Wanderu Introduces One-Stop Booking Site for Intercity Bus, Train Operators

For years, travelers have been able to compare prices and schedules between multiple airlines in one place by using sites like Kayak.com. With the rising popularity of intercity bus options like Megabus and BoltBus, it has been a wonder why a similar functionality was not in place for those modes of transportation.

Until recently, there was no site that offered this service. Comparing these providers required making a separate trip to each company’s website – much like one must make separate trips to each individual carrier’s terminal or station.

Wanderu, however, was launched in 2012 and solves this problem by aggregating schedules from dozens of bus and rail services, including Amtrak, Boltbus, Megabus, and Greyhound. Wanderu originally focused on the northeastern United States but the site’s coverage now stretches across the country. After launching services in the Midwest in August of last year, co-founder Polina Raygorodskaya reached out to UrbanCincy to explain how it all works.

“Wanderu is the simplest way to find and book bus and train travel,” Raygorodskaya wrote. “We are the first ever comprehensive ground travel search in North America and have partnerships with Megabus, Greyhound, Boltbus and over 28 other major brands to help millions of people find and book the best trip at the best price in just a few clicks.”

We recently tested out the site by looking for travel options from Cincinnati to Cleveland on the morning of Monday, March 9. As a comparison, we also searched Kayak.com for flights on the same date.

Wanderu presented us with several Greyhound and Megabus options, with prices starting at just $1 and a travel time of around five hours. On the other hand, the cheapest flight available was $221 on US Airways, and still took over 9 hours as it required two layovers. The cheapest flight with only one layover was $284; and there were oddly no direct flights available for this busy route.

We also searched Wanderu for trips to other destinations, and were able to find service from additional carriers such as Barons Bus Lines.

While the service is akin to Expedia, it is a bit different in that when you select a trip on Wanderu you are sent off to the carrier’s website to make the purchase. Raygorodskaya says this is because Wanderu is not set up to handle the financial transaction.

An added convenience that could be added is the ability to book all aspects of a trip, including hotels and rental cars, the same way that sites like Kayak.com or Expedia allow. An even better service might be to create an integrated search of all travel options – bus, rail, and air – so that users can compare them side-by-side.

Until then, if you are looking to take a trip without the hassles of airport security and expensive in-flight wi-fi, you can search Wanderu to find the bus or rail option that best fits your needs.

Construction Nearing Completion for Latest $546k Phase of Mill Creek Greenway

Construction is nearly complete on the fourth phase of work on the Mill Creek Greenway. As part of that work, a new 0.7-mile trail stretches along the border of South Cumminsville and Milvale, from the Millcreek Road Bridge to the intersection of Fricke Road and Beekman Street near Ethel Taylor Academy.

Once this work is complete, project planners say, the stretch will include additional accommodations for the trail to safely cross the creek on the existing roadway bridge, along with traffic calming measures for a safe crossing at Beekman Street near the school.

This latest phase of work is part of the much larger Mill Creek Greenway project that is being spearheaded by Groundwork Cincinnati – Mill Creek. The non-profit organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and is hoping that the planned 15-mile green corridor, which starts at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Carthage and will eventually reach the Ohio River Trail in Lower Price Hill, will help clean up one of the region’s most notoriously polluted corridors.

“We have done 33 ecological restoration projects as part of the greenway program,” Robin Corathers, Executive Director of Groundwork Cincinnati – Mill Creek, told UrbanCincy. “That includes bank stabilization, stream bed stabilization, wetland restoration, wildlife habitat restoration.”

In addition to that, Corathers says that edible forest gardens have been planted along the trail, with seven layers of vegetation that mimic a natural forest ecosystem. Improving the health of the ecosystem is a key component of Groundwork’s strategy, and more work is planned to help revitalize and heal damage to the natural resources within the Mill Creek Valley – one of the city’s oldest industrial corridors.

This latest phase of work was funded through a $245,000 grant from the Clean Ohio Trail Fund, $80,000 grant from the Interact for Health Foundation, $30,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and $191,000 from the City of Cincinnati that was provided through its annual capital budget. Corathers also notes that the C.W. Wood Company donated a strip of land along Fricke Street for the trail.

The project, however, is not just about new trails and habitat restoration. Groundwork leadership also says that they are focused on capacity building, community involvement, and environmental education programming for 4,000 fourth through twelfth grade students each year.

“Phase four is really important to us for several reasons” explained Corathers. “As a ground work trust we are committed to working in economically distressed and historically under-served communities and neighborhoods; and in this case it’s the neighborhoods in the lower Mill Creek watershed.”

To this end, Corathers says that community leaders and neighborhood residents have been excited about the project and the process by which it is being implemented. She says that neighborhood councils become involved in the planning and design work of each phase of the trail, which leads to moments like this past November 12 when they celebrated the groundbreaking for the latest phase of work with about 85 area residents and business owners.

While there has been a good deal of neighborhood support, there are still challenges that exist for project leaders. One of those challenges is the Millcreek Road Bridge, which is envisioned as a crossing for the trail, but is currently only one lane in each direction for automobile traffic.

To tackle this issue, Groundwork Cincinnati has been working closely with Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) to address safety issues with the narrow bridge. City officials say that the aging Mill Creek crossing is not considered a priority bridge and is not scheduled for replacement.

As a result, transportation engineers have come up with a solution that will retrofit the lightly used span to have one lane for shared two-way traffic flow, and one lane dedicated to the trail. The DOTE says that new signals will be installed, in February, at either end of the bridge to control alternating movements of vehicles across the Mill Creek Bridge.

“It’s a great investment. The bridge will be so much safer for people, for bikes, and also for vehicles,” Corathers said when emphasizing the importance of the trails connection. “The trail provides opportunities for outdoor exercise and recreation, active living, and active transportation for people in the Mill Creek corridor and nearby.”

Crossing the Mill Creek at this location is critical in the project’s overall goal of eventually reaching the Ohio River to the south. Once getting past this location, project planners say that a former CSX rail corridor can be used to take the trail all the way to its envisioned terminus.

The former freight rail right-of-way is considered to be wide enough to accommodate the Mill Creek Greenway Trail, as well as tracks for a future transit line. The use of this corridor, Corathers says, will also allow the Mill Creek Greenway Trail to tap into the planned $192 million Lick Run project, which will include another corridor of green space and trails.

Ultimately, the ongoing efforts could produce what would become a large network of interconnected trails through the heart of the city, including the Ohio River Trail, Little Miami Scenic Trail, Mill Creek Greenway, Lick Run, and West Fork Mill Creek Trail in Carthage.

The next 2.9-mile phase of work on the Mill Creek Greenway is estimated to cost $860,000, and project officials say they have already secured $500,000 of that from the State of Ohio, $50,000 from Interact for Health, and $10,000 from Duke Energy. The hope is that the remaining funds can come from City Hall. Should the final funding fall into place, Groundwork Cincinnati believes phase five work could be completed next year – creating a continuous eight-mile stretch of trails.

An attempt has been made all along to keep the trail close to the Mill Creek, but in some places, such as along Este Avenue, project planners say that it has not possible. But in locations where restoration and stabilization work has been performed along the creek, recovery of the ecosystems is easily visible.

“We now have great blue heron that fish in Mill Creek. We’ve got turtles, lizards, salamanders, beavers, birds, and all kinds of wildlife” Corathers exclaimed. “What we’re doing is breathing life back into this corridor. The trail allows users and visitors to experience an urban river that is coming back.”

In addition to Groundwork Cincinnati and the DOTE, Queen City Bike, Human Nature, IBI Group, Kolar Design, and Prus Construction have contributed to the development of the Mill Creek Greenway over the past six years.

Zipcar Holding Tight in Cincinnati While Making Changes Elsewhere

The car sharing economy came to Cincinnati in October 2011 when Zipcar launched their services at the University of Cincinnati, and expanded to Downtown and Over-the-Rhine in December 2012.

Since that time, however, peer-to-peer driving services, like Uber and Lyft, have emerged and begun challenging the more established business model of companies like Zipcar, which was acquired by Avis in January 2013 and boasts a global membership of more than 900,000.

In the case of Zipcar, the user is the driver, and must return the car to its starting point – a requirement limiting potential growth of Zipcar and other car sharing services. In order to stay competitive, Zipcar has recently launched new one-way services in its hometown of Boston.

“We are currently beta testing the service in Boston with our Boston members,” Jennifer Mathews, Public Relations Manager at Zipcar, told UrbanCincy. “Our plan is to roll out the service to additional markets once it’s ready.”

While one-way car sharing travel may soon be a reality in Boston, it appears to be further off for smaller markets like Cincinnati, as does the availability of cargo vans, which are presently available in a limited number of markets, but not Cincinnati. The desire for such vans, industry experts say, is so that they can be used for more utilitarian purposes like moving. For now, those participating in Cincinnati’s car sharing economy will continue to need to either use a traditional rental company, or borrow a friend’s truck for such purposes.

Since its debut in 2011, however, Zipcar officials say that they have made changes to their operations and 11-car fleet in Cincinnati in order to stay relevant.

“While the number of cars has remained somewhat consistent over the years, we have moved locations and updated our vehicles throughout the program,” Mathews explained. “Zipcar strives to place cars where our members want them. As we see pockets of members pop up in certain areas or neighborhoods we will move cars around to make sure that they are convenient as possible.”

Of course, Cincinnati’s Zipcar network is substantially smaller than other cities, thus reducing its usefulness to more than a small collection of users.

While there are no immediate plans for expansion, Mathews does say that the company will continue to monitor their two programs – University of Cincinnati and City of Cincinnati – over the course of 2015 to determine whether additional changes or expanded offerings are needed.

Those with memberships are able to use those in any of the hundreds of markets where Zipcar operates worldwide. Cincinnati’s 11 vehicles can be found at the northwest corner of Race Street and Garfield Place, Court Street in between Vine and Walnut, the southeast corner of Twelfth and Vine Streets; and on the University of Cincinnati’s main campus on McMicken Circle and just north of Daniels Residence Tower.

New Center City On-Street Parking Rates, Hours of Enforcement Now In Effect

New parking rates and hours of operation went into effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine on Friday. The changes come after Cincinnati City Council approved the matter in November 2014.

Under the arrangement, 500 new electronic parking meters have been installed throughout Over-the-Rhine to complement the existing set already in place in the Central Business District. Over the coming weeks, the City of Cincinnati will also be installing 1,000 additional electronic meters throughout the Clifton, Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, Northside, O’Bryonville, Oakley, and Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business districts, as well as key locations throughout Uptown.

The electronic meters, officials say, are meant to replace the old ones with newer models that accept credit card payments and are compatible with future plans for pay-by-phone technology and dynamic pricing structures. Pay-by-phone capabilities are expected to be operational by the middle of 2015.

While nearly a dozen neighborhoods will benefit from the new technology, only Over-the-Rhine will see its on-street parking policies change across the board. As part of the new policy, parking rates in Over-the-Rhine will double to $1/hour; while rates will remain set at $.50/hour and $2/hour in the other neighborhoods and in the Central Business District, respectively.

As of today, parking meters in the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine will now also be in effect from 9am to 9pm Monday through Saturday, and 2pm to 9pm on Sundays. Parking hours of enforcement in the remaining 50 neighborhoods, meanwhile, will remain unchanged.

The sweeping changes are meant to help improve the performance of the City’s broken parking system. While many small business owners in Over-the-Rhine have expressed their support for the changes, especially in light of ongoing vandalism of meters in Over-the-Rhine, some believe they have been singled out following the cancellation of a previous agreement that would have raised rates and increased enforcement city-wide.

“I’m not opposed to longer meter hours and higher rates, but what upsets me, as an OTR resident and business owner, is the fact that our neighborhood has been singled out,” Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, wrote in a Facebook post. “The same hours and rates should apply to other neighborhoods.”

The original Parking Lease & Modernization Plan approved in early 2013 was, of course, cancelled by Mayor John Cranley (D) almost immediately upon his arrival at City Hall at the end of 2013. While the mayor and many members of City Council bemoaned the previous plan, a similar plan appears to be taking shape, but in a piece-by-piece approach.

As like the original plan, new electronic meters are being installed that accept credit card payments and utilize dynamic pricing models, meters are being upgraded city-wide, and a contract has been signed with Xerox.

The Cranley Administration has not yet commented on plans for new hours or rates in the city’s remaining neighborhood business districts, where on-street parking meters exist, but they do say that they intend to systematically create multi-space parking that will “produce more aesthetically clean public right-of-way areas in Over-the-Rhine.”

This means that the newly retrofitted parking meters in the historic neighborhood will eventually be removed to make way for multi-space equipment, similar to what has been used in the Central Business District in the past. The upgraded parking meters from Over-the-Rhine will then be shifted to other neighborhoods throughout the city. This process, officials say, could begin as soon as this spring.

In addition to the specific focus on center city neighborhoods, the new parking policy differs from the previously approved plan by creating Sunday hours of enforcement. While the new Sunday hours of enforcement are only in effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine, it crosses what was considered a red line in the previous public debate over proposed parking changes.

All of the changes are expected to bring confusion to those parking in the affected areas, including a large group of people who drove to Christ Church Cathedral for the Boar’s Head & Yule Log Festival on Sunday. According to Michelle Dillingham, Director of Education at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, parking enforcement officers ticketed many cars parked on the street during the event.

“I walked out of the Boar’s Head event that was barely an hour long and almost every car had a parking ticket on their windshield…on a Sunday and in front of a church celebrating 75 years of a Cincinnati tradition,” Dillingham wrote. “I don’t know, but it just rubbed me wrong.”

The former Cincinnati City Council candidate went on to say that she had two separate conversations with people, who lived outside of the center city, that were very upset by the situation and would reconsider visiting downtown again due to the aggressive parking enforcement.

City officials acknowledge that there will be a bit of a learning curve, and say they are working to improve awareness of the new rates and hours of enforcement by distributing flyers and working with groups like Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce to inform drivers of the changes.

A Look Back at the Top Stories on UrbanCincy in 2014

Findlay Market StorefrontsNow that 2014 has come to a close, we at UrbanCincy would like to take a moment to look back on what’s happened in the past year. The following are UrbanCincy‘s top five most popular news stories from 2014:

  1. Eli’s Barbeque, Maverick Chocolate First of Several New Tenants to Open at Findlay Market
    This year marked a turning point for the area known as the Northern Liberties in Over-the-Rhine, with several new developments being announced. The first of these announcements was in April, when craft chocolatier Maverick Chocolate and popular East End restaurant Eli’s Barbeque announced they would open at Findlay Market. Later in the year, Model Group announced a $14 million office development along Race Street and Urban Sites announced their plan to renovate the historic Film Center building.
  2. Uber and Lyft to Soon Enter Cincinnati Market
    In 2014, Cincinnatians gained a brand new transportation option as ridesharing services Uber and Lyft came to town. Our own Jake Mecklenborg began driving for Uber shortly after their launch and told us about his experiences on The UrbanCincy Podcast Episode #41. In November, Cincinnati City Council passed new regulations for carsharing providers, and we discussed this at the beginning of Episode #44.
  3. City Planners Recommend Transportation Overlay District for Wasson Railroad Corridor
    For years, UrbanCincy has been following the Wasson Way project and writing about the corridor’s potential usage as both a bike trail and a rail transportation corridor. The project took a step forward this year, as the Department of City Planning & Buildings announced a plan that would allow for both uses. We’ll be keeping our eye on this project in 2015.
  4. Popular St. Louis-Based Pi Pizzeria to Open Cincinnati Location in AT580 Building
    In collaboration with our partners at nextSTL, UrbanCincy reported on Pi Pizzeria’s entry into the Cincinnati market. The restaurant opened in the AT580 Building, which is currently undergoing a transformation from office space into residential. Pi co-owner Chris Sommers mentioned that the company was “amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR” and chose the location based on its proximity to the Cincinnati Streetcar route.
  5. Findlay Market Ready to Work With Developers Poised to Transform Area Around It
    UrbanCincy talked to Joe Hansbauer, President and CEO of Findlay Market, about how Findlay Market can serve as the hub for new retail, office, and residential development in the Northern Liberties.

Ohio RiverOccasionally, we like to share a photo gallery or video taken by an UrbanCincy team member or a guest contributor. In 2014, our top five most popular visual features were:

  1. Take a Look at These 20 Breathtaking Photos of Cincinnati’s Center City
    Brian Spitzig shares some of his aerial photography from the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.
  2. Take a Look at CVG’s Abandoned Concourse C Through Ronny Salerno’s Lens
    Photographer Ronny Salerno documents the abandoned Concourse C at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, which serves as a symbol of how far the airport has fallen.
  3. Check Out These 14 Amazing Images of Cincinnati’s Inner City Neighborhoods
    Enjoy more of Brian Spitzig’s aerial photography, this time from the West End, Queensgate, Corryville, Mt. Auburn, Mt. Adams, Clifton Heights, Walnut Hills, and University Heights.
  4. Thousands of New Residential Units to Transform Downtown
    Anyone visiting Downtown Cincinnati in 2014 was certainly aware of the huge amount of construction happening in the urban core. Looking back at this photo set shows how much progress has been made on Seven at Broadway, Mercer Commons, AT580, Broadway Square, and other projects in just a year.
  5. 49 Shots from the 2014 Northside Fourth of July Parade
    Jake Mecklenborg captures some interesting sights from Cincinnati’s most eclectic parade.