Ludlow Avenue: The Case for a Pedestrian Streets Ordinance

The stretch of Ludlow Avenue from Whitfield Avenue to the west to Ormond Avenue to the east has a decidedly suburban form different from the rest of the gaslight district between Ormond Avenue and Clifton Avenue. This western stretch is part of a two-block commercial main street that is arguably the “most complete neighborhood commercial district in the city,” according to Aaron Renn.

Just being a commercial main street, however, has not been enough to preserve the pedestrian-oriented nature of the street for the entire western half of the district on the south side of Ludlow, and a key gap on the north side of Ludlow at Ormond.

The southern stretch could be described as the Clifton financial district. Between Whitfield and the CVS are three banks – US Bank, PNC and Columbia Savings Bank – all with their own independent access and parking lots surrounding the buildings.

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The oddity is not that banks have their own access and parking, but that you have auto-oriented suburban development on a historic commercial main street. This is not a unique problem, but a pedestrian streets ordinance, perhaps modeled after Chicago’s, could help correct faulty land use decisions like this one.

The theory behind such an ordinance is that you have an A and B street hierarchy, with A streets having a high standard of spatial definition and pedestrian interest in a continuous network, and B streets having lower standards for parking lots, drive-thru’s, muffler shops, etc.

This is a neoliberal approach typical of New Urbanism, It compromises for many areas and gives businesses a design choice based on location: a pedestrian main street (A), or an auto-oriented B street.

Chicago’s pedestrian streets ordinance seeks “to preserve and enhance the character of streets and intersections that are widely recognized as Chicago’s best examples of pedestrian-oriented shopping districts. The regulations are intended to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort.”

The ordinance then sets the criteria for the pedestrian street designation, lists all street segments within the city that have been deemed pedestrian streets subject to the ordinance, and sets standards for build-to lines, transparency and pedestrian access.

Of particular importance is what it says about parking and driveways:

Parking Location. All off-street parking spaces must be enclosed or located to the rear of the principal building and not be visible from the right-of-way of a pedestrian street.

Driveways and Vehicle Access. Vehicle access to lots located along pedestrian streets must come from an alley. No curb cuts or driveways are allowed from a pedestrian street.

If this the stretch of Ludlow Avenue had a pedestrian streets ordinance, at such time these banks wish to make improvements or redevelopment, these standards would then kick in and require the banks to reconsider their vehicular access, possibly to the point of eliminating driveways and consolidating parking and access off Whitfield.

More realistically, however, the ordinance would help guard other commercial main streets from the auto-oriented nature of drug stores, banks and restaurants without the need for a short-term Interim Development Controls (IDC) district or historic district protections.

  • The entirety of the Ludlow business district, including those banks and the apartment across the street are already zoned as CN-P: Commercial Neighborhood – Pedestrian. So any new building or redevelopment of those parcels are already subject to the kinds of design criteria being suggested. The CN-P zoning is very much form-based and quite explicit about creating a good walkable environment.

    • This CN-P district will be changing with the new LDC or if Clifton decides to pursue a FBC. But regardless you’re right, all new development already follows these standards.

    • Do you have any specific examples of new infill development in Cincinnati NBDs that follow this standard? I’m not talking large-scale developments like U Square or that new project in Northside. I’m talking one off small buildings like a bank or a pharmacy.

    • The former Closson’s in Oakley and to a lesser extent the Oakley Skyline. The owner of the Skyline got all up in arms because of the zoning requirements for the amount of windows on the front of the building when he built an addition.

      These buildings near the railroad overpass on Madison Road also fit though all of the Oakley business district is a CC-M (Commercial Corridor – Mixed) zone which is more forgiving to automotive development.

      This building at Paxton and Wasson is in a CC-P (Commercial Corridor – Pedestrian) zone, which seems a bit far-fetched, and the results are lackluster considering how unpleasant the street is

    • EDG

      Do you know how the driveways and side yard parking were approved for the Closson’s and Skyline? Of the three I’d say the Paxton and Wasson is the best because of parking and access is to the side/rear, you almost don’t realize there is any. The other examples are similar to Ludlow where the driveways are coming off the main street creating a conflict point at the sidewalk.

    • Closson’s was an existing hardware store set way back (where the big sign is in the street view image) and they infilled about 1/3 of the existing parking lot to bring the building to the street. The Skyline is also an older building that was put up before the newer zoning regulations, but the addition was held to the new design standards.

    • These are great examples. Thanks for sharing.

    • The only example of single-tenant urban infill development I can think of is the funeral home that recently opened in Walnut Hills (CC-P zoning, proposed re-zone to CX). And I still find that odd, because of the extraordinary cost associated with buying the land and building, demo-ing, then re-building from scratch. Financially re-use is typically still the way to go with real estate values so low. Why build new for $200+/sf when you can often find existing buildings in good shape for $30-40/sf?

      Most local retailers don’t have the capital to build new, and most nationals use preferred developers that are so specialized in the suburban freestanding model they’re not going to jump through the extra financial and legal hoops (especially higher land costs). That’s why you see banks and restaurants opening urban locations in these large developments. Plus, their lease costs are typically lower because of the economies of scale that come with large developments and centralized parking.

      I’m seeing a change with the larger single-tenant retailers (10,000+) to an urban infill approach (the Short North Kroger in Columbus is a good example), but for some reason it’s slow to catch on in Cincinnati.

    • EDG

      I’m going to try to get some exterior and interior pics of this new Kroger by local firm CR Architects next time I’m in MI-,-grosse-pointe-detroit.aspx

    • EDG

      You’re right that the existing zoning is very similar to this code but there are still ways within the local process that a driveway or side yard parking could be allowed. The Chicago pedestrian streets ordinance is black and white and does not provide for exceptions of these two critical items. If you want to vary from any of the standards, even adding a new sign, the alderman has to suspend the ordinance entirely, not that we don’t do that here already, as not having one of the critical elements would defeat its purpose. Plus, I don’t think the historic commercial main streets throughout the city have been identified in this manner. Historic preservation is the mechanism for preventing parking and driveways on Main St downtown, Vine St, specifically Mercer Commons, appears to have no such restrictions, and Pleasant Ridge is under an IDC.