Should ‘Kathy Plates’ Be Added to Roebling Suspension Bridge?

In the spirit of throwing new ideas out there, UrbanCincy would like to propose installing Kathy Plates on the Roebling Suspension Bridge in order to improve the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists using the 148-year-old span.

The idea first came to mind when we hosted our Bikes+Brews ride in May 2013. The route took our group of approximately 20 cyclists across the bridge. Following the law, and protecting the safety of pedestrians also using the bridge, we rode across with automobile traffic.

Those familiar with the Roebling Suspension Bridge know that it is somewhat famous for the humming sound it makes as you drive across. Well, this sound is created by the friction between each vehicle’s tires and the grated bridge deck. That same deck that evokes such a pleasant and memorable sound, also can at times redirect a car slightly as it navigates the numerous grooves.

This also occurs for people traveling across the bridge on bicycles, although to a much greater effect due to the lighter weight of the bike compared to the car.

This same phenomenon exists on dozens of Chicago’s famous bascule bridges. The bascule bridge type was invented in Chicago and proved to be an engineering innovation still paying dividends more than 100 years later. The design, however, requires a delicate management of the bridge’s weight distribution – even a new coat of paint has the potential to throw things out of whack.

Chicago has seen an explosion in the number of people using bicycles as their form of transportation, and, as a result, saw many cyclists crashing on the bridges due to the grooves in the grated bridge decks and their joints that are similar to what exist on Cincinnati’s famed Roebling Suspension Bridge.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) came up with a solution that aimed to remedy the safety hazard while also respecting the delicate balancing act required to make bascule bridges go up and down.

That solution is the ‘Kathy Plate’ application, which is named after activist Kathy Schubert, who lobbied for the plates after she had crashed on Chicago’s LaSalle Street Bridge.

It is a fiberglass plate that is affixed to the bridge deck where bicyclists would be riding, thus creating a smooth and consistent surface without throwing off the bridge’s weight distribution.

Mike Amsden, Assistant Director of Transportation Planning with CDOT, told UrbanCincy that the city initially used steel plates or concrete infill, but has since switched to the fiberglass alternative due to its lower cost and lighter weight. As of today, Chicago has one bridge with steel plates, seven with concrete infill, and five with the new fiberglass plate option.

Amsden says that CDOT first began using the fiberglass plates more than two years ago, and has not yet needed to replace any of them – even with Chicago’s harsh winters.

“The open grate bascule bridges can be very slippery, especially when wet,” Amsden explained. “Because bridges can be such a barrier to bicycling, we’re putting extra emphasis on making our bridges bicycle friendly.”

CDOT says that they incorporate these fiberglass plates on any bike lane project that crosses a bridge, and uses the concrete infill option on bridges that are being reconstructed, regardless of whether a bike lane crosses the bridge.

“We match the plate width to the approaching and departing bike lane width,” said Amsden. “So, as you can see on Dearborn, it’s a wide two-way bike land, so the plates are much wider.”

There are no marked bike lanes approaching or departing from the Roebling Suspension Bridge, but cyclists typically use the congested and winding sidewalks cantilevered outside of the bridge columns.

A simple application of these fiberglass plates in each direction could help to improve safety and mobility on Cincinnati’s most iconic bridge.

According to Queen City Bike, it is something they said they would like to research further and consider for potential application on the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

Chicago Serves as a Model for Midwestern Cities Looking to Bolster Bicycling

For the past few years anyone with an interest in bicycling has seen their Facebook and Twitter feeds stuffed daily with bike lane and bike share project updates from cities around the United States. Much of that news has come from our northern neighbor Chicago, where its first of 100 planned miles of protected bike lanes opened in 2012.

In 2013 Chicago also launched the nation’s third-largest bike share program, a 300-station network sprawling across large sections of the city. Then, in early 2014, construction began on the $60 million Navy Pier Flyover, an elevated structure that will speed Lakefront Trail bicycle traffic over the Chicago River and the congested Navy Pier tourist area.

In May I spent part of a vacation day biking 35 miles around Chicago to see its various recent bicycling improvements for myself. This ride included The Loop, parts of the Lakefront Trail, and various residential areas where bike lanes have been recently created.

Dearborn Street Two-Way Protected Bike Lane
This two-way protected bike lane opened on the otherwise one-way Dearborn Street in November 2012, and is among the most talked-about new bike lanes in the country. It occupies a 10-foot wide strip on the west side of this major north-south street, with bikes separated from vehicular traffic by bollards and on-street parking.

To manage conflicts between two-way bike and one-way automobile movements, bicycle traffic is controlled by dedicated signals at about a dozen intersections in The Loop.

I biked the length of this protected lane in both directions beginning at about 4:50pm on a weekday. It was immediately obvious that travel in the lane during rush hour was not particularly fast or orderly — pedestrians often stepped into the bike lane to hail cabs or to cross Dearborn Street mid-block. At cross-streets, bicycle traffic was sometimes unable to proceed when signaled due to surges of pedestrians or gridlocked traffic.

Bicyclist behavior within the protected lane was more chaotic than I expected.

Commuters riding their own bikes often passed slower Divvy bikes and northbound bikers sometimes drifted between the protected bike lane and Dearborn’s vehicular lanes. I observed a handful of northbound bicyclists ignoring the protected bike lane altogether, instead biking in mixed vehicular traffic up Dearborn Street as they had for the past 100 years.

Divvy Bikeshare
Chicago’s “Divvy” bike share system began operation on June 28, 2013 and by year’s end the system logged over 700,000 trips. This year the system is planned to expand from 300 to 400 stations and add 1,000 bicycles to its existing fleet of 3,000.

To say that the Divvy bikes are popular would be a gross understatement – the extent to which the blue bicycles have become a ubiquitous feature of Chicago’s cityscape in their first year has no doubt silenced all critics.

To that end, the utility of shared bicycles in Chicago is aided by the city’s flat layout. Recently a writer from Seattle expressed some skepticism of a planned bike share program’s popularity in the hilly Emerald City.

Similar questions have been raised locally and intensely debated on Internet forums. The questions bear enough validity to cause many proponents of Cincy Bike Share to concede that Uptown and Downtown operations may function and serve different customers from one another.

Navy Pier Flyover
Chicago’s Lakefront Trail stretches 18 miles along the city’s lakefront, and is home to a crush of bicycle traffic unlike anything to be seen in Cincinnati or elsewhere in the Midwest. In fact, the Active Transportation Alliance claims that Lakefront Trail is the busiest in the United States with peak daily usage reaching 30,000 people at key points.

Every type of bicycle and every type of rider uses the trail, along with joggers, walkers, and inline skaters – motivating the Chicago Tribune to remark earlier this year that the Lakefront Trail is “claustrophobic and dangerous—the antithesis of the shoreline as a refuge from urban crowding.”

The Navy Pier Flyover will link the north and south halves of the trail with 16-foot wide elevated approaches to the Outer Drive Bridge. The trail will cross the Chicago River on a new structure cantilevered off the west side of the famed 77-year-old bascule bridge.

General Observations
As someone who grew up biking the monster hills and hostile commercial avenues of Cincinnati’s west side in the 1980s, riding in Chicago – even the many areas without new bike lanes — is by comparison a piece of cake. So easy in fact that it’s boring.

Virtually all of Chicago’s streets are perfectly flat, perfectly straight, and traffic moves at pretty much the same speed and in the same fashion on all of them. There is little to no sense of exploration and discovery during a bike ride around Chicago – no wonder the Lakefront Trail is so popular when a ride between any two neighborhoods has the same character as any other combination.

No Chicago bicyclist knows anything like our varied street characteristics, our innumerable odd intersections, and of course the two-mile downhill runs that can be strung together between various Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Experimenting with side streets and alternate routes between points A and B is something that keeps the avid Cincinnati bicyclist exploring the city, year after year, and familiarity with all of the hills is a point of pride.

When Cincinnati’s bike share begins later this year, and if we eventually build more protected bike lanes beyond the current Central Parkway project, no doubt bicycling will become more popular in the center city, basin neighborhoods, and across the river in Covington and Newport.

Any city, however, can paint bike lanes and buy a few thousand bike share bikes, but the endless range of leisurely or challenging rides available to the Cincinnati bicyclist is something Chicago and most other American cities will never have.

OPINION: U.S. Trade Policy and Its Impact on Urban Economies

The United States has consistently run a trade deficit since the 1980s. In 2013, the trade deficit averaged a staggering $40 billion per month. While much of this deficit has to do with oil imports (which will be offset in coming years), the nature of the U.S. trade deficit is astounding.

The nations with whom the United States runs trade deficits, and in which products it runs them, defeats common sense and makes one severely question what, if any, trade strategy the United States is pursuing.

Take the United States’ trade relations with Mexico. Although the United States has a highly developed economy at the forefront of industrialized nations, America ran an almost $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico in 2012, and has consistently run a trade deficit with Mexico since 1995.

Looking closer is even more eye-opening. The three most-imported products from Mexico include electrical equipment, vehicles, and machinery. While our most-exported products to Mexico include machinery, electrical equipment, and mineral fuels – with vehicles in fourth – the U.S. still runs a deficit in every one of those products. The value of vehicles exported to the U.S. from Mexico ($54 billion) is more than double what the United States sends in vehicles to Mexico ($20 billion).

Of America’s 15 largest trading partners, the United States runs a trade deficit with all but two. Even if you remove states from which America’s trade deficit is skewed by oil imports (Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela), the vast majority of trading partners enjoy a trade surplus in their relationship with the United States.

Overall, America runs trade deficits in peculiar industries such as machinery, electrical equipment, mineral fuels, vehicles (excluding rail), pharmaceutical products, and steel. In fact, some of the few heavy industries in which the United States runs surpluses are in aircraft and plastics.

Heavily industrialized and mature economies like that of the United States should be successful in the export of heavy manufactured items like those stated above. While competition with other industrialized nations like Germany is understandable, large trade deficits in manufactured products with economies much less-developed than America’s is perplexing, at best.

For cities with a history and a base in heavy manufacturing, like Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis, policies like these only continue to chip away at the economic health of large sectors of these urban areas.

While it is imperative for industrial cities like these to diversify, unnecessary degradation of well-paying, already-established industries is detrimental to the creation of metropolitan economies steeped not only in new-age tech industries but also in a healthy industrial sector.

The suburbanization and segregation of American cities didn’t happen by chance

Most urban planners are taught that public policies, in addition to free market choice, led to the suburbanization, and thus segregation, of most American cities. In fact, some argue that public policies had a far greater role in influencing this migration than anything else. More from the Washington Post:

Suburbs didn’t become predominantly white and upper income thanks solely to market forces and consumer preferences. Inner city neighborhoods didn’t become home to poor minority communities purely through the random choices of minorities to live there. Economic and racial segregation didn’t just arise out of the decisions of millions of families to settle, by chance, here instead of there.

The geography that we have today — where poverty clusters alongside poverty, while the better-off live in entirely different school districts — is in large part a product of deliberate policies and government investments. The creation of the Interstate highway system enabled white flight. The federal mortgage interest deduction subsidized middle-income families buying homes there. For three decades, the Federal Housing Administration had separate underwriting standards for mortgages in all-white neighborhoods and all-black ones, institutionalizing the practice of “redlining.” That policy ended in the 1960s, but the patterns it reinforced didn’t end with it.

“Exclusionary zoning” to this day prevents the construction of modest or more affordable housing in many communities. Decisions about where to create and whether to fund transit perpetuate these divides. Government ideas about how to house the poor lead to Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini-Green, and then government’s fleeting commitment to those projects led to their disintegration.

Metro Has Begun Installing New 24-Hour Ticketing Kiosks Throughout City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has made a new push to expand ticket and stored-value cards by adding new locations and options for riders to make their purchases.

The first announcement was that Metro would begin selling passes at Cincinnati City Hall, starting April 1, inside the city’s Treasury Department in Room 202. The sales office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and will offer Zone 1 and 2 Metro 30-day rolling passes, $20 stored-value cards and Metro/TANK passes.

The new location marks the twelfth sales office for Metro including three others Downtown and locations in Walnut Hills, Tri-County, Western Hills, North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Roselawn, College Hill and Avondale.

The region’s largest transit agency also installed its first ticket vending machine. The new kiosk is located at Government Square and is available for use 24 hours a day. The machine only accepts cash and credit cards, and offers Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards.

According to Metro officials, this is the first of more ticketing machines to come with the stations in the Uptown Transit District to be the next locations to get them. Future additions, officials say, will be chosen based on the amount of ridership at given transit hubs throughout the system.

The new sales options come after Metro introduced a new electronic fare payment system in 2011. The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.

While the new initiatives show progress for the 41-year-old transit agency, they also show just how far behind the times it is.

The best fare payment systems in the world are tap and go systems that allow riders to charge their cards with whatever value they would like, thus eliminating any confusion of needing specific cards for certain time periods or values. Such cards also allow for perfect interoperability between various modes of transport including bus, rail, ferry, bikeshare and taxi.

In other instances, like Seoul’s T-Money Card and London’s Oyster Card, the systems even allow for the tap and go payment systems to accept credit cards and bank cards enabled with the technology – totally eliminating any barrier for potential riders wary of signing up for a new card they may not use all that often.

Similar to the fare payment cards, the new ticketing machines are outdated on arrival. Transit agencies throughout the United States that have had ticketing machines for years, like Chicago and New York, are currently in the process of transitioning to touch screen kiosks that are more user-friendly.