Cincinnatians waking on Election Day Nov. 8 may feel like Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day." In addition to the usual suspects generously offering us their service on City Council, there will be yet another misguided
attempt to over-kill Mayor Mark Mallory's much debated streetcar proposal.
For how many millennia have we been fighting about this plan? Is there anyone left who has not picked a side on whether to clog the streets of Cincinnati with gilded rails bearing pampered yuppies to yet another "Final Friday" of gallery hopping, opera listening and craft beer swilling fun, while the rest of us hunker down in our neglected neighborhoods, drinking a Hudy and watching re-runs of Dancing with the Stars?
At least that's how longtime streetcar opponents Chris Finney, Chris Smitherman and Tom Luken have characterized the plan promoted by their nemesis, Mayor Mallory, to link the riverfront, Over-the-Rhine and Corryville.
This endless brouhaha has made last decade's death match over whether to park the Reds at Broadway Commons or on the riverfront look like a Bloody Mary-fueled Sunday morning croquet match at the Cincinnati Country Club.
In 2009, the "Trolley-phobe Troika" was smacked down by voters when it sought to amend the City Charter to require a public vote before spending even a dime for any rail project in the city. It was a nuclear weapon deployed to squash a pickup truck.
In the intervening two years, the streetcar plan seems to have died of fiscal causes — particularly after new Gov. John Kasich and Tea Party poster girl (and state senator) Shannon Jones took a little time off from antagonizing our police, firefighters and teachers to yank its state dollars.
Sure, the Mayor says the streetcar is still a go, though withered to a circulator through downtown and OTR. But with a conservative majority on Council, and streetcar backer Chris Bortz unable to vote, does anyone really think we'll be hearing those clanging bells anytime soon?
Not content to let this apparent corpse RIP, Finney, Smitherman and Luken are back, asking voters to prohibit any city spending on any "passenger vehicles operated on rails" for this decade.
Not only would their amendment stick a redundant fork in the streetcar, it would foreclose any other rail projects — like the long discussed Eastern corridor, the potential restoration of inclines to Mount Adams or Price Hill, or even a link to our airport. Not only would voters be saying goodbye to the much-needed federal dollars and jobs that could come to town for the streetcar plan, but for any other rail projects, too.
In the meantime, gas prices keep climbing, and other cities — Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and more — are moving forward aggressively with their own rail plans.
Cincinnati, with its charming old neighborhoods and lush hillsides, has the potential for a real urban renaissance in an era of rising gas prices.
We should not put ourselves on the shelf for a decade for rail transportation alternatives, even as other cities competing with us for jobs and development dollars step forward with rail plans of their own.
Don Mooney is a Partner at the Cincinnati office of Ulmer & Berne, LLC and a local political activist.
He served for many years on the Cincinnati Planning Commission.