Cincinnati’s $109M Capital Acceleration Plan Ignores Adopted Bike Policy

On Thursday, the City of Cincinnati celebrated the start of its bold, new road rehabilitation effort. The six-year program will include the resurfacing and rehabilitation of aging streets, replacement of city vehicles outside of their life cycle, and establish a new focus on preventive road maintenance that city officials will save money in the long-run.

The $109 million Capital Acceleration Plan is a strategic policy shift at City Hall, and represents a large infusion of money into road repair. The new focus on preventive maintenance is particularly noticeable as it represents an eight-fold increase in spending on that front.

“This is much bigger than just spending money to improve the condition of local streets. CAP is about making an investment in the city and people who live here,” City Manager Harry Black said in a prepared release. “This strategic investment in our roadways and infrastructure will serve as the foundation of Cincinnati’s sustained long-term growth.”

City officials say that the investments will improve the condition of 940 center-line miles of streets over the next six years. In its first year, its $10.6 million for street rehabilitation and $4 million for preventive maintenance, officials say, will impact 16 different neighborhoods and improve 120 center-line miles of roads.

With so many streets poised to be improved over the coming years, many people advocating for safer bicycling and walking conditions on the city’s roadways were optimistic that across-the-board improvements could be made. In fact, their cause for optimism is not without cause. The City of Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, which was adopted by City Council in June 2010, calls for incremental improvements to the city’s bike network as road resurfacing projects take place.

“Many of the facilities recommended in this plan can be implemented in conjunction with already scheduled street rehabilitation projects,” the Bicycle Transportation Plan notes. “When this coordination occurs, costs for implementing the bicycle facilities may be reduced by over 75%.”

According to officials at the Department of Transportation & Engineering, such savings can be achieved since the capital costs can be shared for both sets of improvements, and labor costs can be maximized.

The Bicycle Transportation Plan goes on to state that City Hall will be opportunistic and take advantage of every occasion where bicycle facilities can be included with street rehabilitation projects or other capital projects. Taking such an approach, the adopted policy says, “will reduce costs to the lowest levels possible.”

City Hall, however, has fallen woefully behind on the implementation of the recommendations made in the Bicycle Transportation Plan; and the current administration has even made a point of noting that they do not generally support the idea of on-street bike facilities. Rather, Mayor John Cranley (D) and his administration have focused on investing in off-street recreational bike trails.

Such an approach has left many people who use bikes as a means of transportation frustrated; and with $69 million of CAP going toward road improvement projects, it would seem like a great opportunity to maximize the improvements by performing these projects in a manner that also improves safety conditions for the city’s rapidly growing number of people commuting by bike.

Based on statements from City Hall, however, it seems that it will prove more so to be an opportunity lost; and put the city in an impossible position to meet its adopted policy objectives within their target time frames.

Region’s Demographics More Closely Resemble 1950s America Than Today’s

You often hear American politicians speak about “Normal America” in a reference to the country’s historical small town narrative – one that is also defined by a largely white, European-derived population. FiveThirtyEight actually dug into the data and found that Normal America is most often found in racially diverse metropolitan regions between 1-2 million people in size.

One of the outliers in their assessment, however, was Cincinnati, which ranked as one of the top ten places in America that are most similar with 1950s America. Indianapolis joined Cincinnati as one of two large regions in this status. What’s more is that Kentucky (#1), Indiana (#3) and Ohio (#7) all ranked within the top ten states that most resemble 1950s America, not the one of today. More from FiveThirtyEight:

We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. Those notions might be based on our own nostalgia or our hopes for the future. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists. I used the same method to measure which places in America today are most similar demographically to America in 1950, when the country was much whiter, younger and less-educated than today.

With Opening of St. Lawrence Square, East Price Hill Welcomes New Gathering Space

Yesterday the City of Cincinnati, Price Hill Will and members of the East Price Hill community gathered to celebrate the grand opening of St. Lawrence Square.

Located at the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and Warsaw Avenue, the opening of the new public park marks the culmination of a years-long effort to develop a community gathering place in the historic west side neighborhood.

“While the space is small, we know it will become a center of events for the community ranging from concerts to theatre performances, and even Christmas tree lightings,” Price Hill Will Executive Director, Ken Smith, explained to UrbanCincy. “The project is a great example of what can happen when you involve residents to help improve their neighborhood.”

Assisted by Jeff Raser at Glaserworks, who has otherwise been well-known throughout the city for his work on developing form-based codes, members of the East Price Hill community came up with the idea for establishing a public gathering place, and subsequently developing the final product which includes a small lawn, performance stage, paver-covered walkways, and a water feature honoring the five branches of the military.

“Projects that turn underutilized spaces into public gathering places through a process that engages the community is true placemaking,” Oscar Bedolla, Director of the Cincinnati’s Department of Community & Economic Development, said at the grand opening. “Price Hill Will and everyone involved in revitalizing East Price Hill’s business district have a lot of momentum right now.”

The project was made possible through an unfortunate situation of a fire bringing down a historic structure. Following that, Price Hill Will acquired the property and received $261,595 in CDBG grant funds, along some grant money from PNC Bank and $20,000 of its own money to make it all happen.

Following the grand opening ceremony, community leaders are not wasting any time programming and activating the space. A kickoff party will take place this Sunday at St. Lawrence Square from 4pm to 6:30pm. Event organizers say there will be live music, food and other activities to welcome the community to their new gathering space.

St. Lawrence Square is located in the heart of East Price Hill. It is easily accessible from numerous bus routes; and free bike parking is also readily available in the immediate surrounding.

As Challenges Persist For Central Parkway Bike Lane, Cyclists Look to Organize

With National Bike Month coming to a close, the rhetoric surrounding the fate of the city’s lone protected bike lane continues. Following weeks of discussion and political wrangling, the city’s latest politicized transportation project will be studied again after two initial reports were found to be inconclusive by some leaders at City Hall.

The debate is, perhaps not coincidentally, taking place while the city’s bike community is becoming more active in terms of numbers of riders, group rides and political activism.

Last night at the Mercantile Library dozens crowded the venue to hear a panel discussion and engage in discussion about the current and future state of Cincinnati’s bike network. Organized by Queen City Bike and other area advocacy groups, the event served as an opportunity for people to constructively discuss the good and bad about the city’s bike infrastructure.

First adopted in June 2010, Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan has served as the official document meant to guide policy decisions at City Hall. Since its adoption, however, the planning document has largely sat on the shelf, with targets for the development of bike lanes and other infrastructure falling behind schedule.

Mayor John Cranley’s administration has made it very clear that they are not interested in the development of on-street bike lanes, particularly those that are physically protected from automobile traffic. In lieu of pursuing those targets, the Cranley administration has instead focused on off-street bike trails; while also providing the critical upfront investment to launch Red Bike.

“Under our public-private relationships and support of council and a very vibrant cyclist community, in my opinion, we’re going to be the most bike-friendly city in America in four years,” Mayor Cranley told Aaron Renn in 2014. “We have three major bike trails that can be connected on abandoned train tracks into downtown; and, candidly, we intend to get all three of them build in the next four years. There’s just nothing like it in any city.”

National studies have found that protected on-street bike lanes not only provide the greatest level of safety for both bicyclists and motorists, but also encourage a greater range of demographics to bike. According to the American Journal of Public Health, this is largely attributable to the fact that streets with protected bike lanes saw 90% fewer cyclist injuries per mile than those without.

When it opened in July 2014, the Central Parkway protected bike lane was the first of its kind in Ohio. Since then other cities around the state have developed their own protected bike lanes, but Cincinnati has gone back to discussing the merits of the project after a handful of motorists complained that it made the roadway more dangerous and confusing to navigate.

Those suggestions were refuted in a report issued earlier this month that found conflicts along the 2.2-mile stretch of Central Parkway with the protected bike lane are no different, or even safer, than on other comparable streets around the city; but that further experience and education is needed for motorists.

“The Cincinnati Police Department and DOTE both believe that as drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians become more familiar with the area and with the rules for the bike lane operations, there should be fewer conflicts,” the report concluded. “DOTE will continue to monitor conditions, and improvements may be made in the future as best practices evolve.”

Whether the future of Cincinnati’s bike infrastructure continues to focus on off-street bike trails, or shifts to a more balanced approach is yet to be seen. Queen City Bike is hoping last night’s event, and others to come in the future, will help grow the number of people advocating for a more robust bike network, but also refine the vision based around what it is the community wants to see pursued.

The Cranley administration has put forth a proposed budget that increases spending on bicycle infrastructure, but the overwhelming majority of that money has been tagged for off-street trails, not protected bike lanes or other sorts of infrastructure improvements.

City Council has until the end of June to review, make proposed changes and approve next year’s budget. This will give the growing bike advocacy community a strong opportunity to make their voices heard.

PHOTOS: Covington Celebrates Unveiling of Region’s First Parklets

On Friday, Covington became the first community in the region to fully embrace the idea of transforming on-street parking spaces into usable space for people.

The public celebration marked the culmination of a months-long competition aimed at rethinking the space typically used to store private automobiles. In total, five parklets made their debut in Covington’s downtown thanks to a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Bank/Haile Foundation that was awarded to Renaissance Covington for the project.

Organizers of the effort say that, beyond re-imagining on-street parking spaces, they hope the project will help link the city’s MainStrasse and Renaissance districts at a time when investment continues to flow to the area.

Each of the five parklets take on a different life and activate the streetscape in a different way. This was purposefully done in order to create parklets that were responsive to their surroundings. As such, each designer was required to partner and work with the adjacent business owner as part of the effort.

Those businesses include Inspirado at Madison Gallery, Cutman Barbershop, Left Bank Coffeehouse, Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe and Braxton Brewing Company.

Cities throughout North America have taken a different approach toward managing and regulating parklets, but in Covington these five installations will be allowed to stay in place for six months. Afterward, the parklets will be taken down for the cold winter season.

Covington city officials have no word as to what the future will hold for these or other potential parklets; but for now, you can go check them out for yourself at any time.