EDITORIAL: Parking Requirement Removal Should Be First Step In Broader Reform

Recently, the Cincinnati City Planning Department sent out a notice to property owners in downtown and Over-the-Rhine regarding the implementation of an Urban Parking Overlay District. The city will hold several meetings with the next one being at the City Planning Commission meeting this Friday, July 27th at 9 a.m. If approved, the district would remove the requirement for uses in downtown to provide off-street dedicated parking.

Since 2012 when I first wrote about parking in downtown and Over-the-Rhine the number of off-street parking supplied has increased well over 3,000 parking spaces (38,760 in downtown alone according to DCI). The Banks parking garage alone with over 6,000 spaces is the third largest parking garage in the United States.

We have an abundance of parking in the urban core.

At its core function, the removal of required parking minimums has proven to allow for more creative parking solutions to blossom. As Donald Shoup, parking guru and professor at UCLA found in his book The High Cost of Free Parking, most parking minimums were established as arbitrary standards by planners in the middle of the last century. Many of these requirements are intended to account for the busiest times of the day or year. UrbanCincy interviewed Dr. Shoup in 2014 regarding a variety of local parking issues.

In Nashville for example, the removal of parking minimums helped remove barriers for small-scale developers who could not afford to acquire additional land for a few parking spaces. Instead, agreements with nearby garages helped facilitate automobile storage demands.

Back in 2012 Nashville Planner, Joni Priest told UrbanCincy, “Removing the parking requirements from downtown zoning allows flexibility for site-specific and program-specific solutions. Flexibility is key in urban environments,” said Priest. “As downtown becomes more comfortable for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, new development will have the flexibility to build less parking.”

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the city continues to struggle with developers looking to build new infill or rehabilitate and reactivate the many historic buildings in the urban core.

Even when parking requirements are reduced or eliminated most banks and investors still require parking to be provided or identified for developments to move forward. Removing zoning requirements for parking often allows the developer to build the parking that is really needed and not what is arbitrarily demanded by local zoning controls. This reduces the cost of development and in turn, allows more affordable housing to be provided.

Removing parking minimums also preserves historic structures from being demolished for parking lots and garages. Over-the-Rhine is the largest collection of German Italianate buildings in the country yet it currently has lost over half of its historic structures. If parking minimums are retained, the demolition of our communities historic assets will continue to be encouraged to meet the city’s parking requirements.

There is an abundance of alternative options to traverse to, from and around the urban core. These modes include walking, biking, CincyRedBike, buses, streetcar, uber, lyft, Gest, and Zipcar. In the near future, we’ll likely see Bird scooters and Lime bikes introduced. In the long-term, improved transit and autonomous vehicles will reduce the need to own and store a vehicle. Every one of these trips is one less parking space needed per resident, worker or visitor.

It would be wise for the City to anticipate criticisms from residents of the urban core. Some of whom recently voiced concerns regarding the increasing struggle to find on-street parking spaces. This is a struggle that is common in many dense, historic urban neighborhoods across the country where the expectation is that it is very rare to snag a parking space directly in front of a persons residence or business. However, it is important to consider this in light of a broader parking strategy, one that would balance resident, business and development demands.

There are a few additional strategies for city policymakers can consider in conjunction with approving the Parking Overlay District to remove parking requirements. Most of these are adapted from Dr. Shoup’s recommendations:

1.) Continue to pursue the implementation of the on-street residential parking permit program.

2.) Add on-street 10-30 minute convenience parking at some spaces around Findlay Market.

3.) Consider opportunities for future public underground parking facilities to serve Findlay Market and the rest of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street.

4.) Enable the demand-responsive capabilities for on-street parking meters. This strategy will encourage more meter usage and could be a potential revenue add for the city’s parking meter program.

As part of a broader plan, it makes sense to remove the parking space requirements in the urban core. To quote Shoup, “If Cincinnati uses fair market prices to manage on-street parking – the lowest prices that will leave one or two open spaces on every block at every time of the day – it won’t have to require off-street parking spaces for every land use. If the government regulated any other aspect of our lives as precisely as it regulates the number of off-street parking spaces everywhere, everyone would join the Tea Party.”

Removing parking minimums is a productive first step in the city’s comprehensive strategy to balance the demands of residents, workers, visitors who help make our urban core a vibrant and attractive place. Supporting this policy is a step in support of enhancing housing affordability, historic preservation, environmental sustainability and livability in our urban core.

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.

Metro Brings Late Night Bus Back This Saturday

Metro and CincyYP are once again teaming up to encourage young people in Cincinnati to try out the city’s bus service beyond typical commuting uses. This is the third year of this successful  program.

Last year’s entertainment bus event saw more than 400 passenger trips taken. Participants will once again have the opportunity to learn tips to plan their trip including how to read a schedule, catch a bus and use Metro’s real-time apps. There will be special promotions at popular establishments along the event route in downtown, OTR, Oakley, Hyde Park, O’Bryonville, Clifton and East Walnut Hills.

“Cincinnati’s YP leaders truly get how important public transit is to our community, and their commitment to encouraging their peers to use Metro is inspiring,”Metro’s Outreach and Sustainability Manager Kim Lahman stated in a prepared release, “The ‘Late Night Test Ride’ provides us with a safe, fun and adventurous way of introducing young professionals to Metro’s service, while allowing them to get to know our community and one another better.”

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Metro Late Night Test Ride Route Map [Provided]

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Metro Late Night Test Ride Schedule [Provided]

The mobile event will take place this Saturday, April 23 between 8Pm-2AM. Three buses will operate on 30 minute intervals on a route that will take riders around to some 18 bars in seven different neighborhoods.

Many people view transit as a means to get to and from work, but the reality is that nearly three-fourths of all trips made each day have nothing to do with work commutes. As Metro works to grow ridership and expand its customer base, choice riders – those who choose to take transit instead of other alternatives – are becoming an increasingly targeted demographic. Additionally, as the Late Night Test rides are proving, there is a solid demand for late night routes that could be instituted on a more permanent basis.

Unlimited trip passes for the late night shuttle can be purchased online for $8 per person, or $25 for groups of four. The public can also simply purchase single trips at Metro’s normal $1.75 fare anywhere along the route. Those who may not have the cash, or just want to get a bit more involved, are being encouraged to volunteer for two hours and receive a complimentary pass in return.

As Lahman suggests, the hope is to get young people more familiar with using the city’s bus service, and will learn tips about how to plan their trip, read a schedule, catch a bus and use Metro’s real-time arrival services.

Episode #49: Ideas to Copy

Cincy Bus Transit MapOn the 49th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Travis, Jocelyn, Jake, and Randy take a listener suggestion and come up with a list of ideas that Cincinnati should copy from other cities. We touch on the ideas like introducing ultra-high speed internet access, completely re-drawing the city’s bus route map, merging smaller municipalities together to gain efficiency, introducing an urban service boundary, and finding innovative ways to generate electricity. In a future episode, we’ll follow up with even more ideas that Cincinnati should consider copying.

New Payment Technology Allows Metro, TANK to Partner on Regional Fare Card

Regular commuters who cross the Ohio River, either into Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky, are well aware of bringing the required amount of change to transfer between Metro and TANK buses. Other non-seasoned riders, however, were stuck with navigating a complex combination of transfer fees and payment options.

The region’s two largest transit agencies announced that technology afforded to them in 2011 will support the introduction of a long-anticipated regional fare payment card. Metro unveiled the shared stored-value card earlier this month at The Westin’s Presidential Ballroom during the annual State of Metro address.

Transit officials say that the card works with both TANK and Metro buses, thus eliminating the need for carrying change on either system. The card deducts the correct fare amount for each agency so if a rider boards a Metro bus it will deduct $1.75 for Zone 1 or $1.50 for a TANK bus fare.

“We are trying to make this a more seamless and integrated approach to transit.” Metro spokesperson Sallie Hilvers told UrbanCincy.

While there already is a monthly pass that can be used for both systems, the pass is limited to rides on TANK and Metro buses within Cincinnati city limits. As a result, officials from Metro and TANK believe the new shared stored-value card provides better accessibility and flexibility to people who use both systems on both sides of the river.

Behind the scenes, Metro handles the accounting for the stored-value cards so if the card is used on a TANK bus, the agency reports that usage to Metro, which then reimburses TANK for the fare.

“We’ve seen more people buying day passes and stored value passes since we introduced them.” Hilvers said.

The pass is available for purchase online, and at the 24-hour ticketing kiosks Metro began installing earlier this year. TANK’s Covington Transit Center is not yet selling the new stored-value cards, but transit officials there anticipate it becoming available in the near future.

This kind of collaboration is not what has traditionally defined the relationship between Metro and TANK, but Hilvers said that this has been years in the making and hopes that it will lead to even more collaboration in the future.

According to Hilvers, the next goal is to work with local universities to develop a standard student and faculty card that would cover access to area institutions served by both transit agencies. Currently Metro has separate agreements with the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State, while TANK has an agreement with Northern Kentucky University.

Such changes would seem to bode well for both Metro and TANK. In 2013, Metro reported surging ridership due to the implementation of new collaborative programs and improved fare payment technology.

While the new technology and services are a step toward a broader overhaul of the way area residents and visitors pay for and use the region’s transit networks, it is still a ways from what is considered industry best practices.

Leadership at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which oversees Metro bus and streetcar operations, says that they are working on ways for riders to get real-time arrival information system-wide.

The challenge, they say, is to make sure it is a benefit available to all users. Therefore, transit officials are working to implement real-time arrival information that utilizes smartphone, adaptive website and phone service technologies. Metro representatives are tentatively saying that they are hopeful such services could be in place by spring 2015.