I-74 Ramp Meters are exactly what Cincinnatians asked for

It took less than one hour for the complaints to start rolling in about the new ramp meters along Cincinnati’s Interstate 74. Morning commuters complained that the meters were actually making congestion worse and that the slow downs were pushed onto the ramps and surrounding neighborhood streets leading to the interstate.

What many of these commuters probably do not realize is that ramp meters actually do not reduce congestion directly. Instead they diffuse congestion and reduce conflict points for drivers by eliminating much of the lane-to-lane merging that occurs around heavy on-ramp points.

The idea is simple, instead of having a slew of cars come rushing onto the interstate all at once, the ramp meters spread that surge out with a managed traffic flow. But what this does do is push congestion back off of the interstate onto the ramps and surrounding streets. That is unless other indirect things take place.

Ramp meters at Colerain Avenue along I-74 – photos taken by Jake Mecklenborg.

Improved traffic flow can improve capacity issues on interstates and thus reduce congestion. Well-timed and managed traffic systems surrounding interstate on-ramps that include these meters can also help avoid bottlenecks on neighborhood streets. But ultimately ramp meters do not reduce congestion for the simple reason that they do not add capacity or reduce volume.

The best way to reduce congestion along I-74, or any interstate, is to build additional capacity that does not strain the existing system. What this means is that simply adding a lane or two won’t do the trick, but adding a commuter light rail line will.

In Atlanta, the infamous “Downtown Connector” includes both I-75 and I-85 traffic and is currently in the process of being widened AGAIN. It too includes these ramp meters to manage traffic flow. Once the widening project is completed the stretch of interstate, appropriately compared to the Ohio River of Atlanta by the Carter/Dawson development team of The Banks, will boast some 24 lanes of automobile traffic including the intricate system of parallel ramps. The interstate still suffers from daily gridlock every day even with this monstrous automobile capacity because the same system is being strained to handle additional capacity while no new capacity is added to the overall transport network.

Ramp meters at North Bend Road along I-74 – photos taken by Jake Mecklenborg.

In Cincinnati, I-75 is being widened in most places throughout Hamilton County to 4 or 5 driving lanes not including ramps, and will also include these ramp meters at virtually every on-ramp location. With these improvements it has been identified that this stretch of interstate through Hamilton County will go from a “D” rated highway to a, wait for it, “D” rated highway once complete.

We are pouring billions of dollars into these interstate improvements and seeing little to no improvements in safety or congestion. A well-integrated commuter rail system that compliments our existing interstate and road networks is a much more effective way to manage traffic congestion. Such a system would provide additional capacity and options for commuters as they move from our region’s residential sectors to our region’s job centers.

So when you are enjoying that rush hour commute next time try to avoid letting the stress build up inside as you sit in the frustrating stop-and-go traffic. Instead be thinking about how the Cincinnati region could have been opening the first of 7 commuter light rail lines, two streetcar networks, and a completely revamped bus system had the 2002 Metro Moves plan passed. But instead of a long-term investment and solution we are stuck with temporary fixes that are wasting our tax dollars.

"Building Holidays" trolley tours Downtown

ARCHITREKS will be taking their popular architectural tours to the trolley this holiday season as they present the “Building Holidays” trolley tour that will take guests along for a ride through Downtown and Over-the-Rhine to see architectural sites and learn about important Cincinnati traditions and history as it pertains to the holiday season.

“The tour will highlight both Jewish and Christian holiday customs, and the contributions of the ethnic groups that built America,” according to tour organizers. “German immigrants brought many of their traditions to the New World, including the Christmas tree and Christmas card. The tour will also examine the influence of African-Americans on the holiday celebrations.”

The two-hour long tour will start at Fountain Square and make stops in historic Over-the-Rhine’s Gateway Quarter and the Mercantile Library downtown. Along the way tour goers will also share in the memories of the Ruth Lyons Children’s Christmas Fund and the Western & Southern Financial Group Crib of the Nativity at Krohn Conservatory.

There will be two Building Holidays tours, lasting approximately two-hours each, on Saturday, December 5. The first tour will take off at 11am and the second at 1pm. Both tours will depart from the Vine Street side of Fountain Square and are limited in space to 30 people per tour.

Tickets can be reserved through the Cincinnati Preservation Association at info@cincinnatipreservation.org or by calling (513) 721-4506, and can be purchased at $15 for adults and $5 for children. Those participating in the tour will also receive a complimentary souvenir of the tour according to organizers.

2nd Annual ‘Holidays in the Bag’ takes place on Black Friday – 11/27

Ready?! Set?! Shop!! Yes, Friday marks the “official” start to the holiday shopping season. After food and family on Thursday, many folks like to get out and shop on Friday, and you can count on the UrbanCincy staff to be a part of that crowd. But, we won’t be shopping just anywhere, and don’t think you should be either.

The businesses in historic Over-the-Rhine’s Gateway Quarter are hosting their second annual Holidays in the Bag event on Friday from 9am to 9pm. The shopping event not only supports a local charity, The Emmanuel Community Center, but it also supports the merchants and their stores in Gateway Quarter, and it supports YOU the shopper! Talk about a win for everyone involved! And if that weren’t enough, Santa himself will be riding through the streets on a Segway thanks to the neighborhood Segway Store.

Top, left to right: A Lucky Step, Park+Vine, Outside, Joseph Williams Home. All photos taken by Randy Simes.

Here’s how the whole thing works: first, stop by the corner of 12th and Vine streets to purchase your special Gateway Quarter Shopping Bag for a small donation. Then take your bag and go shopping! Try out some independent stores in The Q such as Park + Vine, Metronation, or Outside (see the full list below). Each and every shop will be offering a special discount for whatever you can fit into your special shopping bag, with most offering a 20% discount. You should definitely make plans to get out and get some unique gifts for the people in your life while saving a few bucks!

If you read UrbanCincy regularly you know we support the 3/50 Project because of what it does for the community around us. When you support a locally owned shop, nearly 70% of the money stays inside the community, whereas if you buy from a chain it’s more like 40%. So you can take your money to the mall and see over half of it leave our area, or you can come to The Q and keep most of it in Cincinnati.

Come anytime during the day, and stop by a local establishment for a snack or beverage. Shopping early? There is Coffee Emporium on Central Parkway. Planning on coming around midday? Stop into Venice on Vine for some lunch. Have to work on Friday and planning on coming later on? Below Zero is there so that you can reward yourself with a Friday afternoon cocktail. After all, shopping is hard work!

World Food Bar serves up monthly mystery dinners

Local chef Josh Campbell (shown right) and his team at the World Food Bar Restaurant Group have been working their tails off this year. Not only has the group successfully been running the World Food Bar in historic Findlay Market since this June, but they also recently opened the restaurant Mayberry in downtown Cincinnati to much acclaim across the board. Juggling two businesses would be enough to keep anyone’s plate full, but the World Food Bar team has one more item on their menu.

Every month since August, Chef Josh has hosted a special dinner, complete with a theme and each time held in a different location . The location is kept a secret until the day of the event, but the upcoming menu isn’t. Previous events have included “Pinot and Pig” and a tribute to the late chef James Beard. Their most recent event, entitled “Thanksbrewing” – included custom-brewed beers by local brewer Greg Wilson that stood out on their own, yet matched the courses perfectly.

Thanksbrewing was held in the former Kaldi’s coffee shop space on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. One long table set with sparkling dishes echoed the communal, family-dinner style feel that surrounded this experience. 33 people from all over Cincinnati came together to enjoy Chef Josh’s creations, try exciting dishes, and meet new people. The dishes did not disappoint, and it was nice to have delicious and interesting plates for both the meat eaters and vegetarians in the group.

Pictured below was course #3, Grilled venison with maple bacon pumpkin crumble, roasted fennel and chocolate cherry stout demi-glaze served with a 4 oz pour of a brown porter brewed with sweet potato and Ghiradelli chocolate.

I am by no means a food critic, but this meal was fantastic. However, my favorite part of dinner was being surrounded by 32 incredibly interesting and entertaining people. I not only ate with old friends, but met new acquaintances and had fantastic conversation over a shared meal. The feeling of a full belly combined with newly forged friendships was pretty hard to beat.

Thanksbrewing Dinner pictures taken by Jenny Kessler

If you’re feeling bummed that you missed out on Duck Confit Nachos or a Lambic Raspberry Beer “float” (with chocolate ice cream and peanut butter cupcake!), don’t fret. The dinners will keep rolling on into the new year, with new places, menu items and themes. Micah Paldino, a public relations manager for World Food Bar, states that February’s dinner is looking to be a “White Trash” Valentine’s Day, with prices around $30 a person.

If you’re looking for a completely unique eating experience with amazing food and fantastic people, start following World Food Bar on Twitter or check out their Facebook Fan Page to keep up on all the upcoming details. And if you can’t wait until February, be sure and stop by World Food Bar at Findlay Market or Mayberry in downtown Cincinnati.

Disclaimer: I’m not a food blogger, and certainly am not a professional critic, but the folks at World Food Bar were kind enough to allow me to come to Thanksbrewing for free. However, UrbanCincy writer Dave Rolfes was also in attendance, and he paid his way fair and square. No biased opinions here.

The Quickest Way to a Misleading Generalization is Always Through COAST

Over the course of the past two years I have been privileged to debate the merits of rail transportation with COAST’s Mark Miller on several occasions. These conversations often lasted extended periods of time and often included a statement from Miller that went something like this: “I’m not opposed to rail, I just want the voters to have a say on the matter…I actually think a better transportation system would be a good thing for Cincinnati.”

The problem is that these words are not followed up by actions that support them. COAST decided to draft an all-encompassing charter amendment that would have forced all passenger rail investments to go before a public vote no matter how big or small. Since COAST’s special interest agenda against passenger rail options for Cincinnatians failed miserably at the polls November 3rd, the group has continued to hammer away at the merits of all passenger rail transportation.

COAST’s most recent press conference held outside of City Hall quickly turned into a “chaos filled with lies” and even a minor shoving match according to reports (here & here).

In COAST’s most recent blog post entitled “The Most Expensive Distance Between Two Points is Always a Rail Line,” they cite a recent story from the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail Reporter that identified a recent decision by a Network Rail manager to send their employees to a conference by bus instead of by rail due to costs. The sweeping claim, made by COAST, didn’t take long to garner a response on their very own blog:

“Go to National Express, they have both bus and train fares on their website for the UK. A same-day, one-way ticket from Coventry to Reading by rail in 37 pounds and takes 1 hour 15 minutes. A same-day, one-way ticket from Coventry to Reading by bus is 18 pounds 60 cents, and takes 4 hours 55 minutes. If three hours and forty minutes is worth less than $30.49, take the bus. Otherwise the train is a better idea.”

Time valuation aside, there is still that sweeping claim that a rail line is always the most expensive distance between two points. What about air travel? If you were making late Thanksgiving travel plans from Cincinnati to Chicago a roundtrip air ticket would cost you around $473 on Delta, while a roundtrip train ticket would cost you around $105 on Amtrak.

Even with that said, I wonder how much a last minute trip from Cincinnati to Chicago would cost on a helicopter, taxi cab, luxury ocean liner (if possible), a jet pack, or limousine. Don’t be fooled by COAST’s deceiving tactics that are geared to do nothing more than promote their own special interest agenda and muddy the debate surrounding public transportation. But perhaps urban strategist Aaron Renn summed it up best when he discussed COAST’s agenda earlier this year:

“Organizations that exist simply to oppose things without any positive vision of what they want to achieve deserve a skeptical eye.”

Support Cincinnati and its transportation choices.