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City Council Approves $64M in Streetcar Bonds

Yesterday, the City Council Budget and Finance Committee voted to issue $64M in bonds to finance the Cincinnati Streetcar project. Together with the $2.6M approved last month and $15M approved by the State of Ohio, this forms the bulk of the local funding for the streetcar, and puts Cincinnati in a much better position to receive federal grants for the project’s $128M construction. When complete, the streetcar will link downtown with Over-the-Rhine and the Uptown university district, and become the city’s first rail-based mass transit system in over 60 years. In time, it will become the starting point for future streetcar extensions and a catalyst for the development of a regional rail system.

People from a wide variety of backgrounds spoke to City Council in favor of the project, and only one person (a lawyer for the anti-government group COAST) spoke out against it. I was one of the speakers, and here is a transcript of my comments:

Madam Chair, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak here today. My name is David Cole, and I’m a resident of Westwood. I’m not a “kid”, I’m not a “speculator”. As of this fall I’ll be a graduate architecture student at the University of Cincinnati. When I graduate, I hope to remain in Cincinnati and build my practice here, but that will depend on what kind of city this is in a few years.

I’m a Cincinnati native, but for many years I lived in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, where I commuted daily on various forms of rail transit. I’ve been to Portland and I’ve seen firsthand the economic benefits their streetcar and light rail systems have brought to that city. In fact, I know a number of passionate and talented former Cincinnatians who moved to places like Portland and Seattle because those cities have been aggressively building up their urban cores and public transit systems.

As for myself, I chose to move back to Cincinnati from New York earlier this year because this city is doing great things, and with the streetcar as the first step toward a regional rail system, Cincinnati is poised to do even greater things. Just within the past week, the Bookings Institute released a study describing “bright flight” into cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who seek access to knowledge-based jobs, public transit, and the other advantages that healthy cities have to offer. Cincinnati has assets that other cities would kill to have, and we can’t afford to pass up the opportunity to leverage those assets and attract the best and the brightest to our city.

This isn’t just a downtown or Over-the-Rhine issue. As the streetcar spurs economic development and increased property values along the route, the entire city will benefit. A healthier downtown and Over-the-Rhine mean more resources to improve public schools and public safety in all of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods, including places like Westwood and Madisonville. Improved public transit options in Cincinnati will bring direct and indirect benefits to the entire region. Failure to improve public transit will further harm the entire region. The question isn’t whether we can afford to build the streetcar; the question is whether we can afford not to build it.

I was in this room a couple weeks ago when City Council did the right thing by voting to commit funding to the streetcar project, and I urge you to do the right thing again by voting to approve this bond issue.

Don’t listen to people who had their chance to make this a great city, but failed.

Don’t listen to people who are more interested in becoming career politicians than in helping the city they were elected to serve.

Don’t listen to the usual suspects whose only solution is to stop their feet and scream “no” whenever this city tries to tackle a difficult problem.

Doing the right thing is seldom easy or expedient, and always carries risk. I’m asking you to do the right thing for Cincinnati by voting to approve the bonds for the streetcar project.

Thank you.

The full City Council will vote on the bonds on Wednesday, but since the Budget and Finance Committee consists of all nine members of City Council, the Wednesday vote is expected to be a formality. Voting in favor of the streetcar bonds were Bortz, Qualls, Quinlivan, Berding, Thomas, and Cole. Voting against were Monzel and Winburn. Streetcar opponent Leslie Ghiz was absent from Monday’s meeting, but is expected to be present for the meeting on Wednesday.

For more details, see the story on Soapbox.

5/12/2010 Update: As expected, the full City Council has approved the $64M in bonds for the streetcar project.