City Hosting Open House On Conversion of Main Street to Two-Way Travel

13063206_10153551968558597_3927391729015920711_oAlmost two years ago we reported that community groups in Over-the-Rhine requested City Hall to evaluate the possibility of converting Main Street from one-way to two-way travel.

Converted in the 1930’s, the street acts a couplet with Walnut Street directing automobile traffic northward on its two travel lanes to facilitate the speedy flow of traffic. However, as evidence of the detrimental effects of one-way streets has been documented, this practice is slowly falling out of favor.

Nearby, in 1999, the City of Cincinnati converted Vine Street in OTR to two-way and, despite the city’s Department of Transportation & Engineering finding the change caused seconds worth of delay for motorists, the street has flourished with pedestrian activity.

But as Vine Street flourished, Main Street stagnated.

Despite long time storefronts such as Iris Bookcafe and Mr. Pitifuls, the corridor, from Twelvth Street to Liberty Street, has had difficulty in attracting and retaining retail activity, despite the growing availability of storefronts that were previously galleries for Final Friday.

So the question many neighborhood leaders are now asking is whether similar treatment, as Vine Street, could work similar magic on Main Street.

On Wednesday, April 27, the City’s DOTE will host its third open house on the matter. City officials say that purpose of the open house is to present information that the City has gathered, and to also solicit public input regarding the request.

A flyer for the event states that, “The business association’s desire is to calm traffic speeds, improve pedestrian comfort and promote better vehicular accessibility of the businesses. They perceive that the two-way traffic pattern will provide these needs.”

The open house will take place at the Woodward Theater and run from 6pm to 7:30pm. The theater is very accessible by Metro routes #16, #17, #19 and #24, and is less than a block from the Main and Orchard Red Bike station.

  • Matt Jacob

    I don’t think 2-way street conversions are the silver bullet that many presume. They don’t magically make thriving business districts.

    A lot of what changed Vine Street besides the 2-way conversion (and I’d argue had a bigger impact) were the streetscape improvements, exterior storefront investments by 3CDC, and also the large amounts of tenant improvement dollars that 3CDC gave tenants at start up. 3CDC partnered with these businesses (through upfront investment and % rent) and has a vested interest in their success.

    By contrast on Main Street you have smaller owners with less to give other than the space itself, which means the tenants need to foot the upfront costs of improving the space, upgrading the exterior storefronts, and keeping their own street space clean. This extra time and money limits their ability to grow their business and in turn shortens their life cycle. I think this is starting to change on the south side of Main already as Urban Sites is starting to make investments in many storefronts that have needed it for a while. Depending on how they fill these spaces (and with the addition of office space on Main), we could already be at the start of the next boom of Main Street businesses. The north end will still need additional investment to remain competitive, but investments like the Woodward Theater help.

    Streetscape improvements could still give a big boost to Main Street though. Simple things like cleaning gum off the sidewalks, actually planting trees in the tree boxes they’ve just built, upgrading the parking meters to kiosks along the whole stretch, and cleaning up the old meter poles/signage could go a long way towards changing the gritty perception right now. Getting the ambassadors to expand to Main Street and regularly clean up would also help tremendously.

    End rant. Look forward to the discussion tonight.

    • Brian Boland

      Love the rant, Matt. Though I do think that two way streets are better, you point out well that there is much more to it than that, and a lot that can be done besides that. The sidewalk is absolutely the key, it’s the space walkers live in and it is the “permeable” nature of the sidewalk that is what I think everyone likes about Vine street and Main lacks that–as do most of our streets. Programs that improve the sidewalk experience would help the small shops on the streets, which then translates into better business and a more vibrant neighborhood, which then attracts more people.

    • Good points about Vine Street. One thing that I think should not be overlooked is the fact that people like to congregate in places where there are other people and activities taking place. By converting Vine to two-way, it made the street more congested, and thus more exciting. I suspect the same will happen to Main Street.

      Right now you have periods where there is no traffic, then periods where there’s lots of traffic. This is due to the traffic signal timing in the CBD, and it makes the street predictable and not all that lively. Making the street a bit more congested will also give the appearance that it is busier with activity, and thus attract even more.

    • Matt Jacob

      Valid point about congestion acting as a magnet for more activity, Randy.

      I personally think that narrowing the street in some way (via diagonal one-way parking on one side, bike lanes, bump outs, or some other narrowing effect) could accomplish this same congestion to increase activity generation. It also makes it safer for pedestrians while crossing since they only need to look one way.

      I think you are right that the biggest problem is the traffic signal timing that creates short bursts of cars that have nothing but open road in front of them after 13th. It might make sense to use stop signs through this business district (or at least at 14th) instead to moderate the flow and slow the traffic down in the process of creating congestion.

      Given that the Main Street corridor up until 12th has almost been set in stone as 1-way after the streetcar installation, I think it makes the most sense to keep the remainder of the street 1-way to still allow for a future streetcar extension that terminates at the Mulberry hill. I’d like to see this future line thought about in this plan even if it’s just that the streetcar would run in the driving lane similar to the way it was designed on 12th. There’s no need to redesign Main Street twice, but we can plan where the stations would line up.

    • I actually think you could get rid of all the traffic signals in OTR, with the exception of those at the Central Parkway and Liberty Street crossings. The current traffic signals could be replaced by stop signs, and the rest just turned into yield intersections.

    • Matt Jacob

      I agree. Probably makes sense to keep them where the streetcar crosses as well.

    • Matt Jacob

      For what it’s worth, I asked DOTE about changing the lights out for stop signs, and their response was that the buildings are too close for that to work. Many intersections in OTR/CBD apparently are traffic lights because if they were stop signs the cars would need to creep forward into the pedestrian crossings to see if cars were coming before turning. After the meeting I actually saw what they meant as cars on Orchard trying to turn crept up to block the crosswalk where as they waited back at the lights behind the line typically.

      I still think stops signs would be worth trying on Main to slow traffic. A friend had a good idea of a way to test whether stop signs on Main Street would work well to slow traffic: put the traffic lights on flashing red temporarily to see if it works. They even suggested that the lights flash red on weekend nights or times of day where speeding is more likely.

      It will be interesting what they suggest to slow traffic on a one-way Main St.

    • I tend to agree with this.

      Firstly, it doesn’t make sense to me that we’d convert Main to 2-way without converting Walnut at the same time. Right now they act as a northbound/southbound pair, so how does it make sense to leave Walnut northbound but make Main two-way?

      Secondly, Main is already undergoing streetscape enhancements and several renovations are taking place that will make the street much more attractive and lively. We should wait to see the results of those changes.

      Finally, there was some discussion at one point about removing the asphalt on the parking lanes of Main and exposing the Belgian block (don’t call it cobblestone!) underneath. I think this would be an interesting experiment that would change the feel of the street and perhaps cause people to slow down a bit.

  • Matt Jacob

    Also put one of these at Woodward and Main please.

  • xclone25x

    Mixx needs to have more accountability for its clientele. The trash regularly outside this establishment (unless things have changed) is not helping matters as essentially the entrance to the core of Main Street walking northward.

    • Mixx has closed. They previously talked about relocating to Sycamore but I haven’t heard anything about that recently.

    • Matt Jacob

      They are currently building out at Sycamore & 12th with a June opening target. They are adding onto concept that they had at Mixx and calling it ReMixx. Also revamping Joe’s Diner after that. (See the Main St OTR FB page from today)