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.

PHOTOS: Take a Look at Metro’s New Uptown Transit District Stations

City officials and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) unveiled the new $7 million Uptown Transit District earlier this year. The hope is that the enhanced stations and improved design will improve the experience for existing and future bus riders.

But if the Glenway Crossing Transit Center is to serve as any evidence, then this might in fact pay off for Metro in the form of higher ridership.

The Uptown Transit District, however, is a bit different from the west side park and ride station, and the long-time Government Square hub. Instead, it is four distinct areas – Children’s Hospital, Vine & Calhoun, University, Clifton Heights – within the sprawling Uptown area that are seen as major nodes for riders. Transportation planners at Metro say this approach was taken due to the layout of Uptown and the lack of a single location that could serve as a major hub like Government Square is for Downtown.

In addition to serving a dozen or so existing bus lines, different stations in the Uptown Transit District also serve the University of Cincinnati’s Bearcat Transportation System (BTS) and the regional bus authority’s new Metro*Plus route.

All of the stations include covered seating areas similar to those being constructed for the Cincinnati Streetcar system. They also include real-time arrival screens, area wayfinding, ADA accessibility and include information about nearby landmarks.

The stations were designed by Cincinnati-based MSA Architects.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 22 photos were taken by Eric Anspach for UrbanCincy on August 22, 2014.

PHOTOS: Cincy Red Bike Quickly Taking Shape Throughout City Center

Last week’s press conference on Fountain Square revealed a number of new details regarding Cincinnati’s new bike share system. In addition to unveiling the design of the bikes, stations and membership cards, officials also finally shared the system’s name – Cincy Red Bike.

Jason Barron, executive director of Cincy Red Bike, said that dozens of volunteers quickly assembled 260 of the bikes that will populate the initial 35-station system. Barron further clarified a point discussed in our analysis from just before the conference, and stated that each station will have between 13 and 19 docks, thus giving the system an initial docking capacity of 520 bikes. This would easily exceed the ideal 50% space contingency.

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The press was also informed that the station at Union Terminal, which would have been a far off island from the rest of the initial system, has since been scratched for that very reason.

“Research indicated that having an island station like that is difficult for system balancing and that it typically does not get much use,” Barron told UrbanCincy. “An exception may be a park or someplace where people check out the bike ride it around the park and them check it back in.”

In terms of handling the balancing for such a large initial system, Cincy Red Bike will be utilizing a small van at first, but may add a trailer or a bike trailer to the balancing fleet at a later date depending on the system’s needs.

The process of getting a system like this operational so quickly comes with some challenges. While installing two to three new stations a day, officials are also still trying to work out the final membership and daily rates for users. Barron also says that the system map has changed some since initial releases, and that a new map will be released soon.

Those who want to stay up-to-date on the rapidly evolving system can do so now by following Cincy Red Bike on Facebook and on Twitter @CincyRedBike.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 24 photos were taken by Breanna Tracy for UrbanCincy on August 16, 2014.

Will Uptown Transit District increase ridership for Metro?

Uptown Transit DistrictThe UC*Metro program, which allows University of Cincinnati students, faculty, and staff to purchase discounted transit passes, has seen many changes since it was introduced in 2007. With the latest extension to the agreement, the cost is unchanged; students will be able to purchase passes for $53 per semester for the next three academic years. The cost for employees is also unchanged at $160 per semester.

What riders will notice, however, is that several of the Metro facilities they’ll use have been significantly upgraded. Work is now complete on the Uptown Transit District, Metro’s name for a number of improvements at four locations near campus. In addition to wayfinding signage and improved lighting, all of the new stops feature real-time arrival information, which was first introduced by Metro in 2012, and two of the stops also feature ticket vending machines, like the ones Metro installed at the Government Square bus hub earlier this year.

The Uptown Transit District upgrades are an example of how the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is continuing to improve service and increase ridership in spite of its limited budget. In February, we reported that SORTA is one of the best stewards of limited financial resources, compared to 11 peer agencies across the country.

In 2012, SORTA built the Glenway Crossing Transit Center park and ride location, which seves several routes, including the 32, 38X, and 41. Earlier this year, SORTA reported that ridership was up by as much around 20% on these routes compared to the previous year.

While SORTA isn’t anticipating a specific increase in ridership due to the Uptown Transit District upgrades, the goal of those improvements was to “make it easier for current and new riders,” Jill Dunne, Public Affairs Manager for SORTA, told UrbanCincy.

Initial $2M Phase of Cincy Bike Share On-Pace for September Opening

Cincinnati Bike Share Station MapCincinnati city officials and community leaders are expected to gather at Fountain Square Tuesday morning to unveil the first of Cincy Bike Share’s 35 stations. The ceremony will mark the official start to construction of Ohio’s second and largest bike share system.

Queen City Bike says that the process will move quickly, with two to three stations being installed daily until all 35 stations planned for Downtown and Uptown are built. At the same time, there will be a volunteer effort to assemble the system’s 300 bikes.

“We hope to assemble at least 200 bike share bikes by Friday,” said Frank Henson, President of Queen City Bike, and member of Cincy Bike Share’s Board of Trustees. “This is being done by area volunteer mechanics under the supervision of B-Cycle.”

The aggressive schedule puts the system on track to open by early September, which is not far off the initial goal of opening by August.

The progress comes after Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) announced $1.1 million to more than half of the initial $2 million in upfront capital costs. At the time, Cincy Bike Share director, Jason Barron, said the commitment from the City of Cincinnati was critical in not only getting things moving, but also showing the private sector that it is all for real.

“The mayor’s commitment makes the project a true public private partnership,” Barron told UrbanCincy in April. “The City’s commitment is important to the private funders we have been speaking to, and I believe that it will unlock the last bit of funds that we need.”

Bike share systems have been growing in popularity in North America over recent years. While the most notable are Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare, Chicago’s Divvy and New York City’s Citi Bike, there are now dozens of other cities operating similar systems. The large number and established time period of operations now has given planners a chance to examine empirical data to see what works best.

The more complexities you add to a mode of transportation’s functionality, the less likely someone is to choose that given mode for their trip. This is something that is true across all modes of transportation. As a result, the station density and space contingency calculations have proven to be consistent indicators for a bike share system’s success or failure.

Studies have found that a higher station density is better, and that a target should be approximately 28 stations per square mile. For a city like Cincinnati, that averages out to be a station every couple of blocks. However, the number and placement of Cincy Bike Share stations will be much lower than this target.

When examining of each of the 35 station locations, the system’s station density can be calculated in two different ways. The first would look at just the immediate area in which the stations are located. The second would look at the intended service area for those stations. Naturally, the latter is a bit more subjective.

In the case of the first scenario, the Downtown/OTR portion of the system would have approximately 15 stations per square mile, while the Uptown portion would have 10. Overall, the system in its entirety would average out to a respectable 13 stations per square mile.

But under the more second scenario that factors for intended service area these numbers drop. In this case, Downtown/OTR would fall to 12 stations per square mile, and Uptown would plummet approximately four stations per square mile. Overall, the system total would average out to be nearly stations per square mile.

It is important to note that neither of these scenarios includes the Union Terminal station in its calculation since it is an outlier and would clearly skew the results. Furthermore, Downtown/OTR and Uptown were separated in their calculations since many planners and observers concede that the two areas will most likely operate in isolation of one another.

The point is to ensure that there are consistently stations within a short distance of one another so that if one station is full or empty, another station is close by for the potential user. If that user encounters such a situation, however, it is most likely that the potential user will avoid using bike share altogether and instead opt for a different mode.

One of the ways this can be combatted is through the use of real-time tracking technology that allows users to see exactly how many bikes or stalls are available at any station at any given time. This, of course, only aids those with access to data plans on compatible smart phones, and those who think to use it.

In order to fix the problem of full or empty stations, system operators perform ‘bike balancing’ which moves excess bikes from one station to another that is low on bikes. This balancing act proves to be one of the most costly elements of operating a bike share system. In Chicago and bigger cities they utilize small vans to move the bikes around. But in Salt Lake City, where their GREENBike system is quite small, they utilize trailers hitched to the back of other bikes.

As a result of this complex balancing act, and potential barrier to users, another key element of bike share systems is a space contingency at each station. What this means is that if a station has a capacity for 10 bikes, it should not be stocked with 10 bikes. Instead, data suggests that about a 50% space contingency is ideal.

In Cincinnati’s case, Cincy Bike Share will have enough bikes for there to be roughly nine docked at each of the system’s 35 stations. If the system were to fall in line with this 50% space contingency, which would mean that an additional four to five stalls should be available at any given time, meaning each station should have a total of 13-14 stalls. This, however, is not the case.

Cincinnati’s typical station will have 10 stalls, and thus only have a 10% space contingency. Cincy Bike Share officials have not yet commented as to how this will be mitigated, but a potential solution would be simply to not deploy all 300 bikes at once – something that seems reasonable since bikes will need to rotate in and out for repairs. In this case, a more appropriate number of bikes to be in use at any given time might be 240.

Cincinnati’s bikes are expected to be available for use 24 hours a day, and will most likely be available for use year-round. Cincy Bike Share will be responsible for setting the rate structure, which is not final yet, but annual memberships are pegged at $75 to $85 and daily passes between $6 to $8.

Uptown was originally envisioned as a second phase to the system; but now that it is being included in the initial rollout, it leaves an expansion to Northern Kentucky as the next logical choice.

More details are expected to be announced at the press event later in the week.