest running a line up Jefferson instead of Clifton/MLK.  BTW my grandparents used to live on the still existing section of Bishop St., my grandmother stalled the car on the Jefferson Ave. tracks one time, according to her backing up street car traffic for a few minutes in both directions. 

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Here's some more anecdotal info. You know why Reading Road is what it is?

 

At one time, probably before streetcars, bison herds moved between the lush grasses in the basin of the CBD and a salt lick in Reading, Ohio. While Bison probably aren't very smart, they eventually figured out that Reading Road was the flattest grade up out of the Ohio River Valley. If you had to carry around a couple thousand pounds of fur and fat, this would be important to you too.

 

Anyway, Native Americans hunted bison along what is now the track of Reading Road, which became the region's first thoroughfare. When the first white settlers came, the followed this path and eventually extended the track to what is now Chillicothe, which became an early pioneer settlement and, I think, the first Post Office in Ohio - maybe even the first capital.

 

There are written reports of General St. Clair's troops' leaving Fort Washington at the foot of Broadway and marching up the valley that lies between Reading Road and Gilbert Avenue on their conquests of territory. I remember one of them recounting the fear of the soldiers who knew that the Indians were thick in the woods that flank the valley.

 

I think about 87% of this account is true.

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Not 88%?  :-D

 

Thanks for the info guys.


"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."-Voltaire

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    KJP:

 

    Cincinnati had 3 cable railways. The cable cars were pulled by cables running under the street. These had friction brakes on the wheels, and also had an emergency brake by means of a wedge that was jammed into the cable slot.

 

    I am not aware of any catches on electric streetcars, nor of any runaway accidents. The Price Hill Incline had a famous accident involving a wagon load of sand and another of manure. The Cincinnati and Lebanon had a few trains get away on the steep CL&N route. 

 

    John:

 

    Do you think that a stop at Vine and University is close enough to the U.C. campus? As expensive as it is, U.C. students pay big money for those parking passes, when they could park on the street for free and walk. Most of the garages would be closer than a stop on Jefferson. Ideally, the transit stop would be right in the center of campus, if a route could be found to get there.

 

    In Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University, I have noticed cars with parking passes parked on the street in front of student housing, just a few blocks from campus. Are these people driving a quarter mile and paying big money for parking? I'm not sure, but perhaps they are. People view cars as a door to door service. My point is that if there's a garage that's closer, and people are willing to pay for it, will they really walk all the way from Jefferson?

 

Jake:

 

    The LRT vehicle manufactured by Siemens is designed for a maximum grade of 7%. For comparison, Straight Street is 18%, Sycamore Hill 10%, and the old CL&N 4%. I don't know what Vine or Clifton are, but they are probably close to the limit of 7%.

 

    Also, the idea of conflicts with fire fighting equipment can get even more complicated. What happens when the fire fighters have to take a hose across the railway? There's a photo in the Wagner and Wright series of a special track that formed a bridge over a fire hose. This special track was carried on an automobile to a fire scene and placed over the hose, and the electric streetcars crawed over it. The drawback of rail is that it does not have the flexibility to go around such things. You might not think it would happen that often, but emergencies like that could shut down an entire line. Maybe placing fire hydrants on both sides of the street could alleviate the problem.

 

  Neville:

 

    Both Vine Street and Auburn Avenue used to meet at Short Vine where University Plaza is now. Both streets had streetcars.

 

 

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Vine Street and Clifton both have ruling grades in the range of 9%. That's probably OK for streetcars, but too much for light rail which planners try to keep to 5%.

 

People are willing to walk between 1,300 and 2,500 feet to access a rail connection, so I think having rail as far east of Vine is a bit of a push. Plus you've got a slight grade up to Vine from Jefferson. I think you'd want to keep the rail on Jefferson.

 

People do walk surprisingly long distances to access parking - witness the thousands of people who park on Cincinnati's riverfront and walk up a grade into the CBD every day. DCI has tracked riverfront parkers walking as far north as Sixth Street, which must be 2,000 to 3,000 feet from most riverfront parking assets.

 

In general, serving the University of Cincinnati is the biggest conundrum facing rail planners here -- partly because of the grades on three sides of the campus, but also because UC has sort of walled itself off by expanding the Superblock over the years and eliminating the internal street grid.

 

The substitution of rail service for driving and parking probably has a lot to do with freeway congestion and the capital and operating costs of a car -- however that plays out in the next couple of decades.

 

 

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John, what is the status of the downtown streetcar line project?  the total cost would be around $100 million if the ppt on the website is correct.  That seems like it is an affordable starter project for the city. 

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The streetcar study is underway and will be complete in April.

 

On the walking distances, I wouldn't put much stock the the traffic engineers' handbook. I think most traffic engineering maxims are very sububan-oriented and don't account for real behavior in the city. Sure, if you're going to a mall, you don't expect to walk much, but cities are filled with walkers. And so are universities. Having said that, landing a stop in the center of UC would be great for UC. But part of the thinking of putting rail on Jefferson was that it would boost Corryville. That's a trade-off to be considered.

 

Figure about $10,000 per lineal foot for a deep-bore tunnel.

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also UC parking is really expensive and with the exception of the CCM garage it is located at the edges of the campus.  Since most of the people stopping at UC will be students, i think they will walk it no problem.

 

So hypothetically, if the study comes back in april saying it is cost effective, when do you think construction will start and when will it be completed?  Would it be constructed along with the Banks?

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Your streetcars aren't going to cross any highways that are going to be under construction for who knows how many years, are they? If not, you guys will probably have your system up and running before ours, which looks to be the victim of unparalleled short-sightedness.

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Lucky bastards, we're probably going to have to pointlessly wait for construction to start in 2010 for 170-71, because for some reason having a streetcar go from downtown to the Arena District, Short North arts district & OSU isn't even being considered. I guess we want to keep our image and not get something done right on the 1st try.

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Flights look like they are going to be about $400-$500 is that right?  I'm trying to save up for a Segway so I might not be able to make the trip.

 

In October, some people were getting out there for $250 on NW through Minneapolis. Generally good bargains through Indy on NW and Frontier via Denver. But, you're right, the Delta nonstops are expensive.

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Lucky bastards, we're probably going to have to pointlessly wait for construction to start in 2010 for 170-71, because for some reason having a streetcar go from downtown to the Arena District, Short North arts district & OSU isn't even being considered. I guess we want to keep our image and not get something done right on the 1st try.

 

The Arena District and Short North are doing great. So is the Brewery District/ German Village (atleast it appears to be). What I'd love to see is the City of Columbus work with developers on a plan to add street cars and mixed use development for the east and/or west side. With the city spending so much money on transportation (fun transportation at that..) perhaps that would be enough to give the developers and banks enough reassurance? I'm drifting off into fantasyland though.

 

I don't think that $24m per sq. mile would apply to Cincinnati if it were to connect downtown to uptown, since it would have to be elevated; wouldn't it?

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I'm hoping that the wait for an extension to the east, west or ideally both, won't come too long after the first route is up, running & a success. The first route, as far as development goes, is looking to boost development downtown 1st and fill up those parking lots. Also, there's really nothing much outside of downtown on Broad St as far as things to see & do aside from the conservatory. There was no master plan made, which is unfortunate, since a lot of people who aren't on the 1st route will feel left out and probably aren't aware that future extensions will come. It's too bad they're left guessing as to whether or not they will get one. Make sure you guys clearly explain why have a streetcar and how it will work, where it will go for the first route and possible future routes. Here, there was a horrible job done as to why this is necessary and how it is going to be implemented.

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Good news everyone, recently I brought up how the Mayor's Young proffessional kitchen cabinet had nothing to do with transportation.  Well due to overwhelming demand by the YPKC powers that be, the mayor is forming a Young proffessionals transportation committee. 

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