VIDEO: Are ‘Protected Intersections’ the Next Bicycle Infrastructure Innovation?

The City of Cincinnati and other area municipalities have been working to improve the region’s bicycle infrastructure in order to both make cycling more attractive and safer. Those improvements have included new bike lanes, sharrows, cycle tracks, trails and dedicated parking for bikes.

City officials say that protected bike lanes, like the cycle tracks to be installed along Central Parkway, offer the larger population an incentive to get out on their bicycles. Those officials point to results from public polling that show large percentages of people that would be open to riding bikes if they felt safer on the roads, and that protected bike lanes would do wonders to accomplishing that.

But Nick Falbo, an urban planner and designer at Alta Planning+Design, thinks protected bike lanes aren’t enough.

“Protected bike lanes lose their benefits when they reach intersections,” Falbo states in his six-minute-long video proposal. “The buffer falls away and you’re faced with an ambiguous collection of green paint, dashed lines and bicycle markings.”

In his submission to the George Mason University 2014 Cameron Rian Hays Outside the Box Competition, Falbo proposes what he calls the Protected Intersection - a design overhaul for intersections that he says will not only improve the value and safety of protected bike lanes, but also make the intersection more usable for all modes of traffic.

“It doesn’t matter how safe and protected your bike lane is, if intersections are risky, stressful experiences. We need to make intersections just as safe and secure as the lanes that lead into them. What the protected bike lane needs is a protected intersection.”

INFOGRAPHIC: The Abandonment of Cincinnati’s 1914 Subway and Rapid Transit Loop

Cincinnati’s abandoned rapid transit project is a subject of continual interest. Although many are familiar with the unused two-mile tunnel beneath Central Parkway, little remains of the ten miles of surface-running right-of-way built in the mid-1920s between Camp Washington and Norwood.

This graphic by Andy Woodruff, from the UW-Madison Department of Geography, illustrates which sections of the so-called Rapid Transit Loop were built, which parts were replaced by expressways, and which parts were planned but not funded and built.

Cincinnati Subway System

So why was the Rapid Transit Loop started but not completed?

The project had several forces working against it, especially wealthy Downtown landowners who stood to lose money and influence if the city’s most valuable property shifted from Fountain Square north to Central Parkway. The likelihood of that happening was heightened by the Rapid Transit Commission’s decision to forego construction of the Walnut Street Subway as part of the project’s first phase.

Those who owned property lining Central Parkway knew that construction of a tunnel under Mt. Adams, linking the Loop’s never-built eastern half, would likely cost less than construction of the Walnut Street Subway and cause the loop’s traffic to bypass the city’s established epicenter entirely.

The second interest acting to scuttle the subway project was the consortium of seven steam railroads that commenced construction of Cincinnati’s spectacular Union Terminal in 1929.

An ancillary feature of the Rapid Transit Loop was its intention to serve the area’s electric interurban railroads at a multi-track terminal centered beneath the intersection of Race Street and Central Parkway. The interurban terminal’s more convenient location promised to erode the redundant services of the steam railroads.

Editorial Note: In addition to focusing on UrbanCincy’s transportation coverage, Jake authored a book about Cincinnati’s infamously abandoned subway and rapid transit project. First published in 2010, Cincinnati’s Incomplete Subway: The Complete History is considered to be the most comprehensive analysis of the events leading up to and after one of the city’s most notorious missteps.

Cincinnati Seeking Feedback on Two Bike Infrastructure Projects

The City of Cincinnati is studying two new streets for potential bicycle enhancements, and officials with the Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) are looking for the public’s feedback.

The first project is on Delta Avenue where they are considering adding a five-foot bike lane on both sides of the street, and the second is a larger project along Central Parkway that is considering adding either striped bike lanes or physically separated cycle tracks along a 2.2-mile stretch of the roadway.

Delta Avenue Bike Lanes
The Delta Avenue project will take place between Columbia Parkway and Erie Avenue, but will not impact Mt. Lookout Square. DOTE officials say that the schedule calls for repaving to begin in early 2014.

Right now planners and engineers are looking at two options for Delta Avenue. One option would maintain the existing roadway conditions that include two 10-foot travel lanes and two 18-foot travel/parking lanes.

Delta Avenue Proposed Section

The second option would modify this layout to include two 5-foot bike lanes, two 10-foot travel lanes, one 9-foot left turn lane, and two 8-foot parking lanes.

The proposed reconfiguration, DOTE officials say, would provide safety benefits for bicyclists, pedestrians and automobile drivers, and is similar to what was recently installed on Madison Road between Woodburn Avenue and O’Bryonville.

In addition to improving bicycle accessibility along Delta Avenue, the new bike lanes would connect into the recently installed bike lanes on Riverside Drive, which will be extended into the downtown area later this year.

“Delta Avenue is a primary cycling route from Riverside and downtown to the city’s eastern neighborhoods, and these plans will help to calm traffic and make the street safer for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists,” Queen City Bike president Frank Henson stated.

Those interested in sharing their feedback regarding the Delta Avenue project can do so by visiting the City of Cincinnati’s webpage for the project and answering a few brief questions.

Central Parkway Cycle Tracks
The larger Central Parkway project is planned to be built in two phases, with the first phase of work stretching from Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine to Marshall Avenue in Fairview.

Neighborhoods along the first phase of the project have already been approached about the project, and the City of Cincinnati received a $480,000 Transportation Alternative grant from the federal government, administered through the OKI Regional Council of Governments, in June 2013.

This portion of the work is being studied in three separate segments due to existing roadway configuration.

Dearborn Street Two-Way Cycle Track
City officials are looking into the possibility of installing a two-way cycle track along Central Parkway – similar to Chicago’s two-way cycle track on Dearborn Street. Image provided by Active Transportation Alliance.

The first segment is from Elm Street to Liberty Street, and due to the median that divides Central Parkway there, it is considered unfeasible to have a two-way cycle track. As a result, the DOTE is considering only two options – the existing road with no enhancements or one-way cycle tracks on both sides of the street.

The second segment being studied in phase one is from Liberty Street to Brighton Avenue, and is studying three options in addition to the existing conditions. The first would be a 14-foot, two-way cycle track on the west side of the street, the second would be 7-foot-wide one-way cycle tracks on both sides of the street, and the third would be 5-foot bike lanes on both side of the street.

The final segment within the first phase of the Central Parkway project is from Brighton Avenue to Marshall Avenue. Here, the same three options are being considered as for the second segment. The only difference being the two-way cycle track on the west side of the street would be 12 feet wide instead of 14 feet.

“Adding a cycle track to Central Parkway will create a safer, family-friendly space for people on bicycles and will exponentially increase the number of people using bicycles in this corridor,” explained Mel McVay, senior city planner with Cincinnati DOTE. “This project is a game changer for Cincinnati – it has the ability to completely change the way people feel about riding bicycles in our city.”

Those looking to share their thoughts on which design option would be best can do so by completing a very short survey on the Central Parkway project’s webpage.

The second phase of work along Central Parkway would then progress northward from Marshall Avenue to Ludlow Avenue, where the city’s first green bike lanes were installed in November 2012. The details have not yet been worked out for this phase of work, but will progress as soon as funds become available.

“Both of these projects would be extremely beneficial if completed,” noted Queen City Bike executive director Nern Ostendorf. “What bike lanes and especially cycle tracks do is they expand the accessibility of biking on city streets to more users who consider biking on roads without special bike facilities too dangerous, or at least too stressful.”

This story was originally published in the July 19, 2013 print edition of the Cincinnati Business Courier. UrbanCincy readers are able to take advantage of an exclusive digital membership and access all of the Business Courier‘s premium content by subscribing through UrbanCincy‘s discounted rate.

MetroMoves: A Decade Later

The election held earlier this month marked the 10-year anniversary of MetroMoves, the Hamilton County ballot issue that would have more than doubled public support for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). Specifically, a half-cent sales tax would have raised approximately $60 million annually, permitting a dramatic expansion of Metro’s bus service throughout Hamilton County and construction and operation of a 60-mile, $2.7 billion streetcar and light rail network.

MetroMoves was SORTA’s third attempt to fund countywide transit service – sales tax ballot issues also failed in 1979 and 1980.


The 2002 MetroMoves plan called for five light rail lines, modern streetcars, and an overhauled regional bus system. Image provided.

Bus System Expansion
According to John Schneider, who chaired the MetroMoves campaign, SORTA planned to expand bus service immediately after collection of the tax began. In 2003 Metro’s schedule would have been reworked with more frequent service on every existing bus line, including more late night and weekend service. By 2004, with the arrival of newly purchased buses, Metro planned to link a dozen new suburban transit hubs with new cross-town bus routes.

The Glenway Crossing Transit Center, which opened in early 2012, is an example of the sort of suburban bus hubs planned as part of MetroMoves. The 38X bus, which began service when the transit center opened, is an example of the sort of new routes that MetroMoves would have funded.

Modern Streetcars & Light Rail Lines
In 2003 design work would have begun on a modern streetcar line and the first of five light rail lines. The streetcar line was planned to follow a route nearly identical to the line currently under construction in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. The modern streetcar line was planned to have traveled up the Vine Street hill to the University of Cincinnati, then turn east on Martin Luther King Drive, cross I-71, and meet a light rail line on Gilbert Avenue.

Construction would have begun in 2004 and operation would have begun by 2006 or 2007.

The start date for light rail construction was less certain because the MetroMoves tax revenue was to be used as the local contribution for a large Federal Transit Administration (FTA) match. This process became standard practice in cities throughout the country since federal matching began in the early 1970s.


Modern streetcars, similar to those used in Portland, OR, could have been in service as early as 2005 had Hamilton County voters approved MetroMoves in 2002. Photograph provided by John Scheinder.

The first light rail line to be built was the system’s “trunk”, a line connecting Downtown and Xavier University on Gilbert Avenue and Montgomery Road. At Xavier, three suburban light rail lines were planned to converge on a trio of abandoned or lightly used freight railroad right-of-ways.

The first to be built would have been the northeast line through Norwood to Pleasant Ridge and Blue Ash. It was expected that the second line would be one incorporated into a rebuilt I-75; however that highway project has now been pushed back past 2020, meaning the Wasson Road line to Hyde Park likely would have been built soon after the line’s abandonment in 2009.

Renovating the Central Parkway Subway
Lost in the rhetoric employed to defeat MetroMoves was perhaps its most intriguing feature: a plan to renovate and at last put into use the two-mile subway beneath Central Parkway. This tunnel was built between 1920 and 1922 as part of the Rapid Transit Loop, a 16-mile transit line that would have connected Downtown with Brighton, Northside, St. Bernard, Norwood, Oakley, and O’Bryonville. Construction of the Rapid Transit Loop ceased soon after the Charterite ouster of the Boss Cox Machine and never resumed.

Three subway stations at Race Street, Liberty Street, and Brighton were to have been renovated and put into use as part of the 2002 MetroMoves plan. North of the subway’s portals, the line would have traveled on the surface to Northside, then entered I-74’s median near Mt. Airy Forest. Park & Ride stations were planned in the I-74 median at North Bend Road and Harrison Avenue/Rybolt Road in Green Township.

A fifth light rail line, requiring construction of four miles of new track, was planned to connect Northside and the Xavier University junction. Trains on this fifth line would travel from the far West Side to Hyde Park on the I-74 and Wasson Road corridors.

MetroMoves failure at the polls
MetroMoves was placed on the November 2002 ballot by SORTA in anticipation of a new federal transportation bill in 2003. What became known as SAFETEA-LU, a $286.4 billion measure, was not passed until 2005. Although SORTA’s board had the authority to place a transit tax on Hamilton County’s ballot in the years before the federal transportation bill was passed, MetroMove’s 2002 defeat was so lopsided (161,000 to 96,000 votes) that the regional transit authority choose not do so.

When speaking with those affiliated with the 2002 MetroMoves campaign, the failure of the ballot issue is usually attributed to four key factors:

  1. Anti-tax mood caused by the 1996 stadium sales tax and ensuing cost overruns
  2. 2001 Race Riot
  3. The MetroMoves campaign was thrown together quickly during summer 2002. SORTA’s board did not vote to place the issue on the ballot until August 20.
  4. A dirty opposition campaign comprised of Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes (D), Commissioner John Dowlin (R), Commissioner Phil Heimlich (R), and Congressman Steve Chabot (R).

The opposition campaign was led by Stephan Louis, who in late 2002 was reprimanded for false statements made during the campaign by the Ohio Elections Commission. Nevertheless, as a reward for his work in opposing MetroMoves, he was soon after appointed to SORTA’s board along with fellow public transit opponent Tom Luken in 2003.


Opponents to the 2002 MetroMoves campaign were accused and found guilty of using unethical campaign tactics. Newspaper image taken from a 2002 issue of CityBeat.

In 2006, Louis came under fire for having written racist and anti-public transportation emails and was forced off the board soon after. He reappeared to campaign in support of COAST’s anti-streetcar Issue 9 in 2009 and Issue 48 in 2011.

Another MetroMoves?
In 1972 when Cincinnati voters approved the .3% earnings tax that enabled creation of a public bus company, it was expected that city funding would be temporary and Hamilton County would eventually fund the region’s public transportation. Instead, nearly 40 years later, Cincinnati’s bus company is still funded only by the city and therefore provides only limited service outside city limits.

Ten years after the defeat of MetroMoves, despite a tripling of gasoline prices and the viability of transit systems proven by an increasing number of mid-sized American cities, it seems unlikely that a similar effort stands a chance of passage in Hamilton County in the immediate future. Many of the same public figures who opposed MetroMoves ten years ago have acted repeatedly in the past five to obstruct Cincinnati’s current streetcar project.

Furthermore, since the election of President Barack Obama (D) in 2008, the Tea Party has fomented an irrational suspicion of local government, and local anti-tax groups have authored intentionally misleading ballot issues. Meanwhile our local media, especially talk radio, continues to harass public transportation at every opportunity.

The way forward for the Cincinnati area has, since 2007, been the City of Cincinnati by itself. Despite the efforts of politicians, anti-tax groups, and utility companies to stop Cincinnati’s streetcar project, it broke ground in early 2012 and track installation will begin next year. Along with ongoing demographic shifts within Hamilton County, the success of Cincinnati’s initial streetcar might persuade the county’s electorate to approve county funding of public transportation for the first time.

City adding bike lanes to Central Parkway, Spring Grove Avenue, Linn Street

As summer draws to a close, Cincinnati city officials will be installing several miles of new dedicated bike lanes and sharrows. According to the Cincinnati Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE), crews have already introduced bike lane symbols along Spring Grove Avenue, between Crawford Avenue and Mitchell Avenue, and will be completing the separation line later this week.

Other city streets to be improved later this summer include Central Parkway, between Brighton Place and Hopple Street, and Linn Street from W. 6th Street to Gest Street.  In total, the projects account for approximately two-and-a-half miles of new bicycle facilities.

“We know that Spring Grove Avenue is already a major bicycling corridor, and we hope that the addition of bicycle lanes will encourage even more people to try using a bicycle for casual trips,” said Curtis Hines, Spring Grove Avenue project manager.

According to Hines, the timing is perfect as all of the streets receiving the new bike lanes and sharrows were already scheduled for routine maintenance work.

“We’re committed to building streets with all users in mind, so we plan to continue incorporating bike lanes in as many street improvement projects as possible.”

The new bike lanes and sharrows come shortly after Cincinnati City Council approved dramatic new bicycle policies that include new safety regulations, parking requirements, and a comprehensive Bicycle Transportation Plan that calls for 445 miles of on- and off-street bicycle facilities to be installed by 2025.

This Week In Soapbox 1/12

This Week in Soapbox UrbanCincy has the following eight stories that you must check out. You can read about the Model Group’s Forest Square development in Avondale, Revive I-75′s Charrette Week, CPA’s program on sustainability, the city’s ongoing efforts to develop a form-based code, B-Books relocating to expanding digs in Covington’s arts district, and CNATI’s influence on the local sports reporting scene. Plus there are two tremendous feature articles this week – one on Downtown’s historic Court Street district and another on the up-and-coming Brighton area of town.

If you’re interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week’s stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

TWIS 1/12/10:

  • Charrette Weeks kicks off for Revive I-75full article
  • Model Group breaks ground on $4.2M Forest Square developmentfull article
  • Cincinnati Preservation Association to host first-ever sustainability programfull article
  • Cincinnati’s form-based code effort to take city leaders back to Nashvillefull article
  • B-Books to open up expanded operations in Covington’s arts districtfull article
  • CNATI website adds independent, local sports reporting voice to cityfull article
  • The Bright Side (feature story)full article
  • Courting a Vision (feature story)full article