A Desire Named Streetcar, Chapter XXVIII


When we last checked in on the Queen City Express to Nowhere, a.k.a. the Cincinnati Streetcar Boondoggle Coming Soon to a Town or City Near You if it Hasn't Already it Certainly Will Be Just You Wait Goddamnit, Cincinnati was over $50 million in the red but was bravely pledging $2.6 million to get the pork party started on a streetcar line that was somehow going to rejuvenate a place arguably best known for a '70s-era sitcom about what a dump it all was. How's this for a new slogan for the fabled Porkopolis, "America's most beautiful inland city" in the estimation of alcoholic Nobel laureate Winston Churchill: Come for the race riots, stay for the streetcar!

Well, now the city council there has approved $64 million in bonds (read: debt) to push forward with the $128 million project (whose price tag will jump up the second the first spike is driven into the ground). The fiscally prudent twist? The learned council of elders has made a pledge not to start the program until they double the amount they've committed with state and federal grants. Thanks, fellas.

This is, in a nutshell, why virtually every town, state, and federal government in the U.S. is more broke than an electric football game on the day after Christmas. As Matt Welch likes to put it: We are out of money. And we're not going to change that by lapsing into some damn-the-torpedoes-when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-go-shopping spree. In fact, that's only gonna make things worse.

Try telling that to Cincinnatians, who purr such monetary hairballs in the Enquirer as:

"The question isn't whether we can afford to build the streetcar… The question is whether we can afford not to."

"Yes, there are some risks here… But we have to be bold enough to take those risks if we're going to grow this city and region."…

"This is a major first step," said Mayor Mark Mallory, who minutes before the meeting began was still meeting privately with council members to allay concerns that the bonds potentially could commit the city to a project it might not be able to complete or afford to operate.

Read more here.

And when your local councilman or mayor or senator or president or Better Business Bureau fundraiser comes around and tells you the only thing that keeps your hometown or state or region or country from being world class is the lack of a 19th-century technology that costs bazillions to build, bazillions to operate, and bazillions to tear down and start over when the monorail is the nostalgic wave of the future, tell 'em to lower your taxes, cut stupid regulations, and go to hell.

And not on a streetcar, because that will take way too long.

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  1. “The question isn’t whether we can afford to build the streetcar… The question is whether we can afford not to.”

    “Yes, there are some risks here… But we have to be bold enough to take those risks if we’re going to grow this city and region.”…

    Hear, hear!

  2. The average idiot knows full well that you can’t spend your way to prosperity. Municipalities must be run by extra-ordinary idiots.

    1. It’s actually a prerequisite for the position.

  3. Well, sir, there’s nothing on earth
    Like a genuine,
    Bona fide,

    1. The ring came off my pudding can!

    2. it is really more of a Shelbyville idea

  4. Personally, I can do without the Mapplethorpe in the morning. I’m not quite awake enough to digest the self-applied colonoscopy pictures yet.

    (I’m guessing that is a Mapplethorpe.)

    1. Heh! Try administering them for a living. To Mapplethorpe (who was a talented photographer) I say, meh. It’s not as easy as it looks and certainly not as glamorous, O Bear Who loses Buttons.

  5. Always a joy to read your articles, and always learn something new! thumbs up!

  6. (I’m guessing that is a Mapplethorpe.)

    Actually, that’s an Episiarch.

    1. Could be worse, there’s that urethral insertion “pinkie fisting” portrait.

      1. ow, just ow

    2. Actually, that’s an Episiarch.

      Odd, I thought Episiarches were shaggy quadrupeds capable of opening travel portals.

      Or uncredited cast members of Jersey Shore with verruca laden spouses with Justin Bieber fixations.

      1. He is all those things. Episiarch contains multitudes. Of dudes. In his rectum.

        1. Incredible! The fistulas and fissures he must have! This may be grant worthy!

          I could make a killing off of a case like this.

          1. You’re not the first person to see the profit potential inherent in the wonders of Episiarch’s ass.

  7. We have a slightly-used light rail system here in Phoenix that I would be glad to sell to any city out there looking for one.

    1. Ours is only over budget by 50% in Norfolk and not finished. I’m sure our city leaders would be interested, since they haven’t achieved the standard over-budget by 150% yet.

  8. It was $1 billion new but I can probably let it go at $700 million.

  9. Never buy a used bullwhip.

  10. What’s wrong with the more flexible public bus line?

    1. 1. No chance to reward cronies by buying out their real estate at inflated prices.

      2. No chance to reward cronies by setting up expensive legal consulting contracts.

      3. No chance to reward cronies by creating overpaid supervisory positions during development.

      You get the idea.

    2. The people who will ride the bus already are, the streetcar is about making public transport for people who won’t ride a bus.

      Strangely, the streetcar is a heartening sign. It means they are still in the “entice people to ride” phase, which is better than the inevitable “force people to ride” phase.

      1. You know who else forced people onto public transportation?

    3. The fact that buses have to sit in traffic with everyone else during rush hour.

      You can get around this with dedicated bus lanes or busways, but the former requires removing part of major streets from use by general traffic, while the latter requires building new infrastructure even more expensive than streetcar rails. And both foreclose on buses’ much-vaunted flexibility.

      For routes traveling on streets without frequent traffic jams, I agree that buses are the better choice. I’d have to study the Cincinnati plan in detail to know whether the planned trolley route makes sense. I know we seriously need light rail here in Pittsburgh along some routes, given our traffic problems combined with unique topographical issues.

      1. does Cincinnati have traffic jams?

        1. Yes. Primarily because they refuse to spend money on road infrastructure. But the streetcar routes (that I’ve seen) wouldn’t do anything about it. It’s seems mostly about ferrying people around downtown, the usual blasted wasteland of any inner city that has undergone industrial collapse (but it is better than some.)

          It’s just the same “If you build it, they will come (downtown)” wish fulfillment that plaques dozens of other cities its size.

          1. Central Parkway looks like it used to have rail running down the middle of it. It’s interesting that it just so happens to be the very stark dividing line between downtown and Over the Rhine.

          2. Cincinnati’s downtown could be a complete shithole and still be the best downtown of any Ohio major city. Though I must say I do enjoy watching the hippos shit underwater in the Toledo Zoo.

    4. Buses wear out quickly. Streetcars don’t.

  11. If they build the rails they’ll have something to run the city council out of town on.

    Just looking for an upside.

  12. Strangely, the streetcar is a heartening sign. It means they are still in the “entice people to ride” phase, which is better than the inevitable “force people to ride” phase.

    Saccharin Man, how the hell is this heartening? This is applying the same logic used by The Steve Smith Victims Reparations Project.

    Yes, let’s give offer more candy and baubles from the benevolent government for a boondoggle as opposed to outright coercion for the same or even worse boondoggle.

    1. Well, it is a twisted sort of logic. Basically, I think that the actions of the government when trying to entice you to ride is better for me personally than when they are trying to force you. Since they feel they must do one or the other, the streetcar is a better option than the systematic destruction of all public parking in a given area, zoning out of parking garages, encouraging much less (or outlawing) parking for businesses, or just plain letting the car transportation infrastructure completely collapse to the point that driving becomes nigh impossible.

      1. I understand the logic behind it. It’s like where I live, they have dependable bus schedules but the routes tend to be lacking and only service specific areas v. city wide. Downtown uses trolly style streetcars but the main mode of transportation is the personal vehicle. Taxis are fairly useful but can get expensive in a hurry.

  13. I’m sure our city leaders would be interested, since they haven’t achieved the standard over-budget by 150% yet.

    Fear not. Now that they’ve finally harassed all the businesses out of Waterside, they can get back to sacrificing gobs of money to those pretty, pretty trains.

    1. I remember when they built Waterside in the 80’s. It still isn’t paid off.

  14. The knucklehead mayor of Boise Idaho is promoting a frickin streetcar.

  15. I like dressing up animals as much as the next guy, but what does that cat have to do with the rest of the post?

    1. It’s a member of the city council.

    2. Guess you’ve never heard of a Cincinnati Bow Tie.

  16. I remember when they built Waterside in the 80’s. It still isn’t paid off.

    The city of Norfolk knows, like all good landlords, that when you’ve got a massive deficit and expensive plans, the last thing you want is paying tenants. But at least, sometime this century, carless EVMS students will be able to ride the Tide all the way to Newtown Road and, i don’t know, go to Burger King or something.

  17. Baby Herman insists (correctly) that Acme’s will, which is missing, bequeaths Toontown to the Toons. If the will is not found by midnight, Toontown will be sold to Cloverleaf Industries, which recently bought the Red Car trolley line, a local transportation provider. After noticing the will in one of the patty-cake photographs, and after Roger shows up at his office protesting his innocence, Eddie investigates the case with help from his girlfriend Dolores (Cassidy) while hiding Roger from the Toon Patrol. Jessica tells Eddie that Maroon blackmailed her into compromising Acme, and Eddie learns that Maroon is selling his studio to Cloverleaf. Maroon explains to Eddie that Cloverleaf will not buy his studio unless they can also buy Acme’s gag-making factory. His plan was to use the photos to blackmail Acme into selling. Before he can say more, he is shot dead by an assassin and Eddie sees Jessica fleeing the scene. When he finds her in Toontown, she explains that Doom killed Maroon and Acme in an attempt to take over Toontown.

    Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) threatens Roger Rabbit before introducing him to “The Dip”

    Eddie, Jessica, and Roger are captured by Doom and his weasels and held at the Acme factory, where Doom reveals his plan: Since he owns Cloverleaf and Acme’s will has yet to turn up, he will take control of Toontown and destroy it to make room for a freeway, then force people to use it by dismantling the trolley fleet. He has also built a mobile Dip sprayer with which he intends to wipe out the Toon population.

  18. In my city they built a fake suburban mall downtown and a fake downtown in the suburbs.
    The downtown mall is now a pile of rubble. (At least the suburban “town centre,” which I hear is still standing, was a private project.)

    1. Sounds like City Center (or was it Centre?)

  19. I know we seriously need light rail here in Pittsburgh along some routes, given our traffic problems combined with unique topographical issues.

    Go for it. Just spend your own fucking money, and keep your goddam hands out of my pockets.

    1. Considering every decent pass in this town through which one could build a rail track is already occupied by a road (which of course magically appeared at no taxpayer expense), the roads’ owner is going to have to be involved somehow.

      One of those issues that sell-the-streets radical libertarians tend to gloss over — geography and terrain are not rational market actors.

  20. the roads’ owner is going to have to be involved somehow.

    Form a corporation.

    Sell stock.

    Borrow money in the non-guaranteed, non-tax-free, non-municipal bond market.

    Buy land.

    Build streetcar.


    1. I see your reading comprehension of my statement that there is no suitable land left here for rail building that isn’t already occupied by a road, is no better than your reading comprehension of the “reply to this” labels at the bottom of everyone’s post.

  21. The city’s broke; they should consider selling the road bed, if it’s a more highly valued use of the resource. I’m certain you would use honest ridership and revenue numbers in your business plan.

    Threaded comments SUUUUUUUUUCK

  22. Before you Reasonites go on and on about how streetcars are “19th century” technology, remember that flattop roadway is 18th century technology.

    Before you rant on about the expense, look up what’s been going on with the price of gravel, concrete, and asphalt, all of which has been skyrocketing in the 21st century.

    And then take a look at the roads during your commute.

    Roads wear out fast. Track doesn’t. Track is cheaper and faster to maintain.

    Automobiles wear out fast. Streetcars don’t. There are literally 100 year old streetcars still in service. Steel bogies outlast pneumatic suspensions. Electric motors outlast diesels and gasoline engines, and are much nicer to the frames that house them.

    Now look up how much road maintenance your local governments are deferring for budgetary reasons. When those roads go, you’ll wish you still had streetcar service around.

  23. It’s too late. It’s all going to hell in a hand basket anyway. Might as well party it up while you can before it all goes Mad Max.

  24. Did you know Cincinnati tried to build a subway once? It was an early 20th century project, which foundered and was shelved forever before 1950. I learned this at the Forgotton Ohio article on the subject. Parts of the story seem remarkably germane to what we’re discussing here. The rest of the story is simply cool.

  25. Why don’t they just fund what people want? More roads! More roads are the limited-government solution and promote the Jeffersonian ideal. And they pay for themselves. Mass transit is for socialist Euro-wannabes.

  26. Oh you poor teabagging wingnuts, you’re on the losing side of every issue, aren’t you. Streetcars, roundabouts, health care reform, off shore drilling and the list goes on and on. You are going to lose every time wingnuts.

  27. What a nuisance. You’re on the losing side of every issue

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