Cincinnati Light-Rail Plans

Strictly speaking, this is not a story of a smart-growth disaster, but the prevention of one. The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) proposed to build light-rail lines in the Cincinnati area. Despite the fact that proponents outspent opponents by more than seventy-to-one, voters turned down funding for rail in November, 2002.

One of the reasons why voters rejected light rail was an analysis by OKI itself on the environmental justice of its regional transportation plan, which called for spending 54 percent of the region’s transportation improvement funds on a transit system that carries less than 1 percent of regional travel. The analysis showed that the plan would dramatically reduce the accessibility of minorities and low-income people to jobs, while the accessibility of middle-class whites would be nearly unchanged.

Access to Jobs
                       1995     2030 Plan    Change
Percent of region's jobs within 40 minutes by transit
Low-income             21.3       17.6        -17 
Minorities             20.0       15.8        -21
Middle-class whites    42.2       40.6         -4
Percent of region's jobs within 20 minutes by auto
Low-income             99.1       83.1        -16
Minorities             82.2       53.4        -35
Middle-class whites    99.8       99.8          0
Source: OKI 2030 Regional Transportation Plan 
(Cincinnati, OH: OKI, 2001), page 16-10.

At a fraction of the cost of light rail, OKI could have planned to greatly increase everyone’s mobility by investing in buses and removing highway bottlenecks.