53T Hoping to Breathe New Life Into Cincinnati’s Bike Courier Industry

After years of few options for those seeking food or product delivery in Cincinnati, several companies have started to spring up over the past year. One of those includes 53T, which is not only offering delivery services, but doing so in an effort to bring back the city’s once vibrant bike courier industry.

Although limited to Over-the-Rhine, Downtown and the West End, 53T offers delivery from seven different restaurants, and parcel delivery that utilizes their cargo bikes and trailers.

Local eateries served by 53T include Happy Belly on Vine, Pho Lang Thang, Cheapside Café, Quan Hapa, Park+Vine and Brezel. Pi Pizzeria was most recently added in February.

Dave Adams and Ian Bulling partnered to start 53T early last year. The two started working on the concept independently, but were introduced to each other in January 2014, and decided to team up.

Each has their own reason for wanting to start the business. Bulling was working as a bicycle messenger and wanted to keep making a living at it, while also bringing back the bike messenger community that existed in the city a decade ago.

“Like the advertising industry, legal work involved a continual flow of documents circulating throughout the city,” Jeffrey Kidder wrote in his 2011 book entitled Urban Flow: Bike Messengers and the City. “While the advertising industry is an example of why bike couriers are still useful, it should be apparent that much of what messengers were delivering in the early 1980s can now be digitized…In fact, messengers today are delivering little more than the table scraps remaining from the grand conversion to virtual data.”

In understanding that changing landscape, Adams says it was the lack of restaurant delivery options prompted him to enter the business. After identifying that need, he worked with Bulling to develop a business plan, and then go through the CO.STARTERS business planning course for creative entrepreneurs.

“It really helped in synthesizing getting our ideas together, realizing what we had to do on a daily basis, on a yearly basis, as far as stuff as basic as tax filings,” said Bulling. “There were a lot of things we overlooked initially, and it helped to get some dialogue started between us that may not have otherwise happened.”

Bulling explained that their business is named for a 53 tooth, which is typically the largest chain ring on a road bike, and equates to the quickest gear on a bike.

Adams and Bulling are 53T’s principal couriers, but they say that they employ other riders as contractors and demand dictates. That demand, Bulling says, has been picking up since their launch last June.

“We have gotten an explosion in volume since the new year” Bulling explained. “We got a spike in October when it started getting cold and then in January we got hit hard.”

In mid-February they extended evening delivery hours to 9pm, with service from Pi Pizzeria, Quan Hapa and Brezel during those expanded times. Currently 53T only offers service on weekdays, but Bulling noted that they have contemplated the idea of adding weekend service as well. The problem, he says, is that their clients are so busy on weekends that they are concerned about adding to their kitchen volume with deliveries.

In the future, the pair also is looking to add service to areas outside of the center city.

“Since our model is so simple, when we get to that point it’s just as easy as transplanting to Northside or Mt. Adams or Walnut Hills,” Adams explained.

From there he says that they would most likely create different zones throughout the city that would operate separately from one another, but under the same organizational structure.

In many cities, including Cincinnati, courier services like this have taken a hit due to the increasing use and reliability of electronic communications. Since the courier industry had typically focused on the delivery of documents, Adams and Bulling said they needed to find a new niche delivering food and parcels.

“I think the model in the industry has been expanding to be as flexible as possible, diversifying the kind of work you’re doing,” stated Bulling. “I think there’s a lot of potential for same-day retail delivery.”

Same-day delivery is something a number of businesses in the center city are already doing on their own, but the potential seems even greater to Adams and Bulling. They have added delivery options for Park+Vine, for example, but so far just focus on their lunch counter.

“We wanted them [Park+Vine] as a client so when we do expand into doing grocery delivery or ancillary items, we will already have them as a client and it will be easy to get started.”

They are not alone in their positive outlook on the industry, as Cincybite launched similar offerings at the end of 2013. One key difference between the two, however, is that Cincybite utilizes cars for their operations instead of bikes.

“I think the thing that distinguishes us from those companies is that we love what we do and we take what we do very seriously,” Bullings responded. “We believe that what we do takes a certain unique set of skills and physical ability, and I think that dedication and passion comes through in our work. Plus, we’re faster than cars.”

The Death of Newport’s 1,100′ Millennium Freedom Tower Proposal

The progress being made at the $80 million second phase of Newport on the Levee is encouraging, but just around the block another highly touted project from the late 1990s stands next to a parking lot that has lingered for far too long.

For nearly 16 years, the $2 million World Peace Bell has sat less than proudly at Fourth and York Streets. The monument itself is fine, but has had to deal with being, “wedged between a parking lot and a White Castle.”

This was not how it was suppose to go. Instead, the 66,000-pound World Peace Bell was meant to be joined by the ostentatious Millennium Freedom Tower. Of course, the approximately $100 million structure was never built, but many may forget the original development vision.

The super-tall structure would have served primarily as a monument, but would have also included a restaurant and bar approximately midway up the tower, and office space closer to the top. It would have also boasted the world’s largest carillon, gardens, event space and a several-hundred-foot free-fall ride. The proposal came amid a flurry of proposals to more or less turn Newport’s riverfront into a theme park type destination.

Much like Newport on the Levee’s second phase, something will eventually be built on this site, but it will assuredly be more modest than what was originally proposed. But unlike what is rising a couple of blocks away at the foot of the Purple People Bridge, whatever eventually rises at this site will almost certainly be better than what was originally proposed.

PHOTOS: 19 Shots of Cincinnati’s Snowy Inner-City

This winter has been mild for Cincinnati, but last week we experienced two days with significant snowfall. While the accumulation may have been a pain for drivers, it turned the urban core into a winter wonderland for those able to get out and experience it on foot. Enjoy our gallery of photos taken on February 16th and 21st in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights and Mt. Auburn.

You can click any image to enlarge. Stay warm out there.

If you have been on the look out for sneckdowns, and are interested in sharing your photos with UrbanCincy, please contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 19 photographs were taken by Travis Estell between February 16 and February 21, 2015.

EDITORIAL: Don’t Cancel Homearama, Relocate It

The past ten days have been interesting. A week ago I spoke with Keith Schneider from the New York Times about the booming residential property values in Cincinnati’s center city. Then, just one day later, the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati announced that they would be cancelling this year’s Homearama event in Clermont County.

The annual suburban home show has been going since 1962, and was cancelled this year due to, “increased activity in other segments of the housing market.” One of the builders that has traditionally participated in those over-the-top suburban home shows is Great Traditions, which recently expressed a growing interest in developing urban properties.

Great Traditions is not the only one. Greiwe Development has also said that they would like to start building homes along the Cincinnati Streetcar starter line, John Hueber Homes made the same transition to Over-the-Rhine, and Ashley Builders appears to just be getting started on their work in the center city.

So while homebuilders are struggling in the region’s outlying suburbs, they seem to be thriving in a manner that is pulsating outward from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

It seems more than likely that Homearama will return in the not-so-distant future, but should it? With all the demographic and economic trends pointing in the opposite direction, perhaps the energy and money put into the 53-year-old suburban home show should be shifted elsewhere. I could think of some very nice places to do urban home shows in Pleasant Ridge, Walnut Hills, Avondale, West End, Price Hill, East End, and College Hill. And that is not even considering the possibilities in Northern Kentucky’s river cities.

Yes, there is CiTiRAMA, but that annual home show is often limited in its scale and tends to leave much to be desired.

The writing appears to be on the wall, which makes the outlandish Fischer Homes Expressway proposal look all the more desperate. Why keep up the fight? There are plenty of opportunities in our region’s first-ring suburbs, and the city governments overseeing those sites will assuredly be more than happy to cooperate.

Don’t believe me? Just ask those developers that had been defined by their suburban subdivisions for decades how they are liking life in neighborhoods like East Walnut Hills, O’Bryonville, Northside, Clifton and Over-the-Rhine where condos are virtually sold-out.

I hope the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati decides to not cancel this year’s Homearama after all. I just hope they relocate it to the inner-city where the residential housing market is hot.

Should SORTA redraw its entire system? And if so, how?

On the latest episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast we discussed some ideas that Cincinnati would be smart to copy from other cities. One of the items discussed was a complete overhaul of the region’s bus network. Metropolitan Seoul did it in the early aughts, and Houston is in the process of doing it now. While there are numerous ways in which to go about doing this, one approach could be to crowd-source ideas from people using this bus routing tool. More from CityLab:

Not only does the tool give agencies a visually appealing way to present potential routes, but it enables them to respond to ideas—or, let’s face it, complaints—in real-time. If someone wants to move a bus route one street over, for instance, planners can just drag a line a few blocks and show that for an extra $250,000 the bus will now pick up just 10 more people a day.

“Transit for a lot of riders seems like just lines on the map,” he says. “This tool can really communicate to folks—much, much quicker than we’ve ever been able to— what changes to the system mean.”