COVINGTON, Ky. — Cincinnati isn't the only Tri-State city looking back at its streetcar roots.
The Covington Business Council announced Tuesday it will host a panel discussion next year that will explore the question: Would Northern Kentucky benefit from a streetcar resurrection?
It wouldn’t be the first transit development that Northern Kentucky adopted from its neighbor north of the river: Less than a year after Cincinnati launched its public bike-share program, Red Bike, stations began popping up in Covington, Newport and Bellevue.
“Cincinnati’s redevelopment success has proven to be a successful model for Northern Kentucky to complement,” said Pat Frew, executive director of the Covington Business Council. “As we see success with connectivity through initiatives like Cincy Red Bike on both sides of the river, a discussion about the streetcar makes sense, too.”
It also wouldn’t be the first time Northern Kentucky’s river cities were connected to Cincinnati via streetcar rails.
The Behringer-Crawford Museum, located in Covington’s Devou Park, exhibits the history Northern Kentucky’s streetcar lines, including one of the streetcars that ran the rails.
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According to John Boh, executive director of the Kenton County Historical Society, the streetcars were just as much a part of everyday life in Northern Kentucky as they were in Cincinnati.
“They ran all directions, all throughout the day,” he said, “as far from the river as Fort Mitchell and Ludlow to Dayton and Fort Thomas to the east, all the way down to the Latonia Race Track.”
But, as the story went across the river, the development of the rubber tire among other factors led to the eventual closure of the system, region-wide.
Discussions to resurrect the transit option began to gain volume again around the turn of this century, when the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments commissioned a transportation and infrastructure study. That study resulted in the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s 2002 MetroMoves plan, which would have included a central rail loop connecting Covington, Newport and Cincinnati, along with rail lines stretching into Northern Kentucky as far south as the AA Highway in Campbell County — running past Northern Kentucky University — and Florence and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Boone County.
When presented the plan that year, Hamilton County voters decisively rejected the roughly $200 million regional rail system.
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But growing support for the Cincinnati Streetcar, set to open Sept. 2016, have leaders and advocates thinking it's time to reopen the discussion.
"We're not naive enough to think that Northern Kentucky is going to get a spur on this right away," Frew said. "We're hoping just bringing it up and talking about it here that this is something that could happen as a result."
Crews completed the Cincinnati streetcar's 3.6-mile starter loop, which runs from Over-the-Rhine to The Banks via Downtown, in October. The modern streetcar vehicles began arriving a few weeks later.
The panel discussion, which will include lunch, will be hosted by the Covington Business Council on Jan. 21, at 11:30 a.m., in the Madison Event Center in Covington's central business district. Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach, former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls and active streetcar advocate John Schneider will speak. The discussion will be moderated by River City News editor-in-chief Michael Monks.
Follow Pat LaFleur on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) for all things streetcar and living car-free in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.