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.

Metro’s Bus, Streetcar Services Providing Ample Options For Bengals’ Home Opener

Town Center Garage Streetcar RouteThe Bengals will host their first home game of season this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. A capacity crowd is expected to fill the stands, and city leaders are looking to provide a variety of options for fans to easily get to and from the game safely.

One of those options includes the newly opened Cincinnati Bell Connector. Operating from the northern reaches of Over-the-Rhine to The Banks – just two blocks from Paul Brown Stadium – the streetcar vastly expands the reach of those walking to the game from their home or from their car.

As such, City Hall is offering a first-of-its-kind parking special at the Town Center Garage on Central Parkway. Located within two blocks of two different streetcar stations, parking at Town Center Garage will be offered for just $10 on game days; and the first 100 cars will receive four free streetcar passes.

“The Town Center Garage is a natural extension of game day parking options, and its proximity to two streetcar stops makes it a natural fit for fans looking to save money and avoid game day traffic,” said Oscar Bedolla, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

City officials are encouraging fans to come early on game day to enjoy all the offerings along the Cincinnati Bell Connector route, including the tailgate party at The Banks, watch party on Fountain Square and numerous bars, restaurants and shops throughout Over-the-Rhine.

“What we are looking to do here is take full advantage of the link that the Cincinnati Bell Connector offers from Over-the-Rhine to Downtown, to the benefit of football fans,” Parking Division Manager Daniel Fortinberry said in a prepared statement. “We see this as a fun way for fans to get to and from the game.”

The first weekend the streetcar was open saw more than 50,000 riders take advantage of free service. The second weekend, which coincided with Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, saw more than 29,000 riders pay to ride the Cincinnati Bell Connector. With large crowds expected at the Bengals game and MidPoint Music Festival, another large number of riders is anticipated for this weekend.

In addition to the parking special and streetcar service, Metro has again partnered with Miller Lite to offer free rides on Metro bus service from 7am to midnight this Sunday.

While the special partnership is an effort to cut back on drunk driving, it also offers Cincinnatians a good chance to check out Metro bus service for free – not just going to the game, but anywhere on Metro’s regional system.

“As a transit system, the safety of our customers is always our top priority,” said Dwight Ferrell, Cincinnati Metro CEO & General Manager. “Thanks to Miller Lite, Bengals fans will now be able to enjoy the game even more by letting Metro be their designated driver with free rides to and from the stadium.”

The Bengals (1-1) will take on the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (2-0) this Sunday at 1pm along the central riverfront at Paul Brown Stadium.

PHOTOS: Cincinnati Bell Connector Gives 50,000 Rides Opening Weekend

The much-awaited Cincinnati Bell Connector opened to the public on Friday, September 9, and gave over 50,000 rides during its grand opening three-day weekend.

Councilwoman Amy Murray, who serves as Chair of the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee, hosted the grand opening ceremony at Washington Park. In addition to Murray, there were 12 speakers including current and former politicians, transit officials, and business leaders. Many of the speakers thanked the streetcar supporters who kept the project going over the years as it faced obstacle after obstacle. Several used the opportunity to call for an expansion of the system, with former mayor Mark Mallory saying that it’s not a question of “if,” but “when” and “where” the streetcar goes next.

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After the first five ceremonial rides, the Connector opened to the public around noon. It was free to ride all weekend thanks to donations from Believe in Cincinnati, streetcar manufacturer CAF, Cincinnati Bell, Fred Craig, the Haile Foundation, and Joseph Automotive Group. Each station was staffed with volunteers who helped inform riders about the how the system works, where it goes, and how to pay your fare after the start of revenue service. Additionally, a number of special events and activities took place place near each of the streetcar stations, ranging from DJs to ballet dancers to sidewalk chalk artists. Many businesses along the route offered special streetcar-themed food, drinks, and merchandise.

The system initially opened with four out of the five streetcars in service, but the fifth was put into service around 4 p.m. on Friday and all five continued to operate for the remainder of the weekend. The system operated at nearly maximum capacity all weekend, with lines of people waiting to board at each station.

Unfortunately, the system was forced to close on Saturday afternoon due to a bomb threat. The threat, which appears to be connected to similar threats made over the weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo and two local high school football games, was not believed to be credible, but the system was closed down as a precautionary measure. After a bomb-sniffing dog searched all five streetcars and found nothing, they were put back in to service.

Despite this setback, the system transported passengers on 18,141 trips on Friday, 17,160 on Saturday, and 15,345 on Sunday, for a grand total of 50,646 trips during the grand opening.

After the free weekend, revenue service began Monday morning on the Cincinnati Bell Connector. The fare is $1 for a two-hour pass, or $2 for an all-day pass. No streetcar-specific monthly pass is available, but a monthly Metro pass includes rides on the streetcar as well as Metro buses. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks at each station, or using the Cincy EZRide app which is now available in the iOS App Store and Google Play.

Public Library Preparing Weekend of Themed Events for Streetcar Grand Opening

Large crowds are expected to descend upon Cincinnati’s center city for the grand opening of what is now being called the Cincinnati Bell Connector following a $3.4 million, 10-year naming rights agreement with the telecommunications company.

Grand opening ceremonies are planned for Friday, September 9 in front of Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine, but special events are planned throughout the entire weekend. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which has its main branch located along the Cincinnati Bell Connector’s first phase, is getting in on the festivities with a weekend of its own programming.

On Friday, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will host a special exhibit opening for Cincinnati Transportation: Past, Present and Future at 4pm inside the Main Library’s Reading Garden Lounge. Library officials say that the exhibit is free and open to the public, and will stay on display until January 9, 2017 in the library’s Atrium space.

Then, on Saturday, Patricia Van Skaik, the library’s Genealogy & Local History Department Manager, will host a discussion about the lives of Cincinnati’s early streetcar workers. Family Affair: Cincinnati’s Early Streetcar Drivers, Conductors and Mechanics will start at 1pm.

To close out the weekend of themed events, Moving Cincinnati: A History of Trolleys, Cable Cars, Inclines and Streetcars will take place at 2pm. This event will feature a lecture from local historian and author, Robert J. Wimberg, about the transportation history of Cincinnati.

Library officials are particularly engaged with the opening events due to their prominent located along the starter line. In fact, one of the Cincinnati Bell Connector’s stations is located immediately outside of the Main Library at the northwest corner of Eighth and Walnut Streets.

The Cincinnati Bell Connector is the first modern streetcar system of its kind in this region of the country; and it represents a return of surface running rail transit to Cincinnati’s streets after a 65-year absence.

Cincinnati Bell Connector Makes Its Debut With New Branding Scheme

Local transit officials on Tuesday rolled out the first vehicle to bear the colors of the new branding scheme for the Cincinnati Bell Connector. Naming rights for the local rail transit system, formerly known as the Cincinnati Streetcar, have been purchased by Cincinnati Bell.

Under the sponsorship contract, the communications company has agreed to pay $340,000 per year for the next decade. The funding will be used to help cover costs for streetcar operations.

The new graphic scheme for the transit vehicles features the blue and green colors of Cincinnati Bell on the ends of the cars, and above the windows. While some remnants of the original branding scheme remain, the burnt orange color that had become synonymous with the streetcar will entirely go away in time for the system’s opening.

The new branding will be used throughout the system, including on the website, on all printed materials, and on support vehicles. Stations will be rebranded as Cincinnati Bell Connector stations; and several stations already have new signage reflecting the change.

After a photo session for the media, the vehicle departed along Race Street to start regular operations for the day. All five streetcars will display the new branding by the start of regular service on September 9.