Old Debate Shows Changing Views on Transit



119 years ago, in January 1900, a group of concerned residents and business owner came together to voice their opposition the Columbus and Newark Traction Company being awarded a franchise to build and operate a streetcar line on Mound Street. In today’s car-dominated environment, most of the arguments against such a project would most likely fall along the lines of rail being too expensive or how no one would ride it. More than a century ago, however, the arguments showed a very different attitude towards public transit in general.

The opposition group put out a list of 10 reasons why they were objecting to the project. They were:
1. We believe it to be the interest of prospective passengers of a street railroad from the east over the National Road, that the cars come into the city over the Main Street tracks.
2. Because it would be most direct to the center of the city.
3. Coming over the Main Street line would confine cars of the new line to the established rate of speed while in the city.
4. The proposed line on Mound Street would get but few city passengers.
5. It is not likely that reduced fares would be secured.
6. Transfers over old lines could not likely be had.
7. Cars would be far between.
8. A car line on Mound Street would be useless to residents of the city because too near Main Street where cars are much more frequent than could be expected on a suburban line.
9. Not getting city traffic, cars on the proposed line over Mound Street would run at a high rate of speed, making it dangerous for people in that part of the city and especially so for the residents of Mound Street.
10. We believe that it would be to the general interest of the city and the special interest of the southeastern part, also the interest of a new company that the proposed new line over the National Road from the east should come into the city two or three blocks from, if not on the Main Street line, but never over Mound Street.

Besides being somewhat repetitive in places, the given reasons are more practical than the emotional anti-rail tirades often witnessed today. The group wasn’t so much opposed to rail- just the opposite-, but instead didn’t like that there were too many lines in the same area, making a potential new one too redundant to serve a practical need and be financially successful. They didn’t bring up construction costs, but objections to the potential lack of transfer stops. They weren’t overly worried about the line interfering with other traffic, but rather whether the service would run enough cars.

So often in the current rail and transit debate, proposals tend to get bogged down in political ideology rather than figuring out what the basic transit needs of the population are or the effectiveness of the proposed service features. A century ago, even opposition groups seemed to fully understand that the issue was not rail itself, but in ensuring that what got built made the best sense possible. Columbus hasn’t had rail in more than 40 years, and in its long absence, we’ve perhaps lost the plot on what really matters.

The opposition group lost the fight and Mound Street got its streetcar line. The East Mound section, including most of Downtown, ended service in 1929 as the car became increasingly dominant.
The last streetcar trip in the city occurred on September 5, 1948.