Could Narrowing Liberty Street Unlock New Development Potential in OTR?

Streets can set the mood and feel of a place. Narrow streets with low traffic are quiet, easy to walk across and casual. Wide streets can be chaotic, full of traffic and hard to bridge on foot. There is a wide street in Over-the-Rhine that cuts through the northern part of the neighborhood and the southern revitalizing part of it. It’s Liberty Street.

Liberty Street was not always so wide. Before 1955 the street, which now dead ends at Reading Road and the I-471 ramps, extended from Highland Avenue on the hill in Mt. Auburn to the U.S. Post Office facility in Queensgate. The width of the street was a modest 25 feet.

In 1955, however, the city decided to widen and connect it to Reading Road as a east-west cross town access point for the interstate highway system. Buildings on the south side of the street were demolished and the street was widened from a two lane road to one with five lanes.

The street is currently 70 feet wide and is both dangerous and difficult to cross for people walking. Development has not taken place on the south side of the street since most of remaining lots are too small and oddly shaped for development.

Beyond its physical barriers, Liberty Street also serves as a psychological barrier between the nascent Brewery District and vibrant Gateway Quarter.

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In 2012, the City’s Department of Transportation & Engineering began studying ways to calm traffic on the street in order to make it safer. After spending two years evaluating traffic conditions, City Hall is beginning to engage the public for comment on the proposal. The first will be tomorrow night at the Woodward Theater.

The session will build upon the idea proposed in the OTR Brewery District Master Plan, which called for the removal of a lane of traffic to add protected bicycle lanes in both directions. The UrbanCincy team recently discussed the proposal and found that while this is a good starting point, there is a larger opportunity for the street to spur more redevelopment along the corridor.

Our proposal eliminates one lane of traffic in each direction, but preserves the middle turn lane. A two-way contraflow protected bicycle lane would then be installed on the south side of the street. This leaves approximately 15 feet of unused street right-of-way.

This unused right-of-way could be returned to property owners on the south side of the street, thus narrowing the overall street by 15 feet. It would also increase the size of the southern properties which would increase their development potential and improve safety for pedestrians crossing the street. This would serve as particularly beneficial for small parcels such as those at the corner of Vine and Liberty or between Main and Sycamore.

This idea builds on the ideas put forward by Jeff Speck, who recently released a video on traffic calming and embraces modern street design standards that are found in the National Association of City Transportation Officials Street Design Manual.

The Liberty Street Safety Improvement Open House will take place at the Woodward Theater located at 1404 Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The session starts at 6pm and will last until 8pm. It is served by the #16, 17, 19 and 24 Metro bus routes, and is less than a block away from a Cincy Red Bike station.

  • SC

    Thankful that this is being talked about seriously now. Liberty street has been too wide for too long. I like the idea of giving back space to the south side again while still retaining the bike lanes.

    Hope to see a good turnout tomorrow at Woodward. Getting Liberty to stop being such a huge obstacle can only help North OTR.

    • Absolutely right. The widening and realignment of Liberty Street has proven to be a massive failure. It’s time to learn our lesson and fix the mistake.

    • Brian Boland

      Totally agree. The road is far too wide. Giving the property on the south side of the street back to the adjacent property owners could unlock it for development. I’ll be stopping by for a bit on the way to the streetcar celebration.

    • When you walk the street you will notice that some of these oddly shaped lots are very small. In fact, even with an additional 10-15′ of real estate it will still be difficult to develop them. This will take a creative approach and close coordination with City Hall.

      Perhaps one way to address this challenge is to somehow integrate the sidewalk space into the development footprint.

    • John Yung

      Perhaps this is an opportunity to utilize arcade style frontages where the second story is over the sidewalk, like in New Orleans? That type of building frontage is actually pretty rare in Cincinnati.

    • Jonathan Hay

      That’s a great idea and it would work well in OTR.

  • matimal

    Narrowing Liberty certainly could unlock new development. That’s why some will passionately oppose it.

  • charles ross

    Liberty “ends” at Reading. It does not “dead end”, far from it. A better description of that east end of it might call it an extension of the I-471 entrance ramp. Definitely that whole zone of reading at Liberty needs pedestrianizing – it’s currently just a bunch of highway feeders, a car-cowed wasteland culminating in a sign-beggar camp down in the gulley behind the Staples parking lot. The Pendleton zone needs to extend around to the Elsinore zone as a walkable place.

    • As thrilled as I am to see the Grand Baldwin building turned into apartments, I fear it will be unsuccessful if they can’t work out some walkability/bikability plan with the city on Reading and/or Galbraith.

    • charles ross

      This brings a matter of curiosity. There’s an abandoned bridge across I-71 from the Baldwin southern lawn/parking lot to the parking lot island near the CHP/Mercy building. That could be a walkway someday. It’s a strange bit of architectural flotsam created by the Expresswayism that converged there.

      Seems somebody could do something cool with it, not to mention the wasted south lawn of the Baldwin property. There’s the Elsinore park entry to the East, there’s the renovated Highland Steps to the West by the High Street store – gotta be a way to make lemonade out of this….

      see googmap,-84.5001857,200m/data=!3m1!1e3

    • I don’t think it’s abandoned. I think it’s connected to a bike path and is used as such.

    • charles ross

      It may have been a while ago but the ends of the bridge are covered with brambles and weeds as far as I can see. Needs exploring!

    • Brian Boland

      It’s the old railroad bridge whose farther north route is becoming the Wasson Way Trail. They only tore down the more norther bridge a couple months ago to make way for the new MLK interchange. I was asking the question a year ago as to why they weren’t considering this for a light rail or other corridor up to and including wesson way, but I guess the powers that be had already decided to kill that bridge and any possible connection into downtown. But for this bridge there is still a chance to do something.

    • Wade Howell

      False, that bridge you speak of is currently blocked off by fencing. What was it’s original purpose?