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.

Metro Brings Late Night Bus Back This Saturday

Metro and CincyYP are once again teaming up to encourage young people in Cincinnati to try out the city’s bus service beyond typical commuting uses. This is the third year of this successful  program.

Last year’s entertainment bus event saw more than 400 passenger trips taken. Participants will once again have the opportunity to learn tips to plan their trip including how to read a schedule, catch a bus and use Metro’s real-time apps. There will be special promotions at popular establishments along the event route in downtown, OTR, Oakley, Hyde Park, O’Bryonville, Clifton and East Walnut Hills.

“Cincinnati’s YP leaders truly get how important public transit is to our community, and their commitment to encouraging their peers to use Metro is inspiring,”Metro’s Outreach and Sustainability Manager Kim Lahman stated in a prepared release, “The ‘Late Night Test Ride’ provides us with a safe, fun and adventurous way of introducing young professionals to Metro’s service, while allowing them to get to know our community and one another better.”

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Metro Late Night Test Ride Route Map [Provided]

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Metro Late Night Test Ride Schedule [Provided]

The mobile event will take place this Saturday, April 23 between 8Pm-2AM. Three buses will operate on 30 minute intervals on a route that will take riders around to some 18 bars in seven different neighborhoods.

Many people view transit as a means to get to and from work, but the reality is that nearly three-fourths of all trips made each day have nothing to do with work commutes. As Metro works to grow ridership and expand its customer base, choice riders – those who choose to take transit instead of other alternatives – are becoming an increasingly targeted demographic. Additionally, as the Late Night Test rides are proving, there is a solid demand for late night routes that could be instituted on a more permanent basis.

Unlimited trip passes for the late night shuttle can be purchased online for $8 per person, or $25 for groups of four. The public can also simply purchase single trips at Metro’s normal $1.75 fare anywhere along the route. Those who may not have the cash, or just want to get a bit more involved, are being encouraged to volunteer for two hours and receive a complimentary pass in return.

As Lahman suggests, the hope is to get young people more familiar with using the city’s bus service, and will learn tips about how to plan their trip, read a schedule, catch a bus and use Metro’s real-time arrival services.

Neighborhood Development Strategies Focus of Niehoff Urban Studio Event

Cincinnati is a city known for its unique and dynamic neighborhoods; and over the past few years many of these neighborhoods have transitioned through the work and dedication of community development groups, active and engaged stakeholders and residents, and the assistance of leading experts in the field.

Successes like new developments, restoration of historic buildings, and implementation of placemaking strategies, however, have not come without challenges and lessons learned. Building healthy and resilient places, such as in some of the neighborhoods of Cincinnati, is the focus of this semester’s Neihoff Studio open house.

The Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy have invited several community development experts to gather for an in-depth discussion on creating success in several of Cincinnati’s great neighborhoods on Thursday, April 21.

Building on the second year of the Building Healthy and Resilient Places theme, the open house is the culmination of a semester-long effort by DAAP students working with six neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Covington to identify potential redevelopment opportunities in neighborhoods such as Roselawn, College Hill, Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, North Avondale, Price Hill, and downtown Covington.

Kathy Schwab, of LISC, will present awards to the winning student group.

“Our theme is Building Healthy and Resilient Places, and students are encouraged to make places that promote health in a number of categories,” Frank Russell, Director of the UC Niehoff Studio told UrbanCincy. “Above all students were challenged with how to make form and program that would make these NBDs ‘centers of activity’ in accordance with Plan Cincinnati.”

The event will culminate with a panel of experts moderated by UrbanCincy. Panelists include Phil Denning from the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Development; Kathleen Norris, who is the Principal and founder of Urban Fast Forward, a real-estate consulting firm; and Seth Walsh with the Community Development Corporation Association of the Greater Cincinnati.

The event will kick off at the Niehoff Urban Studio Community Design Center on Short Vine at 5pm this Thursday, with the panel discussion starting at 6pm. The event is easily accessible by Red Bike with a station conveniently located across the street. It is also accessible via Metro Bus Routes #24, #19 and Metro Plus.

Cincinnati’s Mandatory Minimum Parking Requirements Stall $15M Development

An Over-the-Rhine development has hit a potential challenge after a 3-3 vote at last month’s Historic Conservation Board meeting.

Grandin Properties had been planning to convert the historic Strietmann Biscuit Company building, located at 221 W. Twelfth Street, to an 88,000-square-foot office building, but must now request a zone change since it does not meeting the city’s mandatory minimum parking requirements.

In a strange twist, the vote from the Historic Conservation Board actually threatens the historic nature of the building and the surrounding neighborhood, as providing the parking being requested would necessitate that a portion of the building be converted to parking, or a nearby historic structure be demolished to make room for a parking structure.

As such, the developer is requesting to rezone the property from CC-A (Community Commercial – Automotive) to DD-C (Downtown Development – Support), which would give Grandin Properties more flexibility when it comes to the provision of parking.

In a letter submitted to City Council, the developer indicated that despite entering into agreements with 3CDC to secure 175 parking spaces for the development, which is a five-minute walk from the Washington Park Garage and City Center Garage, a split vote for a parking variance may imperil the project if the zone change is not secured.

Further supporting the developer’s case is the fact that the 126-year-old structure is located within a short walk to numerous Red Bike and Cincinnati Streetcar stations; and the location’s Walk Score is 94 out of 100 points.

“We were aware of the long history of not enforcing strict compliance with the zoning code’s parking requirements in Over-the-Rhine for both rehabilitated and new buildings,” Peg Wyant, President and CEO of Grandin Properties, wrote. “This is why we were surprised when City staff took a very hard position and required that we have guaranteed control over parking spaces ‘for the life of the project.’”

The development was slated to move forward, despite losing out on almost $2 million in historic tax credits from the state last year.

Following UrbanCincy‘s 2012 report on mandatory minimum parking requirements, City Council moved to study removing parking requirements in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine; and, in 2013, the City amended the zoning regulations to allow for both neighborhoods to remove required parking minimums with the passage of a special parking district zone. However, there has been no establishment of any special parking district zone to-date.

Further complicating the matter of parking in Over-the-Rhine is the fact that a workable Parking Permit Plan has yet to move through City Hall. While neighborhood residents and business owners have spent months developing a variety of alternatives, each has met its demise with the threat of Mayor John Cranley‘s (D) veto, which he says is due to permit prices being set too low.

As a result, parking remains a hot topic in one of the nation’s fastest developing neighborhoods. Many local developers still believe there is a market demand for one to two spaces per residential unit, while transportation options and the walkability of the neighborhood continue to improve. The increased number of visitors, including both workers and those coming to shop and dine in the neighborhood, is adding increased pressure since many residents in historic buildings utilize on-street parking to store their cars.

The next step for the project is that it will go before City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee for its potential rezoning application.

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.