Cincinnati Streetcar Urbanism

Readying Streetcar Plans, Cincinnati Considers Reducing Parking Requirements

» With municipal and state funds aligned for transit project, a more livable downtown on its way.

Cincinnati is thinking seriously about how to make its proposed streetcar system a vital element of a growing downtown, not simply a trophy piece to parade around in demonstration of its progress. The city’s Planning Commission has taken a major step in that direction by signaling its support last week to significantly reducing parking requirements in areas within two blocks of future streetcar stops. The city council will have to approve the decision for the zoning code to be altered.

If it goes through with the change, Cincinnati will be demonstrating its support for a new type of urban living and promoting a model for other cities looking into funding inner-city transit systems like streetcars.

With $86.5 million currently reserved for the project and $25 million more likely to be awarded to it by the federal government later this month, Ohio’s southern metropolis is virtually assured to have a streetcar system up and running in the next three years. Cincinnati hopes that the streetcar will help spur regeneration of the communities along the line, including the riverfront area, downtown, and Over the Rhine, three areas that have significant potential thanks to beautiful existing building stock intermixed with vacant plots.

Yet a streetcar in itself will provide no guarantee that those neighborhoods will see redevelopment. Transit may encourage some people to build new housing and retail, but it certainly compels no one to do so. Just as problematic, even if the new construction comes, there is no promise from future residents or office users that they will actually use the streetcars to get around; the vehicles could be underused if implemented poorly.

That’s why the city’s decision to reduce parking minimums would be a reassuring sign that local planners understand the necessity of designing neighborhoods to encourage transit use. Today, the city requires one to two parking spaces per housing unit, even for apartment buildings constructed right downtown. The new law, if approved as likely later this year, will halve those requirements in all new construction within 600 feet of streetcar stations, even reducing them to nil in some cases for buildings with six or fewer units.

As the Cincinnati Streetcar Blog points out, this change may have the positive effect of reducing the cost of new development in Cincinnati by allowing builders to avoid building underground garages or acquiring adjacent sites for surface parking. This will reduce not only the initial investment necessary to construct in neighborhoods near the streetcar but also the cost of individual purchasing or renting, making it more likely that there will be a market for new housing in the area.

In turn, by reducing the number of parking spaces per unit, the city is encouraging people who live in downtown areas to use transit to get around — and they’ll be getting a high-quality service through the center city with the new streetcar, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem. Though some may argue that Cincinnati could have gone a step further and eliminated all parking minimums to areas near the streetcar, the initial line is short and won’t even reach the University of Cincinnati north of downtown; if and when the system is expanded, the city council may want to reevaluate the use of parking minimums at all along this corridor.

What seems likely is that by making it more difficult for people to park their cars when they decide to live in apartments along the line, they will also be more likely to take advantage of the streetcar system, take advantage of nearby retail, and generally lead a walking life. Such communities are more likely to be self-sufficient in the long-term because of support for local shops and restaurants, and they will contribute to Cincinnati’s clear interest in developing for itself the image of being an “urban” city. This is a net positive for a place that is investing a large amount of local funds in this project.

Other cities planning new modern streetcar systems — Detroit, Dallas, Tucson, and Washington, for instance, have lines mostly funded — should examine Cincinnati’s proposed zoning changes and evaluate whether they could enact similar alterations in their municipal parking requirements to encourage around the new transit lines the creation of inner-city neighborhoods in which automobile use comes second to walking and alternative transportation.

Image above: Downtown Cincinnati, from Flickr user Sonnett

17 replies on “Readying Streetcar Plans, Cincinnati Considers Reducing Parking Requirements”

Bravo to Cincinnati on this issue, but I’d be surprised it it’s the best practice leader in this area. It’s already common for parking requirements to be lower at major rapid transit stations, though sometimes this policy is connected to the transit only indirectly, via the policy designation of the place as a “Regional center” or some such.

With streetcars, of course, you’re not providing rapid transit, so what really drives the parking reduction is the local transit but especially the general walkability.

Cincinnati is also in the process of adopting some new Transit Oriented Development zoning policies. These aren’t quite as far along as the parking reductions are, but the policies are definitely rolling out to maximize the benefit of rail transit in Cincinnati.

Looks like Cincinnati will be far ahead of NYC if they do this.

As far as I can see, the City still requires huge amounts of parking, even for Manhattan apartment buildings within two or three blocks of several different subway stations and bus routes. And zoning regs do not give any bonus of buildable space for lots within a few blocks of mass transit.

Current practice ignores that fact that the majority of households in NYC do not own cars, with an even higher percentage in Manhattan. This perverse policy, in a city where the cost of each garage parking space comes to tens of thousands of dollars, drives up the cost of new housing units, and so pushes up the rents. This means only an elite can afford to live in new buildings in Manhattan, and even they complain about the high rent, and being forced to share with roommates.

People wanting a place to live are cross-subsidizing the people who want to drive!

In the end, of course, the backwards policy encourages more commuting by car. In my own apartment building, management will soon be renting out the many spaces in the garage which are not being used by tenants here.

Congratulations to Cincinnati if they can pull this off, and show NYC’s leaders the way they need to go.

Now that Cincinnati has proposed this change in regulation, they really must go through with it. With as much respect as Cincy needs to gain from its other-city peers, rescinding an incredible precedent, such as this, would be more embarrassing than not showing an ounce of progressive policy. What with the proposed 20-year bike network plan to this, we could really pave the way for great civic leadership in Cincinnati.

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Nice spam! And thanks for the tip. As it happens I do have one of my yachts based in Pensacola, and I have to get it out of there soon, or paint it black, if you get my drift. I’ll be in touch Yacht Exports a.s.a.p.

As spam goes, this one’s pretty incompetent. No links to drive up search engine rankings, on a website where nobody is likely to care. After all, this is a transit site, so we prefer cruise ships (the streetcars of the sea) to SOBs. (Single-occupancy boats–whad did you think?)

Are they giving their streetcars their own lane? If not, the quality of the service is objectively inferior to buses, and even less likely to attract riders in the long-term. Jarrett’s long series on streetcars and mobility can’t have been forgotten this quickly…

1. Streetcars should run until AFTER the bars close.

2. Bars should not provide parking for their patrons, let them take public transit home. Else it would be encouraging drinking and driving, by providing parking.

That’s an awfully short distance, and I wonder what it was based on. Normally a 5-minute walk, or roughly 350 to 400 metres, would be considered a typical catchment area for a surface transit stop. The Cincinnati standard is barely half that. Even worse, the area to which the reduced parking permissions would apply is less than 1/3 of what it could be with a 5-minute radius (12.5 vs. 41 hectares).

This seems like quite a forward-thinking policy. Chicago has a similar policy for its L system, but the distance is the same – 600 feet. In that case, the distance should be a lot larger, but in the case of a streetcar, which is not likely to be used as much as a rapid transit system (it is, after all, in essence, a really nice bus), this seems to make sense.

But few developers use this. And community groups (aka Nimby’s) often object to any reduction in parking – usually successfully.

The Cincinnati Streetcar can use the existing subway tunnels as an additional match for federal funds. This way an extension to the NW at least to Hopple Street would be easy to build by using mostly the existing tunnels. A shunt to Union terminal then is possible as well. A transfer station at Race Street between surface and Subway could be implemented as there is an existing Race Street Subway Station. The car order could be increased to cover the Subway as well. Parking could be provided for a fee at the end of the line (until is can be extended) at Hopple Street. Buses could be rerouted to connect with the use of the Subway.

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