Hamilton Looking At Possibility of Developing Urban Trail on City’s West Side

The City of Hamilton is looking at the possibility of acquiring approximately 36.5 acres of land from CSX Corporation following its filing for abandonment of the former freight railroad. If city officials ultimately decide to proceed with the purchase, the plan will be to turn it into an urban bike and pedestrian trail on Hamilton’s inner west side.

Running from CSX’s main line in Millville to the former Champion Paper Mill, which is in the process of being redeveloped into a youth sports and entertainment complex, the property also includes a former railyard near the Great Miami River at Two Mile Creek.

Hamilton’s west side neighborhoods currently lack any protected bike lanes or off-street bike paths. As a result, the possibility of adding such an amenity has community leaders excited.

“The proposed Beltline trail will be of great value to our community,” said Hamilton Councilman Rob Wile. “By connecting these neighborhoods to our existing trail infrastructure we open up a number of convenient outdoor recreational opportunities to our residents.”

Earlier in the year city officials hosted public hearings to gather feedback on the concept, and are continuing to gather feedback through an online survey. The results, they say, will help determine whether they should ultimately pursue the project.

“The survey lets the City know what kind of benefits residents see in the trail, how often they may use it, what potential negative aspects or problems may occur with it; and is being used to see what generally the public thinks about the potential trail,” Nicholas Garuckas, City Management Fellow inside Hamilton’s Office of the City Manager, explained to UrbanCincy.

“The [survey] results are carefully being looked at and considered in helping determine whether or not the City should be moving forward with this project or not.

In the meantime, Garuckas says that City Hall is moving forward with an appraisal of the land’s value, along with assessing the possibility of various grants from agencies like the Ohio Public Works Clean Conservation Fund, Rails to Trails Conservancy, Dopplet Family Fund, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Clean Ohio Trail Fund, and Recreational Train Fund.

The project follows a pattern of other more marque urban trail projects around the country that are transforming former industrial rail corridors into park and recreation space for under-served urban communities.

Last June, Chicago celebrated the opening of its 2.7-mile trail called The 606. Atlanta, meanwhile, has been opening segments of its much larger 33-mile BeltLine project in phases over recent years. Nearby, in Cincinnati, city officials are poised to acquire an abandoned 7.6-mile freight rail line in its eastern neighborhoods for what is being called the Wasson Way project.

While smaller in scope, the approximately 2.7-mile Hamilton Beltline has, at least initially, has gained the support of Hamilton City Council, and is rooted in the city’s planning documents. In fact, city officials explain that the idea for the project came out of discussions about what to do with the Champion Paper Mill complex and surrounding areas.

“This project is part of the bike path master plan and it will be an asset to all those who enjoy the outdoors including walkers and joggers,” Wile concluded.

If Hamilton is successful in acquiring the land, it would add significant recreational facilities and new transportation options to the city’s west side. If abandonment proceedings continue without Hamilton moving to purchase the property, it will instead be sold off in piecemeal fashion to private owners.

Running Time Adjustments Go Into Effect For 9 Express Metro Routes on Monday

Following the re-routing of numerous express bus routes through the central business district earlier this year, Metro is now also making minor running time adjustments to many of these same routes.

The changes will go into effect on Monday, June 20, and will impact Metro’s express routes to Tri-County (23X), Mt. Lookout (25X), Milford (29X), Montana (40X), West Chester (42X), Sharonville (67), Kings Island (71X), Delhi (77X) and Eastgate (82X).

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority did not offer an explanation for the changes, but it is normal for the transit agency to make adjustments such as this in order to improve efficiencies or avoid service conflicts.

Commuters looking to adjust their schedules to the new timetables can do so by viewing the new schedules on Metro’s website, or by using one of the real-time transit data apps now available to Cincinnati-area bus riders.

Cincinnati’s $109M Capital Acceleration Plan Ignores Adopted Bike Policy

On Thursday, the City of Cincinnati celebrated the start of its bold, new road rehabilitation effort. The six-year program will include the resurfacing and rehabilitation of aging streets, replacement of city vehicles outside of their life cycle, and establish a new focus on preventive road maintenance that city officials will save money in the long-run.

The $109 million Capital Acceleration Plan is a strategic policy shift at City Hall, and represents a large infusion of money into road repair. The new focus on preventive maintenance is particularly noticeable as it represents an eight-fold increase in spending on that front.

“This is much bigger than just spending money to improve the condition of local streets. CAP is about making an investment in the city and people who live here,” City Manager Harry Black said in a prepared release. “This strategic investment in our roadways and infrastructure will serve as the foundation of Cincinnati’s sustained long-term growth.”

City officials say that the investments will improve the condition of 940 center-line miles of streets over the next six years. In its first year, its $10.6 million for street rehabilitation and $4 million for preventive maintenance, officials say, will impact 16 different neighborhoods and improve 120 center-line miles of roads.

With so many streets poised to be improved over the coming years, many people advocating for safer bicycling and walking conditions on the city’s roadways were optimistic that across-the-board improvements could be made. In fact, their cause for optimism is not without cause. The City of Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, which was adopted by City Council in June 2010, calls for incremental improvements to the city’s bike network as road resurfacing projects take place.

“Many of the facilities recommended in this plan can be implemented in conjunction with already scheduled street rehabilitation projects,” the Bicycle Transportation Plan notes. “When this coordination occurs, costs for implementing the bicycle facilities may be reduced by over 75%.”

According to officials at the Department of Transportation & Engineering, such savings can be achieved since the capital costs can be shared for both sets of improvements, and labor costs can be maximized.

The Bicycle Transportation Plan goes on to state that City Hall will be opportunistic and take advantage of every occasion where bicycle facilities can be included with street rehabilitation projects or other capital projects. Taking such an approach, the adopted policy says, “will reduce costs to the lowest levels possible.”

City Hall, however, has fallen woefully behind on the implementation of the recommendations made in the Bicycle Transportation Plan; and the current administration has even made a point of noting that they do not generally support the idea of on-street bike facilities. Rather, Mayor John Cranley (D) and his administration have focused on investing in off-street recreational bike trails.

Such an approach has left many people who use bikes as a means of transportation frustrated; and with $69 million of CAP going toward road improvement projects, it would seem like a great opportunity to maximize the improvements by performing these projects in a manner that also improves safety conditions for the city’s rapidly growing number of people commuting by bike.

Based on statements from City Hall, however, it seems that it will prove more so to be an opportunity lost; and put the city in an impossible position to meet its adopted policy objectives within their target time frames.

With Commuters Slow to Embrace It, Cincinnati Bike Center Finding New Niche

Tucked away beneath the Schmidlapp Event Lawn at Smale Riverfront Park is a great resource for the local cycling community. The Cincinnati Bike Center serves downtown commuters, as well as tourists and locals who may want to take a spin around riverfront parks and urban neighborhoods.

The bike center opened with the first phase of the park four years ago. Located at 120 East Mehring Way, the facility is built into the park structure at the bottom of the Walnut Street Steps, which features a bike runnel for easy movement between levels of the park, and operates in this location under contract with Cincinnati Parks.

Brady Willenbrink, who has served as the manager for the past year-and-a-half, told UrbanCincy that he is setting out to increase public awareness of the center and its many services.

While the center does not sell bicycles, it does operate as a repair shop, performing small fixes such as tire replacements and minor adjustments, or larger jobs like full tuneups and part replacements. Some cycling apparel and accessories are available for sale.

The original vision for the facility was to serve as a commuter station for downtown workers. Such an operation was seen as being similar to the famed McDonald’s Bike Center in Chicago’s Millennium Park. In fact, Cincinnati’s concept even used the same operator and hired the director of Chicago’s center to come and run the new outpost along Cincinnati’s central riverfront.

Over the past four years the Cincinnati Bike Center has signed up just 30 members – a number they say continues to grow. True to the original vision, those commuting members have 24 hour access to a secure, camera guarded space with bike racks and locker rooms. Members are also provided with 20% discounts on repairs, apparel and most other services offered at the CBC.

“They get a locker, take a shower, clean up, go to work, come back, change into their bike clothes and go home,” Willenbrink explained.

Commuters may join with monthly or annual memberships, and the option to use the station on a daily basis is available for occasional commuters or those wishing to try out the facility. Riders also can take advantage of bike valet parking in the secure space during Cincinnati Reds baseball games at the nearby Great American Ball Park. This service is open to all, not only members, and costs just $1 per bike.

It is these more temporary service offerings, however, that have proven to be most popular. Of those, none has been more well-received than the bike rentals offered at the facility.

The resounding popularity of Smale Riverfront Park has made it a day or weekend destination for many visiting the center city since it has opened. With a variety of bikes available by the hour or by the day – including cruiser, road, electric assist, kids, tandem bikes, and bikes that are driven by hand-powered cranks for free use by the disabled. In addition, the center’s small, large, and extra large ‘Quadcycles,’ which have four wheels and seat up to nine people, have been extremely popular with families and other large groups.

Taking lessons from this, the Cincinnati Bike Center has established several popular bicycle and Segway tours. These are scheduled daily along several routes throughout the center city and even extend into Northern Kentucky.

While the center’s operators are hopeful the completion of the Ohio River Trail to the city’s eastern and western suburbs will bolster commuter memberships, Willenbrink says that they will also build on their strengths by soon hosting group bike rides one Friday per month that will be open to the public.

Detailed information on those rides, he says, will be shared soon through their social media pages.

As Challenges Persist For Central Parkway Bike Lane, Cyclists Look to Organize

With National Bike Month coming to a close, the rhetoric surrounding the fate of the city’s lone protected bike lane continues. Following weeks of discussion and political wrangling, the city’s latest politicized transportation project will be studied again after two initial reports were found to be inconclusive by some leaders at City Hall.

The debate is, perhaps not coincidentally, taking place while the city’s bike community is becoming more active in terms of numbers of riders, group rides and political activism.

Last night at the Mercantile Library dozens crowded the venue to hear a panel discussion and engage in discussion about the current and future state of Cincinnati’s bike network. Organized by Queen City Bike and other area advocacy groups, the event served as an opportunity for people to constructively discuss the good and bad about the city’s bike infrastructure.

First adopted in June 2010, Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan has served as the official document meant to guide policy decisions at City Hall. Since its adoption, however, the planning document has largely sat on the shelf, with targets for the development of bike lanes and other infrastructure falling behind schedule.

Mayor John Cranley’s administration has made it very clear that they are not interested in the development of on-street bike lanes, particularly those that are physically protected from automobile traffic. In lieu of pursuing those targets, the Cranley administration has instead focused on off-street bike trails; while also providing the critical upfront investment to launch Red Bike.

“Under our public-private relationships and support of council and a very vibrant cyclist community, in my opinion, we’re going to be the most bike-friendly city in America in four years,” Mayor Cranley told Aaron Renn in 2014. “We have three major bike trails that can be connected on abandoned train tracks into downtown; and, candidly, we intend to get all three of them build in the next four years. There’s just nothing like it in any city.”

National studies have found that protected on-street bike lanes not only provide the greatest level of safety for both bicyclists and motorists, but also encourage a greater range of demographics to bike. According to the American Journal of Public Health, this is largely attributable to the fact that streets with protected bike lanes saw 90% fewer cyclist injuries per mile than those without.

When it opened in July 2014, the Central Parkway protected bike lane was the first of its kind in Ohio. Since then other cities around the state have developed their own protected bike lanes, but Cincinnati has gone back to discussing the merits of the project after a handful of motorists complained that it made the roadway more dangerous and confusing to navigate.

Those suggestions were refuted in a report issued earlier this month that found conflicts along the 2.2-mile stretch of Central Parkway with the protected bike lane are no different, or even safer, than on other comparable streets around the city; but that further experience and education is needed for motorists.

“The Cincinnati Police Department and DOTE both believe that as drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians become more familiar with the area and with the rules for the bike lane operations, there should be fewer conflicts,” the report concluded. “DOTE will continue to monitor conditions, and improvements may be made in the future as best practices evolve.”

Whether the future of Cincinnati’s bike infrastructure continues to focus on off-street bike trails, or shifts to a more balanced approach is yet to be seen. Queen City Bike is hoping last night’s event, and others to come in the future, will help grow the number of people advocating for a more robust bike network, but also refine the vision based around what it is the community wants to see pursued.

The Cranley administration has put forth a proposed budget that increases spending on bicycle infrastructure, but the overwhelming majority of that money has been tagged for off-street trails, not protected bike lanes or other sorts of infrastructure improvements.

City Council has until the end of June to review, make proposed changes and approve next year’s budget. This will give the growing bike advocacy community a strong opportunity to make their voices heard.