31 March 2009

Cincy's Going For A Streetcar-But They Almost Had A Subway, Once

1999.In a posting that appeared on CincyStreetcar Blog and has been linked about to here in  Unicorn City, it would indeed appear that, at least on paper, Portland Oregon and Cinicinnati Ohio are kind of the same: Similar populations, similar median incomes, even similar climates and acres of parkland per acre of city.

Cincy doesn't have rail transit yet, but they're working on that. Visit the blog linked above and you'll see that they are coming up with a pretty nifty looking streetcar line similar to our own Portland Streetcar. The blogger is quite insightful, actually, has visited Portland and has been serious enough to know the difference between streetcar and light rail. It's a good read.

I hope they get thier system, because Cincy has been denied rail transit, and it's particularly disappointing in this case because they almost had a subway once.

Not something that calls itself a subway or something that is inspired by a subway, but an actual, big-city style subway. It's one of the great missed opportunities of modern times.

If you look at a map of central Cincinnati Ohio, you'll see a peculiarly arranged street called Central Parkway. It's shaped like an L; the baseline part is where Eleventh Street would be, and is about three full standard city blocks on either side of the dividing line of Vine Street (East Central Parkway and West Central Parkway). The upright part usurps Plum Street's place in the street hierarchy, and leads you out of the central area (and is parallel to and one block east of Central Avenue, coincidentally)

A wide, promenade-y street is what it seems. And a street hanging a dogleg in the center of town like that is highly unusual. But there is a reason-and it's even more interesting than that.

A great long time ago, a canal ran through central Cincy there, on that route. As time passed and wheeled transportation began to take over from river freight, the canal fell out of fashion and out of use.

A trench through the middle of town ... what a great place for a subway! You won't have to dig ...

And so, in 1910, planning on the Cincinnati Subway had begun. It was to be merely the pivotal segment in a rail loop that would have served central Cincy as well as communities north and east on a great real loop, from which greater things might have grown.

Central Parkway is the above-ground legacy of the Subway-that-might-have-Been, resulting from covering over the old canal bed in anticipation ov the transit service that was to follow. But that service never happened. At first, it was too expensive (in light of WWI). Then it was planned and replanned. Then they ran out of money. Then history passed it by.

In Portland, we have the legendary Shanghai tunnels, those underground passages found in downtown that were reputed (but to our knowledge, never actually proven-but it makes a great story) to have been used to shuttle drunken sailors-to-be to their new jobsites at the old waterfront. Not everyone knows about them, which is another commonailty between Cincy and PDX; not everyone knows about the Cinicnnati Subway and some who do apparently think it a legend.

Unlike the ultimate purpose of PDX's Shanghai Tunnels, however, ample photographic evidence exists for the Cincy Subway. And it's obvious from the architecture what those tunnels are good for:

Photo nicked from Cincinnati-Transit.net
excerpted for fair-use purposes only
all rights belong to the photographer

There is about two miles of tunnel and four constructed stations (Liberty Street, Race Street, Linn Street, and Brighton Corner) and despite the neglected look, much of the tunnel and station architecture is still quite sound and can be expected to last a while, not least because since Central Parkway, a major road, runs over the top, regular maintenance and inspections can occur. Being available, the water utility also runs a main through the subway tunnel.

It was also designated as a fallout shelter during the Cold War Era.

Even though Cincy is getting rail now, it's interesting to wonder what it would have been like for them had they gotten a real big-town subway. I still think building MAX on the Mall here in Portland missed a big chance at making a subway for this town. But then, Seattle built a rail-compatible transit tunnel, and it still just takes buses. So, who knows.

Cinicnnati-Transit.net unwittingly provided me the stuff to tell this tale, but its a fascinating way to waste your time. Endlessly interesting.

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1 comment:

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