PHOTOS: Take A Look Inside Cincinnati’s Deteriorating Union Terminal

Cincinnati’s Union Terminal is one of the few remaining gems of its kind. In addition to being a part of the golden era for passenger rail travel, the grand structure also pioneered the modern, long-distance travel building architecture for many of today’s airports.

Built the 1933, the impressive Art Deco structure was originally designed by Steward Wagner and Alfred Fellheimer as a passenger rail station. When it opened it even included a large terminal building that extended over the railroad tracks below.

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After train service was drastically reduced in 1971, the building began to languish. Shortly thereafter, freight railroad companies moved in to acquire some of the land and the terminal building was removed. Facing imminent demolition approximately one decade later, Hamilton County voters approved a bond levy to restore the structure.

When renovations were complete in 1990, some passenger rail operations were restored and what we know of today as the Museum Center moved in. However, not much has been done to maintain the building since that time and even those repairs that were done in the late 1980s were only some of what was needed. That means the building is once again in need of an overall in order to stay in use.

On Tuesday, November 4, Hamilton County voters will once again decide the fate of one of the region’s most prominent landmarks. They will go to the polls to decide whether they want to initiate a quarter-cent sales tax to provide up to $170 million for the $208 million project.

To get a better idea of the current conditions of Union Terminal, I took a behind the scenes tour of the facility two weeks ago. There is noticeable water damage throughout the building, some visible structural damage and outdated HVAC systems that are driving up maintenance costs for the behemoth structure.

Whether this particular region icon is saved once more by the voters of Hamilton County, or not, is something we will soon find out.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 11 photos were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy on Saturday, September 27.

Relive Last Weekend’s MidPoint Music Festival Through These 28 Photos

The thirteenth annual MidPoint Music Festival entertained thousands of spectators over the weekend, with 150 acts spread out over 14 stages at a dozen venues throughout Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

As you might expect from an urban music festival like this, where some stages are literally set up in the middle of the street and open to the public, as was the MidPoint Midway on Twelfth Street, the three-day festival brought scores of people out onto the streets and crowded nearby restaurants and bars.

One of the interesting new elements for this year’s event, although not officially related, was the emergence of Cincy Red Bike. Its presence allowed many festival-goers, as was evidenced on the ground and via social media postings, to get around from venue-to-venue by using the public bike share system.

Washington Park served as the main stage each night of MidPoint, and played host to such headliners as Chromeo (Toronto), The Afghan Whigs (Cincinnati) and OK Go (Los Angeles) – all of which put on powerful and memorable performances.

Now that this year’s MidPoint is in the books, it leaves everyone wondering who and what will be on tap for 2015. The rising popularity of Over-the-Rhine makes securing venues difficult each year, and festival organizers say that they will also have to figure out where, if at all, to locate the MidPoint Midway in the future once the Cincinnati Streetcar begins operating on Twelfth Street.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 28 photos were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy between Thursday, September 25 and Saturday, September 27.

PHOTOS: Northside Rock N’ Roll Carnival Complimented Independence Day Celebrations

The Northside Fourth of July Parade has been was of the region’s most popular for decades, but this year neighborhood leaders decided to build upon that success with the Northside Rock N’ Roll Carnival.

The three-day event took place at Hoffner Park and began on Thursday and concluded on Saturday night. It included stand-up comedy, live music, various carnival activities and even a BMX and skateboard competition.

Like the parade, the Northside Rock N’ Roll Carnival was put on by the Northside Business Association and sponsored by a number of local businesses including Spun Bicycles, CityBeat, Comet, CoSign, Gaslight Property, Happen, Inc., Milhaus Development, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company, Northside Tavern, N.Y.P.D. Pizza, and Shake It Records.

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While this was the first official year for the carnival festivities, organizers say the three-day event is an extension of the festival that has been put on since the 1980s.

“The Rock ‘N Roll Carnival was initially dreamt up by Chris Schadler in 2005 then carved out, cleaned up and driven home by Leslie Scott & Chris in 2006,” organizers say on the festival’s website.

“The event has endured weather, economy and exhaustion and continues through the work and support of the Northside Business Association and numerous Northside residents and businesses for the sake of showcasing Cincinnati’s most independent neighborhood.”

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 57 photographs in these galleries were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy between Thursday, July 3 and Saturday, July 5, 2014.

PHOTOS: 49 Shots from the 2014 Northside Fourth of July Parade

After the Northside Fourth of July Parade came back to life in 1970, it has served as an annual fixture in the neighborhood. Over the years the crowds have grown and the parade has become a must-stop for any politicians looking to win votes in the city.

While this was the 44th consecutive year for the parade, its history dates back to the middle of the 19th century when the St. Joseph Orphanage was completed.

Aside from being one of the most significant and well-attended parades in the region, the Northside Fourth of July Parade is also one of the more eclectic.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 49 photographs in this gallery were taken by Jake Mecklenborg on Friday, July 4, 2014.

Chicago Serves as a Model for Midwestern Cities Looking to Bolster Bicycling

For the past few years anyone with an interest in bicycling has seen their Facebook and Twitter feeds stuffed daily with bike lane and bike share project updates from cities around the United States. Much of that news has come from our northern neighbor Chicago, where its first of 100 planned miles of protected bike lanes opened in 2012.

In 2013 Chicago also launched the nation’s third-largest bike share program, a 300-station network sprawling across large sections of the city. Then, in early 2014, construction began on the $60 million Navy Pier Flyover, an elevated structure that will speed Lakefront Trail bicycle traffic over the Chicago River and the congested Navy Pier tourist area.

In May I spent part of a vacation day biking 35 miles around Chicago to see its various recent bicycling improvements for myself. This ride included The Loop, parts of the Lakefront Trail, and various residential areas where bike lanes have been recently created.

Dearborn Street Two-Way Protected Bike Lane
This two-way protected bike lane opened on the otherwise one-way Dearborn Street in November 2012, and is among the most talked-about new bike lanes in the country. It occupies a 10-foot wide strip on the west side of this major north-south street, with bikes separated from vehicular traffic by bollards and on-street parking.

To manage conflicts between two-way bike and one-way automobile movements, bicycle traffic is controlled by dedicated signals at about a dozen intersections in The Loop.

I biked the length of this protected lane in both directions beginning at about 4:50pm on a weekday. It was immediately obvious that travel in the lane during rush hour was not particularly fast or orderly — pedestrians often stepped into the bike lane to hail cabs or to cross Dearborn Street mid-block. At cross-streets, bicycle traffic was sometimes unable to proceed when signaled due to surges of pedestrians or gridlocked traffic.

Bicyclist behavior within the protected lane was more chaotic than I expected.

Commuters riding their own bikes often passed slower Divvy bikes and northbound bikers sometimes drifted between the protected bike lane and Dearborn’s vehicular lanes. I observed a handful of northbound bicyclists ignoring the protected bike lane altogether, instead biking in mixed vehicular traffic up Dearborn Street as they had for the past 100 years.

Divvy Bikeshare
Chicago’s “Divvy” bike share system began operation on June 28, 2013 and by year’s end the system logged over 700,000 trips. This year the system is planned to expand from 300 to 400 stations and add 1,000 bicycles to its existing fleet of 3,000.

To say that the Divvy bikes are popular would be a gross understatement – the extent to which the blue bicycles have become a ubiquitous feature of Chicago’s cityscape in their first year has no doubt silenced all critics.

To that end, the utility of shared bicycles in Chicago is aided by the city’s flat layout. Recently a writer from Seattle expressed some skepticism of a planned bike share program’s popularity in the hilly Emerald City.

Similar questions have been raised locally and intensely debated on Internet forums. The questions bear enough validity to cause many proponents of Cincy Bike Share to concede that Uptown and Downtown operations may function and serve different customers from one another.

Navy Pier Flyover
Chicago’s Lakefront Trail stretches 18 miles along the city’s lakefront, and is home to a crush of bicycle traffic unlike anything to be seen in Cincinnati or elsewhere in the Midwest. In fact, the Active Transportation Alliance claims that Lakefront Trail is the busiest in the United States with peak daily usage reaching 30,000 people at key points.

Every type of bicycle and every type of rider uses the trail, along with joggers, walkers, and inline skaters – motivating the Chicago Tribune to remark earlier this year that the Lakefront Trail is “claustrophobic and dangerous—the antithesis of the shoreline as a refuge from urban crowding.”

The Navy Pier Flyover will link the north and south halves of the trail with 16-foot wide elevated approaches to the Outer Drive Bridge. The trail will cross the Chicago River on a new structure cantilevered off the west side of the famed 77-year-old bascule bridge.

General Observations
As someone who grew up biking the monster hills and hostile commercial avenues of Cincinnati’s west side in the 1980s, riding in Chicago – even the many areas without new bike lanes — is by comparison a piece of cake. So easy in fact that it’s boring.

Virtually all of Chicago’s streets are perfectly flat, perfectly straight, and traffic moves at pretty much the same speed and in the same fashion on all of them. There is little to no sense of exploration and discovery during a bike ride around Chicago – no wonder the Lakefront Trail is so popular when a ride between any two neighborhoods has the same character as any other combination.

No Chicago bicyclist knows anything like our varied street characteristics, our innumerable odd intersections, and of course the two-mile downhill runs that can be strung together between various Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Experimenting with side streets and alternate routes between points A and B is something that keeps the avid Cincinnati bicyclist exploring the city, year after year, and familiarity with all of the hills is a point of pride.

When Cincinnati’s bike share begins later this year, and if we eventually build more protected bike lanes beyond the current Central Parkway project, no doubt bicycling will become more popular in the center city, basin neighborhoods, and across the river in Covington and Newport.

Any city, however, can paint bike lanes and buy a few thousand bike share bikes, but the endless range of leisurely or challenging rides available to the Cincinnati bicyclist is something Chicago and most other American cities will never have.