Cincinnati DOTE Aiming to Narrow Liberty Street Redesign to Two Alternatives

Tomorrow night will be the second meeting of the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Study – an effort previously called the Liberty Street Complete Street Project in its 2013 iteration.

At the meeting, Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering will present various concepts for the street’s reconfiguration, including five separate options at seven lanes, and additional six, five, four and three-lane options. Many of these scenarios contribute enough additional space to make development on the south side of Liberty Street feasible.

A major consideration, as the project’s title would suggest, is the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists that share the roadway. The current excessive width of the road, coupled with the speed of cars, contributes to an environment incongruous to pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Other elements being considered include pedestrian and cycling facilities, development potential on the south side of Liberty Street, streetscape aesthetics, automobile capacity/safety, and the preservation of on-street parking.

Both current and past public input, like the 2011 Brewery District Master Plan, stress a strong desire to improve the connection of urban fabric between the northern and southern portions of Over-the-Rhine.

“Liberty Street cuts off two sections of OTR,” said Frank Henson, a local cycling advocate. “All other north-south routes get cut up by the expansive width of Liberty; and I support narrowing it, with the inclusion of space for bicycle facilities.”

Many believe that the narrowing of Liberty Street can accomplish both of these objectives; although questions remain about how much narrowing is appropriate, and what should be done with the additional space that is made available.

According to data from the OKI Regional Council of Governments, Liberty Street has an annual average daily traffic (AADT) count of 14,278, which is actually less than the much narrower Ludlow Avenue’s 14,551 AADT in Clifton.

Ludlow Avenue has parking on both sides of the street, aside from peak hours from 7am to 9am where it is prohibited on the south side of the road, and 4pm to 6pm where it is prohibited on the north side of the road. This means that Ludlow Avenue, with its nearly identical traffic count, has fewer lanes of traffic during both peak and non-peak hours.

Martin Luther King Drive, near the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, has the same width as Liberty Street, but carries upwards of 20,000 AADT; and portions of Reading Road carry more than 25,000 AADT with just five lanes.

As a result, one could then deduce that travel demand on Liberty Street is far, far less than its width warrants.

Should Liberty Street be significantly narrowed, based on these figures, it could still absorb its current capacity, and, if necessary, divert traffic to Central Parkway, Fort Washington Way, or one of the many east-west thoroughfares that also have highway access.

Option 7d includes a “shared use bicycle/pedestrian pathway;” and while this widened path is intended to accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists, it is generally considered a less safe practice, as compared to separate facilities, to mix the two due to the faster travel speeds of people on bicycles.

An option that has bike and pedestrian facilities, preserves on-street parking, while also providing three travel lanes could reduce speed, increase safety, provide additional space for development, and still manage capacity based on comparable traffic counts.

The Ludlow Avenue and Reading Road examples disprove the idea that any decrease in capacity would be crippling. However, should demand increase, traffic is also highly divertible to other thoroughfares within a short distance.

Residents and interested parties can express their opinions on Tuesday, March 1 from 6pm to 8pm at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine. City officials say that they hope to narrow the alternatives to two following this meeting.

St. James Pocket Park To Clean Up Eye Sore, Crime Hot Spot in Walnut Hills

The St. James cut through in Walnut Hills has been the focus of a significant amount of attention in recent months. It is a pedestrianized walkway between McMillan Street and Curtis Street that has been a crime hot spot.

As the City’s NEP program – a targeted 90-day sweep of code enforcement, law enforcement and beautification – moved into Walnut Hills, Curtis Street and the St. James cut through became focal points of the program.

The cut through is street-width with an adjacent parking lot to the west. It is a high traffic pedestrian path due to the presence of Kroger and a CVS across McMillan Street at the cut-through terminus. It currently contains post-modern design elements with existing, neglected raised cement beds for landscaping.

In order to improve the aesthetics and safety of the space, neighborhood leaders have begun raising funds to improve it. The rejuvenation of the space will not require an entire overhaul, but rather a reimagining, which has been led by MKSK Design, an architectural firm with offices in Covington.

“We hope to facilitate the activation of a vibrant, positive urban space through design,” said the lead designer of the project, Julianna Silveira of MKSK. “The design now is harsh, with a lot of concrete – the design will make it greener, with bright colors, and an ideal location for arts and cultural events.”

The parking lot portion of the park will be “depaved”, a process whereby parking lots are dismantled, and re-designed using naturalized elements and pervious surfaces. The kiosk in the middle of the park will be repurposed into a book-share station.

Over the past month, volunteers have been picking up garbage, painting, planting and have otherwise been active in the space’s incremental transformation. The St. James cut-through is affectionately being called the St. James Pocket Park within the neighborhood, as it is now looking more like a place one might stop and enjoy, rather than just, well, cut-through.

Although there is still work to be done, the park was chosen as the wrap-up location for the NEP on November 14. The event was attended by Mayor John Cranley (D), numerous city and neighborhood leaders, as well as the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and The Model Group, who unveiled renderings for the Trevarren Flats, a mixed-use apartment project that will utilize a historic structure a stone’s throw away from the park.

Later that night, a jazz concert was held in what is now the parking lot portion – event organizers were pleased to discover that the acoustics in the space were ideal for concerts, and provided encouragement for future events that could be held there.

So far the idea for the pocket park has been well-received, and the community’s ideas for how to improve it even earned it a spot in the finals of The Orbit Challenge, which could mean a $5,000 grant to help further the progress.

If any members of the public seek to be involved in any part of the park’s transformation, either through submitting ideas or volunteering, information can be found at the kiosk in the center of the park or on the St. James Pocket Park Facebook Page.

Parking Guru Donald Shoup to Speak at Mercantile Library Next Tuesday

Donald Shoup, world renowned economist and researcher, will be speaking at the Mercantile Library on October 28.

For those unfamiliar with his work, he is a forerunner in examining the effects of parking policy on urban economics, which he presented in his 2005 book The High Cost of Free Parking. The book was preceded by an article of the same name, which Shoup wrote in 1997.

Mandated parking requirements, it seemed, was an issue that many planners felt ill-equipped to tackle. It had not been lectured on in their classes, and textbooks were often silent on the matter. And according to the American Planning Association, planners requested information on this topic more than any other.

Mandated minimum parking requirements have been a zoning code staple since the widespread adoption of the automobile. For example, a zoning code may require that apartment buildings supply one parking space per unit, or that a restaurant provide one parking space for every 300 square feet of space used by patrons. While parking minimums are typically set by the use of a property, they vary based on what kind of zoning district the property is found in – for example, a low density, auto-oriented district will require more spaces than a dense area that is more walkable.

As planners wrote their zoning codes, they had few tools at their disposal to discern where they should set their parking minimums, which led to the common practice of borrowing numbers used by other cities that often did not account for local conditions. And as Shoup found, even if planners could observe capacities and usage for, say an office building, not every office building was created equal. An office building that allowed employees their own offices instead of cubicles would have fewer employees per square foot and therefore should conversely be assigned a lower parking spot minimum.

And since minimums were based on the maximum capacity for a particular use, an additional quandary arose from requiring parking that would very certainly sit unused most of the time.

Upon examination of the issue, the numbers used to set minimum parking requirements were considered arbitrary – a best guess, and applied with broad brushstrokes. Therefore, Shoup set out to examine where and how the cost of this imposition on property development was being absorbed.

Analyses were able to estimate how much development costs increase due to parking minimums, and the results bred a new understanding of how parking requirements can increase the cost of real estate, particularly in urban areas. A portion of these costs are presumably passed on to tenants and patrons, regardless of whether they own a car and utilize a parking space.

When applied to denser historic districts built before the automobile, lots frequently are not large enough to provide the amount of spaces that a zoning code may require for parking. The result is a tangible barrier to redevelopment, revitalization and the adaptive reuse of buildings.

Brian Bertha, a researcher in California, analyzed project costs before and after the establishment of parking minimums in 1961 in Oakland. He found that after the requirements were put in place, construction costs per dwelling unit increased 18%, housing density fell by 30%, and land values decreased by 33%.

In Shoup’s research he speculates that if “emancipated from minimum parking requirements, land and capital will shift from parking to uses that employ more workers and pay more taxes.”

Instead he advocates making parking a pay-per use amenity, and thus encourage greater use of public and active transportation. Furthermore, he believes that revenues generated from on-street parking be utilized within neighborhood improvement districts in order to provide more amenities in those districts.

Just as we are taught in economics class that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” Shoup uses his skill for economic analysis to illustrate that there’s no such thing as a free parking space.

Driving is still necessary for ease of accessing employment in most American cities, but Shoup’s analysis allows policy makers to think critically about the interconnectedness of these policies, and the role that a thoughtful approach can play in reducing congestion, decreasing auto-dependence, and removing barriers to investment.

If you would like to attend Dr. Shoup’s lecture, he will be speaking downtown at 6pm at the Mercantile Library at 414 Walnut Street. Tickets can be purchased online for $10 for members and $15 for non-members.

Art to Inspire at September’s SSOM Event this Sunday

SSOM Music LineupNine years ago the organizers of Second Sunday on Main (SSOM) envisioned an event that would act as an economic development tool but was disguised as a street festival.  Today, that vision has more than come to fruition, as it is now a hub for local goods, food and entertainment.  This month will be no exception, with a full lineup of performers, artists, musicians, dancers and vendors.

Caitlin Behle, SSOM organizer and UrbanCincy contributor, explained that each month’s event has a distinctive theme.

“Last month was very game-oriented and playful, whereas this month will be more arts-driven,” Behle told UrbanCincy.

This month’s event on September 14 will also serve to honor “Dance on Main” which has been a notable theme for past SSOM events after Frank Hibrandt, a long-time Main Street resident, developed Dance on Main as an annual staple of SSOM where dancers of varying styles would perform at multiple stages weaved throughout the event.

Those searching for food and drink will not be disappointed as the event hosts a bustling beer garden and some food trucks for sustenance.  The featured food vendors this month are Red Sesame Korean Barbecue, Dojo Gelato, Urban Kitch’n, and Roll With it Café.

As is usual, there will be plenty of opportunities to view and participate in art activities this Sunday. Art pieces will be created by the Art Academy of Cincinnati mARTket and the group ArtWalks will be painting the crosswalk at Main and Woodward Streets. Attendees will also have the opportunity to create art of their own at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center’s Postal pARTners postcard creation station, kids’ craft table (Higher Branches), and at the Art Beyond Boundaries’ “ArtSpire” artist workshop at 2pm.

Enjoy the Arts has teamed up with SSOM to weave performing art into this month’s event that will include the following:

12:00-3:15 Mini concerts featuring Elementz, Know Theatre, Young Professional Choral Collective, Cincinnati Ballet’s CBII dancers, DANCEFIX at HBDC, Baba Charles and the Samba Parade Drummers, and more, MOTR Stage
12:00-5:00 Live music in front of Rock Paper Scissors featuring local acts Kate Wakefield, Brianna Kelly, Edison, and ADM. From 3-5 audience members can “take the stage” with ADM to create their own music and have it looped and incorporated into the live set. 1301 Main St.
1:45 Zvedza (experimental jazz), MOTR Stage
2:30 Celebrity Chef Series – Sous Chef Jimi Dean (The Rookwood), Beverage Wizard Rom Wells (The Rookwood, Cheapside Cafe), Mr. Pitiful’s
3:30 Folk Soul Revival (Americana), MOTR Stage

Second Sunday on Main is located on Main Street between Thirteenth and Liberty Streets in Over-the-Rhine. It is conveniently located along the #17, #19, #24 and #16 Metro bus lines. There is also ample free bike parking available immediately surrounding and within the event area.

Walnut Hills Embracing Tactical Urbanism in Pursuit of its Own Transformation

It has been an eventful summer Walnut Hills following the assignment of two grants for neighborhood ventures, kickoff of the Findlay Market Farmstand and Cincy Summer Streets events, as well as a host of other neighborhood events.

UrbanCincy last reported about the rehabilitation of the Samuel Hannaford-designed firehouse, and leasing of the ground floor commercial space by Fireside Pizza in June, and the We Are Walnut Hills Festival in May. Since then, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (WHRF) has moved into the summer months with full roster of projects and activities.

The Findlay Market Farmstand began in early June with a variety of fresh, seasonal produce, all from within a 100-mile radius. Funded through a Healthy Initiatives Grant by Interact for Health, attendance was strong at the first Findlay Market Farmstand, but the WHRF says they will be going door-to-door within the neighborhood to ensure that all residents know where and when the farm stand will be open.

“Passersby and residents need to support the farmstand for it to be financially viable,” said Thea Munchel of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “We wanted to ensure that it would be in a space that would attract the neighborhood residents while also interesting people passing through.”

Organizers say that the farmstand will be open, going forward, on Thursdays from 4pm to 7pm at 767 McMillan Street, next to the aforementioned Firehouse. In addition to the produce offerings, they say there will be music, grilling, cooking classes and other rotating activities to build a sense of engagement.

It should be noted, however, that this is not the only, or even first, location for Findlay Market’s outreach into the city’s neighborhoods. Ohio’s oldest public market also sets up farmstands in East Price Hill and Westwood.

In addition to the Healthy Initiatives grant, the WHRF has partnered with Fifth Third Bank to create what they are calling the THRIVE Grant, which provides $3,000 to $15,000 to attract established businesses to the Peeble’s Corner business district. Angst Coffee is the first recipient of the grant, and is expected to open at 2437 Gilbert Avenue this fall. Built in 1890, and featuring exposed brick, warm colors and modern interior finishes, owners expect the space to be ideal for a coffee house.

Cincy Summer Streets, an open streets celebration, kicked off in Walnut Hills this past weekend as well. The event closed McMillan Street between Gilbert and Woodburn, and Woodburn between McMillan and Madison Road to automobiles, while opening the street up for biking, walking, dancing, art-making and fitness classes.

The event was meant to, and did, breathe new life into the streets with residents of all ages, mingling and enjoying the unseasonably mild weather. The Walnut Hills Area Council, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, East Walnut Hills Assembly, Art on the Streets, and the City of Cincinnati organized the event, while sponsorship came from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Interact for Health.

Both Cincy Summer Streets and the Findlay Market Farmstand are examples of how the Walnut Hills community is embracing tactical urbanism as a way to transform itself.

To build on all this activity, neighborhood leaders will be preparing over coming weeks for the City of Cincinnati’s award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), which will kick off in Walnut Hills on August 15. But for those looking to score some fresh produce from area farmers – you can do that at the next Findlay Market Farmstand set up in Walnut Hills this Thursday from 4pm to 7pm.