Cincinnati Ranks as Top Bike City

This post is a guest post from contributor Paige Hensley

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 Western Hills Viaduct Could Arrive in Late 2020’s

City officials recently unveiled plans for a new Western Hills Viaduct to replace the 84-year-old structure.

Built in 1931, the viaduct serves as the West Side’s main connection to the city’s urban core. “It affects everybody,” said Cincinnati City Engineer Richard Szekeresh, the project manager. Over 71,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. However, a city study back in 2012 highlighted the bridge’s deteriorating structural conditions and the poor pedestrian and bicycle accessibility.

The current viaduct is a car haven. Vehicles zoom by a single, narrow sidewalk along the southern edge and cyclists are rare. According to Department of Transportation and Engineering officials, the new structure will be pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and built to light rail specifications.

Wester Hills Viaduct NewNew cable-stayed design presented by DOTE

Design

Heading west, the current bridge passes over Interstate 75, the CSX Queensgate rail yard, and then deposits cars onto Queen City Avenue in South Fairmont. Queensgate posed a significant problem for the engineers because they couldn’t shut down a privately-owned and high-trafficked rail yard for several years. “We had to find a way to build only from above,” said Szekeresh.

Two design features overcome this constraint. First, the cable-stayed bridge (shown in the renderings) has large distances between its support towers that (mostly) avoid the yard. Second, the physical structure consists of several interlocking parts, meaning the builders can simply insert the relevant pieces into place without much delay. Some rail lines will still be affected, but never for more than a few hours.

Traffic concerns ensure the old bridge will remain in use until its replacement is erected just to the south. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) must acquire several land parcels. All of them have been appraised, but ODOT must complete its environmental review before it can purchase the properties.

Funding

Total project cost hovers around $310 million, a substantial hike from the city’s previous estimate of $240 million. Federal funds will cover 80 percent, with the city, county, and state covering the remaining funds. Szekeresh indicated that the project could receive a $20 million Transportation Review Advisory Council grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

When federal funding will arrive, however, is unclear. Extensions to the projected 2028 end date may be necessary, especially if President-elect Trump reneges on his promise to improve infrastructure.

After the presentation ended, Szekeresh conducted an informal poll to gauge support for the design. Most community members raised their hands in affirmation.

VIDEO: The Easy and Inexpensive Way For Cincinnati To Make Its Streets Safer

Anyone who rides a bicycle to work, either their own or on a Cincy Red Bike, knows all to well the commute mostly involves sharing the road with automobiles. With the current city administration focusing more on creating recreational trails for bicycle hobbyists, cyclists who bike as a form of transportation can only daydream about better on-street bicycle infrastructure.

That daydream could come closer to reality with the release of a new animation from planner and author Jeff Speck.

An accomplished author of books such as Walkable City and Suburban Nation, Speck describes four simple street reconfiguration options that would better accommodate all modes of transportation without adding to the roadway’s width. In order to accomplish that, the techniques include narrowing lanes, adding striped or buffered bike lanes.

Planners and engineers have found that such changes have a minimal impact on the flow of vehicular traffic, by adding only seconds onto commute times.

The street in the video is 38 to 40 feet in width, which is just about the average width of many streets throughout Cincinnati. In fact, UrbanCincy proposed a similar reconfiguration of Elm Street through the Central Business District in 2013. Such transformations have been noted to positively impact safety.

“Such a change on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn reduced speeding by 77% and reduced injury crashes by 63%, while having no impact on car volume or travel times,” Speck noted in the video.

When Randy Simes first wrote about the Elm Street reconfiguration, he explained that it would also serve as a critical connection point between the protected bike lane on Central Parkway and the Ohio River Trail. While Elm Street is a particularly obvious choice, other streets throughout the city could and should get some of the same treatment.

One another prominent example is Liberty Street, which Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering has been looking at for years as a potential road diet candidate. Originally designed for much higher traffic volumes that were never realized, Liberty Street’s 70-foot width now functions more as a safety issue for people walking or biking, and as a barrier between the northern and southern portions of Over-the-Rhine.

Those plans for Liberty Street were originally envisioned by the Over-the-Rhine Brewery District, which then convinced City Hall to perform some planning work. At this time, however, the project does not appear to be moving forward.

Speck’s video makes it easy to see that for the cost of paint it would be relatively easy to install a more comprehensive bike network on streets throughout the city. Such changes would improve safety, increase the number of people riding bikes, which probably means more Red Bike usage, all while slowing down traffic just a tiny bit. Besides, even automobile drivers may appreciate not needing to directly interact with so many bicycles on the street.

Record Crowd at Niehoff for Burnet Woods

Over one hundred and fifty people gathered at the Niehoff Urban Design Studios in Corryville to see and hear what University of Cincinnati design students had come up with on a reimagining of Burnet Woods. The Woods, which once included the land that is now the University’s west campus, is still one of the largest parks in the Cincinnati Park system and also the central focal point of three Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Both Masters and Bachlors degree students from the School of Planning at DAAP focused on the park as part of a year long planning effort coordinated by the City of Cincinnati and the university to envision a revitalized Burnet Woods.  A recent study conducted by the university polled 2,000 students. One of the biggest findings from the study is that 87% of the students polled do not think the Woods are safe. Another 7% did not know it existed at all.

As part of the event, UrbanCincy moderated a discussion panel with some of the regions’ top experts on park planning and programming. Chris Manning from Human Nature joined Ken Stapleton from Ken Stapleton & Associates and Christy Samad from Center City Development Corportation (3CDC). Panelists discussed ways to make the park appear safer including better lighting, more programming and activities and better gateway connections into the park.

The hour long panel focused on a range of topics regarding Burnet Woods including a student proposal for a green land bridge between the park and the school. The bridge proposal was praised by the panelist for its outside the box approach at incorporating an aspect of the park in a way that overcomes the physical separation caused by the wide and traffic heavy Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Audience members were also encouraged to participate and some voiced concerns about the park being underutilized. One participant asked about residential housing on the periphery as part of the park redevelopment noting that connecting residential to the park would be an opportunity for change.

UrbanCincy media specialist Travis Estell was on hand to take photographs and record the conversation which will appear later this week on The UrbanCincy Podcast.

The open house was a joint event between the Niehoff Urban Design Studio, the Urbanists and UrbanCincy. Stay tuned for our next joint event in the fall!

APA14: Atlanta and Its Evolving Relationship with Urbanism

A few weeks ago I journeyed seven-plus hours by car from Cincinnati to Atlanta for the American Planning Association’s (APA) national conference. The five-day conference was held in the Georgia World Congress Center in the core of Atlanta between downtown and Vine City.

This was my first trip to Atlanta since passing through the city in the early 1990’s.

For an urbanist, the city of Atlanta at first glance is a conundrum. Subway stations that seem to feed park and rides, buildings that barely front the street and streets with no crosswalks where pedestrians play a dangerous game of Frogger just to cross to the other side are all typical occurrences in the city.

However the city is all of these things and more. Atlanta boasts beautiful and funky neighborhoods such as Poncey Highlands, Little Five Points and Castleberry Hill. Beautiful parks such as Inman Park and the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Piedmont Park.

The BeltLine, a multi-modal transportation corridor we reported on last week, has sparked development along its route and spurred pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between many of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods.

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During the conference I also had a chance to view the Atlanta Streetcar, which could begin operating later this year. Planners in Atlanta have tucked the streetcar’s maintenance facility under a highway viaduct. This is where the streetcars that have already arrived are now being stored.

As you might expect, social divisions by income were evident. I had a chance to explore some of Vine City, which is located just west of where the conference was held and was also home to Martin Luther King Jr. This neighborhood has given way to abandonment and decay. Empty lots, run down houses and discarded vehicles littered the streets.

At the conference, one particular session focused on the redevelopment of Vine City and the adjacent English Avenue. During that session, neighborhood leaders and proponents of the redevelopment plan were questioned vigorously by a representative from a community group that is active in those neighborhoods. The challenges reminded me of the not-so-distant past for Over-the-Rhine and other Cincinnati neighborhoods, such as the West End or Avondale, that are still struggling to rebuild what they have lost over the years.

On the last day of the conference, the APA announced that they had completed a survey which found that both Millennials and Baby Boomers prefer to live in urban settings where there are plenty of transportation options and walkable neighborhoods.

“If there is a single message from this poll, it’s that place matters,” stated APA’s executive director, Paul Farmer, in a prepared release. “Community characteristics like affordability, transportation choices, safe streets, high-speed internet and housing that can accommodate others or enable you to live there as you grow older matter as much as job opportunities.”

It seemed odd that the APA would choose to release this information while hosting a conference in an infamously automobile reliant city; but, while Atlanta is a city that is still overrun by the automobile it is showing signs that communities, residents and activists are coming together to push for neighborhood connectivity and pedestrian improvements.

Even though my initial impression was that the city serves as a dystopian future for urbanism where pedestrians are marginalized in urbanized places, after learning more about the city at the conference, it is encouraging to see that old mentality is changing.