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.”
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.
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?
Angie Schmitt, Cleveland resident
Cross-posted at Rustwire.