November’s The Connected Region event featured keynote speaker Gabe Klein, a transit advocate and author of Start-Up City, who has worked as a Director of the DOT in both Chicago and D.C. The event was held in conjunction with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s release of the Transit Report, a transit-focused Regional Indicators Report that benchmarks the Greater Cincinnati region against 11 peer regions, issued in partnership with the Agenda 360 initiative, Skyward, and Urban Land Institute.
Prior to Klein’s keynote, a panel of local leaders discussed the role of transit in economic development and community vitality. Panelists included:
- Todd Portune, Hamilton County Commissioner
- Gary Moore, Boone County Judge Executive
- Darin Hall, Port Authority VP of Real Estate Development
- Dan Tobergte, President and CEO of Tri-ED, and
- Amy Murray, Cincinnati Council Member and head of the City Transit Committee.
The panel resoundingly agreed with the report and echoed the need to improve transit. Hall pointed out that connecting people with jobs, without the use of cars helps attract and retain talent, is a key economic development tool. Councilwoman Murray agreed that current job accessibility through transit is “way too low.” Tobergte commented that transit is at the top of a site selector’s list when they look at communities to enter and being in the bottom quartile is less than helpful.
Keynote speaker Gabe Klein, a former VP for Zipcar, and former head of transit for DC and later Chicago, is the author of Start-Up City: Inspiring Private and Public Entrepreneurship, Getting Projects Done, and Having Fun. An advocate of transit over cars, Klein outlined the challenges of transit, how to solve them, and the how and why cities should invest in a transit future.
The primary challenges, Klein noted, boil down to changing administrations and the slow pace of government decision-making. He noted the history, particularly in Cincinnati, of unfinished subways, and later the disappearance of streetcars correlated to the loss of density. However, Klein said, things can happen fast when done right; DC became the national model in under 10 years.
Klein’s solutions are bold, proposing a start-up atmosphere to city government, to test new ideas through small pilot programs, while being transparent about the use of public money. He emphasized the use of on public-private partnerships, citing, Chicago’s Riverwalk. Klein, while head of CDOT, worked with the architecture boat cruise industry to help fund the massive project, knowing it would greatly benefit both parties. Because of this, the project sped though development in 28 months, instead of the typical 7 to 9 years as both sides were dedicated to speedy completion.
The current trend is a re-densification of urban areas, what Klein calls a “rebelling against the commute.” In urban areas, transit focus also lessens the need for as much street space, which can be converted to restaurant patios or central green space, enhancing community. Europe figured it out first, he notes, cars move fewer people than transit and the EU is even moving toward banning cars in downtown areas by 2050.
Perhaps one of the most stunning considerations of the event, from Klein, was this: “Imagine the change in the bottom line for developers when zoning allows for zero parking needed per unit.”
To remain economically competitive with our peer cities, all presenters were in agreement that we need to step up our game when it comes to transit. Cincinnati is experiencing a renaissance but in order to keep it moving we have to do the things our competition is doing. This Chamber-ULI event sparked a great conversation and provided examples of how to move forward toward a more Connected Region. All participants were provided with a copy of the book.