Blog › What Cincy sees in streetcar and walkable city codes


What Cincy sees in streetcar and walkable city codes

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/14/13 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Transform

What is Cincinnati grasping about the path to urban revitalization that could inform Cleveland efforts? Similar population loss (40% since 1950) sapped much of the vitality, but not the strong urban character of the Queen City.

Over-the-Rhine<br />Restored row houses in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Image: Andrew Frey.Building up and in<br />Cincinnati's $63 million Mercer Commons development is part of its rebuilding strategy. Image: UrbanCincyTransit oriented development<br />Cincinnati is betting that a streetcar like Salt Lake City's is a success model for regrowth.

Cincy is rolling out a redevelopment strategy that centers on transit and walkable neighborhoods. It introduced a new zoning code that would all but assure transit-oriented development happens along its proposed streetcar line. The city wants to continue the incredible success of repairing legacy neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, which the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) led in restoring beautiful, old row houses, and continues with a $63 million live-work development they expect will fill some of the demand from Millennials and Boomers looking for city living.

“The Queen City is positioning itself to capture this demand and to put a strategy in place that makes these neighborhoods complete places with everything urban neighborhoods have to offer,” a report about the city’s new zoning code says.

Cincy vice mayor Roxanne Qualls announced that the city will seek a form-based code that would support pedestrian-friendly development around transit stations. The city piloted this plan in four neighborhoods targeted for redevelopment. It lists four reasons for pursuing new zoning:

  1. Form-based Code will allow the development of the vacant land at Madison & Whetsel into a mixed-use development, where housing retail, and office space can co-exist in the same development (editor’s note: close proximity of uses makes for a more walkable place)
  2. Form-based Code primarily focuses on the form of the buildings, and the use of the building is secondary. The code in Madisonville (one of the four neighborhood pilots) shows developers the type of new construction we want to see here. This zoning was initiated and created by Madisonville community members with the assistance of City staff.
  3. Form-based Code emphasizes people and public spaces. The neighborhood leadership believes that if Madisonville is rebuilt for people, we’ll get more people, as opposed to building for cars and traffic, which results in more cars and more traffic.
  4. Form-based Code will streamline the development process and provide more predictable results for both the community and developers.

The pilot project has grown into a city-wide form-based code with the help of a $2.4 million grant from HUD, part of which was used to hire consultants, Opticos Design.

Cincy’s well-documented fight over a 3.6-mile streetcar line connecting areas around downtown is mostly over, with the city approving $6.5 million in casino revenues and a $5 million federal TIGER grant as part of a $17.5 million phase one. The streetcar is already catalyzing development interest, and giving a boost to occupancy rates, UrbanCity reports. Plus, the city announced a dozen development projects last week, much of it along the streetcar line.

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4 years ago

The first phase of the streetcar will actually travel 1.8 miles from 2nd Street at the Banks to Henry Street just north of Findlay Market. It's envisioned to go much further up the Vine Street hill to Uptown in later phases in order to connect to two biggest job centers in the city.

As Marc pointed out, the streetcar is a "loss leader" and in reality many transportation projects never recoup their costs on fares alone. The projections are actually that it will return $3 in development for every $1 spent. Already we are seeing development happening ahead of the streetcar's initial completion. 3CDC took the lead in the redevelopment efforts years ago to build a foundation for growth, but now other smaller developers are joining in as completion of the first phase grows closer. Just last week another project to redevelop a class B office building into apartments was announced at the corner of Main and 9th on the streetcar line.

4 years ago

Cody -- I'm curious, if the streetcar catalyzes a few billion in redevelopment and increases tax revenues from high rates of occupancy and sales receipts, should that go in to the ledger of re-couping costs?

This, by the way, is what the streetcar in Portland, Salt Lake City, and similar cities are doing, and the bus-rapid transit line in Cleveland is producing. It's what business executives call a "loss leader."

4 years ago

Yep, and we'll never recoup the cost of the streetcar. In fact, conservative estimates say it will be an added expense each year for running it and maintenance, as it is not expected to even pay for its own operations. Including any potential tax revenue. Also, the current phase one will only travel less than a mile.

I do like the idea of walkable, complete neighborhoods, and want to see our city continue the comeback we've seen, but not the irresponsible, deceitful, and wasteful way that the city is moving towards in regards to the street car.

4 years ago

An interesting data point about the rising demand for walkable urbanism comes from Christopher Leinberger, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. He has found a correlation -- the higher the education level, the greater demand for urban living. The Millennials, the most educated generation in history, mean a larger share of 80 million people moving inward.

To your point about the numbers on the Cincinnati Streetcar, this post refers to recent approvals of planning funds. The total estimated cost of the streetcar is $133 million. Of that, $45 million is coming from the federal government, leaving $88 million from the city.
Here's a link that looks at common myths about the project.

Peter O.
5 years ago

Walkable urban neighborhoods are great, so good luck Cleveland. Author does need to check your numbers on the Streetcar project cost, though.

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