Friday, May 22, 2009

UPDATE: A Local Poison Pill for All Passenger Rail

(Source: White House blog)
One of the more exciting proposals in Ohio today is a passenger rail line, ultimately high-speed, between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, to also include Dayton. It's called the 3C Corridor.

Several months ago, the County Commission unanimously passed a resolution that Cincinnati/Hamilton County be included in that rail line (because occasionally there are rumors that it would simply go between Cleveland and Columbus). And just last month, the Cincinnati-Cleveland corridor was included in the 10 national high-speed rail corridors that have been identified by the federal government for long-term development.

In other words, this looks to be an enormous long-term opportunity for the state, and for our region. In my recent survey, 85%(!) of 300 voters were supportive of the idea, including 68% who were strongly supportive.

Which is why it's sad to see that a political dispute over streetcars in one part of Cincinnati could turn into a political fight that harms this much bigger regional opportunity

As the Enquirer reported today, the petition language circulating to stop streetcars is written incredibly broadly:

"a new Article XVI of the Charter is hereby added as follows: The City, and its various boards and commissions, may not spend any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation (e.g., a trolley or streetcar) within the city limits without first submitting the question of approval of such expenditure to a vote of the electorate of the City and receiving a majority affirmative vote for the same."

So even though the public dispute and opposition centers around the streetcar proposal, the language appears to apply much more broadly--including throwing a wrench into this exciting opportunity for a cross-Ohio passenger rail corridor.

Given that we are already concerned about being included as a full participant in the Ohio rail corridor, the last thing we need in making our case is a provision that prohibits the City of Cincinnati from being part of it without a later vote. And practically speaking, as transportation planners at the state and federal level make major decisions about where to invest money, and choose among different priorities and competing regions, such an anti-rail poison pill in the City charter would clearly put our entire region at the bottom of the totem pole.

In other words, we would be voluntarily taking ourselves off the passenger rail map, as 10 other parts of the country (including Northern Ohio) move forward into the 21st century. A decision with decades of ramifications.

There are certainly strong opinions on both sides of the streetcar debate. And those will play out over time, as Councilmembers, citizens and advocates on both sides debate and decide on the best course, what plans might work, and what plans the City can afford, if any.

But let's not let that debate spill over into the much larger issue of state and national passenger rail options, and our region's (or the City's) ability to be part of them.

The current language of the petition risks exactly that.
UPDATE: Kudos to the Cincinnati Beacon for being open-minded (a rare trait in politics) in considering my observation. I think many streetcar opponents will echo their stance once they look closely at the language of this ballot initiative, which (intentionally or not, and completely unnecessarily) encompasses far more than the streetcar issue.

UPDATE: Feedback on Blasting

The controversy continues to brew on the proposal to allow underground blasting in Anderson Township, as residents fear the potential impact on a number of commuities. The next public hearing is June 4, at Turpin High School. (Here's a summary of the public hearing, which I attended last night. It's fair to say it was packed, and almost unanimously opposed).

In the meantime, I know the public hearings are packed, lines are long, and comments are limited to two minutes. So I'd love to hear people's comments on this proposal here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Tool To Promote Foster Care and Adoption

It's Foster Care Awareness Month, and we are doing all we can to promote the criticial need for more foster parents in our community. I have addressed this issue many times on this blog, and how it makes such a difference in the community.

There are many great initiatives taking place, including public service announcements (see above) and a faith-based foster care initiative that will roll out later in the month.

And we are launching a new internet tool to make the process of thinking through becoming a foster or adoptive parent far more accessible and user friendly. The new website is, and it even includes personal videos of some of the kids who are awaiting a foster or adoptive home. Check it out, and pass it along.

(This is also part of the County's effort to make all sorts of services that help our families more accessible, particularly at this challenging time. Go to to see others.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Saving $$$, Reducing Energy Usage of County Buildings

At our staff meeting this morning, we received a great update on steps the County is taking to be more energy efficient (and save $$$) as a government--specifically, in the way we operate our facilities/buildings.

As background, by far our biggest use of energy as a County comes from the operation of our buildings and facilities. Operating jails, courthouses, large administrative buildings and offices, engineers' garages, and the like, which comprise the daily workplace of thousands of employees, takes up a whole lot of energy. So when we assessed County government's carbon footprint several years back, it was not a big surprise that by far the biggest source of our carbon footprint was our buildings.

So improving the energy efficiency of our facilities is the most important step we can take to reduce our County's carbon footprint. Which is why the good news from today is so important. A couple highlights:
  • In 2008, we reduced our green house gas emissions by 2,715 tons in 2008. This means we have reduced our total emissions 7% since 1997.
  • One building, 800 Broadway, qualified for an EPA Energy Star Award in 2008--the first and only government office building in the state of Ohio to do so. Through increased automation and technology, better scheduling of energy usage, and some other steps, the operation of energy systems of this building has become a state model.
  • Numerous steps and individual projects our Facilities Departments has taken to increase energy efficiency and reduce electrical usage decreased energy costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2008 alone. At this time of budget challenges, these savings are incredibly important.

The best news? In the coming months, we will be rolling out many more steps to do even better--and there are new resources (federal Energy Efficiency Block Grants) that will allow us to make even more upgrades, and save even more taxpayer dollars on operations every year.

As we work with all jurisdictions in the County to reduce their carbon footprint, it's great that we have an in-house case study of improvement to point to.

Thanks to our Facilities Department for leading the charge on this important issue.

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