UC Students, Staff Call on Metro to Make Additional Uptown Service Enhancements

University of Cincinnati’s Department of Planning+Design+Construction recently partnered with Metro for an on-campus listening session for input on how to better serve the Uptown community. The two-day outreach event included meetings with students, faculty and staff on both the main campus and medical campus to gather feedback from current bus riders and non-users.

In line with the many other community engagement sessions Metro has hosted throughout the city over the past year, participants were asked how they would like to see Metro improve, while non-riders discussed what was needed to get them to choose taking the bus.

Among the faculty and staff responses, improving east-west crosstown routes and frequency topped the list, followed by adding frequency to the existing 17, 19, 78 (Lincoln Heights) and 43 (Bond Hill) lines, adding express service between Uptown and Liberty Township, improving evening frequency, and adding more ticket vending machines.

Student feedback requested modernizing the fare box; adding evening and weekend frequency on the 19, 51, and 78 lines; improving instructions on how to ride the bus; adding a public display that monitors the number of available bike racks on the bus (currently, each bus has a capacity of two); and integrating the UC Bearcat card as a form of payment for bus fare.

Additionally, staff from the university presented a proposal for a new bus route called the University Connector. Similar to the 51, the route would connect Northside, Clifton, Walnut Hills, Oakley, and Madisonville, with a center circulator around three sides of UC’s main campus.

University staff members believe the route would minimize transfer wait times and improve accessibility to key academic buildings on UC’s main campus, and improve connectivity with the medical campus. But while the proposed circulator service would use established Metro stops, its location in Oakley would not take advantage of the new $1.2 million Oakley Transit Center that will break ground later this year.

As the building boom continues at a rapid pace in Uptown, a growing focus is being placed on improving the area’s transportation access – both UC’s student government and Board of Trustees have recently stated their support for extending the Cincinnati Streetcar up the hill, Metro launched Metro*Plus in 2013 and established the Uptown Transit District in 2014, which features enhanced stations, ticket vending machines, real time arrival signage, and improved wayfinding design.

There is currently no timetable for implementing any of the recommended improvements, but it is widely anticipated that Metro will put a county-wide transit tax on this November’s ballot that would be used to improve the agency’s bus operations.

Transit Users Will Need 7 Hours to Commute to ODOT Public Transit Meeting

An event making the rounds on social media hosted by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) provides an opportunity for citizens to tell Governor John Kasich’s (R) administration about public transportation improvements they’d like to see in their city. The public meeting to discuss statewide transit needs is hosted on Friday, October 31 from 10am to 12pm at the Warren County OhioMeansJobs Center in Lebanon.

While the gathering has good intention, it fails to meet the basic criteria of planning a public involvement meeting:

  1. Never host a public meeting on a holiday.
  2. Never host a public meeting on a Friday or weekend.
  3. The location of a public meeting should be accessible to all members of the community and able to attract a diverse group of citizens.

By car, Lebanon is roughly a one hour drive north of Cincinnati, and a 30-minute drive south from Dayton. It’s also the city where the regional ODOT office is located; understandably why the administration would opt to hold a public involvement meeting here. What went unconsidered are the needs of people that the public meeting is focused on: citizens reliant on public transportation.

The closest Metro bus stop to Lebanon is 8.3 miles away, near Kings Island in Mason. Let’s say we’re feeling ambitious and attempt to take the bus, then bicycle the remaining journey to Lebanon. It would take 48 minutes to cycle to the meeting in addition to the 1 hour, 11 minute ride on the bus. Cincinnati Metro, the region’s bus system, only offers select service to the northern suburbs. In order to arrive on time for the 10am meeting, a person dependent on transit would have to catch the 71x at 7:45am, arrive in Mason at 8:52am, then continue to the meeting on bicycle.

Getting back home is another story. The public involvement meeting adjourns at 12pm, but the bus route that services Mason is a job connection bus, meaning it only runs traditional hours when people are going to and from work. After another 48 minutes of cycling back to the bus stop, the inbound 71x picks up shortly after 3pm and returns to Cincinnati at 4:40pm.

In summary, if a citizen dependent on bus transportation wishes to give ODOT their input, they would spend 7 hours commuting to the two hour meeting, and need to able-bodied to ride a bicycle for eight miles. What about senior citizens and people with disabilities? Who can afford to take an entire day off work to attend a meeting? As a transit rider who has a car, driving an hour each way to attend the meeting –in the middle of the work day– for me, is inconvenient and unfeasible.

The poor choice of trying to combine Cincinnati and Dayton into one meeting was an unfortunate oversight in event planning. Instead, meetings should be hosted in the downtown of each city, just like they have been in Columbus and Cleveland which are also participating in the ODOT series.

Since 2011, Governor Kasich has cut $4 million from the state’s public transit budget, leaving Ohio with one of the lowest funded transit systems in the country. If there’s a genuine interest in hearing how those cuts affect the people that rely on public transportation the most, the administration needs to schedule a second meeting in Cincinnati near Government Square where those people can actually get to.

Of course, this isn’t the first time area transit users have been ignored when it comes to public meeting locations. Earlier this year, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) upheld a decision to relocate Hamilton County’s Board of Elections office to a location that would take up to four hours to access by transit.

Small Businesses Have Been Biting the Dust Early in 2014

Small Business ClosuresA staggering number of small businesses in Greater Cincinnati have resolved to shut their doors at the start of 2014. Already more than a dozen establishments have been effected since late last year in a downturn that has not been as drastic since 2008.

Cord Camera was the first to announce it would close. Once prosperous with over 30 stores in Ohio and Indiana, its remaining eight retailers struggled to meet expectations during the holiday shopping season. Chief Financial Officer, John Crotty, said the company’s demise was due to the increasing popularity of digital photography with smartphones and less demand for printing pictures.

The next was the shocking departure of It’s Just Crepes, with a vague note on their website that read “Thanks for a great five years!” The eatery had expanded to three locations, two downtown and another in Crescent Springs, and appeared to be constantly bustling during lunchtime. Both of the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were shut down without notice, and the owners have not been able to be reached for comment.

Decorative retailer, Joseph Williams Home, began sounding the alarm in the fourth quarter, discounting items up to 60% off through the end of December. Owner Fred Arrowood explained that his five year lease was ending for his space at the corner of Thirteenth and Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. Upon renegotiating, he was unable to come to an agreement for another five-year lease with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), who wanted to increase rent despite the store’s marginal sales.

“3CDC has become focused on restaurants and bars rather than retail and meeting the needs of residents,” said Arrowood. In an interview with the Cincinnati Business Courier, Anastatia Mileham, Vice President of Communications for 3CDC, attributed the increase in rent to high demand for prime real estate in Over-the-Rhine, like Arrowood’s corner store location.

Further complicating the matter locally was a combination of aging owners and slow sales, such as was the case with Chez Nora in Covington. Just shy of its 20th Anniversary, the three-floor restaurant and jazz bar never recovered from the economic decline and lost too many customers to competition across the river.

“We got culinarily passed by,” said owner Jimmy Gillece of the new eateries that developed as part of The Banks and revitalization of Over-the-Rhine.

Down the street, Behle Street Café succumbed to a similar fate. After 19 years in operation, the loss of two major companies in Covington and new competition at The Banks and in Over-the-Rhine, prompted owner Shawn Thomas to close the restaurant. “We just couldn’t keep up. Although great for Cincinnati, it’s not so good for Covington,” he stated in a release.

The litany of other lost businesses continues to grow, including: Enzo’s (Over-the-Rhine), Bayou Fish House (Newport), Spare Time Grill (Alexandria), Take The Cake (Northside), Fabulous Finds For Less (Bellevue), Mayberry (Over-the-Rhine), Smartfish Studio (Over-the-Rhine), and Past & Presents (Bellevue).

Not all the news is grim, however, as many of these locations have either already been filled by another local business, or will be soon.

Five years is traditionally the make or break point for small businesses – businesses that exist to generate a customer. It will be increasingly important going forward that entrepreneurs are creating shops that meet the demand of a community and allow for the businesses to be sustainable.

But as businesses continue to reach the end of their tenure and evaluate progress, consumers should brace themselves for the trend of closings to continue.

Next up on the chopping block will be vintage clothing shop Atomic Number Ten, which closes its doors on Saturday, January 18. Located at Thirteenth and Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, owner Katie Garber simply stated that it was time to move on to bigger and better things. “We really hope you can make it in to say goodbye,” Garber wrote to her customers in a blog post. “It’s been a great ride!”

Elaborate ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ Production Entertains at ETC

Quite possibly the most elaborate and entertaining show to hit Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC) this year, Around the World in 80 Days takes the audience on an exotic journey with a story told through song.

Set in London in 1899, the precisely punctual and clever Phileas Fogg wagered his life savings on a bet that the world was able to be circumnavigated in 80 days. Between boarding trains and steamships, Fogg and his witty French butler, Passepartout, dodge bandits, stampedes, and the thick of the jungle all while being pursued by the British police.

Will the race against the clock defeat them from a timely journey to win their bet?

The production marks the largest cast to take the stage at ETC in recent years. Seventeen actors filled the intimate stage with the grace and grandeur of a national Broadway show. Familiar faces return from past shows, including powerhouse vocalist Torie Wiggins and her co-star Annie Fitzpatrick from Black Pearl Sings. In a vast contrast to the solemn production of The Whipping Man, lead actor Ken Early delighted the audience with his portrayal of Phileas Fogg, who was filled with optimistic perseverance.

The incredibly interchangeable set design transformed, in a matter of moments, and created vehicles from hot air balloons to trains, ships and elephants. In addition to the actors, puppeteers were incorporated as animals in a variety of scenes.

Of course, it would not be a musical without claiming a favorite song. Torie Wiggins, who played supporting character Aouda, a rescued Indian princess, performed a soulful and inspiring “Strong Wind, Strong Woman” as she intuitively guided a sailboat for a nearly defeated Phileas Fogg.

Around the World in 80 Days was one of Ensemble Theatre’s first commissioned musicals, with its last performance taking place 13 years ago.

There are 13 more scheduled performances, including a show at 7pm today. The final performance is scheduled to take place at 2pm on Sunday, January 5, 2014. Only a very limited number of tickets remain for performances scheduled this week, but there are a number of good tickets remaining for performances the first week of January.

All images provided.

Crafty Supermarket Kicks Off Shop Local Season at Music Hall

Over 4,000 people went shopping at Music Hall last weekend during the fourth annual Crafty Supermarket Holiday Show.

Kicking off the Shop Local season, independent retailers traveled from as far as Minnesota and North Carolina to sell their wares in Cincinnati. More than 90 vendors were hand selected from a competitive application process, making this the largest Crafty Supermarket to date.

Crafty Supermarket Cincinnati
Visitors browse the offerings at Cincinnati’s Crafty Supermarket Holiday Show at Music Hall. Photographs by Paige Malott for UrbanCincy.

The assortment of products offered something for everyone on your gift list: hand-crafted fragrances, recycled crayons, wallets made from old transit maps, knitted gloves and scarves, jewelry, home décor, small-batch chocolates, and more.

Furthermore, there were plenty of Cincinnati-themed items showed off hometown pride, including: stationary, neighborhood holiday ornaments and pennant flags, ink and stamp sets of Cincinnati landmarks, coasters, necklaces, wallets, iPhone covers, throw pillows, beer glasses, dish towels, Ohio-shaped bars of soap, and many styles of locally inspired t-shirts.

If you missed Crafty Supermarket, fret not. All of the vendors have online shops, which is also perfect for those wishing they had bought just one more thing.

If shopping in storefronts is more your style, Fabricate in Northside, MiCA 12/V in Over-the-Rhine and Broadhope Art Collective in Westwood carry products from a majority of the sellers.