'Choo-Choo Trains' and Hidden Motives

The COAST/NAACP anti-streetcar petition crew is causing all sorts of debauchery and grabbing headlines for its attempt to garner support for a sweeping, all-inclusive anti-rail ballot initiative. And it is exhausting.—-

My favorite comments on the issue have already been posted on the Cincinnatians for Progress blog and re-posted at least once (at CincinnatiBeacon.com), but I think it’s so significant that I’d like to put it here at CityBeat, too. This is an excerpt from the unabridged Enquirer editorial by Dan Mooney with Cincinnatians for Progress:

“One thing particularly dangerous about a ‘referendum,’ as opposed to a race for mayor or City Council, is the amount and source of cash that can be spent to persuade the public to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Candidates for council or mayor have strict contribution limits, and can only accept money from individual contributors or duly registered political action committees.

“But if Cincinnatians vote on whether to joint the (Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland) high-speed connection, corporate power brokers can write unlimited checks. Watch what happens this November when proponents and opponents of casino gambling start buying millions of dollars of television time. The ‘message’ voters hear is not always what motivates these big donors. Casino ‘opponents’ will warn about the potential harm of gambling to our community’s social fabric, in ads paid for by casino operators from across the Indiana border who just don’t want more competition. The same motives will drive any passenger rail referendum in Cincinnati. Would oil companies or car manufacturers write big checks to prevent Cincinnatians from leaving their cars at home and take a train to work, Columbus or Chicago? Would Delta want to keep people flying rather than taking a train to Chicago or Cleveland? You betcha.”

This is so critical to understand as this petition storm kicks up and the players seem so conspicuously strange.

Why is the NAACP so invested in this petition? What does blocking rail-centered transportation alternatives have to do with the “Advancement of Colored People?” Who really are the people behind COAST, and what things do they own that they need to protect against rail transportation?

The answers, of course, may be benign and entirely non-scandalous — but it's warranted (and good form, really) to inquire about such things.

The rhetoric swirling around this petition and the streetcar debate is pretty ridiculous.

The other day, COAST pointed out that the proposed streetcar route goes through census tract No. 16, or “The Worst Neighborhood in the Country." They then go on to explain, “Sheriff Leis even went out of his way to send special patrols there to augment city forces two years ago. Those patrols were widely praised at the time for a significant reduction in crime. The study range, incidently (sic), encompasses the patrol period, which leaves one wondering how much worse it was beforehand. But then again, it's hard to beat No. 1. Clearly we have a long way to go.”

Heaps of academic research and real-life case studies in other cities show us that more traffic and life on a street leads to a reduction in crime, and streetcars are redevelopment projects as much as they are transportation projects that will encourage fixing up and investing in the real estate there.

So, I’m pretty sure this explanation doesn’t accurately articulate their objection. And if Christopher Smitherman calls the streetcar project a “choo-choo train” one more time, I’m going to freak out.

What’s really going on?

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