Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Holy Ground

After reading this in the Enquirer today - as well as the ongoing discussion about the possibility of a new streetcar downtown - I think it seems an appropriate time to start a discussion on Cincinnati mass transit.

Note: I found the following article during research for my thesis + added corresponding imagery from Singer's excellent book, The Cincinnati Subway.

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TIME magazine (Monday, February 13, 1939)

Fifty-four years ago, during the free-spending administration of handsome U. S. President Chester Alan Arthur, the Cincinnati Graphic proposed for Cincinnati a subway for speedy transportation of the city's workers from the "Basin" business district on the north bank of the Ohio River to the uplands east, north and west where they lived.

 Proposal for Cincinnati, Ohio (1885). Graphic magazine. 
Source: The Cincinnati Subway by Allen J. Singer (2003). 
Concept drawing for Miami-Erie Canal to be converted into a subway/boulevard.

Eighteen years ago, after several decades of lively discussion and legal preparations, Cincinnati went to work on the underground. Seven years later it had the excavations and stations for a subway. Cost: $6,100,000, financed by a bond issue.

Today, and for 18 years past, the subway has been a rat hole into which Cincinnati's tax money has been poured at the rate of more than $1,000 a day in bond interest. By the time its bonds finally fall due, in 1967, the Cincinnati subway will have cost $19,000,000. It has never carried a passenger. Once during a bitter Depression winter, a score of shivering hobos holed up in one of its diggings, until they were driven out by the police. But no tracks were ever laid in its 2.6 miles of underground or 13.9 miles of overground right of way.

The old Graphic's original plan was no pipe dream but a solidly considered plan of rapid transit. It suggested that the city utilize the drained Miami & Erie canal for the underground mileage, cover it with a high-speed roadway for surface traffic. Even in the Graphic days the two-square-mile Basin was beginning to be crowded and Cincinnatians, whose town has more hills and valleys than any other in the Union, were putting their homes back on the hilltops to get above and beyond the city's industrial smoke.

 "A Dream of the Graphic" (1884). 
Source: The Cincinnati Subway by Allen J. Singer (2003).
Another sketch of the subway/boulevard concept.

What the Graphic and what leading citizens did not foresee in 1884 was the automobile. Before the motorcar, nine interurban railroad lines fed into the city. Today there is only one. The broad Central Parkway was built atop the subway (at a cost of $3,330,990), and Cincinnatians in cars and buses now zip into the Basin in the morning, zip out at night about as fast as any other form of transport could carry them.

 Proposal by City Engineer C.N. Danenhower for Cincinnati, Ohio (1896).
Source: The Cincinnati Subway by Allen J. Singer (2003).
Concept drawing for Miami-Erie Canal to be drained and converted into a boulevard.

If Cincinnati's subway is ever to be used, it must build a loop through the Basin from its present downtown terminus. This would cost another $6,000,000, and the whole project would be handed to the Cincinnati Street Railway Co. for operation of its cars. The transaction would be without rent, which the company is unable to pay. Face to face with this apparently insoluble situation, a group of leading Cincinnatians resolved last week that something must be done about the city's hole-in-the-ground. Last week they met at the Sinton Hotel, organized as the Metropolitan Transportation and Subway Committee, stoutly resolved to settle the question once and for all.

Chaired by Attorney James L. Magrish, they divided into subcommittees to work out a plan. Since no town feels it is grown-up until it is pierced by a subway (Chicago is finally digging one), the most likely result of their deliberations will probably be an attempt to sell Cincinnati taxpayers on the downtown loop, send good money after bad.

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Since we partially built ours, does that make Cincinnati an adolescent?

Quoting Susan Tifft ["Mass Transit Makes a Comeback", TIME, 1/16/84]: "...transit, like a football team or a domed stadium, bolsters civic pride."

When will the naysayers understand that even if a streetcar or subway/light rail system was constructed, knowing that it would be partially subsidized, and possibly without profit (though I do believe it could be self-sufficient), that it still would be infrastructure valuable to the growth of the city as a whole - not only in it's utilitarian presence, but as an attraction, as a reflection of our history, and as a symbol of our maturity.

How many train-related attractions have to be built in this area for it to initiate a full-scale response?

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