Push for Daily Amtrak Service on Cincinnati Route Intensifies

The Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America, Michael Surbaugh, appealed to Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman to upgrade Amtrak’s Cardinal from its current tri-weekly service to a daily train. In his December 15 letter, Chief Scout Surbaugh urged a temporary or trial daily Cardinal for the Boy Scouts of America’s National Jamboree, which will take place at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Mt. Hope, West Virginia. Amtrak’s Cardinal serves stops all along this area, which directly services the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National River. Looking further into the future, the Boy Scouts will be holding their World Scout Jamboree at this same location in 2019.

The Boy Scouts of America have used their Southwest Chief-serviced location near Raton, New Mexico for large events for many years. As an attendee to the joint All Aboard Ohio and Amtrak “Cardinal Conference” hosted by the Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce in September – the Boy Scouts were made aware of the issues surrounding less-than-daily Cardinal service.

The Boy Scouts join a myriad of organizations along the line pushing for better service by those communities which are served by it, including the City of Oxford and Miami University, which moved one step closer to a new Cardinal stop in the city. Derek Bauman, All Aboard Ohio’s Vice Chair, stated that, “[w]e are thankful to the BSA for its letter which shows that interest in this enhanced rail service remains strong.”

In his letter to Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman, Chief Scout Surbaugh stated “I know I speak for all when I say that enhanced service would be a welcome addition offering the possibility of increased ridership and visitors to the New River Gorge.” The state of West Virginia seems to agree, as shown by the unanimous motion passed in favor of daily Cardinal service from the West Virginia Governor’s Conference on Tourism. Amtrak itself projected in 2010 that daily service on the Cardinal would result in nearly doubling the current number of passengers utilizing that train.

Proposed Amtrak Extensions and Upgrades (map via All Aboard Ohio)

One of the major challenges to running effective train service to Chicago via the Cardinal includes the condition of track on the current route. All Aboard Ohio Chairperson Ken Prendergast told UrbanCincy, “It should be noted that about 50-60 miles of the Chicago-Fort Wayne/Lima nearest to Chicago could be used by Cincinnati to Chicago trains. It would provide a much faster routing into Chicago than the current route of the Cardinal and any other Cincinnati – Chicago trains that may be added in the near future.”

Elsewhere in Ohio, a passenger rail line linking rail-starved cities like Columbus and Lima to Chicago via Ft. Wayne and Gary, IN received a major boost on Tuesday. Federal officials gave permission for communities along the line to begin the Alternative Analysis and Public Input process, which will do preliminary engineering, service planning, and measure environmental impacts. Those officials met at Ft. Wayne’s Baker Street Station, which saw its last passenger service in 1990. This analysis will being in January of 2017 and finish by the Fall of that same year. The $350,000 needed for this initial studying was raised by cities all along the line.

“This is the first step in the Project Development Process, which all major transportation projects must go through. Right now there is enough funding from communities and businesses west of Lima to do the Chicago-Lima portion but not farther east to Columbus” Prendergast stated.

Prendergast sees these lines as a next step in further connecting Ohio via rail between Chicago and the east coast. If a Chicago to Columbus line is created it is not impossible to  imagine future phases that could expand eastward beyond Columbus as well, Prendergast says, “there’s nothing that says the Eastern Terminus of this route has to be Columbus. In fact Amtrak services from Cleveland and Toledo could be routed over this Fort Wayne-Chicago segment. But we still believe Central Ohio will decide it’s in their economic interest to be a part of this project.”

Officials speaking at the news conference highlighted their big dreams and big plans for the new possible rail line. They called for initial service to run between 70-80mph, with eventual upgrades to 110mph. A 2013 study by the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association estimated that 10 trains a day along this line could generate up to 2 million annual passengers by 2020.

While both of these proposals require the cooperation of the freight railroads who own the lines (CSX and Norfolk Southern, respectively), many have hope because of Amtrak’s new CEO, Wick Moorman. Moorman is a veteran of the freight rail industry, having served more than 4 decades with Norfolk Southern and its predecessor, Southern. He has signaled that improved relations with the Class I freight railroads will be a focus of his tenure as CEO.

Final Designs Revealed for Long-Envisioned Northside Transit Center

One of Cincinnati’s most popular neighborhoods will soon get its very own transit hub.

With more than 13,000 people boarding or exiting buses every day, Northside has long been one of the region’s busiest transit hubs. This is partially due to the neighborhood’s high population and business density, but also because of the numerous transfers from the eight bus routes there (15x, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23x, 27, 51).

This high transit ridership also creates an odd conversion of buses from all over the city. In an effort to clean up the operation of these bus routes, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has long been trying to streamline and enhance operations at Knowlton’s Corner.

After years of work, that vision is finally becoming reality with the $320,000 Northside Transit Center.

“Northside has been working to improve bus traffic through the neighborhood for most of two decades, and the pieces are finally falling into place,” said Ollie Kroner, President of the Northside Community Council.

“Metro presented preliminary plans to the community in July. I would say we are a hard group to impress, but their drawings really exceeded expectations,” Kroner continued. “This should be good for commuters, and also good for our business district.”

Its location is further complimented by the nearly location of a large Cincy Red Bike Station at Hoffner Park.

Cincinnati-based MSA Architects has completed its designs for the new transit hub in the heart of the Northside business district immediately south of the recently completed $15 million Gantry Apartments development. The new facility will boast dedicated bus lanes, boarding platforms, passenger shelters, bike racks and lockers, and real-time arrival technology.

The plan also calls for a significant upgrade and expansion of an adjacent parking lot, which SORTA officials envision as also serving as a miniature park-and-ride facility with 18 allocated spaces.

Project officials say that the Northside Transit Center project is expected to be completed by late 2017.

Larger Implications
Northside has become the center point for the city as hit-and-runs with people walking and biking have increased. In September, this even led to the community organizing public demonstrations urging City Hall to reduce the speed limit through the business district, while also committing to other safety improvements city-wide.

The implementation of the Northside Transit Center will significantly help consolidate bus traffic through the popular business district, while also create a safe and hospitable place for people to wait for their transit connections.

“We have the second busiest transit hub in the city after Government Square, in a neighborhood that was built before we had cars,” Kroner told UrbanCincy. “The transit hub should make riding the bus easier, more comfortable, and safer in Northside.”

While the City of Cincinnati has not committed to a Vision Zero campaign, or an official Complete Streets policy, residents continue to call for such measures.

Meanwhile, the move also comes as Metro attempts to reinvent its region-wide bus system in order to better connect people with jobs. Historically, many bus systems relied on what is called a spoke-and-hub system that ran all routes to a central downtown transit center. This train of thought has changed as cities have become increasingly more mixed-use and diverse.

Metro officials plan to unveil a new regional transit plan in early 2017, and may possibly put a transit tax increase before votes next November to help implement the recommendations laid out in that plan.

Downtown Signal Study Stuck in Political Traffic

Every weekday tens of thousands of commuters in downtown Cincinnati struggle in traffic to get onto the highway and back to their homes in other neighborhoods or the suburbs. However, City Hall is stalling on taking advantage of a unique opportunity to capitalize on funds to study and re-time the traffic signals to benefit all road users downtown.

The last time the traffic patterns of the city’s downtown Central Business District were studied was in the mid 1990’s. Back then the city had about 80,000 workers (a New York Times article puts the number at 82,000 in 1991) which is about 17,000 more than the most recent Downtown Cincinnati Inc. count of 65,000.

There are plenty of other things that have happened in downtown Cincinnati since the last traffic signal study, such as the reconfiguration and realignment of Fort Washington Way, the building of the Banks development, an increase of over 10,000 residents and of course the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar.

A traffic study and signal improvements would benefit all modes of transportation downtown

The funds for the study would come from the Cincinnati Streetcar Contingency Fund, basically funds left over from the construction and startup of the system. The study would not only allow the city’s Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) to conduct the study but also would fund much needed upgrades to signals across downtown.

This would allow for the city to implement a more robust and flexible traffic timing scheme beyond the archaic three phase programming of the current signal system which is only programmed for rush hour, non-rush hour and weekend traffic patterns.

In October, City Council voted to approve a motion to start the traffic study.  Since then, however, progress has been stalled for unknown reasons.  The study was discussed again in council chambers this week as Council members probed Metro and City Administration on streetcar operations.

Streetcar supporters are quick to blame the city leadership on stalling to create a narrative that the streetcar is a failure. And the response to that, to blame Transdev, the company that operates the streetcar, should not go unheeded. However; the city is stalling on a golden opportunity to modernize and coordinate downtown traffic for the 21st Century.

This is a project that would fit perfectly into the data driven decision-making vision this administration values. And maybe we will all benefit from time saved being stuck in traffic whether we are drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, bus commuters or even streetcar riders.

Cincinnati Ranks as Top Bike City

The 2016 biennial list from Bicycling.com shows Cincinnati ranked 36th out of 50 bike-friendly US cities. The ranking is determined by variables such as the number of bicycle facilities, bicycle-friendly businesses, bike-share programs, and the length and safety of infrastructure, amongst others. This year and since 2014, Cincinnati has seen a dramatic increase in bikeability, due to Red Bike and the Central Parkway bike lane, being hailed the 3rd fastest growing biking community in the US. Even with our successes, Cincinnati has fallen from last year’s rank of #35. So, why the fall from #35?

Bicycling.com claims the lack of progress on the City’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, adopted in 2010, coupled with the increasing urban population, with little access to bicycle infrastructure, for the decrease. This year, the first 4.1 miles of the potentially 7.6 mile Wasson Way was purchased just prior to the release of the biennial list. The first phase implementation of the trail, which is scheduled for next year could positively affect the city’s standings in future rankings. However; future on-street connections to the new trail would further boost the city’s access to bicycle infrastructure.

The Central Parkway Protected Bike Lane

This could mean that our rank will increase in coming years. With 100,000 people living within one mile of Wasson Way, the potential for new cyclists and trail-servicing businesses are high and will undoubtedly affect the bike friendliness of the city.

Plans are also underway to secure $21 million in funding to create 42 miles of bike paths, in order to connect Wasson Way, Oasis Trail, Mill Creek Greenway and the Ohio River Trail West. This project is known as Cincinnati Connects and if it passes, will further the city’s bikeability. Additionally, Cincy Red Bike has been an ongoing success; their annual installation of new stations, since its inception in 2014, has added to the momentum of Cincinnati’s bike friendliness.

Although change is afoot, Cincinnati still lacks the complete designation of being ‘bike friendly’ by its residents and outsiders, like those at the top of Bicycling.com’s list. When locals are asked about their view towards biking in Cincinnati, it’s still met by most with negativity: seen as an annoyance, while others are very concerned for their safety while cycling in the city. Cars still dominate the roadways, with some even parking in the bike lane along Central Parkway.

With the new year around the corner, Cincinnati appears to be on a continued path to being a top bike-friendly city however; the following issues are key: residents being made aware of the benefits and safety of cycling; continued implementation of the 2010 Bicycle Master Plan; and policy changes that mirror those cities at the top of the biennial list.

New Event to Highlight Urban Parks and Streetcar

IGers Cincinnati Meetup PromoAutumn heralds apple cider, crisp cool air and the colorful reveal of fall foliage. The best way to experience this in Cincinnati is by visiting one of the city’s many parks. This city is blessed with having some of its best parks within or overlooking its urban core. The Smale Riverfront Park, Washington Park and others dot the landscape and are all easily connected by the brand new Cincinnati Bell Connector. Yet the leaves won’t stay on the trees forever, which is why this weekend is the best time to snap a few photos!

UrbanCincy has partnered with IGers Cincinnati, a group dedicated to highlighting the best Cincinnati area Instagramers to do a photo walk this Saturday, October 22 at noon. The photo walk, called “Park + Ride,” will highlight the new Cincinnati Bell Connector and the city’s great urban parks along the streetcar route.

Participation is free and open to anyone. This is a great opportunity to meet new people, fellow Instagram photographers and more. We will be meeting at the “Sing the Queen City” sign at Smale Riverfront Park at noon. From there the group will tour the Riverfront Park before boarding the streetcar to travel to our next destinations. Stops include Smale Riverfront Park, Piatt Park, Washington Park and the Rhinegeist rooftop deck. There will also be an optional climb to Bellevue Hill Park.

Some photos taken at the event and tagged with #cinstameet_streetcar will be highlighted by UrbanCincy.

The event starts at noon on Saturday October 22 in front of the “Sing the Queen City” sign located at the foot of the Roebling Suspension Bridge. It is easily accessible from the Banks Streetcar stop and is located within a block of three Cincy RedBike stations. Bring your smartphone or camera. We hope to see you there!