After a hard-fought campaign filled with heated rhetoric, residents of Cincinnati voted down a measure that would have prevented the Ohio city from spending money on a proposed streetcar system during the next nine years. CityBeat in Cincinnati reports that the ballot measure was defeated Tuesday by a margin of 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent.
Though the margin was narrow, “it confirms that the city wants to move ahead with rail and wants economic development,” said Rob Richardson, co-chair of a group called Cincinnatians for Progress. "This is the second time that voters have confirmed they want rail. We hope our opponents will respect the will of the voters.”
"Streetcar supporters say the project’s primary purpose is as an economic development tool, spurring investment in vacant and dilapidated properties along its route," according to CityBeat. The proposed 3.1-mile loop would run from downtown north through Over-the-Rhine to Findlay Market. The expectation is that if it's successful, it would later be expanded to the area near the University of Cincinnati.
The ballot measure had been advocated by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which the periodical described as anti-mass transit, and by the local NAACP chapter, which believed the city should spend its limited resources on basic services and neighborhood projects.
The ballot measure, known as Issue 48, would have prohibited city officials from spending money on anything related to preparing any kind of passenger rail transit, including streetcars, through the end of 2020. It would also have restricted the city from accepting federal grants for such projects, entering into public-private partnerships, or even accepting private investment for a passenger rail project within the city's rights-of-way, CityBeat said.
The American Public Transportation Association reported that pro-transit ballot initiatives also won approval in Durham, North Carolina, and Vancouver, Washington. In Durham County, voters approved a half-cent sales tax aimed at improving bus service and bringing commuter rail and light rail to the county, APTA said in a press release. "The Durham Area Transit Authority is experiencing record ridership; in October 2011, it served the highest number of monthly trips in its history," APTA noted.
In Vancouver, which is on the north side of the Columbia River, across from Portland, Oregon, voters passed a 0.2 percent sales tax increase to support the Clark County Public Transportation Benefit Area Authority, which operates a bus and van system called C-TRAN. The C-TRAN organization had warned that if the tax were defeated, "C-TRAN would need to implement a system-wide service reduction of about 35 percent by early to mid 2013 in order to balance its budget."
In a statewide vote in Washington, a measure that would have sharply limited how highway tolls are spent was defeated by about 51 to 49 percent. "At issue in this election was whether tolls could be spent on projects other than the roads on which they’re collected, whether the state could charge variable tolls, and whether a light rail extension could go over the I-90 bridge, approved by voters last year, would go forward," said an online source, Transportation Nation.
"The measure was mounted by conservative activist Tim Eyman, a well-known Washington State gadfly, who viewed it as a way to ease the pain of 'the 97 percent of us who chose to drive every day,'" Transportation Nation said. "Measure supporters were far outspent by opponents, which included Bill Gates and employees of Microsoft."
In 2011, the outcome has been favorable for transit in 21 of 27 ballot initiatives, according to APTA. "These numbers reflect a long-term trend: since the year 2000, more than 73 percent of public transit ballot measures have passed," APTA said.
A complete list of the year's transit ballot measures is available at the Center for Transportation Excellence. In a press release, CFTE said that voters in four states approved seven transit finance measures totaling nearly $30 million in new annual funding. "Election results from 2011 continue a decade-long trend of overwhelming voter support for transportation investments with local tax dollars," CFTE said.
According to CFTE, Durham is now the second county in North Carolina to receive authority from the voters to levy a half-cent sales tax for transit. Mecklenburg, where Charlotte is located, was the first county to pass the sales tax, voting in favor of it again in 2009 when opponents asked for repeal.
One vote lamented by transit proponents was a Seattle measure calling for an additional fee on automobiles. "Voters chose not to increase the local car-tab fee by $60 to support transit, road maintenance and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure," CFTE said.
For more in-depth coverage on this topic:
• Subscribe to New Urban News to read all of the articles (print+online) on implementation of greener, stronger, cities and towns.
• See the September 2011 issue of New Urban News. Topics: Walk Score, sprawl retrofit, livability grants, Katrina Cottages, how to get a transit village built, parking garages, the shrinking Wal-Mart, Complete Streets legislation, an urban capital fund, and much more.
• Get New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide, packed with more than 800 informative photos, plans, tables, and other illustrations, this book is the best single guide to implementing better cities and towns.
• See the July-August 2011 issue of New Urban News. Downtown makeover, agrarian urbanism, bike sharing, bike-ped issues, TIGER III livability grants, unlocking remnant land value, selling the neighborhood, Landscape Urbanism vs. New Urbanism, new urban resort, granny flats, The Great Reset.
• See the June 2011 issue of New Urban News. Mid-rise living, elevated walkways, Jane Jacobs and observational urbanism, affordable transit-oriented development, the coming housing calamity, rental and TOD to dominate market, New Town in bankruptcy, regional approach for high-speed rail, the civic costs of sprawl, redevelopment of mall
• See the April-May 2011 issue of New Urban News. Transit-oriented development, “Cycle tracks,” gentrification versus revitalization, HUD grants, economic silver linings, light rail development, pocket neighborhoods, close-in Maryland housing less expensive, transit outperforms green buildings, Charter Awards, shift to smaller stores