Cincinnati moves forward with city-wide ‘complete streets’ initiative

Some streets just do not feel safe to walk along. Perhaps it is the lack of space between the cars driving by or even the lack of a sidewalk in some instances. It’s even more precarious for bicyclists who sometimes have the benefit of designated bicycle lanes but most of the times compete with cars to share space on the roads.

It was not always like this. When the automobiles first came around at the dawn of the twentieth century, they had to compete with a lively street scene that included horse drawn buggies, pedestrians and bicyclists. Tensions came to a boiling point in Cincinnati and in 1923 when citizens attempted to pass a ballot initiative limiting the speed of automobiles to 25 miles per hour. The auto industry banded together to defeat the proposition and our streets were never quite the same.

Pedestrians, bicyclists and automobile drivers peacefully coexist on Diversey Street on Chicago’s north side. Photograph by Randy A. Simes for UrbanCincy.

Fast forward to today where Cincinnati City Council’s Livable Communities Committee will listen to an update on the city’s on-going Complete Streets initiative. The movement, which got its start through a motion sponsored by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) in August 2009, is now an integral part of the on-going, five-day charrette for the city’s Plan Build Live initiative.

Complete Streets are regulations that allow streets to be redesigned to focus on shared use with bicycles and mass transit as well as better conditions for pedestrians. The problem in Cincinnati, and throughout much of the United States, is that people drive past what used to be viable places. The initiative, in theory, would improve conditions for many of the city’s struggling neighborhoods by reorienting them towards the users for which they were originally designed.

“We need to ensure that our neighborhood business districts are destinations and not just raceways through town for commuters,” Vice Mayor Qualls explained in a recent press release.

The standards aim to improve walkability and slow traffic in business districts. This can be done by adding on-street parking, converting one-way roads to two-way traffic, and providing connections through smaller block sizes.

Jocelyn Gibson, an Over-the-Rhine resident who attended yesterday’s brown bag lunch session on Complete Streets thinks it’s a great idea. “It’s not just about adding bike lanes; it’s about creating a more economically viable community by restoring walkable livable streets.”

Some of the focus areas mentioned by consultants Hall Planning & Engineering included the conversion of McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road into two-way streets and making improvements to the Reading Road corridor. The standards, officials say, are part of the city’s form-based code efforts and planned to be finalized by this summer.

Anyone is welcome to attend the meeting today which will be held at 11am inside City Hall (map).

  • It is about adding bike lanes because Cincinnati is a joke compared to Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis where even a novice on-street biker can feel comfortable. Websites like Grid Chicago and M Bike show just how far behind bicycling infrastructure is in Cincinnati. I would hope the Vice Mayor would tour Indianpolis’ Cultural Trail, the Dequindre Cut in Detroit, and various facilities in Chicago to see what the competition is doing for bikers.

    • Aaron Watkins

      This isn’t just about bikes, it’s about walkable communities as well. But I agree that Cincinnati is in dire need of both.

  • It just seems reasonable that development regulations throughout the country should require that appropriate sidewalks and bicycle lanes are provided when roadways are built. Roadways are not just for cars, they’re for people and however they want to use them.

    • Zachary Schunn

      Randy, do you know of any good studies estimating miles traveled by different transit type:  car, rail, bus, bike, walking, etc.?  I think it’s clear that the funding in Cincinnati (and the U.S. as a whole) is more skewed towards cars than it should be based on transit use, but I’d be interested to see how badly it’s skewed.

    • BathtubGin

       Miles traveled is probably not as good a metric as trips by mode.

  • Random note: I live about two minutes away from where this picture was taken.  Great area.

  • Albert Pyle

    Thanks to this entry, I pedaled over to City Hall for the presentation to the Roxanne Qualls’s Livable Communities Committee (is the council as a whole the Unlivable Communities Committee?) and as one of maybe three non-bureaucrats in the audience, was one of very few witnesses to Charlie Winburn’s 170 degree reversal on the streetcar, which would connect to his relocated College of Law.  

    • Great…glad you made it over there. As for Winburn’s College of Law idea, I am not sure why anyone would want to squander more prime riverfront property on another non-tax generating use.

    • Mark Christol

      I saw this on TV. I about fell out of my chair when Winburn asked about there being a plan for development up Vine to Uptown/Clifton.
      kinda scary

  • Dont’ forget the hills. Indy and chicago would be two-dimensional featureless planes if it weren’t for buildings. This makes them more cycle friendly and amenable to street grids already. We can’t remove the third dimension from cincinnati at all and we can only slowly  make up for the lack of a grid. Still, we should enjoy the third dimension since we have it.

    • BathtubGin

       So why is San Francisco so much further ahead of us in cycle infrastructure?

    • because many there can’t afford to have a car with the frightening cost of living.

  • mobilecasedirect

    I don’t have all the stats but I thought I read Cincy having 200K people within the city, and $2.2M within the outer belt. Unless Cities can see the big picture and invest in pedestrian friendly cities they will never reverse the suburban sprawl.

    In my opinion until Cincinnati has a major issue with car traffic driving more people to take public transit, bikes, walking, etc… I doubt they will invest like Chicago and other major cities have done.

    When I lived in Clifton I used to bike everywhere downtown but must admit during bad weather and work I drove my car. It is sad to admit but I utilized public transit in Cincinnati once within about 20+ years living within the city limits.

    • BathtubGin

      Ah, I knew dropping below 300k in population would lead some people to look at it and have 200k register. The 2010 census says 296,943, so you rounded off about 97k. Thus illustrating the psychological importance of losing those last 3,057 people.

    • mobilecasedirect

      My faulty memory chopped out a lot of folks. 🙂 That’s a huge difference. Thanks for the the numbers. I would love to see Cincy get more bike friendly and encourage new modes of public transit.