That's Soooo Cincinnati

The Subway to Nowhere

Nov 12, 2003 at 2:06 pm
Ryan Greis

Yes, Cincinnati has a subway. It never actually operated, mind you, but it exists: Two miles of winding track and tunnels that snake underneath Central Parkway and wind all the way up to "Liberty Street Station."

Descend the stairway and you've entered another world, a subterranean concrete cavern with high ceilings, a passenger platform and two rail lines. Imagining a decrepit, crumbling mess? Far from it. The city engineer's office keeps the place well maintained. No choice, really, say the engineers — if they didn't, Central Parkway would collapse into the Pothole From Hell.

The history of the subway is tinged with melancholy and irony. Built by the city along the former bed of the Miami and Erie Canal, the tunnels are the first section of what was intended to become a 16-mile loop encircling downtown. Voters approved a $6 million bond issue in 1916 for the construction project, but by the 1920s the Boss Cox machine had spent all the money building the first section and acquiring land rights for the rest. Then came the Great Depression, World War II, the rise of the Model Ts and automobile nation, the birth of the Interstates....

Today, the only productive moment for the abandoned project comes when the Cincinnati Historical Society offers tours (which usually begin at the grated entrance at a huge air shaft on the median grass strip on Central Parkway across from the AAA headquarters building). It's generally dry down in the tunnels, though visitors do encounter a musty odor. No rats scramble around, none visible anyhow. Just miles and miles of tunnels.

There's always talk of an "underground," a la Seattle's underground. Talk, talk, but no walk. That's soooo Cincinnati.

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