Alternatives For Liberty Street Reconfiguration Improvements Vary Widely

Following a public meeting at the Woodward Theater on November 18, Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering is asking for feedback on the latest proposed alternatives to potentially narrowing the seven-lane, 70-foot-wide road corridor.

At the meeting, City staff provided drawings for seven alternatives to the existing design. Drawings included configurations for two-, four- and seven-lane configurations of the street, along with commentary on the pros and cons of each.

The two- and four-lane configurations would give a certain amount of space back to property owners along the south side of the street, thus increasing the development potential of some corner lots. Only a few of the seven-lane configurations included bicycle lanes on each side of the street, while others sacrificed some on-street parking to make way for bike lanes.

At the public meeting, neighborhood residents raised concern about the impact of through traffic and trucks on the street. In particular, the concern was that the street is too wide and acts as a barrier for pedestrians.

The Over-the-Rhine Brewery District, which has been the leading group pushing for this project, asked at the public meeting why the reconfiguration developed as part of their Master Plan was not included. After some consideration, City Hall has since added an alternative based on the Brewery District’s concept that included a three-lane road configuration with protected bike lanes on each side.

The proposed narrowing of Liberty Street, which was originally built as a 25-foot-wide neighborhood street, is seen by many as an opportunity to bridge the physical and psychological divide between the northern and southern portions of Over-the-Rhine.

“Minimizing the number of lanes on Liberty Street is important so the neighborhood can take over the streets,” Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, commented after the public meeting. “I think it is important to have development on the south side, but we should also accommodate bicycles.”

Allowing for new development, while also accommodating bicycles and preserving on-street parking seems to be the biggest challenge currently facing the project. At some point, one of the items will have to give.

“I bike on Liberty Street, but I bike everywhere, and the majority of people would not find this comfortable,” Flechet continued. “I have never done it during rush hour, and I cannot imagine this would be any fun.”

City officials are accepting public comment on the various alternatives until Wednesday, December 16. The city has posted the alternatives and a public feedback form has been posted on their website. Once the public comment period is closed, City staff says they will narrow the number of alternatives down to two, and recommend one to proceed to final design.

There is currently no funding identified to implement any of the alternatives, but City officials hope to secure the necessary funds at a later date.

 

  • I like the four lane option. Once the street is constricted people will no longer see it as a race track. With cars going slower I’m not sure we’ll need dedicated bike lanes. I’d rather have it as narrow as possible so we can actually cross it safely on foot or by bike.

    • Precisely my thoughts as well.

    • Brian Boland

      So you guys feel that the narrowing of the roadway is the most important factor and trumps the possible inclusion of bike lanes, is that right?

    • I commute by bike and live downtown. The bike lanes seem more useful on high speed race tracks like Central Ave. I won’t be disappointed if they add bike lanes but a narrower Liberty would be better for the neighborhood.

    • Brian Boland

      Got it, thanks for the perspective.

    • Right. In my mind, the whole idea and need for special bike and pedestrian protections comes from the fact that our roadways are designed around cars, and often inherently dangerous for people walking or biking. If streets are designed properly for all modes of transportation, then there is less of a need for these types of accommodations.

  • Matt Jacob

    I’d love to see them go with the BD’s master plan (#3), but I think there is a lot of push back from DOTE on reducing the capacity this drastically. The protected bike lane part of it wasn’t very highly valued by DOTE or a lot of the residents that I talked to either. #4 will have the same push back about reducing capacity, but at the meeting it seemed like a capacity reduction, in order to increase pedestrian and biker safety, was actually one things the neighborhood was actively asking for. #5 is probably the best that can be hoped for IMO since it only reduces capacity in the evenings/night when the parking is allowed in lanes 1 & 5. The other nice thing about #5 is that bumpouts could be added later down the road to get it closer to the BD’s plan minus protected bike lanes.

    My money is on them coming back with the low-cost #7a with the bumpouts and #5, since it still maintains capacity during the day.

    • SC

      I think #5 is what DOTE wants after hearing them talk (if that.) That is about as small as they really wish to go (and I told them I understand why as they have to worry about traffic concerns, where that traffic will go, etc.) Doing 7* would be a waste of money in my opinion.

    • Brian Boland

      This is a case of “induced demand”. If “build it and they will come” is true the reverse also often proves to be true: remove it and they will just go away.

    • Matt Jacob

      But where will they go? Walk? Bike? or (gasp) ride the streetcar? It’s so scary.

    • patrickjnewton

      Very disappointed with DOTE’s analysis of the most heavily traveled routes and end points for users of Liberty. That absolutely cuts to the crux of the matter as to who will be most impacted and where would people go if the capacity is reduced. It is my opinion that you have three types of users originating outside the area with routes that take them on Liberty for a terminus outside of OTR for rush hour traffic. Local users would in all likelihood love reduced capacity, save for a few commercial owners who hate almost everything that alters current traffic patterns. We already know who they are.

      1. Biggest group (at least on the Eastern end) Christ Hospital/other Pill Hill users coming from I-71/471 on the East and I-75 on the West. The I-71/471 users would eventually be enticed to use Reading or the new MLK interchange if any drastic reduction in capacity occurs between Reading/Sycamore (which doesn’t appear to be happening anyway). The Christ Hospital users from the West will be most impacted by the proposed changes, but best for the neighborhood if at least half of those users shuttle up McMillan from the West Side.

      2. Cars traveling from either interstate/Central Parkway down into the CBD. No concern here – use or continue to use Central Parkway, which by most reliable measures is a monstrosity with ample excess capacity at all times of day. In that case, converting most of the north/south streets in the “Gateway Quarter” into two-ways helps better distribute traffic. People would actually drive onto the street they need, rather than having to circle around.

      3. Queensgate and West End users. Same result as 2. Use Central Parkway to traverse the gap between Central Parkway on the West and I-71/471.

      That’s all I can think of at least in broad categories.

      So who is really impacted? The alternates barely reduce travel times and probably will be reduced as soon as traffic is diverted and engineers can optimize signals. Currently, the lights on Liberty aren’t synced up anyway, so it’s really a big stop and go coming from West to East. The lights are closer to synced going East to West, but really we’re just encouraging folks to use the road because its wide, not because its necessarily quick.

      My wife travels from our home on Milton to Hopple or I-75 via Liberty because she works in Green Tonwship, and frankly would welcome reduced capacity, taking McMicken or Central Parkway as alternatives as needed.

      So in closing, Mr. Moore, tear down these lanes!

  • matimal

    It’s this kind of grassroots planning that will become key to development in the future. The old days of civic “leaders” doing deals in offices or cocktail parties are ending….I hope.

  • Christopher Wyatt

    A huge amount of traffic on Liberty Street is simply through traffic that is a result of the direct connection with I-71 and I-471 at Reading Road. In my view, the easiest way of returning Liberty Street to a neighborhood street would be eliminate the final section between Sycamore St. and Reading Rd., so that drivers traveling beyond Sycamore on Liberty could only go up Liberty Hill towards Highland Ave. Under this scenario, through traffic would be routed primarily on Central Parkway instead, which generally enjoys spare capacity at most times of day. Motorists wishing to get onto I-471 from Reading Road would also enjoy the added benefit of reduced waiting times, as converting this junction from a 4-way signalized intersection to just 3-way would simplify traffic signal operation.

    • Matt Jacob

      I think you’re right that that Liberty/Reading intersection needs looked at to encourage more people to use Central Parkway instead of flying up Sycamore/Main and down Liberty. To me it seemed like they are more focused on the CP to sycamore section of Liberty for this study though.

    • KeepReal

      Reading Road, and Liberty at its intersection, is an excellent way to access OTR (and, specifically, Findlay Market) from the north. This should not be lost.

  • Jonathan Hay

    How come there is not an option of 4 car lanes and one bike lane. Bike lanes typically only show up when the road is grossly too wide.

  • SC

    Having been there as well, doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of push for bike lanes. I wanted them but if we went with 4 lanes (or even 5), it might slow it down enough that biking in traffic is fine. I feel perfectly safe throughout the rest of downtown on bike where the speed limit is 25mph.

    Getting the width of the street narrower and opening up development again on the south side is paramount I think. The extra 20′ of space would get rid of a lot of blighted lots on the south side and allow for some nice infill.

  • Sean Gray

    Any 4 lane option is a terrible option. See http://streets.mn/2014/10/28/four-lane-death-roads-should-be-illegal/

    The parking should be permanent with an 8ft lane and bump-outs. The neighborhood shouldn’t yield to commuter traffic for a few hours a day. None of these options is good. 3 is the best of the bad choices.

  • Erich Griessmann

    As someone who has lived in Chicago for 16 years with bike lanes everywhere and someone who is from Cincinnati and lived downtown in the 90’s I am going to add some perspective to my fellow Cincinnatians. Should Liberty be narrowed? Certainly. Should the lots on the south part of the street be made larger? Yes they should. But don’t make the street ridiculously narrow. In Chicago, they have done it to Lawrence Avenue and now it is one lane in either direction when it used to be two in either direction and it is a total parking lot 24 hours a day. Everyone is absolutely miserable about the traffic there and I know that everyone will say “walkability factor”, give up your car, etc etc…But here are the realities. You can’t get anywhere fast anymore EVER. Not getting on the bus, hailing a cab, the delivery trucks have no where to park without blocking the streets and the irritation that we all feel from the bike lanes that eat up so much space where people used to be able to drive that go unused for months and months is crazy. So here is my advice. Build the bike lane, but put it on one side of the street, it doesn’t need to be on both sides. Leave the street at two lanes in each direction and have parking on the south side of the street where there is the potential for retail in the new buildings/enlarged lots. The bike lane can be on the north side of the street. That way with four lanes delivery trucks have a lane that can be double parked in and still allow traffic flow but beautify the neighborhood and make it more walkable. Either that, or make sure that the enlarged lots have a spacious alley behind the new buildings so that it is unnecessary to park on the street and can deliver from the back. I love OTR and always did, and I love what has happened there when I visit, but please don’t do what Chicago has done and turned the city into absolute gridlock for walking and biking when no one is doing it 3 – 4 months out of the year. It makes zero sense and so many of us here wish it had never been done. There is compromise for both, please do it correctly. Not everyone wants to bike their groceries home in January.

    • KeepReal

      I, too, lived in Chicago some decades ago. Upon return visits within the last couple of years my experience has been just as Erich described: lousy. Getting around that city is a royal pain. What is one to do, rent a “red bike” when it’s 20 degrees? What of older or those less fit? Kowtowing to the bike interests has gone too far. It’s so unpleasant to get around Chicago, not only am I glad I no longer live there, I’m reluctant to even visit.

    • SC

      It’s kind of like that because the people that live in the core want a community, a neighborhood. Just as other communities (Montgomery, etc.) wouldn’t want freeways running through their towns, neither do people in the basin.

      It’s gotta be a balancing act. But in the end, it’s not really fair to keep such a huge barrier to the residents in the basin, especially when most industry and office buildings are downtown, not in OTR.