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.

ODOT Looking For Public Feedback on Reworked Eastern Corridor Program

The Ohio Department of Transportation is looking for additional feedback related to transportation improvements for Cincinnati’s eastern neighborhoods and far reaching suburbs.

The survey comes after ODOT has said that they are backing away from original plans for the hotly debated Eastern Corridor project, which came under public scrutiny for its scope and potentially negative impact to established neighborhoods on the city’s east side.

While the project will most certainly not be moving forward as originally envisioned, public officials are still looking to get a grasp on what kinds of investments could be made to improve traffic congestion and mobility options.

So far, ODOT has held public meetings in Newtown and Mariemont, and will hold meetings in Anderson Township, Mt. Lookout, Fairfax and Mt. Washington in the coming weeks – the next of which will occur this evening, from 6pm to 8pm, in Mt. Lookout at Christ The King Parish Center at 927 Ellison Avenue.

Those unable to attend that or the other upcoming meetings, are being encouraged to complete an interactive web-based survey. Taking approximately five to 10 minutes to complete, the survey asks respondents to rank the importance of the types of transportation improvements needed for the corridor, while also asking for specific location-based improvement suggestions.

The survey and public feedback for this effort is focused on what ODOT calls Segments II and III of the project, and is not limited to those who live or work in the study area, but rather open to anyone who finds themselves passing through the area.

Early results from the survey show that respondents want ODOT to focus investments on improving public transit, biking and walking options, and travel time through the corridor. While the travel time option could mean many different things, it may be connected to the other two top rankings for multi-modal transportation enhancements.

Projects not specifically mentioned in the survey include the Oasis Corridor commuter rail line, which also has been on the ropes lately, and the Wasson Corridor, which is still unclear how it will proceed with respects to a trail only, or a light rail and trail combination.

As UrbanCincy wrote in June 2015, a new local access bridge crossing the Ohio River, from Columbia Tusculum to Dayton, KY, could also greatly help solve access and congestion issues on the east side of the region.

ODOT officials say that the online survey will remain open until Wednesday, June 15. After this evening’s open house in Mt. Lookout, the next meetings to take place in Fairfax and Mt. Washington will occur on May 4 and May 5, respectively.

Roughly 39% of Hamilton County’s Workforce Commutes From Outside of County

Of the 490,222 workers in Hamilton County, 39% of them are commuters from outside the county. This is according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Compared to other similarly sized metropolitan areas, this is a larger than normal percentage. In Cuyahoga County, home of Cleveland, for example, only 28% of the almost 700,000 workers commute from outside the county; and in Allegheny County, PA – the center of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area – that number is 22% of more than 680,000 workers.

The difference, some say, may be attributable to the fact that the Cincinnati region’s job center sits directly on a state line, and borders three counties in Northern Kentucky.

However, in Jefferson County, KY, with a similar amount of workers in the county as Hamilton County, only 26% of employees commute from outside Jefferson County. This is in spite of the fact that Louisville sits directly on the Ohio River, like Cincinnati, with commuters crossing the state line from Indiana each day.

Perhaps further explaining the matter is the merging of Cincinnati and Dayton’s economic activities, which increasingly promote cross commuting between Cincinnati’s northern, and Dayton’s southern counties.

Such commuting patterns complicate transportation management for regional planners. Not only does it mean heavy rush hour commutes, but also more unpredictable reverse commutes.

While Hamilton County was a bit of an outlier, it was joined by Davidson County, TN (Nashville), and St. Louis County, MO (St. Louis) with similar complex commuting patterns.

OKI Survey Results Show Cincinnati Region Wants More Transportation Choices

The OKI Regional Council of Governments recently released survey results affirming the region’s desire for more public transportation and other carless commuting alternatives.

The survey was part of the organization’s public involvement in their 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which will ultimately set the priorities for the metropolitan planning organization as it looks to distribute federal funding for transportation.

OKI has conducted several surveys to gather feedback on the plan, each one confirming similar desires for more non-automobile transportation options.

The vast majority of the respondents stated that their most frequent mode of transportation is driving their vehicle alone, with only 2% taking the bus and the same amount walking.

In the only open-ended question of the survey, OKI asked what part of their commute to work or school or some other frequent route could be improved. While a common theme was complaints on the massive reconstruction of the Mill Creek Expressway on I-75, respondents also called for a light rail system connecting the region’s suburbs and airport.

Those surveyed complained about a lack of coverage and frequency of Metro bus routes. A universal fare card for TANK and Metro, which is something area transit leaders have been developing. Altogether, 15% of respondents wanted more public transportation options and 11% wanted to improve the transit options that already exists.

While the survey results reinforce the notion that the car reigns supreme in Cincinnati, it also shows that area residents have few, if any, alternatives. As such, more than 56% of respondents said that they would keep their car, but drive much less if non-vehicle modes of transportation were available.

Officials at OKI have recently taken criticism for the planning assumptions they have been using to develop their regional plans, which often include VMT increases that have not been realized in many years.

Survey respondents said they were most concerned about traffic congestion and the lack of public transportation over the next 25 years. Should regional leaders decide to focus transportation investments on building transit, they could seemingly address both concerns at the same time.

Another them that came out of the survey results was that public officials should focus spending resources on maintaining and fixing outdated infrastructure, rather than building new capacity. The idea of institutionalizing “fix-it-first” policies is one that has garnered bi-partisan support across the country, including Ohio.

OKI has conducted several surveys of similar nature over recent years as the work to update and develop their regional plans. Despite the frequency of such surveys, the results have been consistent along the way, with many people asking for more transportation choices and better maintained infrastructure.

“This feedback is providing valuable insight into the transportation needs and issues most important to the public,” officials explained. “It is helping us identify projects that should be recommended for inclusion in the plan.”

The 2016 update to the OKI 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, which includes a recommended project list, is scheduled to be reviewed by OKI’s Board of Directors in June.

10 Questions and Answers With Cincinnati’s New Sustainability Coordinator

Oliver Kroner 2016The City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability recently hired Oliver Kroner as the office’s new sustainability coordinator. In this position Kroner will work with the long-time director of the office, Larry Falkin, in implementing programs and projects that help reduce the city’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment.

I sat down with the Northside resident, who goes by Ollie, to ask him 10 questions about his new role and vision for the city.

Randy Simes: First of all, congratulations on the new position. Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got to this point in your career?
Oliver Kroner: Thanks Randy, I am very excited for the role and the potential for impact. My background has included work in sustainability issues in a number of different capacities. As an environmental scientist, I have worked in the nonprofit and academic sectors conducting research around the environmental and human health impacts of chemicals in our lives.

In the last few years as President of Northside Community Council, we have led several green initiatives in an urban planning and development context. As an entrepreneur, I have worked in green development, renewable energy, and the sharing economy. In many ways the Sustainability Coordinator role combines the skills I have developed in these different roles.

RS: Larry Falkin has been in charge of this office since its inception. Is there anything in particular that you are hoping to learn from Mr. Falkin as you settle into this role?
OK: I’m grateful for the opportunity to work for Larry and OES. He has a good grasp of where we have come from, and what opportunities lay before us as a city. Much of our time together so far has been spent meeting City officials and community leaders. It is probably his ability to weigh information and see an issue from different perspectives that I really hope will rub off on me.

RS: You have a background working with communities that may be at-risk to chemical exposures. Do you see this experience assisting you in this role?
OK: I worked as an environmental scientist with the TERA Center, which is now part of the University of Cincinnati. The Center specializes in chemical risk assessment – analyzing, modeling, and quantifying risk in a way that can be communicated to regulators or communities. I expect the ability to communicate analytical findings and regulations to be valuable in this role.

RS: Sustainability can mean a lot of different things. What does it mean to you in general, and in relation to this specific role?
OK: Sustainability is probably the most intriguing and most complex issue facing humanity. There are large global trends at play that have some pretty scary potential outcomes. We have the opportunity to redirect some of these trends in ways that would benefit quality of life, the environment, and the economy. But to do so will require the cooperation of economics, science, and behavioral modifications.

It is my role as Sustainability Coordinator to work with City of Cincinnati government, businesses, non-profits, and community members, to help these forces align, develop clear steps forward, and establish systems for bench marking and tracking our progress. Our Green Cincinnati Plan has outlined some bold goals- I intend to help Cincinnati advance these goals and lead by example.

RS: What would you say has been the greatest accomplishment of OES since its inception?
OK: OES helped move the City of Cincinnati to 100% green energy and reduced city emissions by 247,000 tons carbon dioxide each year.

RS: What do you think is an area where OES could further grow and make a positive impact in the community?
OK: Considering that approximately 60% of Cincinnatians rent their homes, that most of our building stock is very old, and that we have 30% of our population living in poverty – incentivizing upgrades to rental units could offer significant quality of life gains and energy savings.

One of the first items on my desk is to develop a dashboard to track our progress on various sustainability initiatives. We hope that these data will help us determine where to focus our efforts.

RS: How do you primarily get around town (i.e. walk, bike, bus, car)?
OK: I live with my wife, Libby, and our two boys, Quincy and Julian in Northside. We can put our boys in the wagon, and walk to almost anything we want to do. If I have to cross town, I drive an old diesel Mercedes that runs biodiesel in the warmer months. We’ll take the bikes out for fun, but bike commuting with toddlers is pretty tough! We have Red Bike passes here at the office to zip around Downtown.

RS: You mentioned that you live in Northside. What attracts you to that neighborhood? Would you recommend it as a place to live for other people?
OK: Northside is a community in the strongest sense of the word. We moved back from Boston because we wanted to live in a place where strangers walking on the sidewalk looked each other in the eye and said hello, and we found that here. The walkable historic business district, the old houses, the food scene, live music every night of the week, all surrounded by green space – it’s pretty easy to live here. If that sounds appealing, you should probably come spend a day here.

RS: Paper or plastic?
OK: I brought my own bags, thank you.

RS: Anything else?
OK: I know UrbanCincy has a loyal following of thought-leaders with many ideas for improving our city. I welcome ideas! Please reach out at oliver.kroner@cincinnati-oh.gov.