Cincinnati moves on from failed parking kiosk experiment

Court Street Parking Kiosk - Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Approximately one decade ago, then City Manager John Shirey engaged in a real-world experiment with the way people use parking meters. The idea was that consolidated solar-powered parking kiosks could make the process more cost effective and beneficial for users and business owners. The reality, however, has been different.

The first kiosks made their way onto Third Street in downtown Cincinnati. Those two, $8,000-a-piece, kiosks were then followed by an additional ten kiosks on Court Street and Third Street. Early on it was touted that the maintenance costs would be less for these kiosks as opposed to the many individual parking meters they replaced. What seemed to spell the end of these kiosks, however, may have been the lack of maintenance they received.

Almost from the first year they were installed, users complained of problems with pay-and-display parking kiosks. Money would jam, credit card readers did not work, or the whole kiosk was for some reason malfunctioning.

These early and ongoing problems eliminated the possibility for users to see any potential benefit from the new form of paying for on-street parking. The early problems also eliminated virtually any and all possibility of the system growing into what was envisioned for it.

Originally, city leaders discussed the idea of allowing downtown visitors to purchase monthly parking passes for the pay-and-display kiosks. They also mentioned the idea of allowing a user on Court Street to take their extra time and use it somewhere else downtown without having to pay a second time. Both ideas were well intentioned, but both ideas never happened.

Maintenance issues aside, individuals around the country have complained about the lack of an individual parking meter at their space. The personal relationship between a person, their car, and their assigned meter is obviously stronger than what city officials thought.

The city appears to now have abandoned this experiment gone wrong. The pay-and-display parking kiosks on Court Street have been shut off and replaced by new individual electronic parking meters that are solar powered. Those meters are part of a larger $1.7 million effort to replace all 1,400 parking meters downtown with the new technology.

In cities where space on the sidewalk is a big concern, the initiative to reduce street furniture like parking meters should continue to remain a priority. In Cincinnati, however, most streets do not suffer from this severe lack of space, and therefore it is probably a better approach to use individual parking meters with these technological upgrades rather than completely overhauling the system.

While the parking kiosks originally envisioned by City Manager Shirey did not pan out, he should be commended for his leadership, because without that Cincinnati may not be where it is now in terms of upgraded the rest of its on-street parking payment technologies.

City officials should continue to explore creative options for its parking assets. In 2010 UrbanCincy estimated that a public-private parking partnership could result in an additional $3.06 million in revenues annually. The possibilities of leveraging these assets are intriguing, and nothing should be left off the discussion table during this time of limited resources.

Massive funding cuts at ODOT pose threat for Cincinnati-area projects

The tentative project list released last week by the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) Transportation Review Advisory Committee (TRAC) will delay many major highway construction projects throughout the Cincinnati region.

Some of the Cincinnati-area projects to be impacted by ODOT’s budget crisis include the Oasis commuter rail line which had its funding erased, the highway portion of the Eastern Corridor Project which has now been delayed, and start dates on future phases of I-75 reconstruction work have been pushed beyond 2020.

ODOT’s cuts have also affected the City of Cincinnati’s West MLK Drive Access Improvement, since that project was coordinated with phase four of the I-75 Millcreek Expressway project. Some of that prep work has begun with ODOT demolishing the old Interstate Motel and several apartment buildings near McMicken Street in 2011 in preparation for reconstruction of the Hopple Street interchange in 2013.

Martin Luther King Drive works its way uptown [LEFT]. An aerial view of the Hopple Street Interchange [RIGHT]. Photographs by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

With $109 million in Millcreek Expressway phase four funds now delayed until after 2020, Michael Moore, Director of the Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE), told UrbanCincy that the city will continue to proceed with work planned for MLK Drive between Dixmyth Avenue and McMicken Street in 2012.

“We will have to modify the west end of the project, since our design ties into the ODOT work,” explained Moore. “Then ODOT will have to modify their eastern end to tie into our work. At issue will be how the shared bike/hike path terminates, but there is really little that can be done at this time with our project to connect to Central Parkway without the reconstruction of the Hopple Street bridge.”

Two miles east of the West MLK Drive Access Improvement, preliminary planning will continue for an interchange between East MLK and I-71. TRAC has programmed $3 million to fund environmental studies, select a preferred alternative, and perform preliminary design work.

Construction work progresses on the Waldvogel Viaduct in Lower Price Hill. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

“No timetable had been set for construction, since this preliminary work had not been funded, but this TRAC infusion is good news and allows us to move ahead to prepare plans,” Moore detailed. “ODOT is also working out a plan of action for changing this project to the new Plan Development Process. This should help streamline the project development a bit.”

Elsewhere, phase one reconstruction work on I-75 will continue near Mitchell Avenue, and work on phase three, the reconstruction of the I-74 Beekman/Colerain interchange, has been fully funded and will commence later this year. However, funding for reconstruction of the I-75/I-74 interchange and all work south of that point has been delayed, as has all planned work between the Norwood Lateral and I-275.

When asked about the ongoing work on the Waldvogel Viaduct, DOTE’s director informed UrbanCincy that the reconstruction project has been fully funded, and will not be affected by ODOT’s cuts. A second phase of that project, which involves upgrades to the Sixth Street Expressway, has also been fully funded and will proceed as planned.

Download a PDF of TRAC’s entire project list.

Tolzmann breaks from historical analysis in latest Over-the-Rhine book

Don Heinrich Tolzmann with his latest book. Photograph by Emily Schneider for UrbanCincy.

Few native-born Cincinnatians know as much about the history of this city as Don Heinrich Tolzmann, originally of Minnesota. The former University of Cincinnati professor, and president of the German-American Citizens League of Greater Cincinnati, has written numerous tomes on Cincinnati history. His most recent book is for tourists and locals alike: Over-the-Rhine Tour Guide.

In contrast with most of his other work, this book is focused on the OTR of today, not decades past. Tolzmann says the reason for the change of style is due to the many requests he received to give tours of the historic neighborhood.

“Understanding Over-the-Rhine is the key to understanding the city,” Tolzmann told UrbanCincy.

In Over-the-Rhine Tour Guide, Tolzmann carefully describes nearly every block of the neighborhood, from its southern border of Central Parkway up to the Brewery District, and everything in between. Using buildings and streets as a framework, the guide carefully describes the architecture of the neighborhood.

Historical details are provided for each place, and changes that have occurred over the years are noted as well. Several historic poems, in German and English, connect the text to the old country.

The book delineates outlying areas where German immigrants lived, including Clifton and the West End. The book also serves as a literal guidebook, with directions for walking or driving throughout the neighborhood, and traveling between each of the landmarks described.

While considerable demolition has damaged parts of Over-the-Rhine’s historic urban fabric over the past several decades, the area remains dense and beautiful.

“Over-the-Rhine still contains one of the most comprehensive collections of buildings built by Germans for Germans, especially in the popular Queen Anne and Italianate styles,” said local historian Betty Ann Smiddy. “To walk the streets now you can feel yourself drifting back in time and can envision all that the neighborhood once was.”

Over-the-Rhine Tour Guide, can be purchased at local bookstores and through online through Little Miami Publishing. With its photographs and clear descriptions, the book serves as a useful companion for a neighborhood stroll. But for those visitors wanting a quick survey of the neighborhood, here are Tolzmann’s top three attractions:

Findlay Market: “Get a feeling for the neighborhood. The sausage, cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables are sold in an open-air market like you’d find in Germany.”

Germania Building (12th and Walnut): “Symbolizes German heritage in Over-the-Rhine, devotion to culture and history of Germany.”

Washington Park Area: “Surrounded by institutions like Music and Memorial Halls and six German churches, this area shows the musical impact, military service in wars, and religious influence in Over-the-Rhine.”

Vancouver’s approach to urbanism serves as North American model

By all accounts Vancouver is a modern metropolis. The eyes of the world were directed squarely at the picturesque Canadian city when it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, but Vancouver has been making noteworthy progress within its urban core for many years.

One of the most striking elements of Vancouver’s urban landscape is the sheer number of glass high-rises throughout the city. The design approach is more characteristic of a modern Asian city than it is of a North American city. The existence of this might make sense given the large Asian population found in Vancouver, but the tower typology is slightly different than what is found in Hong Kong, Shanghai or Seoul, for example.

Residential high-rises define the modern Vancouver metropolis. Photograph by Randy A. Simes in January 2012.

The Vancouver model of urbanism places a focus on diversity and truly embodies the Jane Jacobs concept that downtowns are for people.

Most of the high-rise towers you find in Vancouver are residential, not commercial as is the case in most North American cities. The towers are almost always glass and slender – a design approach almost assuredly meant to open Vancouver’s residents up to the breathtaking natural landscape surrounding them.

What is not immediately evident when viewing these towers from a distance is that their street-level engagement is completely different from most other residential tower designs you will find elsewhere throughout the world.

Townhouses and a corner grocery store create a human scale for the high-rise residential towers rising behind them. Photograph by Randy A. Simes in January 2012.

The brilliance of the Vancouver model is that it incorporates two- to three-story townhouses at the street, while the slender glass tower sets off of the street. This accomplishes three very important urbanist goals.

  1. The townhouses at street-level allow for a pleasant human scale, and are often designed with more expensive, natural materials that also are more pleasant to the human experience.
  2. The set back of the towers allows for natural light to permeate throughout the urban streetscape without jeopardizing its vibrancy with a blank area between the tower and the street.
  3. The towers allow for the always coveted young professional and empty nesters to find a place to live, but the townhouses allow for a desired housing typology for young families with children – thus offering a unique diversity of people within Vancouver’s urban core.

Vibrant schools and playgrounds, exciting nightlife and dining, an urban landscape that embraces its natural counterpart, and vibrant streetscapes are the result of this approach to urbanism.

While other North American cities continue to look for a way to embrace Jacobs’ concept, they should first look to what Vancouver has been so successfully able to implement.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House signs on at The Banks

Project officials have confirmed that a Ruth’s Chris Steak House will open at The Banks development in downtown Cincinnati. The addition of the exclusive chain restaurant has been predicted since May 2011, but project officials have refrained from commenting publicly until just now.

The addition of the 9,600-square-foot Ruth’s Chris restaurant will bring the total retail occupancy at The Banks to approximately 82 percent following the recent announcement that Mahogany’s Cafe & Grill will also open a location along the central riverfront.

The upscale restaurant, officials say, will open within the two-level retail space at the northeast corner of Walnut Street and Freedom Way. It will be Ruth’s Chris second Ohio location.

The future home of Ruth’s Chris Steak House Cincinnati. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

While 2012 has already been a busy time for economic wins at The Banks, expect another major announcement within the coming weeks.

City and County officials are currently in negotiations to find a new location for dunnhumbyUSA’s North American headquarters. The growing consumer analytics firm appears to have narrowed its search down to the surface parking lot at Fifth Street and Race Street, and the office tower pad located at The Banks which is immediately north of the new Ruth’s Chris.

Hamilton County officials would like dunnhumbyUSA to locate at The Banks to help accelerate the pace of development there, while some city officials have stated a preference for the troubled Fifth & Race location. In the end, Hamilton County seems to have more leverage given their stock of underground parking at The Banks.

Chris Monzel (R) has stated a preference to get out of the parking business, but county officials have stated that controlling parking within the central business district is a strategic move in order to help spur economic development. To that end, it would seem logical that county officials will use artificially low parking rates to lure dunnhumbyUSA to the site at The Banks.

It is projected that dunnhumbyUSA will have at least 500 employees at whatever site they choose, with room for growth. Such size would make the construction of a new office tower at The Banks economically viable and potential immediately spark construction.