An Open Letter to Ohio Governor-Elect John Kasich

Dear Governor-Elect Kasich,

Congrats on your victory in the Ohio governor’s race this week. You’ve got a tough job on your hands and I don’t envy you, taking the reins in a state with an $8 billion budget deficit and a 10 percent unemployment rate. I didn’t vote for you, but I considered it. Even so, I think I join the vast majority of Ohio residents when I wish you tremendous success.

Even though you only won election a few days ago, I hope you don’t mind, I have a little bone to pick with you. I was more than a little dismayed to hear that in your post-election victory speech, you said Ohio’s plan to connect Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati via passenger rail was “dead,” and that “passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future.”

Kasich campaigning in the Cleveland suburbs. Photo: ##http://chagrinfalls.woio.com/content/john-kasich-address-supporters-geauga-county-fair## 19 Action News##

Forgive my confusion, but I fail to see how returning $400 million in federal money is the right decision for a state with our record on unemployment. According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, that infusion of cash would have immediately created 255 jobs. The U.S. Department of Commerce suggested it would result in a total of 8,000 spin-off jobs.

But, of course, the 3C Corridor wasn’t just about creating jobs; it was mainly about moving people. Now, I understand some people have complained that the plan was for conventional-speed, as opposed to high-speed, rail. Some skeptics have wondered whether Ohioans would be willing to sacrifice the convenience of their private automobiles for a mode that was likely to take longer and force them to operate on a fixed schedule.

I feel compelled to point out, however, that this statement makes a number of assumptions that do not necessarily represent the perspective of the state as a whole. For example, are you aware that at the time of the latest census, 374,000 Ohio households did not have a private vehicle available to them? This represents more than eight percent of the state’s households.

It frustrates me when I hear people make unqualified statements such as “no one will ride it” because I, for one, would ride it. See, I own a car but prefer other modes of transportation. I like to bike and take public transit. It saves me money and it makes me feel like I’m doing my part to preserve the environment.

But living in Ohio makes that very hard because of the way our infrastructure has been developed. For example, I ride my bike three miles to and from work every day. Though my commute takes me through the heart of downtown Cleveland, on the way I encounter no dedicated bike lanes — with the exception of one bridge in which the bike lane ends without warning in the middle.

Ohio’s current infrastructure, as convenient as it may be for those who just love going everywhere by private car, isn’t serving people like me very well. Nor is it serving the hundreds of thousands of households who lack access to private automobiles.

Now, it’s hard for me to say how many people across the state feel the same way I do. But I’m willing to bet there are quite a few. The thing is, we pay taxes too. Why should we subsidize other people’s transportation preferences while ours are systematically ignored? Furthermore, why should hundreds of thousands of car-free households across the state, whose incomes are no doubt lower than the general population, do the same?

Another complaint one hears about the rail system is that it wouldn’t be self-supporting and would have to be subsidized by the state. To this, I say: show me a transportation mode that doesn’t require public subsidy. Certainly not private automobiles, which require enormous public expenditures on roads and parking, far above and beyond what drivers themselves contribute.

I love Ohio and I’ve lived here most of my life. My family lives here and I like seeing them regularly. Overall, it’s a pretty nice place to live, I’d say. But more and more, lately, I’m frustrated by the direction the state is taking.

A Columbus cityscape, cluttered by cars. Photo: ##http://richardwebner.com/2010/02/19/the-pros-and-cons-of-columbus-ohio/## Richard Webner's Blog##

While other states are competing to lay the most bike lanes or expand transportation options beyond driving, Ohio, as demonstrated by your campaign against 3C, seems to delight in pursuing outdated strategies of questionable value in a future of energy uncertainty. I worry, in short, that Ohio is becoming less competitive, falling farther behind.

It makes me question my future in this state. I read today that fewer young people across the nation are choosing to get driver’s licenses and purchase cars. This is part of a national trend away from car-based lifestyles. I consider myself a part of this movement. But the message I am getting from the state of Ohio is that there’s no room for people like me here.

Sometimes I think about my friends who have moved on from Ohio to areas with more sophisticated transit networks: Washington, New York, Portland. And sometimes I feel foolish for not having joined them.

So, although it seems like your mind is made up on this issue, I still feel compelled to ask you: Please don’t kill 3C rail in Ohio. I was planning to use it to visit my parents in Columbus and, later, if the corridor were to expand as seemed likely, Toledo. It would have made it possible for me to get rid of my car.

I’ve done the right thing. I’ve paid my taxes. I’ve tried to help contribute to the state’s future prosperity. When will my needs be considered? Or do I have to move to another state for that?

Respectfully,

Angie Schmitt, Cleveland resident

Cross-posted at Rustwire.

  • Car Free Nation

    Angie,

    Come to New York City! We’d love to have you here; bring your creativity and skills, and tax-paying tendencies.

    It’s pretty clear that Kasich and the rest of the powers-that-be in Ohio doesn’t want people like you.

  • You can come to Chicago Angie. A lot of Ohioans have emigrated here. I would guess many for the same reasons you listed in your letter. We even have several bars dedicated to OSU football on gamedays, so you won’t feel like you’re missing anything.

  • chuck

    I’m all for states rights. States that make good decisions attract knowledge capital. States that don’t…don’t.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysmLA5TqbIY

  • Jason

    Great letter, Angie. I agree wholeheartedly. I live in the suburbs of Cincinnati and it’s frustrating that our family is forced to have two cars in order to operate on a daily basis. My wife and I grew up in Ohio, lived in different parts of the state over the past 37 years. In recent years, however, we too have many times dreamed out loud about selling all our crap and moving to New York or Chicago like other friends have done. I think it has a lot to do with that direction Ohio is taking that you mentioned.

  • Michael

    Ohio has been taken over by conservatives, and you’re quite correct that they just hate you and want to hurt you. Leave! Leave, leave, leave, and let the little Randroids live in their meth labs.

  • NM

    Car Free Nation – what you propose has happened many times over. Like to me. I moved from Ohio to NYC many years ago because I couldn’t stand the idea of being tied to a car for the rest of my life. That’s it. No Broadway or Wall Street dreams, just a life without a car. And if I could live my tax-paying, car-free life in Ohio near my family, I’d do it in a heartbeat. So, thank you, New York, for taking in all the refugees from Ohio’s policy of required car ownership.

  • tacony palmyra

    Cuomo wrote a letter to LaHood today basically saying that if states like Ohio and Wisconsin don’t want the money, New York State will take it:

    http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/34154/cuomo-well-take-ohios-money/

  • Gary

    Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe car free.

  • Emily S.

    Great letter, Angie! tacony palmyra, thank you for that link! Definitely helped cheer me up.

  • Bernadette Preston

    You considered it? Really? And you now wish him success in destroying what’s left of Ohio? Wow, just wow.

  • Anthony

    @Gary Hahahahaha. Nice!

    Yes, I wish America had more places where one could live entirely car free. This is such a diverse country, but it’s hard to move most places without having to take a car with you…

  • Sorry, but this post represents what’s wrong with transit proponents in America today: they never think in terms of costs and benefits. Consider the following:

    1. The ridership model used for the Ohio Hub was done by an American firm, with no track record of successfully predicting rail ridership. It doesn’t really pass the smell test – it predicts 2.6 million annual riders at 110 mph, with worse service levels than the 10-million-rider Northeast Corridor and city populations much lower than one quarter the Northeast’s.

    2. The service plan for the Ohio Hub is the same as for any Amtrak route: only a few trains per day, full FRA compliance, high staffing levels, low speeds. This isn’t likely to produce better results than Amtrak’s existing routes.

    3. Intercity rail makes money in countries that bother to do it right. It’s profitable in France, Germany, and Switzerland, among other countries. If you see an Amtrak report saying otherwise, it most likely conflates intercity and commuter rail. In Europe commuter rail, which requires subsidies, is usually run by the national railway companies, so sometimes the national railway loses money.

    4. Intercity rail and car-free urban living have nothing to do with each other. You can live in a transit- or bike-friendly city and then fly or take a bus elsewhere. For instance, Denmark’s intercity rail system is poor by European standards, but this hasn’t prevented Copenhagen from being a world bicycle infrastructure leader. And you can take trains to other cities but still drive locally. In both France and Italy, provincial cities’ transit systems suffer from disinvestment, because governments are unwilling to subsidize them, while the high-speed rail networks are booming. While the ideal would be Switzerland and Japan, where both regional and intercity transit are good, the correct way to get there is to invest in high-value corridors and modernize the trains, not invest in the same tried-and-failed formulas that have made Amtrak the developed world’s joke.

  • Daniel Krause

    Nice letter, but don’t waste your time on this loser. He represents a group of people who are purely ideological, have zero imagination for the future, are thoroughly corrupted by special interests. There is no hope to reform these people. You have two choices: leave or work like hell to get rid of him (though he may try to make it difficult for minorities to vote next time around so that will be difficult as well).

  • Charlie

    That’s okay, New York State will gladly take your HSR money (and JOBS) and develop a modern transportation system. Sweet!

  • New York plans to build its own Amtrak-plus line Upstate, not develop a modern transportation system.

  • Chris

    Intercity rail and urban living can have a lot to do with one another. It doesnt make sense to fly from one city to another over short distances. Say Baltimore to New York or New York to Boston. Taking a bus doesnt make things easier because they drive on the same congested roads and highways.

    Making better rail connections between cities allows for more effecient travel between smaller distances and gets people off the roads. We cannot just make roads straiter and wider b/c in some areas like the NEC there isn’t anymore room, and it even if we did it wouldnt solve the problems of entering cities like New York where they cant build anymore bridges because it’s too dense, or Philadelphia where the highway cant be widened anymore.

    Your arguement is nearsided. Bigger highways still cause trouble when you hit the cities, and that cant be solved because most cities wont allow for the casual destruction of neighborhoods to widen highways anymore in their core. They learned their lessons already.

  • The fact that intercity rail can succeed on the NEC doesn’t mean that intercity rail anywhere will improve urban mobility or is necessary for it. The vast majority of road traffic is local rather than intercity. Except in a few unusually congested places like California, the effect of intercity rail on road traffic is small.

    This is especially true if this intercity rail is an Amtrak-plus line instead of actual high-speed rail. The Ohio Hub plan is for three trains per day, which are about as fast as the highways north of Columbus and significantly slower further south. To a first-order approximation, nobody will ride it. The three trains could be at capacity and they’d still have 1-2% of the intercity market.

  • Sprague

    Alon Levy,

    I am not familiar with Ohio, but I know that California’s state subsidized passenger rail service also began with just a few trains daily (on the San Joaquin and Capitol routes) and has grown considerably over the years. It seems very prudent for many states to once again invest in developing “alternative” transportation infrastructure. Not only is such infrastructure needed so as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also so that infrastructure is in place when global gas prices rise again (otherwise our economy is at risk of avoidable shock). Furthermore, 9/11 showed many the need for passenger rail options. More travel choices makes sense.

    Thank you, Angie Schmitt, for sharing your great letter. What we all need to save us from our gas guzzling habits is a sizable gas tax hike.

  • California’s state-subsidized trains are meh. They’re better than most of Amtrak’s other corridor routes, but they still lose money and are slow. The Surfliner averages something like 45 mph. And because the Tehachapi Loop is crowded with freight trains, passenger trains going from north to south are forced to either stop at Bakersfield or use the Coast Line, which means that LA-SF travel takes 12 hours. That’s not an alternative to either flying or driving.

    If you’re looking for examples of good rail service, you won’t find them in the US – at least not yet. If California HSR goes through then it’ll probably succeed, precisely because it eschews the existing FRA-Amtrak model. But it won’t be because of lemons like the Surfliner and Capitol.

  • I’m all for public transit (currently bus the 3 miles to work in downtown Cleveland), but I still don’t think this project makes sense. If you want bona fides I’ve lived without a car and bike commuted before, I voted for Strickland, and I think Europe is swell.

    The OP is hoping to visit her family in Columbus using this line, but a few casual visits just makes no sense. I just don’t think our businesses have enough business on the C-line to justify it currently, and I don’t see it as a useful thing to promote. We need to steal business form the coast, not other Ohio cities.

    http://www.finitejest.com/post/205894745/high-speed-rail-lakefront-station-design-competition

  • Susan Miller

    Thanks for this well stated case.

    Wanted to add that as I spoke with my son who will graduate from OSU Fisher College soon, he said that he wants to live and work in a place that would not require him to own a car. College students leave college with vast amounts of debt. Car payments are an additional burden. We talk about the brain drain, but without public transit options, complete streets and train options, our brain drain will continue to places like NY, Chicago, Portland and other cities and countries where our children can work without cars. Just something else to consider.

  • People are very confused on this issue. This high-speed rail will do nothing to help the failing RTA in Cleveland, and putting this money there would certainly help people live car-free far more than visiting the parents in Columbus.

    I don’t think Portland has high-speed rail, I see they got $600MM for a Seattle–Portland link from this same fund. Yet far more people live car-free there than here, I’m willing to bet.

    Thinking about the best way to spend this money, even for the objective of reducing car use, does not point to this project. I have yet to see an argument that convinces me otherwise.

  • Angie,
    You just said everything that I’ve been thinking! Thank you.

    And Alon… have you lived in Ohio? Ever? Ever been to Cincinnati? I’ve actually had two separate not related people from Los Angeles tell me that the traffic is worse here in Cincinnati, than on the worst day in LA, especially in the rain. It’s a hub and spoke bus system around here. to go north and south I have to go East then West then south then finally north where a 20 minute car ride will take me over an hour and a half by bus. And in between cities?! Oh you’re joking right? The bus system through out the state is non existent. 45mph you say?! I’d take that any day over my 10 mph crawl that I will experience for half of my trip. Gladly.

    And everyone seems focused on just the weekday commuting. True, people will use it. It would make my trips up to the Columbus branch of my company a lot more productive as I could work on the train! And weekend trips. How many people stay home on a weekend now instead of taking part in mini vacations and spending money? If you didn’t have to spend $3 a gallon on gas, I would actually enjoy going to Columbus or Cleveland for a weekend and being touristy.

    I just don’t know why so many people are trying to make Ohio even farther behind the times than they already are… And why our bright young up and coming talented Ohio students are going elsewhere for both education and jobs after graduation… If we keep this up the once thriving and awesome Ohio is going to be Dead Sea…

  • Sven

    Angie,
    I’m right there with you. I moved from Wooster, where I commuted five miles daily by bicycle, to Aurora where bicycling can be dangerous most days. Unfortunately America’s economy is built on oil and our government supports oil. Kasich won’t do anything to rock the boat of his corporate handlers.

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