All Aboard Ohio Meeting to Provide Update on Cincinnati to Chicago Train Service

Amtrak TrainAll Aboard Ohio will be holding their quarterly Southwest Ohio meeting in Over-the-Rhine next week at the Moerlein Tap Room.

Organizers say that they will be updating members, and all in attendance, on the progress of recent activities to develop daily train service from Cincinnati to Chicago, by the way of Indianapolis. The effort is perhaps one of the nonprofit organization’s biggest efforts since the 3C Corridor was notoriously cancelled by Ohio Governor John Kasich (R).

What seems to be different about this effort, however, is the fact that there is bipartisan support from the onset, including a rare unanimous vote from Hamilton County Commissioners supporting the study of such daily service.

Another early advocate has been Cincinnati City Council Transportation Committee Chairwoman Amy Murray (R), who will also be the special guest at All Aboard Ohio’s meeting on Tuesday.

Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, also says that they will update everyone on the construction progress for the Cincinnati Streetcar.

It is all part of an effort, Bauman says, to get more people involved in the process, and engaged on these important issues.

“Since being elected to the board back in May, I’ve spent the summer and fall building advocacy for daily service from Cincinnati to Indianapolis and Chicago,” Bauman explained. “We have made some great progress, yet have a long way to go.”

Some of the other success, he says, can be seen in the 60 new All Aboard Ohio members from the Cincinnati area that have joined in recent months. It is a number he is pleased with, but hopes will grow even more. As a result, the meeting at Moerlein Tap Room will be open to anyone who wants to attend.

All Aboard Ohio’s SW Ohio quarterly meeting is free and open to the public, and will take place at 6pm on Tuesday, November 18 at the Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine’s Northern Liberties district. The location is well-served by Metro bus service and has free bike parking readily available. There are also two Cincy Red Bike stations located within two blocks of the venue.

New Cincinnati Bike Map Aims to Change the Way New, Old Cyclists View the City

In 2011 Nate Wessel sought out to change the way Cincinnati mapped its transit. In a region with multiple transit operators that all use traditional bus mapping visuals, it was quite the daunting task. But after successfully raising more than $2,000 on Kickstarter, Wessel was able to fund his effort to print tens of thousands of his newly designed maps that ultimately received national praise.

Since that time he has continued his quest to improve the visual nature of map-making in Cincinnati, including serving as UrbanCincy’s official contributing cartographer, but he also embarked on another major endeavor. Instead of a transit map with bus frequencies, Wessel this time focused his energies on creating a new regional bike network map.

“Imagine someone kept taking, and reproducing and sharing, very unflattering photos of you or someone you loved. If you’re like me, you’d probably let the first one slide,” Wessel stated. “Maybe it was an accident, but by the fifth or sixth one, you’d start noticing a pattern and you’d start getting kind of miffed about it.”

This is the feeling the twenty-something urban planner, cartographer and fashion designer felt about the region’s existing bike maps, and he wanted to take control of the situation and improve it.

“This is a subtle visual game and words won’t do,” Wessel explained. “You need to make your own photo that shows the beauty you see in what you love; and then get other people to see what you see.”

One of the ways to accomplish that, he says, is to get the maps into people’s hands – digital maps are not enough. While the physical presence of a printed map gives it a sense of permanency and seriousness, producing a hard copy map also comes with its challenges.

After finishing the design for the Cincinnati Bike Map, Wessel said that he received feedback from the binder recommending a redesign to better accommodate the way the paper would fold, but that it was too late in the process. As a result, he wishes the maps folded a bit better, but that he is otherwise quite pleased with the final product. Perhaps leading to that feeling of satisfaction, however, is the fact that no compromise was needed since the project was entirely self-funded.

“Both times I’ve raised money for these projects it was in advance of having a real demonstrable product,” said Wessel. “In neither project have I ever had to check anything with a sponsor, supervisor or co-designer. The maps were totally my own in both cases, held to my own standards alone and uncompromised. That is very unusual for print maps.”

While quite unusual, it was a situation he preferred. In fact, Wessel says that a local organization very generously offered to fully fund the printing of Cincinnati Bike Map should he work with their graphic designer. A generous offer indeed, but one that came with risks that the final product not turn out as originally envisioned.

The release of the new regional bike map last month comes at a time when Cincinnati is in the national spotlight for its dramatic gains in bike ridership and development of new bike infrastructure.

Now that the project is complete, the goal now shifts to distributing the stack of Cincinnati Bike Maps that now exist. In addition to distributing the maps to local bike shops and organizations, Wessel is also mailing out copies of the map. His hope is that new or unfamiliar riders feel empowered by the maps, and that experienced riders use them to explore new routes throughout the region.

“Regular cyclists have found their favorite routes and will probably stick with what they know,” said Wessel. “Though, I totally discovered Fort Thomas through this map. Every map I’d seen made it look like a pretty crappy, suburban place to ride and I always avoided it; but the streets are beautifully wooded and very slow with 25mph speed limits.

Of course, all of this would not have been possible without access to the treasure trove of data on-hand at Cincinnati City Hall, and with the OKI Regional Council of Governments.

Those who would like to get a free copy of the Cincinnati Bike Map can do so by emailing Nate Wessel at bike756@gmail.com and informing him of your name, how many copies you want, and the address to which he can ship them.

PHOTOS: Streetcar Maintenance Facility, OTR Track Work Nearing Completion

Construction of the Cincinnati Streetcar system has been moving quickly over the past several months. In the Central Business District, track work on Walnut Street has been completed between Central Parkway and Seventh Street, and two stations are under construction along this stretch.

Downtown drivers will soon get a break from track construction until next year, when crews will return to the CBD to finish the Walnut Street track after the holiday season.

In the mean time, crews have moved to the Northern Liberties to finish up the Over-the-Rhine portion of the system. The special track work in this area includes turnouts on Henry and Race streets, connecting to the Maintenance & Operations Facility, and turnouts to Findlay and Elder Streets, which will allow the Uptown Connector to be built in the future without disrupting service.

Crews recently finished resurfacing portions of Elm and Race streets along the route, which means that underground utility work has wrapped up. Many of the streetcar stops in Over-the-Rhine are also now complete and many of the new traffic signals have been activated.

While much has been accomplished, a significant amount of construction remains, including track work along Main and Second streets in the CBD. But anyone taking a walk down Race Street, in Over-the-Rhine, today should get a good impression of what the finished track and stations will look like.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 14 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy between October 21 and November 1, 2014.

City Officials to Present Alternatives for Two-Way Street Conversions in Walnut Hills

City officials are moving forward with potential changes to E. McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road in East Walnut Hills. The proposed changes are a continuation of other improvements that have been made in the area in recent years, and will be presented to the public at an open house meeting on Tuesday, November 18.

Developed by planners and engineers at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE), the improvements being considered include two-way street conversions of E. McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road between Victory Parkway and Woodburn Avenue, and Woodburn Avenue between E. McMillan Street and Taft Road.

The proposal is an extension of two other two-way street conversions that were completed in 2012.

According to community leaders, the projects are seen as an opportunity to better connect the business districts of Walnut Hills and East Walnut Hills.

“The two-way conversion would make the two neighborhoods much more connected and make the distance between DeSales Corner and Peeble’s Corner more walkable,” explained Kevin Wright, Executive Director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “Our goal is to make the two districts more connected. Imagine grabbing a pizza at Fireside and then walking down to Myrtle’s Punch House, with a stop at Brewhouse along the way.”

The idea of converting one-way streets to two-way travel is one that has been gaining traction nationwide amongst residents and business owners looking to slow traffic and improve access within their communities.

While former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) had pushed for the conversion of the one-way streets in Walnut Hills to two-way travel, there have also been a number of other conversions throughout Over-the-Rhine in recent years, including the ongoing effort to transition Main Street back to two-way traffic.

City planners, however, say that the two-way street conversions are not the only improvements being proposed. Other components include the typical streetscape enhancements, as well as some gateway features for the neighborhood business districts. All of the proposed changes, they say, are the result of recent conversations and feedback from neighborhood residents and stakeholders.

“The stretch of McMillan between Park Avenue and Woodburn, currently, is very auto centric,” Wright conceded. “Our hope is that this is one of many changes that will be put in place over the next few years to make that area more walkable.”

Greg Koehler, Senior Economic Development Analyst at Cincinnati’s Department of Trade & Development, says that the open house will be held at the Keller Student Center at St. Ursula Academy. The event will run from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. Official presentations will be made at 5:45pm and 6:45pm, but City staff will be on-hand throughout the entire meeting to answer any questions regarding the plans.

City officials were unable to provide UrbanCincy with the drawings of the proposed changes ahead of the meeting. Those interested in reviewing the detailed plans are encouraged to attend the open house scheduled for Tuesday, November 18. The meeting location is highly accessible via Metro bus service, and free bike parking is located at the school.

Transit Users Will Need 7 Hours to Commute to ODOT Public Transit Meeting

An event making the rounds on social media hosted by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) provides an opportunity for citizens to tell Governor John Kasich’s (R) administration about public transportation improvements they’d like to see in their city. The public meeting to discuss statewide transit needs is hosted on Friday, October 31 from 10am to 12pm at the Warren County OhioMeansJobs Center in Lebanon.

While the gathering has good intention, it fails to meet the basic criteria of planning a public involvement meeting:

  1. Never host a public meeting on a holiday.
  2. Never host a public meeting on a Friday or weekend.
  3. The location of a public meeting should be accessible to all members of the community and able to attract a diverse group of citizens.

By car, Lebanon is roughly a one hour drive north of Cincinnati, and a 30-minute drive south from Dayton. It’s also the city where the regional ODOT office is located; understandably why the administration would opt to hold a public involvement meeting here. What went unconsidered are the needs of people that the public meeting is focused on: citizens reliant on public transportation.

The closest Metro bus stop to Lebanon is 8.3 miles away, near Kings Island in Mason. Let’s say we’re feeling ambitious and attempt to take the bus, then bicycle the remaining journey to Lebanon. It would take 48 minutes to cycle to the meeting in addition to the 1 hour, 11 minute ride on the bus. Cincinnati Metro, the region’s bus system, only offers select service to the northern suburbs. In order to arrive on time for the 10am meeting, a person dependent on transit would have to catch the 71x at 7:45am, arrive in Mason at 8:52am, then continue to the meeting on bicycle.

Getting back home is another story. The public involvement meeting adjourns at 12pm, but the bus route that services Mason is a job connection bus, meaning it only runs traditional hours when people are going to and from work. After another 48 minutes of cycling back to the bus stop, the inbound 71x picks up shortly after 3pm and returns to Cincinnati at 4:40pm.

In summary, if a citizen dependent on bus transportation wishes to give ODOT their input, they would spend 7 hours commuting to the two hour meeting, and need to able-bodied to ride a bicycle for eight miles. What about senior citizens and people with disabilities? Who can afford to take an entire day off work to attend a meeting? As a transit rider who has a car, driving an hour each way to attend the meeting –in the middle of the work day– for me, is inconvenient and unfeasible.

The poor choice of trying to combine Cincinnati and Dayton into one meeting was an unfortunate oversight in event planning. Instead, meetings should be hosted in the downtown of each city, just like they have been in Columbus and Cleveland which are also participating in the ODOT series.

Since 2011, Governor Kasich has cut $4 million from the state’s public transit budget, leaving Ohio with one of the lowest funded transit systems in the country. If there’s a genuine interest in hearing how those cuts affect the people that rely on public transportation the most, the administration needs to schedule a second meeting in Cincinnati near Government Square where those people can actually get to.

Of course, this isn’t the first time area transit users have been ignored when it comes to public meeting locations. Earlier this year, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) upheld a decision to relocate Hamilton County’s Board of Elections office to a location that would take up to four hours to access by transit.