CINCINNATI -- With a great deal of fanfare, both figurative and a literal trumpet salute, supporters and opponents of the Cincinnati Bell Connector gathered at the Washington Park streetcar stop to celebrate the inaugural rides of the Queen City's new public transit system Friday morning.
"First and foremost, the Cincinnati taxpayers should be recognized because they are paying the lion’s share of this investment," said Mayor John Cranley, who has publicly opposed the system in the past. "In gratitude for their investment we should all work to ensure its success."
Cranley and a host of other speakers recognized all the parties responsible for pushing the streetcar project to fruition, including "Mr. Streetcar" himself, John Schneider. Cranley then held aloft a streetcar pass he had purchased, pledging to be among the riders who finally started boarding the streetcar trains at noon Friday.
"The streetcar will now showcase our city’s marvelous renaissance from The Banks through Over-the-Rhine, and what a wonderful renewed city the passengers on the Connector will see," Cranley said.
Calling the streetcar an investment in Cincinnati's future, former Mayor Mark Mallory pointed out that major projects in Cincinnati often encounter public opposition, naming The Banks, redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine and the renovation of Washington Park as examples of success stories.
"Transformational ideas often face questions and intense scrutiny," Mallory said. "That makes sure that we go back and make sure that the investment is truly in the best interest of Cincinnati, and the streetcar surely stands up to that test."
Alongside speeches from multiple city council members, Acting Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration Carolyn Flowers, Chair of the SORTA board Jason Dunn and Eric Avner of the Haile Foundation, former Mayor Roxanne Qualls praised the streetcar project for achieving what many people had called impossible.
"Modern transportation is not a luxury," Qualls said. "It is essential to the continued renewal of the city. It is critical to us effectively competing for jobs and for residents. And as we face the disastrous consequences of climate change, it is our only hope for giving people a real way to reduce their footprint in the world today."
With all the fervor of a fire and brimstone preacher, Councilman Wendell Young extolled the virtues of the streetcar, saying "Let’s celebrate today and understand that Cincinnati moves onward and upward from today!"
City council members tossed balls out to members of the crowd to select several lucky people who got to pedal Red Bikes to light up an LED screen officially opening the streetcar around 11:30 a.m. for ceremonial first rides with the gathered officials.
The streetcar opened to the public at noon Friday, with hundreds lining up to take their first ride at stops all along the route.
— Pat LaFleur (@pat_laFleur) September 9, 2016