UrbanCincy, Niehoff Studio to Host Regional Discussion on Wasson Corridor

In May 2013, UrbanCincy partnered with the Niehoff Urban Studio to produce an event that highlighted the final work of engineering and urban planning students studying bus rapid transit and bikeways throughout the region. We then showcased their work and engaged the capacity crowd with a panel discussion between some of the region’s foremost experts on the subjects.

One of the hot topics at that event was the Wasson Corridor, which runs through the heart of Cincinnati’s eastern neighborhoods.

The Future of the Wasson Way Bike Trail and Light Rail Corridor

The corridor has long been in regional transit plans as the location for a light rail line, but recent advocacy efforts have been working to convert the abandoned freight rail right-of-way into a recreational trail for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Following UrbanCincy’s controversial editorial opposing the corridor’s conversion into a bike/ped trail, the conversation has shifted to one focused on creating a multi-modal corridor that accommodates the long-planned light rail and the newly envisioned recreational trail.

The next stage of that dialogue will occur this Thursday back at the Niehoff’s Community Design Center in Corryville.

Over the past semester, interdisciplinary students from the University of Cincinnati have been studying the Wasson Corridor and will be presenting their work at this event.

Following the open house where guests can view the final projects, UrbanCincy will then host a panel discussion with Michael Moore, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE); Eric Oberg, Manager of the Midwest Rails to Trails Conservancy; Mel McVay, Senior Planner at Cincinnati DOTE; Nern Ostendorf, Executive Director of Queen City Bike. The discussion will be moderated by UrbanCincy’s Jake Mecklenborg.

The event is free and open to the public. The open house portion of the evening will take place from 5pm to 6pm, and the panel discussion will follow immediately at 6pm and go until about 7:30pm.

Light food and refreshments will be provided and a cash bar will be available during the open house. The Niehoff’s Community Design Center can be accessed directly off of Short Vine at the southeast corner of Daniels and Vine Street.

Cincinnati Aims to Break Ground on Next Phase of Ohio River Trail in June 2017

City officials are advancing the designs for the next phase of the Ohio River Trail. The 2.2-mile segment will run from Salem Road to Sutton Road in Cincinnati’s California neighborhood on its eastern riverfront.

Project and community leaders are excited about the work because it will fill in a gap in the Ohio River Trail that will eventually stretch 23 miles from Coney Island on the east to Sayler Park on the west. The project will also represent an approximate 50% increase in the number of completed miles of the Ohio River Trail.

While designs are still being finalized, city officials presented a conceptual design and the preferred alignment with the public at an open house held on March 25.

The designs call for a shared use, asphalt path for bicyclists and pedestrians that is 12 feet wide. There would be a six-foot setback from the road, and the path would essentially function as an extra wide sidewalk in order to avoid taking any right-of-way away from automobiles.

The preferred alignment for the shared trail would run along the eastern side of Kellogg Avenue and go through the California Woods Nature Preserve. The pathway would pass underneath I-275 at the foot of the Combs-Hehl Bridge.

Project officials say that they will take feedback given during the recent open house into consideration when developing final designs, and formulate construction cost estimates. The next public meeting will take place in October.

If all goes according to plan, detailed design work will be complete by October 2016 and construction will begin in June 2017.

Dayton Secures $1M in Capital Funding to Launch Bike Share System in Spring 2015

Dayton Bike Share MapThe City of Dayton, in collaboration with Bike Miami Valley, Downtown Dayton Partnership and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC), plans to start a bike share program in the spring of 2015.

The system will operate similarly to Cincinnati’s planned bike share system announced this past February. The main difference between the two, however, is that Dayton has secured $1 million in capital funding to build out the initial system of more than 200 bikes and 22 stations located throughout Dayton’s center city.

According to city officials, the bulk of the capital funding will come from a grant from the Federal Highway Administration Surface Transportation Program. The City of Dayton will then provide an additional $250,000 funding for capital costs and initial operations.

The accomplishment of securing the capital funding was one not lost on those at the press conference. Scott Murphy, director of business development at the Downtown Dayton Partnership, emphasized that Dayton is the second city in Ohio to secure the capital for a bike share program.

Even though Cincinnati officials have yet to secure the capital funding for their planned bike share system, they remain optimistic they can do so and start operations in 2014 – ahead of Dayton’s planned launch early next year.

Also unlike Cincinnati where a non-profit entity will manage the system, the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority will take the lead in managing the program, and in selecting an operator. According to Executive Director Mark Donaghy, a request for proposals will be issued in the next three months, and an operating contract will be awarded this summer.

Dayton officials estimate that the infrastructure will be delivered this coming winter, with the program becoming operational in the months thereafter. Bike Miami Valley, a local cycling advocacy group, spurred the whole effort to bring bike share to Dayton with the preparation of a feasibility study.

Findings of the study indicated that Dayton has a higher level of suitability for a program than some similarly sized cities that already have bike share, such as San Antonio, Chattanooga and Madison, WI. The study also estimated that Dayton’s system would handle approximately 50,000 to 70,000 annual bike share trips.

Local leaders are giving the program enthusiastic support.

“Bike share is a natural extension of our transit system,” stated Donaghy, who went on to say that the RTA was the first transit system in Ohio to equip its full fleet of buses with bicycle racks.

Such efforts to embrace bicycling have made Dayton a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community, as rated by the League of American Bicyclists. Community leaders in Dayton, however, intend to become reach the platinum rating by 2020.

Brian Martin, Executive Director of MVRPC, stated that the program will expand and enhance existing services of the Regional Transit Authority, while also helping reduce auto dependency. In part due to the study conducted by Bike Miami Valley, and the tangible changes taking place in Dayton’s center city, local leaders say they knew this was the right decision.

“The number of housing units in downtown Dayton has doubled in the last 10 years,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley told UrbanCincy. “We know this is what people want.”

Metro Has Begun Installing New 24-Hour Ticketing Kiosks Throughout City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has made a new push to expand ticket and stored-value cards by adding new locations and options for riders to make their purchases.

The first announcement was that Metro would begin selling passes at Cincinnati City Hall, starting April 1, inside the city’s Treasury Department in Room 202. The sales office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and will offer Zone 1 and 2 Metro 30-day rolling passes, $20 stored-value cards and Metro/TANK passes.

The new location marks the twelfth sales office for Metro including three others Downtown and locations in Walnut Hills, Tri-County, Western Hills, North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Roselawn, College Hill and Avondale.

The region’s largest transit agency also installed its first ticket vending machine. The new kiosk is located at Government Square and is available for use 24 hours a day. The machine only accepts cash and credit cards, and offers Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards.

According to Metro officials, this is the first of more ticketing machines to come with the stations in the Uptown Transit District to be the next locations to get them. Future additions, officials say, will be chosen based on the amount of ridership at given transit hubs throughout the system.

The new sales options come after Metro introduced a new electronic fare payment system in 2011. The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.

While the new initiatives show progress for the 41-year-old transit agency, they also show just how far behind the times it is.

The best fare payment systems in the world are tap and go systems that allow riders to charge their cards with whatever value they would like, thus eliminating any confusion of needing specific cards for certain time periods or values. Such cards also allow for perfect interoperability between various modes of transport including bus, rail, ferry, bikeshare and taxi.

In other instances, like Seoul’s T-Money Card and London’s Oyster Card, the systems even allow for the tap and go payment systems to accept credit cards and bank cards enabled with the technology – totally eliminating any barrier for potential riders wary of signing up for a new card they may not use all that often.

Similar to the fare payment cards, the new ticketing machines are outdated on arrival. Transit agencies throughout the United States that have had ticketing machines for years, like Chicago and New York, are currently in the process of transitioning to touch screen kiosks that are more user-friendly.

VIDEO: Amtrak Sets Its Eyes on the Coveted Millennial Demographic

On the heels of kicking off their new Writers Residency program, where writers can ride intercity passenger rail for free, Amtrak welcomed 30 prominent new media “influencers” on a long-distance train ride from Los Angeles to SXSW in Austin.

The new initiatives are part of a larger effort by Amtrak to connect with a demographic they believe is already open-minded and passionate about intercity train travel.

“There’s a lot of talk about us being the Me Generation or the Do Nothing Generation,” said Charlie Monte Verde, who is a Millennial himself and also Amtrak’s Government Affairs Specialist for the Midwest Region. “The thing we always see about what we do, is that this can be one of those things that we take and run with. That we make our impact on the United States for the rest of our lives in growing this intercity rail network.”

Monte Verde says that the 30 participants had somewhere around 2.5 million followers on social media, and that the group logged their journey by using the #AmtrakLive hashtag.

The major takeaway for many of the participants, however, was the relaxing nature of the ride, and scenic beauty of the trip.

“I think train travel is a bit of a lost art. It was a very amazing thing to do years ago, and it’s still a very amazing thing to do now,” said Matthew Knell, VP of Social and Community Outreach at About.com. “What Amtrak is trying to do with the new generation; with high-speed rail and new technologies and solutions is great.”

Amtrak is currently in the process of upgrading intercity passenger rail service in the Midwest between St. Louis and Chicago and Detroit and Chicago. Segments of those routes are now operating at 110 miles per hour, with additional upgrades underway to bring the entire length of those routes up to higher speeds.

In October 2013, Amtrak officials signed an agreement with the State of Indiana to maintain Hoosier State service, and revisited the idea of improving service between Cincinnati and Chicago.

Data Suggests Peak Vehicle Miles Traveled Was Reached in 2007

Whether it is widening Martin Luther King Drive, adding a new interchange, building a new bridge, or adding additional capacity to existing streets throughout our cities, we always hear of the robust traffic growth that is anticipated. If nothing is done, then our communities would be stuck in gridlock.

But how have these projections actually measured up?

According to data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and cross examined with data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the traffic growth projections made by departments of transportation all over the country have been wildly off-base for the past decade.

National VMT (Actual) National Per Capita VMT

Since the 1980s, traffic on our roadways, as measured by vehicle miles traveled (VMT), has increased by approximately 2.5% annually. That is until the early 2000s when that trend changed rather abruptly. Since 2007, actual VMT has decreased approximately .3% annually. Meanwhile, per capita VMT has fallen sharply.

Many analysts have noticed the trends, but have been cautious to make any judgments about them due to the fact that the change took place around the same time as the Great Recession. The common thought was that people without jobs drive less. Even though most economists, however, have noticed a rebounding economy over recent years, both actual and per capita VMT continues to decline.

The persistent trends may in fact be the new normal for America as Baby Boomers retire and Millennials and subsequent generations continue their pivot away from personal automobile use. If this is the case, it appears that the United States hit peak VMT in 2007.

The implications pose serious policy questions. Presently, most departments of transportation spend most of their money annually on new capacity projects, while letting existing infrastructure crumble. Some policy makers and organizations, like Smart Growth America and President Obama (D), who first proposed such a program during his 2013 State of the Union Address, have advocated for a shift in this position to a ‘Fix-It-First’ approach.

Time will only tell what future trends will show. But as of now we are experiencing, for the first time in our nation’s history, a constant period of decline in terms of the amount of driving we are doing.