COLUMN: Failed subway system does not define Cincinnati transit

COLUMN: Failed subway system does not define Cincinnati transit
Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 21, 2016

The following is an open letter to national transportation reporter, Andrew J. Hawkins, in response to his story, "Train to Nowhere: How Cincinnati tried, and failed, to build one of America’s first subways," published Aug. 10, 2016, for The Verge.


Dear Mr. Hawkins,

You don’t know me, but I’m a transportation reporter, like you.

In fact, I’m a transportation reporter here in Cincinnati, Ohio, a city you recently visited, researching this article here.

To fill in my unfamiliar readers, it’s a very thorough, detailed history of Cincinnati’s failed subway system.

To fill you in, Andrew, like Cincinnati’s subway system, your report failed to make it into the station.

My issue isn’t with your account of the subway’s history and why it failed: You did well going to Jake Mecklenborg, who, as you note, basically wrote that history himself some years ago.

My problem isn’t even with your positioning of our city as the harbinger of a larger national trend that would see mass transit system after mass transit system literally get run over by a car.

IN DEPTH: Subway could have changed Cincinnati
PHOTOS: What's left of Cincinnati's abandoned subway?

What I take exception to is that, in exploring what everyone has admitted over and over again was a failure on Cincinnati’s part, you’ve basically pegged our city as (again, to borrow your language) a "crumbled" shell of what it once was.

That's bunk.

You first set your sights on Union Terminal, of all places, one of the most iconic -- and, by the way, still gorgeous -- buildings in the Midwest. 

Here’s how you see this landmark:

Cincinnati’s Union Terminal train station is a beautiful, imposing art deco relic that, for the last 20 years, has been left to crumble. At its peak in the 1940s, the station handled up to 216 trains a day. Today, it’s home to a dilapidated IMAX theater (currently closed for repairs), and the Cincinnati Museum Center (also closed).

That's where your account of Cincinnati starts to crumble.

See, I also write about development projects going on here in the Queen City. While I haven't yet reported on this specific one -- I’ve assisted colleagues on some more recent coverage -- I, in the future, no doubt will be reporting on the continued progress of the $170 million voter-mandated restoration project that just got underway earlier this year.

Our museum center is a stunning example of design and educational content. It’s currently closed because the building where it lives is being restored.

This building is not the crumbling disaster. It’s a building that, just weeks ago, hosted a presidential campaign stop by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her supporter, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The national press following Clinton’s campaign were wowed by the vibrant rotunda in the terminal’s entry hall.

Yes, it was let to wear down. Now, we’re building it back up. As for the train service, Amtrak is set to host a summit next month to discuss expanding runs on its Cardinal Line, which connects Chicago to Washington, D.C. via Cincinnati.

In short, you’re not wrong that it fell into disrepair, but you’re wrong to imply that we don’t care enough to fix it, and I’d wager the 1.4 million visitors it attracts each year (not to mention the 62 percent of voters who committed to restoring it) would agree.

(Oh, and one last thing: Your story also fails to mention that, while leaders were working to kill the subway system, others were simultaneously investing in what remains the longest-running Cincinnati transit system — its original streetcar, which operated dozens of routes for roughly six decades and is set to be resurrected as a modern rail system next month.)