Number of Vehicle Miles Traveled Continues Decline

There are a variety of roadway expansions being planned or under construction in Cincinnati including the widening of Interstate 75 and the Eastern Corridor road project. The FHWA recently released data showing that for the eighth year in a row the number of miles the nation traveled on roadways in 2012 was once again less than in the previous year. With clear trends showing the nation with an older population less willing to drive and a younger population that desire walkable neighborhoods with transportation options should transportation departments rethink their calculations for future road widening projects? More from State Smart Transportation Initiative:

A variety of factors have been cited for the decline, including retiring Baby Boomers; less enthusiasm for cars among Millennials; a move in many places toward more compact and mixed-use development; and demand-side policy efforts, including TDM, tolling and market-pricing of parking. In addition, some trends that fueled VMT growth in the last century have eased: The transition toward women working outside the home is essentially complete, car-ownership has gone from rare to common, and people’s time budgets for car travel may have reached their maximum.

The numbers suggest that, with a stable total VMT, we will still rely on highways for a long time. However, capacity projects that assume increasing VMT may be good places for cash-strapped DOTs to look for savings. And the per capita declines suggest that conventional trip generation assumptions, which drive Transportation Impact Analyses for mitigation and parking requirements, ought to be revisited. SSTI is working on a TIA project and will report out later this year. In the meantime, one source for improved trip generation estimation is Fehr & Peers Mixed Use Trip Generation Model 4.0.

Metro to Break Ground on $6.9M Uptown Transit District this April

Regional transit planners are looking to take advantage of growing ridership around Cincinnati’s second largest employment center by developing what will become the bus system’s secondary nexus.

Officials from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) say that construction will begin on the Uptown Transit District, a collection of four new transit hubs throughout Uptown, in the coming months.

The new hub is intended to serve Cincinnati’s uptown neighborhoods which create the region’s second largest employment center with more than 50,000 jobs. Many of these jobs are associated with the region’s largest medical institutions and the University of Cincinnati, and even though the area is served by a variety of Metro buses, it has been difficult for transit riders to find or coordinate transfers between buses.

Jefferson Avenue Transit Hub
One of the four new transit hubs will be built along Jefferson Avenue at the University of Cincinnati. Rendering provided.

“Ridership with Uptown origins or destinations is one of the highest in the region, second only to downtown Cincinnati,” explained Jill Dunne, Metro’s public affairs manager. “On an average weekday all Uptown stops serve about 3,300 people.”

Since the failure of the 2002 MetroMoves campaign, which included a plan to construct several regional bus hubs, the region’s largest transit provider has been able to utilize other funding sources to move forward with a more limited approach.

The Glenway Crossing Transit Hub was the first of these to become reality when it opened in December 2011.

With ridership increasing 4.2% over the past year, due in part to an increase of use by students at the University of Cincinnati, the transit agency wants to move forward with the next component of the regional bus hubs originally envisioned as part of MetroMoves.

The four separate hubs that will make up the Uptown Transit District, officials say, will include shelters and real-time arrival boards modeled after those installed at Government Square last June.

Uptown Transit District

Dunne says that the hub locations were designated after transit planners reviewed the combination of the existing route network, existing passenger travel patterns, geography and street pattern of the Uptown area, and dispersed land use and trip attractions.

“The four enhanced bus stops will provide an adequately sized and more comfortable place to accommodate existing passenger volumes,” said Dunne. “It will also address future growth needs in such key Uptown markets as UC students/faculty/staff, medical industry employees, medical patients and visitors, and neighborhood residents.”

In an effort to focus attention on existing routes, Metro recently conducted several public sessions on modifying bus routes to increase utilization of the Uptown Transit District.

In addition to existing service modifications to enhance usage of the Uptown Transit District, officials say that the four new hubs will benefit from the planned phase two expansion of the Cincinnati Streetcar and new Metro*Plus limited stop service that will begin operating between Downtown, Uptown and Kenwood.

The $6.9 million project was funded through a mixture of funding, approximately 72% of which came from Federal sources, and will begin construction in April.

Plans call for additional bus hubs, like the Glenway Crossing Transit Hub and Uptown Transit District, to be developed in other large employment centers around the city as money becomes available.

Cincinnati Aims to Use P3 to Upgrade Parking Assets, Leverage Economic Development

Last week, Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney unveiled the city’s plans for modernizing its parking assets through what he called a public-public partnership.

The plan calls for a 30-year lease on thousands of on-street parking meters, and a 50-year lease on 2,363 spaces in five city-owned garages and four city-owned lots. The deal includes an initial $92 million upfront payment, and an estimated $3 million annual installment payment.

The other public partner in the deal is the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati, who would oversee the operation of the parking assets. Xerox would work with the Port Authority to manage on-street spaces, while Denison Parking would help manage the garages and lots. The financing muscle behind the deal would be AEW Capital Management and Guggenheim Partners.

City officials note that the collection of private partners will be known as the ParkCincy Team.

Organizational Structure
The organizational structure under the proposed parking asset deal would keep the City of Cincinnati in charge. Provided.

In addition to the complex financial structure of the deal, the City of Cincinnati will see its parking assets dramatically modernized in the coming years. All on-street parking meters will be replaced by electronic meters that accept credit cards, and will be monitored to allow for those searching for a parking space to get real-time information on parking availability.

Several parking structures throughout the center city will also be overhauled. The crumbling Pogue’s Garage at Fourth and Race Streets will be torn down and replaced by a 30-story residential tower with a 1,000-space parking garage that will reserve more than half of the spaces for public use. Across the street, the 500-space Tower Place Garage will be renovated and expanded into the existing and vacant Tower Place Mall by another 500 spaces.

The improvements to be made to the Pogue’s Garage site and Tower Place Garage are being assisted by $12 million in city financing made available through the lease’s upfront payment.

The proposed deal would significantly simplify the City’s accounting responsibilities with regards to its parking assets, but it would shift the bulk of annual revenues to the ParkCincy Team. Provided.

As part of that $12 million deal, the Port Authority will work with the developer to construct the planned $14.2 million 725-space parking garage, near the Horseshoe Casino at Seventh and Sycamore Streets, in place of the deteriorating parking garage at that site. The new garage’s development, meanwhile, is expected to jump-start the adjacent development of the proposed 115-room Holiday Inn & Suites.

In order to make the deal worthwhile for the Port Authority and the ParkCincy Team, parking meters will be in effect from 8am to 9pm downtown, and 7am to 9pm in other neighborhoods. Parking rates will remain the same downtown, but rates will increase to $.75 an hour once meter upgrades have been made.

Mayor Mallory’s Administration reviewed the bids and decided to take a lesser upfront payment in order to avoid some of the pitfalls experienced in Chicago, as pointed out by critics of Cincinnati’s deal. The City of Cincinnati sacrificed roughly $50 million in order to maintain control over certain aspects of the parking inventory including first ten minutes free at downtown meters, free parking on Sundays and holidays, and oversight on rate increases and enforcement.

One very crucial aspect is that the city will retain control over the price of parking, which will be determined by a board made up of City and Port Authority representatives, and rate increases will be capped at 3% annually.

In addition to the $12 million for the development at Fourth and Race Streets, the remaining $80 million from the upfront lease payment will go towards the following items:

  • $20 million to jump-start the Martin Luther King Drive Interchange at I-71;
  • $4 million to accelerate the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park in order to be complete in time for the 2015 All-Star Game;
  • $3 million to acquire the Wasson Corridor right-of-way;
  • $6.3 million to bring the City’s reserve savings account to its goal of 8%;
  • $25.8 million to balance the City’s 2014 budget; and
  • $20.9 million to balance the City’s 2015 budget.

City officials hope the $20 million for the MLK Interchange will accelerate its construction, but is contingent upon the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). The project, officials say, will have a $750 million economic impact and create between 5,900 and 7,300 permanent jobs.

Should ODOT officials turn down the deal, City officials have said that they are prepared to redirect the funds to a 2,500-job “mega deal.”

The administration’s parking modernization and lease agreement requires approval from the Planning Commission and City Council before being finalized. The Planning Commission will vote on the matter this Friday at 9am, with a full City Council vote expected shortly thereafter.

Randy A. Simes contributed to this story.

Has the United States given up on building subway systems?

Everyone knows that America’s roadways and bridges are crumbling, but the United States has also seemingly given up on its subway systems. Atlanta’s subway system was the last subway system started in the U.S., and its construction commenced in 1979. Since that time no other American city has been able to figure out the financing of a subway system with the disappearance of federal funding support. More from Governing:

The rapid pace of subway construction, especially in developing countries, has driven the number of systems in the world to more than 190, according to the Economist. One reason for the boom has to do with government stimulus programs that followed the financial crisis, allowing investment in subway construction to soar. One country that’s noticeably absent from the project lists that appear in trade publications is the U.S.

With transit funding still uncertain, given the lack of a stable, dependable funding stream from Congress, all but a handful of cities have decided to stay clear of such money-draining projects…Some might argue that we don’t need such large-scale transit systems, which are not only expensive to build but expensive to run. Indeed, debates over the pros and cons of a subway system have killed many plans while delaying some construction projects for decades, not just in the U.S. but in other countries as well. Still, we can’t ignore the fact that the U.S. is becoming an increasingly urbanized country, with more people working and living in cities every year.

People love parks, so why do politicians balk at funding them?

Cincinnatians are fortunate to have one of the nation’s best park systems. But as we are finding out more and more in the era of tightening budgets, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find funding for public pools, dog parks, maintenance and other general services. So, just why is it that people so often balk at public park spending? More from Next City:

Last November, the Philadelphia City Council approved a $2.67 million increase to funding for the Department of Parks and Recreation. The decision was roundly cheered by residents and the advocacy groups that had long pushed for the cash infusion…And that was just to secure, as Bornfriend mentioned, “a start.” The funding increase is still far less than the additional $17 million a year that Mayor Michael Nutter said, while campaigning for his current office in 2007, was required for basic maintenance of the city’s park system alone.

And that, in a nutshell is the problem: Everyone loves the idea of parks and rec centers, but no one likes actually paying for them. Parks and Recreation services have long been whipping boys of city councils and municipal budget-makers across the country, with funding cuts being less politically charged than those to emergency services and less immediately noticeable than, say, libraries. With long-standing national and global economic uncertainty eating into municipal revenues, cuts to park budgets have become more frequent and pronounced.