Cincinnati City Council on April 22 again discussed proposed Over-the-Rhine parking plans, which have been bandied back and forth for months.
During the discussion, council logged another chapter in the contentious debate about Cincinnati’s streetcar as Mayor John Cranley suggested his parking plan was necessary to pay for a funding gap for the transit project. The 3.6-mile streetcar loop will run through OTR, and may neighborhood residents actively lobbied for it.
Cranley, who formerly proposed $300-a-year parking passes for residents in the neighborhood, now wants the passes to be valued at a market rate determined by the city manager.
Meanwhile, City Councilman Chris Seelbach has another idea: Cap the costs of the permits at $108. Seelbach’s plan calls for 450 permits, plus 50 non-metered, non-permitted flex spots for bartenders, waiters and the like who work in the neighborhood. Cranley’s plan calls for more flex spots. Either proposal would likely yield one of the most expensive neighborhood parking permits in the country.
The conversation quickly devolved into a debate over the streetcar’s operating budget gap. That shortfall could be as high as $600,000 a year because of revised estimates for revenue and advertising receipts.
At issue is a philosophical debate: Cranley wants OTR residents to shoulder more of the cost of the streetcar. He also says the city has done enough to subsidize residents in OTR, citing tax abatements on many properties in the neighborhood and the fact that metered spots on the public streets around them would bring in more money than the permits do.
“The people who will make [the operating budget] up are the people who live in Over-the-Rhine, bought into Over-the-Rhine and who will directly benefit from the streetcar,” Cranley said of his proposal. “It seems fair to ask them to help pay for the most recent deficit.”
Streetcar supporters like Seelbach and Councilwoman Yvette Simspon, however, say the streetcar is about economic development and that it will benefit the entire city, not just OTR residents. They say it isn’t fair to place its financial burden so much on those living in the neighborhood. Seelbach also points to residential parking permits in other neighborhoods, which are priced much more affordably than Cranley’s OTR plan.
“Giving the manager the ability to set the price even if demand would result in people spending $300 a permit … I just don’t think that’s fair or reflective of the kind of permit process we have for other neighborhoods,” Seelbach said at the meeting.
There was also a debate about whether or not the streetcar will get in the way of major downtown events on Fifth Street like Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati.
In 2014, then-City Manager Scott Stiles released a memo stating that no special events could disrupt the streetcar’s operation. That could mean the streetcar would take precedence over some beloved Cincinnati traditions. However, an agreement signed later that year between streetcar operators SORTA and the city also allows streetcar operations to be disrupted for events up to four times a year.
Despite this measure, Cranley at the council meeting railed against, as he said, “the idea that the city was secretly trying to discourage these events from maintaining their historic location,” and touted measures by city administration to make sure it doesn’t happen.