Should ‘Kathy Plates’ Be Added to Roebling Suspension Bridge?

In the spirit of throwing new ideas out there, UrbanCincy would like to propose installing Kathy Plates on the Roebling Suspension Bridge in order to improve the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists using the 148-year-old span.

The idea first came to mind when we hosted our Bikes+Brews ride in May 2013. The route took our group of approximately 20 cyclists across the bridge. Following the law, and protecting the safety of pedestrians also using the bridge, we rode across with automobile traffic.

Those familiar with the Roebling Suspension Bridge know that it is somewhat famous for the humming sound it makes as you drive across. Well, this sound is created by the friction between each vehicle’s tires and the grated bridge deck. That same deck that evokes such a pleasant and memorable sound, also can at times redirect a car slightly as it navigates the numerous grooves.

This also occurs for people traveling across the bridge on bicycles, although to a much greater effect due to the lighter weight of the bike compared to the car.

This same phenomenon exists on dozens of Chicago’s famous bascule bridges. The bascule bridge type was invented in Chicago and proved to be an engineering innovation still paying dividends more than 100 years later. The design, however, requires a delicate management of the bridge’s weight distribution – even a new coat of paint has the potential to throw things out of whack.

Chicago has seen an explosion in the number of people using bicycles as their form of transportation, and, as a result, saw many cyclists crashing on the bridges due to the grooves in the grated bridge decks and their joints that are similar to what exist on Cincinnati’s famed Roebling Suspension Bridge.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) came up with a solution that aimed to remedy the safety hazard while also respecting the delicate balancing act required to make bascule bridges go up and down.

That solution is the ‘Kathy Plate’ application, which is named after activist Kathy Schubert, who lobbied for the plates after she had crashed on Chicago’s LaSalle Street Bridge.

It is a fiberglass plate that is affixed to the bridge deck where bicyclists would be riding, thus creating a smooth and consistent surface without throwing off the bridge’s weight distribution.

Mike Amsden, Assistant Director of Transportation Planning with CDOT, told UrbanCincy that the city initially used steel plates or concrete infill, but has since switched to the fiberglass alternative due to its lower cost and lighter weight. As of today, Chicago has one bridge with steel plates, seven with concrete infill, and five with the new fiberglass plate option.

Amsden says that CDOT first began using the fiberglass plates more than two years ago, and have not yet needed to replace any of them – even with Chicago’s harsh winters.

“The open grate bascule bridges can be very slippery, especially when wet,” Amsden explained. “Because bridges can be such a barrier to bicycling, we’re putting extra emphasis on making our bridges bicycle friendly.”

CDOT says that they incorporate these fiberglass plates on any bike lane project that crosses a bridge, and uses the concrete infill option on bridges that are being reconstructed, regardless of whether a bike lane crosses the bridge.

“We match the plate width to the approaching and departing bike lane width,” said Amsden. “So, as you can see on Dearborn, it’s a wide two-way bike land, so the plates are much wider.”

There are no marked bike lanes approaching or departing from the Roebling Suspension Bridge, but cyclists typically use the congested and winding sidewalks cantilevered outside of the bridge columns.

A simple application of these fiberglass plates in each direction could help to improve safety and mobility on Cincinnati’s most iconic bridge.

According to Queen City Bike, it is something they said they would like to research further and consider for potential application on the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

Region’s Transportation Funding Disproportionality Favors Cars Over All Other Modes

Research continues to show that Americans are driving less, but are biking, walking and using transit more. This is true in Cincinnati to the extent that transit ridership has increased in recent years.

While originally attributed to the economic downturn at the beginning of the century, these trends have continued while the economy has rebounded – leading many to believe it is an indication of new market forces being driven by aging Baby Boomers and emerging Millennials. Perhaps predictably so, governments have been slow to change with the changing economic forces.

Despite a growing number of trips for biking, walking and transit, funding has not increased correspondingly. In fact, many communities have seen funding for these non-automotive forms of transportation decrease as governments have worked to cut spending at all levels. This, new research finds, is only exacerbating the problem of having underfunded these modes of transportation for many years.

“Conventional statistics tend to under report active travel because most travel surveys under-count shorter trips (those within a traffic analysis zone), off-peak trips, non-work trips, travel by children, and recreational travel,” stated Todd Litman, Executive Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, in a summary of his report entitled Whose Roads? Evaluating Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Right to Use of Public Roadways.

“More comprehensive surveys indicate that active travel is two to four times more common than conventional surveys indicate, so if statistics indicate that only 5% of trips are by active modes, the actual amount is probably 10-20%.”

Litman indicates that funding levels tend to be much lower than even the low 5% trip share estimates, and recommends changing those levels to reflect not only the current trip share levels, but those that could be achieved should investments be made.

Unequal Funding Allocations at Regional Level
At the local level, the same situation of unequal funding allocation exists. In the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, developed by the OKI Regional Council of Governments, approximately 88% of the nearly $21.5 billion in funding is recommended to go toward roadway projects, just 11% to transit and a mere 0.1% to bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

While the level of investment in transit appears closely aligned with current ridership levels for commute-related trips, it is far below ideal levels for bicycle and pedestrian investments.

“Relatively aggressive pedestrian and cycling improvement programs only cost about 1-4% of the total per capita roadway expenditures, or just 4-10% of general taxes spent on local roadways,” Litman contests. “Since walking and cycling represent about 12% of total trips, and a much larger share of short urban trips, and since most North American communities have under-invested in walking and cycling facilities for the last half-century, much larger investments in walking and cycling facilities can be justified to meet user demands and for fairness sake.”

OKI leadership contends that the organization’s regional planning document does not accurately reflect the level of investment being made in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, noting that many of the “roadway projects” in their plan actually include bike and pedestrian elements.

To that end, some recent improvements have been made with regard to bicycle infrastructure. The City of Cincinnati has installed around 40 miles of new on-street bike lanes or paths over the past several years, and has plans to install a total of 290 miles by 2025. The City’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, however, has been plagued by a lack of funding and has been relegated to only moving forward when roadway resurfacing projects emerge.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that enough is being done in terms of the overall investment needed for bike and pedestrian improvements.

Implications for Regional Transit
Of the money being recommended for transit investments, not including operations, approximately 96% is targeted for the contentious Oasis Line – a commuter rail line connecting Cincinnati’s far eastern suburbs with downtown.

Furthermore, the vast majority of OKI’s recommended transit funding is aimed to pay for ongoing operations – not pay for system expansions or improvements.

This grim financial picture for transit gets even worse when considering contributions from state and local governments.

In Ohio, the City of Cincinnati is the only local jurisdiction that provides a dedicated stream of funding for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which was also recently found to perform better than average given its low levels of investment from local, regional and state partners.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, communities struggle with state law that prohibits any dedicated source of transit funding – thus forcing the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) to go before the state legislature every year seeking money, similar to how Amtrak must annually go before Congress.

Impact on Environmental Justice Populations
These dire funding and political situations have led to Greater Cincinnati taking the title of being the most populated region in North America without any rail transit; while even far less populated regions advance their own regional transit plans.

What makes the figures more troubling is that those most affected by the imbalanced funding appropriations are minority, low-income and disabled populations. While only 6% of the region takes transit, bikes or walks to work each day, that number escalates to 17% for African Americans, 11% for Hispanics and 10% for people with disabilities; while low-income commuters see that number spike to 21%. Quite simply, the lack of funding for non-automotive forms of transportation is most damaging to those who can least afford it.

The results of this inequality sparked a recent lawsuit by the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a complaint against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation over a $2 billion highway interchange project. In MICAH & Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin v. Gottleib, the ACLU states:

“WisDOT explicitly refused to consider transit expansion (or transit in any way) as part of this proposal. This will further widen the already large gap between transit-dependent communities of color and disproportionately white suburban commuters. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation was one of the organizations that have complained about the government’s decision-making and reporting process, as well as how the project would exacerbate segregation and disparities in transportation access for low-income people to jobs.”

And while some of these mode shares may seem low, it has been noted by the U.S. National Household Travel Survey that commute trips are the lowest for walking and biking, while personal trips and trips less than one mile are significantly higher for both modes.

“In much of the region where we have large concentrations of EJ populations the sidewalk network is already quite developed, the roadway network is quite developed and available to bicyclists and the transit service is good,” countered Bob Koehler, Deputy Executive Director at OKI. “We do, as a community, need to do a better job at sharing the road and being aware of pedestrians to make these facilities better for all modes.”

Highway Building Frenzy
Even though young people are increasingly either delaying or choosing not to get a driver’s license at all, user fees collected from the gas tax continue to decline, total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has been decreasing since 2007 and annualized VMT has been decreasing for nearly a decade, the nation and Cincinnati region continue to build new capacity.

Of the roughly $8.3 billion being recommended for roadway projects in OKI’s planning documents, approximately 73% of that is targeted for additional lanes, new facilities or new interchanges, while reconstruction and improvements to existing roadways account for the rest.

“Although VMT may be slightly declining in recent years in some parts of the country this may not be a long-term trend. Clearly the region has many needs,” explained Brian Cunningham, Director of Communications at OKI. “This plan addresses the significant existing safety and congestion needs. The plan is updated every four years and will provide an opportunity to revisit the assumptions.”

Litman argues that shifting some of the investment from roadways to bicycle and pedestrian projects due to their proven ability to reduce congestion and improve safety not only for bicyclists and pedestrians, but motorists as well. He also believes that such policy directives empower people by giving them the ability to choose between multiple transportation options for each of their trips.

“It is important to recognize the unique and important roles that active modes [biking and walking] play in an efficient and equitable transportation system, and the various benefits that can result when walking and cycling are improved, including indirect benefits to people who do not currently use those modes,” Litman concluded.

“Just as it would be inefficient to force travelers to walk or bike for trips most efficiently made by motorized modes, it is inefficient and unfair to force travelers to drive for trips most efficiently made by active modes, for example, if children must be chauffeured to local destinations because their communities lack sidewalks, or if people must drive to recreational trails due to inadequate sidewalks and paths near their homes.”

This information comes at a time when the region has been identified as failing to develop walkable urban places, and thus putting itself behind its national competitors.

EDITORIAL: It’s Time for Cincinnati to Build a New First-Class Arena

The Cincinnati region has an arena problem that is two-fold. The first part of the problem is that there is no stand-out venue that offers both the capacity and modern amenities to attract large-scale events. The second is that the region has far too many venues competing with one another.

Within a one-hour drive from Fountain Square there are eight arenas with a capacity of more than 9,000 people for their primary tenants. Of these, only three have been built or undergone major renovations since the year 2000. The lone major project currently on the books is the $310 million renovation and rebuild of Rupp Arena in Lexington, which also happens to be the furthest away of the eight venues mentioned.

  1. Rupp Arena (23,500): Built in 1975 with minor renovations in 2001. Primary tenant is University of Kentucky athletics. Major renovation and rebuild planned for completion in 2017.
  2. U.S. Bank Arena (17,566): Built in 1975 with a major renovation in 1997 and subsequent minor renovations. Primary tenant is the minor league hockey Cincinnati Cyclones team.
  3. UD Arena (13,409): Built in 1969 with major renovations in 2002 and minor renovations again in 2010. Primary tenant is University of Dayton athletics.
  4. Fifth Third Arena (13,176): Built in 1989 with several minor renovations since. Primary tenant is University of Cincinnati athletics.
  5. Cintas Center (10,250): Built in 2000. Primary tenant is Xavier University athletics.
  6. Cincinnati Gardens (10,208): Built in 1949 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is the amateur women’s roller derby Cincinnati Rollergirls team.
  7. Bank of Kentucky Center (9,400): Built in 2008. Primary tenant is Northern Kentucky University athletics.
  8. Millett Hall (9,200): Built in 1968 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is Miami University athletics (sans hockey).

Recent talks closer to the core of our region have revolved around either embarking on a major renovation of Fifth Third Arena, or building a new one altogether; and performing major renovations on U.S. Bank Arena. The problem with these two approaches, however, fails to address the two core problems with the region’s plethora of arenas.

Any discussion on this topic should be focused on creating a stand-out venue that is both large enough and offers the modern amenities needed to attract major events, while also decluttering the regional arena landscape.

To that end, UrbanCincy recommends building a brand new arena adjacent to the Horseshoe Casino at Broadway Commons that would become the new home for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Cincinnati Rollergirls and University of Cincinnati Men’s Basketball. This venue would also accommodate the existing events held at U.S. Bank Arena and should be built in a way that is conducive for casino operators to program additional events, such as boxing, at the venue.

As part of this plan, U.S. Bank Arena and the Cincinnati Gardens should be torn down, and Fifth Third Arena used as the multipurpose facility it was originally intended to be.

This location makes perfect sense with immediate access to the center city’s hotels and convention facilities, casino, streetcar system, highways and abundant parking. Such a plan would also allow for the current U.S. Bank Arena site to be redeveloped with additional housing and shops akin to what is being developed at The Banks.

The land left over at the Cincinnati Gardens site in Bond Hill could then be repackaged, with surrounding land, to be developed as part of community-driven master plan.

As is often the case, funding is one of the primary hurdles preventing any of this from getting done. In this particular plan, each of the partners (University of Cincinnati, City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Horseshoe Casino) could contribute to the capital costs. Furthermore, value capture tools could be used for the U.S. Bank Arena and Cincinnati Gardens properties to help offset costs even more.

The last thing our region needs is another tax to pay for a sports or entertainment complex. Those scarce public resources should be reserved for more pressing things like improving our region’s transit network.

Our region’s political and business leaders need to think holistically when it comes to this challenge. Moving forward in a panicked and rushed fashion will get us an end result that does not solve the problems before us, and ultimately squanders public dollars.

Let’s build ourselves a modern arena venue that can attract top-level events, but do so without placing the burden on the taxpayers. Let’s also do so in a way that rids the region of some of its excess number of existing arenas, and frees up land to be redeveloped in a more productive manner for our neighborhoods.

There is a wealth of talent and C-Level executives in this region. Let’s get creative and start thinking beyond the sales tax. Let’s get this done.

‘Pride on Main’ Will Set the Stage for this Month’s Second Sunday on Main Festival

Second Sunday on Main (SSOM) returns to the streets of Over-the-Rhine this Sunday, from 12pm to 5pm, after drawing a record attendance and number of vendors for its first festival of the season last month.

As is the case with all SSOM events, this one will once again feature dozens of local arts and crafts vendors, local food and beer, live music, food trucks, street performers and more.

The event is free and open to the public, so even if you don’t have a bunch of cash to drop, you can swing through for a leisurely stroll and people watch in what is Cincinnati’s oldest and most prominent Open Streets events.

Each month event organizers change up the theme for SSOM; and this month’s event is called Pride on Main. To complement the theme there will be the Missed OTR Drag Queen Contest and the famous Drag and Tryke Races, both of which will have their proceeds go to benefit Pride 2015.

This is the ninth year the OTR Chamber of Commerce has put on Second Sunday on Main. For those who haven’t attended in the past, the event stretches from Thirteenth Street to Liberty Street along, you guessed it, Main Street. There are also small segments of side streets that are closed off and include some additional activities.

There will also be a cooking demo by Chef Jose Salazar and speciality cocktail demo by bartenders Andrew Rettig and Steven Clement at 2pm inside Mr. Pitiful’s. Throughout the day, Art on the Streets will also be working on a crosswalk painting project at Main and Liberty Streets.

A full schedule and list of music performers and other details can be found on SSOM’s website.

EDITORIAL NOTE: UrbanCincy is an official media partner of Second Sunday on Main; and is proud to support the city’s oldest open streets festival.

REPORT: Cincinnati Region Failing at Developing Walkable Urban Places

U.S. Metropolitan Land Use OptionsA recently released report conducted by The George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis in conjunction with LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, a coalition of Smart Growth America gave the Cincinnati region low marks for its walkability and growth patterns overall.

The report, entitled Foot Traffic Ahead, attempts to quantify the seemingly surging movement of people back into cities with a desire for walkable places.

The idea is that developers, investors, government regulators and financiers understood the model that successfully built America’s suburbs during the second half of the 20th century, but that a new model is needed with that era now behind us.

“Over the next generation, walkable urban development will spur even greater economic growth as demand for walkable urban development is met. The future growth of walkable urban places could provide the same economic base in the 21st century that drivable sub-urbanism did in the mid- to late-20th century. However, this growth will not be realized without appropriate infrastructure, zoning, and financing mechanisms at the federal, state, and local levels.”

Therefore, the authors of the report, in coordination with a Brookings Institution methodology developed in 2012, defined two primary forms of land use: drivable sub-urban and walkable urban. They also defined the two primary economic functions of those forms as being either regionally significant or local-serving.

Of the four potential combinations of these forms and functions, Foot Traffic Ahead focused on the regionally significant walkable urban places (WalkUPs) in each of the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan regions. When considering all of this, the authors of the report identified 558 WalkUPs nationwide, with 66 of those located in the New York City metropolitan area alone.

Out of the 30 regions studied, Cincinnati was ranked 20th with seven total WalkUPs in the region. Those seven WalkUPs, the report found, contained 33,234,000 square feet of office and retail space, or approximately 15% of the region’s total.

When compared with other regions, an astonishing 100% of the office and retail space located within WalkUPs were within the central city. What this means is that while Cincinnati’s urban core is extremely walkable, virtually nothing outside of it is. As a result, Cincinnati fell at the low end of the six regions classified as ‘Tentative Walkable Urbanism’.

“Four of these six metros – Houston, Columbus, Kansas City and Cincinnati – have 93% or more of their walkable urban office and retail space in the central city; virtually no walkable urbanism exists in their suburbs,” the report noted. “These four metros continued the expansion of drivable sub-urban development patterns.”

It is worth repeating that the methodology of this analysis places a priority on regionally significant places that contain at least 1.4 million square feet of office space, 340,000 square feet of retail space and a Walk Score value of at least 70 points throughout 100% of its area.

Such requirements penalize smaller and mid-size metropolitan regions that have less of this space overall. Perhaps illustrating this is the fact that while Cincinnati ranks 20th overall in this ranking, it comes in at 15th overall in terms of its number of WalkUPs per capita. Had the threshold for defining WalkUPs been lower, then perhaps more areas could have been considered into the overall WalkUP calculations for the region, and thus included smaller hubs outside of the central city.

When compared with the other regions, the future looks even grimmer for Cincinnati. In that ranking, Cincinnati falls five spots and into the category of ‘Low Potential for Future Walkable Urbanism’.

As is true with the existing rankings, the future rankings place a high significance on high volumes of real estate development. With regional growth rates hovering around 0.4%, it offers little opportunity for a region like Cincinnati to make dramatic changes to its development footprint.

However, when compared with the other regions, Cincinnati also appears to be lagging in terms of developing a robust regional transit system with both bus and rail, and lacks regional coordination on developing walkable urban developments. The report did however note that Cincinnati’s streetcar system currently under-construction serves as a bright spot that alone may shift the region from the ‘Low’ to ‘Moderate Potential’ category.

“These 13 metropolitan areas continue to lose market share in office and retail locating in their WalkUPs, continuing the mid- to late-20th century trend toward drivable sub-urbanism,” the report concluded about the regions with low potential in their future rankings.

Walkable Urbanism and GDP Performance Walkable Urbanism and Educational Attainment Education and GDP Performance

“In addition, they do not have substantial office rental price premiums. With 5% to 13% of office and retail space in WalkUPs, these metro areas have a long way to go to fully develop walkable urbanism.”

The real interest in the report, however, comes with its overall findings and correlations, as that is where the dire future outcomes may lie for the Cincinnati region.

In the report it found that regions with more walkable urbanism also had higher GDP performance, and that those same regions tended to have higher educational attainment.

“Given the relationship between educational attainment and walkable urbanism, and the relationship between educational attainment and per capita GDP, it is not surprising that walkable urbanism and per capita GDP are also positively correlated.”

According to the report, the six highest-ranked regions have a per capita GDP approximately 38% higher than the 10 lowest-ranked regions.

Of course, these findings alone cannot indicate whether walkable urbanism causes highly educated persons to move or stay away from certain regions, or whether places become more walkable due to there being more highly educated people there. But the correlations are strong enough that it is something that should make regional business and political leaders rethink the way in which Cincinnati develops.

“Although more research needs to be done to understand why walkable urbanism is correlated with higher per capita GDPs and education levels, this evidence suggests that encouraging walkable urbanism is a potential strategy for regional economic development.”