Monday, September 07, 2009

Chris Bortz: Lost in Translation

I spend quite a bit of time reading other blogs and engaging in discussions or jut adding my two cents in the comments section. It's a good way to get a feel for what other people think about the pertinent issues of the day and add my voice to the fray. Now and again, I google my posting name, "ThatDeborahGirl," as a way to keep up w/ what I've posted and to see who, if anyone has replied and then I reply back and so on.

So the other day, I'm doing my normal blog trackback using Google and I had the pleasant surprise of seeing my comments I left on another site quoted in a front page post on the COAST blog regarding the current streetcar debate here in Cincinnati. You can read what Bortz had to say and how my comments were used as a "translation" of what he said by clicking here.

COAST is an Ohio taxation watchdog group and they are currently they are fighting against the proposed Cincinnati Streetcar. I got all heartfelt teary-eyed that someone thought my words were what they needed to help make their point, especially since we were firmly on the same side of this issue. They even had my picture next to my quote which means they had to swing by here to get it - I don't think I have it as an avatar.

It also seems the person they were using my quote to "translate" was none other than Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz. Hmmm...It seemed to me that this wasn't the first time Chris Bortz and I have been on the opposite sides of a debate. Googling some more to trackback, seems the first first time I took issue with him was over the jail tax, right here on DebLite.

Bortz, like many a republican, is all for law and order and locking up their neighbors - regardless of how many times it's proven that CPD is not exacty working to protect and serve Cincinnati so much as blackmail, blue flu, and slow down Cincinnati into getting what they want, when they want and how they want it on a silver platter. It's one thing to support your local police. It's another to let them bully the population and local government into subservience. At any rate, the marjority of voters felt the same way I did by an overwhelming margin and the jail tax was defeated.

Another time Bortz and I were not in agreeance over at the Cincinnati Beacon on whether City Council should engage in a private Executive sessions . Not exactly sure how that one turned out but I do know one thing. After my post there, Bortz was silent. It was a particularly satisfying take down if I say so myself (and I do).

Now it seems we're on differing sides of the streetcar debate. The Cincinnati Streetcar is another effort by City Council to focus on yet another "get 'em Downtown and they'll spend like crazy" proposal. Much like the Umpteenth Fountain Square rebuild, and the spanking brand new Sports Stadiums that are Soaking Us For Tax Money and the previously mentioned We Have to Build a Jail With Just a Tiny Tax Increase - the Cincinnati Streetcar is supposed to be a way for people to connect with downtown without having to ride the Metro or simply drive downtown and park.

Whenever Cincinnati wants to show that they're making progress, some genius comes up with a project that emphasizes getting folks downtown to spend money. The problem is, while everyone keeps dumping tax dollars into downtown, the neighborhoods suffer neglect. Viable business plans and neighborhood intiatives get lost in the cry to get everyone downtown.

The latest plan to spend a million dollars (as if that's all it will take) is the Cincinnati Streetcar. Now I can think of many other ways to spend a million dollars - homeless shelters, stocking local food pantries, build a neighborhood clinic, keep some cash around for the pools next summer. or just plain invest in local businesses (such as Mayor Mallory's small business owners intiative which is incredible!).

What I don't want, and many Cincinnati folks don't either, is to see the money wasted on a slow trolley that will basically put the crawl in pub crawl. It's supposed to start at UC which is basically giving the college students better access to the downtown bars as well as the ones already in Clifton. Further for all the miracles the streetcar is supposed to solve, other cities that have them find them more a nuisance that don't live up to the hype or the "feasability studies".

Untold in these "studies" is the fact that the benefits are the product of computer models and have never been achieved in the real world. For example, in 1978, planners in Portland, Oregon, forecast that by 1990 the city's light-rail ridership would be 42,500. In reality, it was half that. In Sacramento, light-rail ridership was initially projected to be 50,000 on an average weekday. By 1998, average weekday boardings were 28,000 (slightly higher than a revised projection made once local officials had committed to the project). Studies typically highlight the congestion-relief benefits of rail transit, even as transportation planners refuse to argue that these benefits exist. Indeed, in his 1998 survey of rail transit investments built since 1980, Jonathan Richmond of Harvard's Taubman Center for Local Government concluded that none had appreciably reduced congestion in cities. From the article: Ground Zero In Urban Decline by Sam Staley
My main problem with the Cincinnati Streetcar is that there is nothing in the proposals that explain how the streetcar solves any of our city's very pressing problems with transportation. If the money is to be spent on transportation, then how about working on, not getting people downtown, but out to the suburbs where the jobs are. Most people aren't traveling to work downtown in a place where even the Cincinnati Enquirer is located in the city of Blue Ash. White flight hasn't just meant families moving to the suburbs. It's business moving beyond Tri-County and Sharonville out to Blue Ash and West Chester.

If Cincinnati wants that to change, then we can't just keep rebuilding Downtown. The city must focus efforts on the neighborhoods for the people they don't want to admit are even there. The city cannot just cater to rich people and I'm not using "rich" as a euphemism for "white" either; working class majority white neighborhoods have been just as neglected - Hartwell and Lower Price Hill don't look much better than Avondale and Bond Hill when it comes to empty storefronts and boarded up houses.

Chris Bortz and City Council want to support a streetcar for the privileged few while so many go without while adding an additonal tax burden on people who are already stretched to the breaking point. I don't think it's too much to ask them to refocus their efforts and our tax dollars on a worthier cause.

Cincinnati Streetcar Website
Map of the Streetcar Route
Chris Bortz talks about the streetcar proposal


  1. ... If the money is to be spent on transportation, then how about working on, not getting people downtown, but out to the suburbs where the jobs are...

    There was a plan for this, called Metro Moves, and the voters of Hamilton County voted it down by a wide margin. It was a sales tax increase which this proposal is not. The problem with public transit in the exurbs is that they are by definition spread-out and un-walkable. You would almost be talking about some kind of taxi service to get to all the disparate places.

    The streetcar is only a small part of what we need to do in this city, which is offer many levels and types of public transit. The more permanent transit systems (light rail, subway, streetcar etc) not only offer a better service than a bus but more importantly they result in a better city; a denser and more active street. Forget the study, I see it with my own eyes everytime I travel.

    Yes, streetcars are slower and much cheaper than other types of rail, but experience of other cities has shown that the results are significant. After the first line is built, and the results seen, other neighborhoods will be clamoring for their spur too. And maybe then Hamilton County, Northern Kentucky and yes even Blue Ash and West Chester will want to be connected too, with some kind of separated grade rail.

    Also, not all UC students want to go to bars. I went to UC and went to a bar maybe a dozen times in 6 years. And not all Clifton residents are students. They may want to get to jobs, the Reds, the Opera, the Aronoff, or maybe they will they may live downtown, and commute Uptown.

  2. From Chris Bortz himself on streetcar funding:

    Is there a funding gap? You bet. No other city in the country has been able to build a streetcar system without a dedicated tax. “You can’t do that here. Taxes are too high,” they say. O.K. Then let’s put our heads together and figure out how to fill the gap

    Why should we put our heads together and "fill the gap" for the streetcar when neighborhood development and other needs of the city go begging?

    They're not asking for a tax increase yet because they know that's political suicide since we're still under burden for the stadiums. Chris Bortz makes it plain as day that Council sure hasn't ruled it out.

    I'm sorry - but when we wanted a facility for mental health and wellness - it was shot down by rich folks. When we want increased and EQUAL funding for all schools (regardless of the income level and color of the kids who go there), it's shot down by rich folks. But oh, a trolley to cart their rich behinds around to Red's games and such, that's fine and dandy!

    We've wasted far too much money on Cincinnati "Pork" and it's going to be hard to convince me that the streetcar isn't just another such item. We need to stop being the city that squanders money on "big budget" items that look good but go nowhere. We need to start being the city that takes care of needs before wants - like any family on a budget. That's what these hard economic times call for.

    Arguing against the streetcar is arguing for progress, not the other way around, as backward as that may seem. It's arguing for a different way of thinking about what true development in Cincinnati really means.

  3. The most recent data cited are from Jonathan Richmond's 1998 hatchet job on rail which almost certainly used 1990 Census data - data from 19 years ago.

    There are plenty of stories out there to the contrary -- about light rail and streetcar systems that have opened this decade and are being expanded.

    By the way, the economists who studied the Cincinnati Streetcar estimated that 45% of the riders would be earning less than $20,000 per year. You could look it up. And Brad Thomas roughly estimated that in the census tracts the streetcar passes through, almost half of all the households have zero cars.


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