GUIDE: How to Ride the Bus in Cincinnati

So maybe you’ve been thinking for a while that you should actually take this ‘public transit’ thing that you’re always saying we need more of. Maybe you’ve been meaning to ride the bus to get to bars and shopping but put it off because you can’t figure out how to use the system. Or maybe you work downtown and would ride the bus, but you either get a parking or bus pass from your employer and you drive because it seems easier.

Regardless of the reason, there are many benefits to taking public transit as opposed to driving or taking a rideshare vehicle in Cincinnati. While our city gets a bad rap on the state of our bus system, the reality is that most of the city is easily accessible by bus. The 6 heaviest routes offer good daytime frequencies, serve the densest parts of the city, and are easy to understand when it comes to where they serve. These routes serve the arterial, or main, roads in Cincinnati, including Glenway, Hamilton/ Clifton, Vine, Reading, Montgomery, and Madison/Erie Avenues. Due to the geography and history of development in Cincinnati, most business districts and dense residential areas are on these roads. We are a lot more accessible than you might think!
But how do I use this bus? It may seem challenging to those who are not familiar with the system and how it works, but it’s nearly as easy as calling an Uber. In this article, I will address the three basic questions people have about riding the bus in Cincinnati: how do I know where it goes, how do I pay for my trip, and how do I not miss my stop.

Where Does the Bus Go?

There are several apps and websites that will plot the best route(s) to take as well as alternatives. Google Maps, which is standard on most smartphones, is easy to use and understand. Simply type in your destination and hit the transit icon as your travel mode and Google will do the rest. The app tells you where the nearest bus stop is, walking directions to the stop, and the estimated travel time once you are on the bus.

Another great app which offers much more functionality is the Transit App. This app gives the same directions as Google Maps does, but also includes a live tracker and time countdown of each bus on every route so you don’t have to wonder where the hell your bus is. The user interface is a little friendlier than Google’s as it is centered around transit usage. Additionally, the Transit App works in nearly every city worldwide that has public transportation options. It works especially well with multimodal travel and can estimate your travel time using a combination of travel modes like bike to bus, walk to bus, or bus to bus.

If you are more map-oriented and want to check out the entire route to learn where it goes, the Transit App has the ability to show the actual routing of each bus line and how long it would take to travel to each stop in the entire network by bus. Metro also offers its bus schedules and route maps on its website under Schedules. However, you must already know which line you are taking to take advantage of this.

Finally, you are always welcome to step onto a bus at your stop and ask the driver if this bus is going to X location. The drivers are knowledgeable about their routes as they drive them every day and will give you good advice on whether you should take this bus or another route nearby.

How Do I Pay for My Trip?

There are several ways to pay your bus fare with cash, credit/debit card, smartphone app, or stored value card. First, an explanation of the fare system. The fare in Zone 1, which includes the City of Cincinnati, Norwood, St. Bernard, Elmwood Place, Golf Manor, Delhi Township, and Cheviot, is $1.75 per rider. If you will need to transfer to another line to complete your trip, a transfer slip is an additional $0.50. Hot tip: if you are traveling somewhere and anticipate you will be returning by bus within 2 hours of first paying your fare, ask for a transfer and use that to return home. Transfers are good for up to 2 hours after requesting one and this can save you from spending another $1.75 for your return trip. If you are traveling outside of Zone 1 into Zone 2, the rest of Hamilton County, the one-way fare is $2.65 and transfers are still $0.50.

The most basic way to pay your fare is with cash, but keep in mind that the buses’ farebox does not give back change. If you only have singles, you will not be getting a quarter back for buying a Zone 1 ticket. Beyond paying cash you may purchase a stored value card, which you can load up with cash or by credit/debit card at any Ticket Vending Machine and select stores throughout the city. For example, the Clifton Market on Ludlow Ave sells stored value cards. You may put multiples of $10 on a stored value card. Don’t lose your card! Paying for your fare is as simple as swiping your stored value card on the bus, and it will automatically deduct your fare from the card’s balance. This removes the need to carry cash to pay the fare and is much easier and faster to use.

Finally, last year Metro introduced its Metro EZRide app which allows users to pay their fare with their smartphones. Once you have entered your credit/debit card information into the app you may purchase tickets on your phone at any time, to be used at any time. This also includes streetcar tickets. The app is quick enough that you can quickly buy a ticket as your bus approaches the stop if you forgot to beforehand. Simply activate your ticket as you step onto the bus and show the driver your screen. That’s it!

How Do I Not Miss My Stop

Generally speaking, Metro’s buses do not announce the stops they are approaching outside of major stops and transfer points. While some have good spatial minds and generally know where they are at all times, most people need a little help remembering which stop is their destination. I would recommend the Transit app as you can tell it to remind you when you are approaching the stop. Using your GPS location, the app will give you a notification and a ding in your headphones to alert you that you will approach your stop in about a minute. Alternatively, you can ask the driver to tell you when the bus has reached the stop you are going to, although if the bus is full they may be too busy with other passengers to remind you.

When the bus passes the stop prior to your destination stop you must alert the driver to stop the bus by pulling the yellow/grey cord strung up on the walls of the bus, push the vertical yellow tape near the doors, or push the red button on some of the poles coming down from the ceiling. Alternatively, you can yell “THIS STOP PLEASE” to the driver if you would prefer to do it that way. When disembarking the bus, use the back doors to exit so as not to block people entering the bus. This will result in a shorter trip time for everyone aboard.

Useful Links and Pictures

All Route Maps and System Network Maps

Bike & Ride Info

Nate Wessel’s Frequency Map is still up to date, frequencies are generally the same

Revitalized Ziegler Park Driving Development Momentum

Since its inception, the revitalization of city-owned Ziegler Park has helped to foster not only a stronger sense of community but also an increase in investment and development in the Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton neighborhoods. The park straddles Sycamore Street between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets and for many years was a poorly maintained, crime-ridden hub for drug activity.

However, in 2012 Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) approached the City of Cincinnati with the idea of redeveloping the park in an effort to combat the disinvestment the area had been experiencing. Soon after, a team was put together through the Cincinnati Park Board and the Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC) to gather community input on a new vision for the public space.

The project broke ground in January 2016 and was completed during the summer of 2017. The massive $32 million transformation allowed Ziegler Park to expand from 1.5 acres to 4.5 acres and also included a game grove, pool, sprayground, basketball courts, children’s playground and a 400-space underground parking garage.

One of the most significant additions to the park–and to the neighborhoods of Pendleton and Over-the-Rhine in general–has been the brand new 400-space parking garage. The garage helps to alleviate some of the parking challenges experienced by residents, business owners, and visitors and even displays the amount of open spaces left in real time at the entrance to the garage as well as on the Ziegler Park website.

Since November 2015, when the Cincinnati City Planning Commission recommended approval of the park revitalization, the properties surrounding the park have experienced a wave of momentum. Over 30 building permits that have been issued to date for repairs or alterations within a quarter mile radius of the park.

Some of the more notable projects completed include the addition of new businesses adjacent to or near to the park. The Takeaway Deli & Grocery, Pendleton Parlor Ice Cream & Cookie Dough, Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey, The Pony, Allez Bakery, Brown Bear Bakery have opened or are slated to open later this year. Rosedale, Revel, The Hub, Treehouse Bar, Longfellow, 3 Points Urban Brewery round out the list.

The additional parking capacity has also allowed office projects like the new Empower MediaMarketing’s new office location on 14th street to be constructed.

The enhancements alone have provided the community with a space to gather, play, relax, and enjoy the outdoors. In addition to these improvements, the Everybody In program helps maintain Ziegler’s commitment to inclusivity by making pool memberships affordable regardless of income.

The program also provides free programming for youth including swim lessons, summer camp, and basketball games. The Everybody In program receives its funding from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing (OCCH).

The revitalization of the park coupled with its accessibility has increased the amount of foot traffic in the area, which in turn, has bolstered the economic development of the community overall. Now considered a neighborhood asset as opposed to a challenge, Ziegler has become a destination for families and individuals coming from a variety of backgrounds and incomes.

For example, the creation of the Rhino’s Swim Team is one of the many opportunities that arose from the revitalization of the park. The team, focused on community youth, has no registration feel and is supported through donations.

Although Ziegler Park’s dramatic transformation is probably not exclusively responsible for the boost in economic development in Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton, it is fairly safe to assume that this revitalization has been catalytic. What was once a hub for crime and drug trafficking is now a safe community space that is accessible to all incomes and provides the neighborhood with assets that are essential for a higher quality of life. The redevelopment of this public space has proven that its value extends beyond the boundary of the park itself.

Flags for Neighborhoods go Beyond Games

Cincy Flags is an initiative that is looking to instill pride and place in Cincinnati through the design of a unique flag for each of the fifty-two neighborhoods. The flags will be designed through public input sessions where that input is then handed off to a designer who will apply finishing touches to the final flag design.

The idea started with Henry Frondorf, who won the first ever Engage Cincy Grant for the Neighborhood Games in 2016. He says his inspiration for the Neighborhood Games started as a spark when he attended the Men’s World Cup Match viewing party on Fountain Square in 2014.

The Neighborhood Games are a series of events where teams from each neighborhood compete to win the Neighborhood Cup. The events mirror the Olympics where there are an opening and closing ceremony. After his first Neighborhood Games, he realized that not all neighborhoods have a representative flag.

Left to right: Henry Frondorf, Josh Mattie, Chris Cliff-Perbix.

Because of this, Frondorf, along with designers Josh Mattie and Chris Cliff-Perbix, came up with the idea to instill a sense of place in each Cincinnati neighborhood through a flag. They applied this idea to the Engage Cincy Challenge Grant Program were chosen from seventeen finalists to receive $10,000 from the city for this initiative.

The Engage Cincy Challenge Grant Program, which is awarded by the City of Cincinnati, is intended to be a community building competition that intends to use the funds for the “development, launch and promotion of innovative projects that better a specific neighborhood or the entire city.”

So far, the project is in its information gathering stage. They’ve been surprised at the feedback they’ve gotten from the survey so far, with responses to questions like “what do you wish more people knew about your neighborhood?”

“You’ll get feedback from people who respond saying that what is most important about their neighborhood is that they’ve lived there for forty years and all the connections they’ve made through that. That is hard to represent, and we are trying to physically represent that feeling,” said Chris Cliff-Perbix.

“The vibe of a neighborhood is determined by the people in it. A flag can be a visual emblem of the spirit of the neighborhood, and it can be a tangible communication of a community,” co-founder Josh Mattie told UrbanCincy. “People are eager to embrace the embodiment of what they feel about their neighborhood. It is interesting to see how people use the form as a way to speak their voice about the wide variety of feedback they can give about their community,”

The flags were flown at the Parade of Neighborhoods Opening Ceremony at the Neighborhood Games in 2019.

This year’s Neighborhood Games Opening Ceremony was July 21 at 7 p.m. at Washington Park.

While the third Neighborhood Games is in the books you can still tell Cincy Flags what you love about your neighborhood by filling out the survey here.

Parking Permit Policy On Deck for Over-the-Rhine

With parking requirements poised to be lifted in the urban core, the City of Cincinnati is moving forward with implementing a Residential Parking Program for Over-the-Rhine. The program is being finalized and could appear in City Council chambers in the near future.

In 2015, the city studied and proposed an on-street residential parking permit program for the historic neighborhood only to have Mayor John Cranley (D) veto the measure after a contentious 5-4 vote in favor of the program from City Council. At the time the Mayor favored charging residents up to $500 per permit for the program, a measure UrbanCincy supported at the time. The prior program would have cost $108 for an annual permit and would have had a cap of 450 total permits for the southern part of the neighborhood.

A map of the proposed Residential Parking Permit Program for Over-the-Rhine

Following the veto, City Councilman David Man (D) directed the administration to study the parking conditions of Over-the-Rhine and develop a set of recommendations to help guide the city in its decision making on the policy. The City hired Walker Consultants to conduct a study, which extended over several years and engaged various Over-the-Rhine community stakeholders.

The results of that study have been released and the city is moving quickly to act. Under the plan developed by the city, residential parking permits will cost $150 per year with a cap of 500 total permits. Of those permits, half of them would go to qualifying low-income residents who will pay a reduced annual rate of $25 a year.

Permits will allow residents to park in non-metered residential streets as well as “flex” areas on main commercial streets in the neighborhood. In a memo to City Council, Director of Community and Economic Development Phillip Denning recommended that permit numbers and cost should be regulated by the City Manager so costs and numbers for the program can change over time as the city gets feedback and measurable data from the program.

The initial costs are estimated at $180,000 to install signage and start the program. Annual operations costs are pegged at $73,500 and are expected to be covered by the permit fee income generated from the program.

If approved by City Council the program could be implemented by the end of the year.

The cost and number of permits have been a point of contention from residents in the neighborhood who voiced their concerns at a City Planning public staff conference for the removal of parking requirements in the urban core.

In his report to City Planning Commission for the Urban Parking Overlay Senior Planner Alex Peppers wrote that “the primary concerns voiced by residents were for the permit cost, the total number of permits issued and the lottery system in which they are issued, lack of community engagement, and how the City would conduct enforcement.”

No official council hearings have been set regarding the program however the first step of Walker Consultants recommendations which will remove off-street parking requirements in the urban core will be discussed tomorrow at City Planning Commission and again at the Economic Growth & Zoning Council Committee Meeting next Tuesday at 9 AM in City Council Chambers at City Hall.

EDITORIAL: Parking Requirement Removal Should Be First Step In Broader Reform

Recently, the Cincinnati City Planning Department sent out a notice to property owners in downtown and Over-the-Rhine regarding the implementation of an Urban Parking Overlay District. The city will hold several meetings with the next one being at the City Planning Commission meeting this Friday, July 27th at 9 a.m. If approved, the district would remove the requirement for uses in downtown to provide off-street dedicated parking.

Since 2012 when I first wrote about parking in downtown and Over-the-Rhine the number of off-street parking supplied has increased well over 3,000 parking spaces (38,760 in downtown alone according to DCI). The Banks parking garage alone with over 6,000 spaces is the third largest parking garage in the United States.

We have an abundance of parking in the urban core.

At its core function, the removal of required parking minimums has proven to allow for more creative parking solutions to blossom. As Donald Shoup, parking guru and professor at UCLA found in his book The High Cost of Free Parking, most parking minimums were established as arbitrary standards by planners in the middle of the last century. Many of these requirements are intended to account for the busiest times of the day or year. UrbanCincy interviewed Dr. Shoup in 2014 regarding a variety of local parking issues.

In Nashville for example, the removal of parking minimums helped remove barriers for small-scale developers who could not afford to acquire additional land for a few parking spaces. Instead, agreements with nearby garages helped facilitate automobile storage demands.

Back in 2012 Nashville Planner, Joni Priest told UrbanCincy, “Removing the parking requirements from downtown zoning allows flexibility for site-specific and program-specific solutions. Flexibility is key in urban environments,” said Priest. “As downtown becomes more comfortable for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, new development will have the flexibility to build less parking.”

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the city continues to struggle with developers looking to build new infill or rehabilitate and reactivate the many historic buildings in the urban core.

Even when parking requirements are reduced or eliminated most banks and investors still require parking to be provided or identified for developments to move forward. Removing zoning requirements for parking often allows the developer to build the parking that is really needed and not what is arbitrarily demanded by local zoning controls. This reduces the cost of development and in turn, allows more affordable housing to be provided.

Removing parking minimums also preserves historic structures from being demolished for parking lots and garages. Over-the-Rhine is the largest collection of German Italianate buildings in the country yet it currently has lost over half of its historic structures. If parking minimums are retained, the demolition of our communities historic assets will continue to be encouraged to meet the city’s parking requirements.

There is an abundance of alternative options to traverse to, from and around the urban core. These modes include walking, biking, CincyRedBike, buses, streetcar, uber, lyft, Gest, and Zipcar. In the near future, we’ll likely see Bird scooters and Lime bikes introduced. In the long-term, improved transit and autonomous vehicles will reduce the need to own and store a vehicle. Every one of these trips is one less parking space needed per resident, worker or visitor.

It would be wise for the City to anticipate criticisms from residents of the urban core. Some of whom recently voiced concerns regarding the increasing struggle to find on-street parking spaces. This is a struggle that is common in many dense, historic urban neighborhoods across the country where the expectation is that it is very rare to snag a parking space directly in front of a persons residence or business. However, it is important to consider this in light of a broader parking strategy, one that would balance resident, business and development demands.

There are a few additional strategies for city policymakers can consider in conjunction with approving the Parking Overlay District to remove parking requirements. Most of these are adapted from Dr. Shoup’s recommendations:

1.) Continue to pursue the implementation of the on-street residential parking permit program.

2.) Add on-street 10-30 minute convenience parking at some spaces around Findlay Market.

3.) Consider opportunities for future public underground parking facilities to serve Findlay Market and the rest of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street.

4.) Enable the demand-responsive capabilities for on-street parking meters. This strategy will encourage more meter usage and could be a potential revenue add for the city’s parking meter program.

As part of a broader plan, it makes sense to remove the parking space requirements in the urban core. To quote Shoup, “If Cincinnati uses fair market prices to manage on-street parking – the lowest prices that will leave one or two open spaces on every block at every time of the day – it won’t have to require off-street parking spaces for every land use. If the government regulated any other aspect of our lives as precisely as it regulates the number of off-street parking spaces everywhere, everyone would join the Tea Party.”

Removing parking minimums is a productive first step in the city’s comprehensive strategy to balance the demands of residents, workers, visitors who help make our urban core a vibrant and attractive place. Supporting this policy is a step in support of enhancing housing affordability, historic preservation, environmental sustainability and livability in our urban core.