Saturday, April 05, 2008

the long lost tale of cincinnati's subway.

since writing my past post on mass transit, i became quite curious about the status of Cincinnati Subway system, which i had been hearing about for years. i came across a couple of VERY interesting sources of information. rather than try to recount any of this, i'd rather provide some excerpts, from what i would claim is the most detailed online account, by a fellow Cincinnati local w/ TONS of pics + maps:

"The subway was by all accounts a great idea and had nearly unanimous political and popular support. By a 6-1 margin, Cincinnatians supported a $6,000,000 bond issue in 1916 for construction of Scheme IV. But before bonds could be issued, the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, and bonds were not permitted to be issued during the war. Several lawsuits after the war challenged the bond issue, delayed canal draining until 1919, and delayed actual construction until January 1920. Because of post-war inflation $6,000,000 was inadequate to complete Scheme IV as originally planned, and so planners devised "Modification H", which reduced the line's number of suburban tunnels and changed station locations in a money saving effort."
"Construction began in January 1920 and proceeded in phases until 1925, when the $6 million was exhausted. A two mile subway tunnel in the canal trench, three short suburban tunnels, seven miles of above ground grading, dozens of overpasses, and numerous under and above ground stations had been completed. This nine mile stretch of the Rapid Transit Loop was complete and ready for service with the exception of track, rolling stock, electrical equipment, and station finishing. Underground stations were built at Race St., Liberty St., Brighton's Corner, and set-backs for another at Linn St. (Mohawk's Corner). This station was not to have operated initially. Above ground stations were built at Marshall Ave., Ludlow Ave. (south end of the viaduct), and Clifton Ave. Planned above ground stations at Vine St. (St. Bernard), Montgomery Rd., Forest Ave., and Madison Rd. were not built. 1.5 miles of right-of-way were secured from the Forest Ave. station location to Madison Rd. in Oakley, however no grading was done on this section. $1,300,000 was needed for the track, rolling stock, station finishing, electrical equipment, and a storage and service yard to put the completed section into service. Short stubs from the finished canal subway to Walnut St. were built, but much more money was needed to complete the half mile Walnut St. tunnel and Fountain Square Station. Fountain Square was expected to be the origin and destination of 47% of all trips on the line. It was estimated that over $10 million was necessary to complete both the Walnut St. tunnel and the eastern half of the originally planned loop."
"The southern half of Boston's Cambridge-Dorchester subway opened in 1925, the same year that the Cincinnati project was abandoned. The Cincinnati Rapid Transit Loop was designed to operate equipment identical to Boston's, and similarities in construction materials and styles can be seen. The Downtown Crossing and South Station stations in downtown Boston both have central support columns identical to those in Cincinnati's Brighton and Liberty St. stations. The Broadway station has an island platform with columns similar to Cincinnati's Race St. station. Between South Station and Broadway a tunnel leading to the line's old service yard features the same concrete construction and portal style as Cincinnati's various tunnel portals."

"The demise of Cincinnati's subway is one of the biggest missed opportunities in the city's history. While the subway and Rapid Transit Loop would likely have done little to boost population, there is no doubt it would have affected city physically and culturally in numerous positive ways. We can be certain that the route of I-75, I-71, and the Norwood Lateral could not have been built as they exist today, since they all occupy land that was graded or was planned to be utilized by the transit loop. Under Schme IV, land where Ft. Washington Way and the 3rd St. Viaduct now stand was planned for a viaduct connecting the subway's portal at 3rd & Walnut and Mt. Adams."
"We can only speculate on how the subway would have affected local culture, especially considering the physical variables mentioned above, but it can be reasonably assumed that it would have given Cincinnati more of a big city atmosphere. Also worth noting is that the system would be among the nation's few pre-WWII subways, contemporary with the New York, Boston, and Philadelphia subways, all of which have much more character than the newer ones."
" summer 2002 a dramatic shift in regional light rail planning took place in preparation for the November elections. Sensing little county-wide support for the long-planned single northeast corridor line, an extensive multi-line plan was instead placed on the ballot. One of these lines was to have used the two mile Central Parkway subway, and put into use at least two of the existing stations. [Issue 7] marked the best hope in nearly 80 years for activation of the old tunnel."

"Issue 7 advocates raised $600,000 from several prominent private and public sources and it was endorsed by most local newspapers and many organizations. A week prior to the election a poll conducted by WCPO Channel 9 found 48% pro and 52% against, making victory on November 5th seem possible. This poll was either flawed or its results were incorrectly reported, as Issue 7 suffered a terrible defeat that will put mass transit planning on ice for several years.

[With 100 percent of precincts reporting, 161,166 votes, or 68.4 percent, were against the tax and 96,469 voters, or 31.6 percent, said yes - a difference of 64,697 votes]

Missed is an opportunity to begin construction of what would be among the largest rail transit systems of similarly sized American cities. 21 American cities have some form of rail transit, and over 150 cities around the world have subway systems. Instead Cincinnati will remain, for a few more years, one of the largest cities in the world without a single mile of any form of rail transit."

wow. kudos to Jake
Mecklenborg at for such a detailed account. further along in his recount you can find some recent newspaper articles from 2001 + 2002 about what happened on the ballots.

and if that wasn't enough, apparantly there's
an official book. and yes. it's been added to my Amazon wishlist

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:20 PM

    i get to take a tour of the cincinnati subway! thank you, c-change.


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