PHOTOS: Washington D.C.’s Model Transportation Investments Paying Dividends

Washington D.C. has, perhaps, the nation’s most prosperous and booming urban economy. It is a city that has also become defined by its highly educated, young workforce.

Over the past decade or so, the nation’s capital has also been transforming its transport network in a way to make it more multi-modal and improve mobility.

One of the most striking things upon arriving in Washington D.C. is the sheer number of bike lanes. And not just bike lanes, but protected bike lanes. As many cities have begun noticing in recent years, striped bike lanes next to moving traffic are not enough, and that protected bike lanes that separate cyclists from moving traffic with bollards or on-street parking are far superior.

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As a result, you see many of the newer bike lanes in Washington D.C. receiving this treatment, and many of the older lanes being transitioned over, as possible, to protected facilities. To this end, it should come as no surprise that the city has one of the nation’s highest percentages of people commuting by bike.

In addition to that, Washington D.C. launched North America’s first bikeshare system in 2008 when SmartBike DC opened with 120 bikes at 10 stations. After some initial struggles, a new system called Capital Bikeshare was launched in September 2010 and currently boasts more than 2,500 bikes at more than 300 stations.

This new system extends beyond the District of Columbia into three additional nearby jurisdictions and stands as one of three biggest bikeshare systems in the United States along with New York City’s CitiBike and Chicago’s Divvy.

I used Capital Bikeshare to make an approximate two-mile trip from near the U Street Metro Station to Washington Union Station. The journey was a breeze and preferable, to me at least, to using a taxi or the city’s well-functioning transit system.

Upon arriving at Union Station I met a friend to check out one of Washington D.C.’s other marque transportation projects at this time. The H Street/Benning Road modern streetcar line terminates here and extends approximately 2.4 miles to the east, and is part of a larger 37-mile streetcar network that will include five lines in total.

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The $137 million starter line is in the final stages of construction, with train vehicles and their drivers currently being tested and trained along its route. Project officials expect it to open to riders in early 2015.

Walking the route was not all that pleasant thanks to the hot temperatures and only brief areas of shade along the busy street, which serves a bevy of transit operations including Megabus, Greyhound and Bolt intercity buses, articulated city buses and now the streetcar. Fortunately a mid-afternoon stop at a local Mexican eatery, with plenty of guacamole to go around, made the overheated outing more tolerable.

While H Street is a largely a hit-or-miss commercial corridor, its immediately surrounding residential streets are expectedly charming and offer a good foundation from which to build. Some development has already begun to spring up along the line, including a slew of residential projects and a 41,000-square-foot grocery store. There are also signs of renewed interest in many existing buildings that have new restaurants and shops opening up within them.

Of course not everything that is happening in Washington D.C. is related to infrastructure or transportation enhancements. There is, overall, just an extraordinary amount of new construction taking place and a far-reaching sense of vitality. One cannot help but think that there is at least some connection between these policy decisions and investments, and vibrancy on the ground.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 39 photos were taken by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy between Wednesday, September 3 and Friday, September 5.

Ohio River Trail Project Moving Westward from Cincinnati’s Center City

For those coming from the west side along the Ohio River, Cincinnati’s western riverfront serves as a bit of a welcome mat. However, after losing residents and jobs since mid-20th century, many in the area believe now is the time to rethink this historic area.

While oft-viewed as an industrial stretch, it is a little known fact that Cincinnati’s western riverfront is actually one of the region’s largest green corridors with riverfront parks and wooded hillsides. And just a few feet down from the busy streets and railways, there is a different Cincinnati – one community leaders believe has the potential to serve as a national example of environmental stewardship and urban recreation.

Perhaps the biggest asset this area boasts is the Ohio River with its views and access to unique amenities. The existing amenities offered by the river and surrounding hillsides, combined with potential amenities from a string of riverfront parks, have the ability to create a powerful attraction for new residents and jobs. It is because of this potential that community leaders see so much value in Ohio River Trail West, which is part of the city’s larger Western Riverfront Plan.

The proposed three-segment first phase of Ohio River Trail West. formerly known as the Western Riverwalk, ties together the reconstruction of the Waldvogel Viaduct, ongoing redevelopment in Lower Price Hill, and repurposing of the former Hilltop Concrete property into a park.

URS estimates that the first two segments within the first phase of work will cost approximately $1.3 million and build upon the much larger Ohio River Trail. This particular phase of trail would extend roughly 3.7 miles downriver to the Gilday Recreation Center.

The biggest of these three pieces of the puzzle is the $55 million reconstruction of the Waldvogel Viaduct. As part of the planning and engineering of the new viaduct, there will be improved views and access to the river from Lower Price Hill. Once the viaduct’s construction is complete, more than 16 acres of riverfront property will become accessible at the former Hilltop Concrete site, which had once been planned for a new rail-to-barge shipping facility, and will now become Price’s Landing.

The combination of all these ongoing efforts creates the possibility for a dramatically different future for the long-troubled Lower Price Hill neighborhood.

Olyer School - an architectural treasure and a foundation of the Lower Price Hill community– recently underwent a $21 million dollar renovation; and the reconstruction of the Waldvogel Viaduct will reconnect the neighborhood to the river for the first time in over 60 years.

Meanwhile, the western end of the first phase of Ohio River Trail West is the Gilday Recreation Center, which will support the trail through its current configuration and planned upgrades.

It is estimated that the stretch of properties between the former Hilltop Concrete site and Southside Avenue are controlled by no more than five entities, and project planners have already secured roughly 70% of the right-of-way needed for this first phase of work.

So while ownership and access are typically major hurdles for projects of this variety, proponents are particularly excited that all of the needed right-of-way required for the first phase of work is either controlled already, or is vacant and potentially available for the new trail. Furthermore, each endpoint is owned by the City and will be able to provide both access and parking for future users.

The efforts to make this plan a reality were given a boost by former Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (D) when he delivered his final State of the City Address and made the western riverfront a key component of that speech.

“If you think about the proposed investment here…this could serve as a landmark development for the west side of Cincinnati,” Mallory stated.

The efforts were then given another jolt in April 2014 when current Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) allocated $250,000 to the project for ongoing engineering work, and pledged to support the project going forward.

There is currently no timetable for phase one construction activities, but project proponents hope to finalize engineering work and secure construction funding for phase one over the next year or so.

EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Should Embrace John Cranley’s Residential Parking Permit Idea

We subsidize parking for automobiles in almost all situations in our society, but it is especially true when it comes to public parking. This can be seen quite clearly throughout the city where public parking garages, lots and on-street spaces are regularly priced below market rates.

A recent proposal by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) to charge $300 annually for a residential parking permit in Over-the-Rhine was met with immediate criticism. Perhaps the criticism was fair given that such a rate would be the highest in the country by a long shot. And yes, that includes far higher than what’s charged in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York.

UrbanCincy, however, believes this says more about the sad state of subsidizing parking than anything else. In fact, we believe that the $300 annual parking permit is reasonable.

To better understand how this proposed permit fee stacks up, let’s consider that it averages out to approximately $25 per month. According to the most recent State of Downtown report, the average monthly parking rate in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton is $89. This average accounts for approximately 36,400 monthly parking spaces available in 2013.

While this average monthly parking rate is skewed by much higher rates in the Central Business District, many lots and garages reserved for residential parking in Over-the-Rhine charge between $40 and $110 per month. This means that Mayor Cranley’s proposal would put the city’s on-street parking spaces nearly in-line with their private counterparts.

This is a smart move. We should stop subsidizing parking as much as possible. Therefore, such a proposal should not only be examined in greater depth for Over-the-Rhine, but all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

According to parking management policy expert and UCLA professor Donald Shoup, charging market rate prices is particularly important for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons, however, is the fact that the higher prices will cause higher turnover and thus positively influence a number of other factors such as reduced congestion from cars circling the block and reduced pollution from those cars’ exhaust.

UrbanCincy recommends identifying what the market rate for parking is throughout the city and establish districts where on-street residential parking permits can be purchased. The proceeds from those permits could then be reinvested back into those neighborhoods for improvements of selected by those neighborhoods.

In Over-the-Rhine it has been suggested that the money could go toward offsetting the operating costs of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, but in other neighborhoods it could support public art, cleanup activities, public art or whatever it is that neighborhood desires.

This may not have been what the mayor had in mind when first proposing the residential parking permits for Over-the-Rhine, but if it was then Mayor Cranley deserves serious kudos.

With Membership Rates Set, Cincy Red Bike to Begin Operations Monday

Those eager to sign-up for the region’s first bike share program found out at some point last week that the system was open. It marked the first time anyone was able to purchase annual memberships through Cincy Red Bike, and it also was the first time rates were revealed.

What those early members found out was that annual memberships cost $80 and daily rentals will cost $8. UrbanCincy has revealed that both of these rates are among the highest of B-cycle’s markets, but comparable to the other large cities served by the nation’s largest bike share company.

Part of the benefit for Cincy Red Bike members is the fact that the Cincinnati system is part of B-cycle’s national network. This means that their membership cards will also work in most any of B-cycle’s nearly two-dozen network cities.

B-cycle cities such as Austin, Denver, Fort Worth, Indianapolis and San Antonio all have the same annual membership rates as Cincinnati, but those amounts are slightly higher than the $75 annual fee charged for users in Chicago, Columbus and Washington D.C. where Montreal-based Bixi operates systems.

New York’s Citi Bike, which is also operated by Bixi, is the nation’s most expensive with $95 annual memberships.

In most cases the daily memberships cover an unlimited number of 30-minute rides. Bike share planners say that this is to encourage the use of the bikes for small trips and ensure high turnover.

Cincy Red Bike, however, will be a bit unique in that its $8 daily memberships will allow for an unlimited number of rides up to 60 minutes – making it one of just a handful of cities nationwide. The thought is that the longer ride period will allow for a better customer experience without damaging the performance of the system.

The longer check outs will lead to fewer people who don’t fully understand the pricing structure and therefore accidentally get charged user fees,” explained Cincy Red Bike executive director Jason Barron. “This is good from a customer satisfaction standpoint, but it is also good in that we will spend less time and resources dealing with unhappy customers.”

Those who go over that 60-minute time period will be charged $4 for each additional 30 minutes up to a total of $50 in added charges. Those who do not return the bike at all will be charged $1,200.

Cincy Red Bike locations

As of this point all of the 260 bikes and 30 stations have been put together and installed throughout Downtown and Uptown. Barron says that the system will officially go into operation on Monday, September 15 at 10:30am during a ceremony led by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) at The Banks.

Those who have already purchased memberships will be receiving their cards by mail next week, but Barron says that they can use the system through their membership prior to receiving their card by simply using the credit card tied to their account.

Those who have not yet purchased their memberships can do so online, and are encouraged to download the free B-cycle Now smartphone application to location stations and bike availability.

Will Main Street Follow in Vine Street’s Footsteps and Return to Two-Way Traffic?

City and community leaders are taking a fresh look at some of Over-the-Rhine’s streets and intersections to see if they might be able to better function if managed differently.

In the 1940’s many downtown streets were converted from two-way to one-way traffic in order to stream automobile traffic through the city center. With the completion of Interstate 75 in the late 1950’s and Interstate 71 in the late 1960’s, some of these streets became important feeders into the highway system.

Additionally, many north-south streets, such as Main, Walnut and Vine, remained one-way to help move traffic throughout the new auto-oriented street system.

It eventually became clear, however, that one-way streets were not adding much benefit beyond moving vehicles slightly faster on their way to and from the interstate highways.

As a result, the City of Cincinnati spent around $400,000 in 1999 to convert Vine Street back to two-way travel from Central Parkway to McMicken Avenue. A subsequent study in 2004 found that traffic along Vine Street became slightly more congested, but also reduced the speed of motorists traveling through the historic neighborhood.

Since its conversion, Vine Street has also blossomed with dozens of new businesses, which can, in part, be attributed to slower traffic and improved access and visibility. As a result, there have been several other examples of this type of conversion throughout Over-the-Rhine, including sections of Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets.

Two-way street conversions are typically credited with improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists, while also helping local businesses along the street by making it easier for drivers to navigate city streets. In addition to that, a civil engineer from Penn State University even found that the conversion of one-way streets can even improve traffic flow.

“Two-way networks can serve more trips per unit time than one-way networks when average trip lengths are short,” Dr. Vikash Gayah wrote in his essay. “This study also found that two-way networks in which left-turn movements were banned at intersection could always serve trips at a higher rate than one-way networks could, even long trips.”

Gayah’s conclusion was that the trip-serving capacity of a street network can actually be improved when converted to two-way operations, and when left turns are banned.

“This framework can be used by planners and engineers to determine how much a network’s capacity changes after a conversion, and also to unveil superior conversion options,” Gayah noted.

In Cincinnati, initiating such conversions can come in the form of streetscaping projects or through formal requests made by neighborhood leaders. From there, City engineers will determine the feasibility of suggested conversions. In some cases, like E. Twelfth, E. Thirteenth, Fourteenth Streets, City engineers have said that the streets are too narrow to be converted and remain one-way to allow for on-street parking.

The Over-the-Rhine Community Council recently submitted a request to the City to convert Main Street back to two-way traffic.

“At most times of the day Main Street has relatively light traffic and motorists speed down the street in order to make every green light,” Seth Maney, head of Main Street OTR, explained to UrbanCincy. “It can seem more like a drag strip than a pedestrian-oriented business district.”

The specific request from Over-the-Rhine activists is to convert both Main Street and Walnut Street. However, transportation officials say that the routing of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar will prohibit such a conversion south of Twelfth Street.

“The streetcar route is something we have to consider if there was a desire to convert the north-south streets to two way traffic.” said Michael Moore, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE). “The conversion from Twelfth to Liberty Street, however, would be relatively simple.”

In addition to Twelfth Street, the streetcar’s routing along Elm and Race would also seem to make it improbable that either of those streets could be converted to two-way traffic.