Will Expanded Clout For Port Authority Strengthen Its Economic Development Capabilities?

Early this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the entire 226-mile stretch of the Ohio River between Huntington, WV and Louisville, KY as the “Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky,” greatly expanding it from its previous 26 miles. This expansion mirrors other large-scale capacity and access expansions across America’s inland ports.

In Duluth, MN work began in May on a project to enhance rail connections and the intermodal abilities of the port. The Duluth Seaway Authority, the western edge of the St. Lawrence Seaway, states that it is the largest project they have undertaken since their creation in the 1950s.

Further south, America’s Central Port, the port authority for the St. Louis region, began a new $50 million project to provide rail access to six Class I carriers and increase intermodal capabilities. And ports along the Great Lakes are seeing increased shipments of steel, grain, and salt, and are also upgrading rail infrastructure to keep up with demand.

The growth of these ports coincides with several different events. As the nation continues to recover economically from the Great Recession, traffic is increasing along most of America’s transportation corridors; and rail-river/lake intermodal traffic is becoming increasingly popular.

This trend is evidenced in the US Department of Transportation’s recent designation of the Mississippi River as a “container-on-vessel route,” which will provide a vast corridor for container shipping by barge along the entire Mississippi River system. Founded in 1999 to stimulate economic development in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, the Mid-America Port Commission plans to create even more port authorities in the near future along the Mississippi River.

The congestion in Chicago’s rail yards and limited real estate along Lake Michigan is also contributing to growth in other Midwestern ports. Also looming in the background of these expansion decisions is the soon-to-be-opened Panama Canal expansion, which is expected to increase traffic within all of America’s ports and transportation corridors.

This recent expansion of Cincinnati’s port authority makes it the second largest inland port in the United States, and is expected to enable the region to take better advantage of these trends and help serve as a catalyst for economic development.

The problem for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, however, is a continued lack of dedicated funding stream. This limits the organization’s ability to pursue economic development projects that have come to define its core mission.

REDI CEO Johnna Reeder spoke to this at an August meeting for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, for which she serves as a board member. At that time Reeder said that the region must do a better job at attracting manufacturing jobs and wants the Port Authority to play a larger role in doing just that.

A proposal to lease the bulk of Cincinnati’s parking assets was approved in June 2013 and would have provided such a revenue stream for the Port Authority. This deal, however, was later cancelled upon the arrival of newly elected Mayor John Cranley (D) and affirmed by a majority of City Council in December 2013.

Hamilton Installing New Electronic Parking Meters, Offering Mobile Payment Options

Following in Cincinnati’s footsteps, the City of Hamilton introduced a new mobile pay option for 248 on-street parking meters in the downtown area.

In total, these meters represent about 45% of the city’s total. They are similar in nature to Cincinnati’s and even use the same PassportParking app to handle mobile payments.

“The option of mobile payment will make the process of parking downtown quick and convenient, which is great for both parkers and small businesses,” Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said in a prepared release. “It will be a welcomed change to carrying around coins and will make it easier for customers to support downtown Hamilton’s small businesses.”

When asked why all of the city’s on-street parking meters were not included, Richard A. Engle, Hamilton’s Director of Public Works, said that they wanted to focus on the most frequently used meters first to see how the new system was received.

“We wanted to pilot test the market before installing the system on all parking meters,” Engle told UrbanCincy.

In coordination with the new mobile payment app, city officials also said that they installed six credit card only parking meters a block south of High Street as a pilot test as well. So far he says that the changes have not impacted the operation of Hamilton’s Traffic Division yet, but that they will be monitoring its performance.

The changes come as cities across North America are working to modernize their parking assets, while also improving their market performance. While Engle says Hamilton is not quite ready to introduce real-time, market-based pricing for their on-street meters, he did not rule out the possibility.

“As parking demands increase, this may be considered,” Engle said. “However, it is too early to contemplate using a demand-based system at this time.”

The idea for now is to offer more modern payment options, and make the process of parking on the street easier for those visiting the downtown area.

Those interested in utilizing the PassportParking app in either Cincinnati or Hamilton can do so by creating an account at https://m.ppprk.com, and then downloading it from the iPhone App Store or Android Google Play.

Cincinnati’s Growth in Bicycle Commuters Third Fastest in America

Newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of people commuting to work by bike continues to rise all across the United States. The League of American Bicyclists took an in-depth look at these numbers and found that Cincinnati is one of the fastest-growing bicycling cities in America.

According to the data produced by the American Community Survey, Cincinnati has the highest percentage of people commuting to work by bike of any city in Ohio.

This places the Queen City in 31st place for the largest percentage of bike commuters in America. Columbus and Cleveland come in at 36th and 40th, respectfully. Toledo, meanwhile, was the only other Ohio city to crack the top 70 and came in at 67th.

“Cincinnati is leading the state in establishing bicycle commuting as a viable means of active transportation,” Frank Henson, President of Queen City Bike‘s Board of Trustees, told UrbanCincy. “We are coming to an understanding that bicycle commuting is safe, sustainable and a healthy choice for everyday transportation.”

What is perhaps more telling is that Cincinnati registered the third-fastest growth rate of bicycle commuters in American from 2000 to 2014.

During that four-year period, ACS data shows that Cincinnati saw a 350% increase in its percentage of bicycle commuters, trailing only Pittsburgh (361%) and Detroit (403%), and edging out Portland, OR (307%). Cleveland also clocked in amongst the top ten in this category with a 238% increase; while Columbus registered a 124% increase. For Cincinnati this builds on its impressive showing over the previous decade where it was a Midwest leader.

Industry experts note that a common thread between many of the communities registering the fastest growth rates is increased investment in bike lanes.

In fact, it was in June 2010 when Cincinnati adopted and began implementing its Bicycle Transportation Plan, which calls for 445 miles of on-street and off-street bike paths by 2025. While that plan mostly calls for non-protected bike lanes, best practices have quickly evolved and now protected bike lanes, like the one on Central Parkway, are widely considered the safest and most efficient alternative.

“Ironically, these days when drivers yell at me for riding in the street, they are just as likely to yell ‘Get in the bike lane!’ as ‘Get off the street!”, explained Margy Waller, who helps organize several group bike rides throughout the year. “To me this suggests that drivers understand the value of the bike lane for all street users. Unfortunately, the drivers don’t seem to realize that most streets don’t have a bike lane, but I bet they’d support more of them.”

While the growth in the number of people commuting by bike is impressive, it still accounts for less than 1% of all commute-related trips in Cincinnati. Implementation of the Bicycle Transportation Plan has been important in notching these improvements over the past four years, but that progress has been slow and inconsistent.

Cincinnati Well-Positioned to Become America’s Air Pollution Leader

As if the Ohio River valley was already enough of a factor in the stagnation of air pollution in this region, now Cincinnati leaders have charted course on an effort that would advance the city’s ranking on the list of most polluted cities in America.

The list, released last month, shows that out of the top 100 metropolitan areas Cincinnati’s air quality is the eighth worst, with Cleveland coming in right behind us at number 10.

“We’re in a good position to close the gap to being in the top five over the next few years,” a layperson told UrbanCincy. “As long as our region keeps on driving everywhere those numbers are bound to increase.”

In fact, as construction continues on the new MLK Interchange along I-71, and the widening of I-75, the induced traffic demand from those two projects alone will allow for even more cars to become stuck on the region’s already gridlocked highways during rush hour.

“Widening highways to relieve traffic congestion is like an overweight person loosening their belt to lose weight,” someone smart once told us.

The $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge project, if it ever gets off the ground, would also do much to help push the region up the charts toward the most polluted city in America. In particular, many motorists look forward to the more pronounced smog and foggy orange haze expected to hang over the city and region for years to come.

Air quality is very important to Suburban Person, a financial analyst that works downtown. He tells UrbanCincy that he moved thirty miles out of the city just to escape the smog. Since he still works downtown he informed us he is sitting stuck in traffic on I-75 as of the writing of this article.

Time will tell if those evil progressive urbanists will get in the way of the grand plan by succeeding in actually passing some sort of regional mass transit plan, or even a streetcar extension, but until then the best way to the top is to keep on driving. Happy motoring everyone!

EDITORIAL NOTE: If it was not abundantly clear already, this is a satire post. No one should be proud of the fact that Cincinnati has the 8th worst air pollution in America.

Construction to Start on $29M South Hamilton Crossing Project This March

Hamilton city officials recently celebrated the announcement that Barclaycard would bring up to 1,500 jobs to Vora Technology Park for a new call center. Now, in almost perfect timing, public officials say they are ready to move forward with a $29 million project that will greatly improve access to the site.

Last week the OKI Regional Council of Governments awarded $3.75 million to the South Hamilton Crossing project. This is in addition to a previous allocation of $2.45 million from OKI, and $10 million from the State of Ohio. The remaining funds are coming from the City of Hamilton and Butler County.

“OKI’s support of the South Hamilton Crossing project is crucial to its success and illustrates how important the overpass is to our regional transit network,” City Manager Joshua Smith stated in a prepared release.

Hamilton has long been defined by its numerous freight railways. While they have been productive for the city, they have also served as barriers between neighborhoods since they typically operate at-grade.

The Jack Kirsch Underpass on High Street is the only grade-separated rail crossing in Hamilton that offers east-west flow. As a result, the South Hamilton Crossing has long been envisioned; with some plans showing it that date all the way back to 1911.

As of now, Grand Boulevard terminates at the CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks in Lindenwald. People walking, biking or driving must then head north along Central Avenue and then cut across the four railroad tracks diagonally.

This new project will extend Grand Boulevard to the west to University Boulevard, serving Vora Technology Park and Miami University Hamilton. Instead of crossing the four railroad tracks, the extended road will bridge them, thus offering fewer conflicts for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, along with fewer restrictions for freight operators.

“SHX is very important for both safety and economic reasons,” said Smith. “With the recent announcement that Barclaycard is opening a 1,500 person facility at Vora Technology Park, the need for better access to the area is more important now than ever.”

Transportation officials say that 56 trains travel through this crossing on a daily basis, which results in its blockage a total of 15.3% of the time. As a result, the new overpass is expected to greatly improve connectivity, reduce travel times, and increase safety.

Project leaders say that construction should begin in March 2016 and be completed in mid-2018.