Cincinnati City Streetcar Referendum (November 2011)

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A Cincinnati City Streetcar Referendum was on the November 8, 2011 ballot in the city of Cincinnati, which is in Hamilton County.

This measure sought to prohibit the city from spending money on development, engineering or any projects that would seeks to build or operate streetcars, defined by petitioners as: "a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way" until 2020.[1] Petitioners were able to collect the needed 7,468 valid signatures to place this measure on the ballot. The groups behind the petition were The Cincinnati NAACP and the anti-tax group, COAST. The deadline to submit the signatures was August 10.[2]

Election results

See also: 2011 ballot measure election results and Local ballot measure elections in 2011
Cincinnati City Streetcar Referendum
Defeatedd No37,46251.8%
Yes 34,857 48.2%

Source: Hamilton County Board of Elections, November Election Results

Text of measure

The question on the ballot:

Be it resolved by the people of the City of Cincinnati that a new Article XVI of the Charter is hereby added as follows:

Section 1. The City shall not spend or appropriate any money on the design, engineering, construction or operation of a Streetcar System, or any portion thereof. Further, the City shall not incur any indebtedness or contractual obligations for the purpose of financing, designing, engineering, constructing or operating of a Streetcar System, or any portion thereof.

Section 2. This Amendment applies from the date it is certified to the Charter, and will continue in effect until December 31, 2020. This Amendment will have no force or effect after December 31, 2020.

Section 3. For Purposes of this Amendment, (i) the term “Streetcar System” means a system of passenger vehicles operated on rails constructed primarily in existing public rights of way, (ii) the term “City” includes without limitation the City, the Manager, the Mayor, the Council, and the City’s various boards, commissions, agencies and departments and (iii) the term “money” means any money from any source whatsoever.

Section 4. In the event that any provision of this Article XVI is found to be unconstitutional or impermissibly in conflict with state or federal law, only such provision found to be unconstitutional or impermissible will be stricken, and the remainder of this Article XVI will remain in full force and effect.[3][4]

Support for Streetcars

Streetcar promotional video

Supporters of a streetcar system in the city noted that they felt the petition language was too broad and could possibly include any kind of passenger rail system in the city.[1] Legal experts have weighed in on the issue and also note that the interpretation of the proposed amendment could prevent other rail projects from being undertaken. Though final arguments about the interpretation would be left to a judge if the measure was to be approved. Experts did note that the language could be interpreted in a variety of ways.[5]

The Mayor unveiled several streetcar signs on August 16, each costing $2,900, to show residents where the proposed route would take them. Regardless of the measure, city officials are still planning a groundbreaking of the system in 2013 and have already started to spend money for the proposed idea. Money has been spent on signs, design work and planning studies. The Mayor noted that he is confident residents will do as they did before and agree to let the streetcar plan proceed.[6]

The Cincinnati Regional Chamber had come out against this measure, noting that they support the communities development of transportation and other economic development projects in the city.[7]

Opposed to Streetcars

Opponents, those that initiated the petition, included the Cincinnati NAACP and the anti-tax group, COAST.[2] Opponents noted with the new signs going up around the proposed route, that it seems wasteful for the city to be spending money on the project when it possibly could be defeated later. They also commented on the arrogance of city officials, that even with a ballot measure opposing the plan they still are going ahead with it and spending money which could potentially be used elsewhere.[6]

In a recent poll, most residents stated that they felt that streetcars were a waste of city money, but then proceeded to note that they would vote against this measure, thereby allowing the streetcar program to proceed. Later, after the polling, residents noted that the wording of the measure confused them, when they thought they were voting against the streetcar proposal.[8]


Opponents to the streetcar system in the city had attempted to stop development in 2009, but their attempt failed to get the needed support. As a results the state pulled funding from the project and the city was forced to scale down the project. City officials then decided on a shorter route for the proposed streetcar system in downtown.[1] Petitioners had begun to collect signatures in early 2011 and though they were short signatures just a few days before the deadline, they were able to muster the needed support to get enough signatures.[9]

Additional reading