As Challenges Persist For Central Parkway Bike Lane, Cyclists Look to Organize

With National Bike Month coming to a close, the rhetoric surrounding the fate of the city’s lone protected bike lane continues. Following weeks of discussion and political wrangling, the city’s latest politicized transportation project will be studied again after two initial reports were found to be inconclusive by some leaders at City Hall.

The debate is, perhaps not coincidentally, taking place while the city’s bike community is becoming more active in terms of numbers of riders, group rides and political activism.

Last night at the Mercantile Library dozens crowded the venue to hear a panel discussion and engage in discussion about the current and future state of Cincinnati’s bike network. Organized by Queen City Bike and other area advocacy groups, the event served as an opportunity for people to constructively discuss the good and bad about the city’s bike infrastructure.

First adopted in June 2010, Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan has served as the official document meant to guide policy decisions at City Hall. Since its adoption, however, the planning document has largely sat on the shelf, with targets for the development of bike lanes and other infrastructure falling behind schedule.

Mayor John Cranley’s administration has made it very clear that they are not interested in the development of on-street bike lanes, particularly those that are physically protected from automobile traffic. In lieu of pursuing those targets, the Cranley administration has instead focused on off-street bike trails; while also providing the critical upfront investment to launch Red Bike.

“Under our public-private relationships and support of council and a very vibrant cyclist community, in my opinion, we’re going to be the most bike-friendly city in America in four years,” Mayor Cranley told Aaron Renn in 2014. “We have three major bike trails that can be connected on abandoned train tracks into downtown; and, candidly, we intend to get all three of them build in the next four years. There’s just nothing like it in any city.”

National studies have found that protected on-street bike lanes not only provide the greatest level of safety for both bicyclists and motorists, but also encourage a greater range of demographics to bike. According to the American Journal of Public Health, this is largely attributable to the fact that streets with protected bike lanes saw 90% fewer cyclist injuries per mile than those without.

When it opened in July 2014, the Central Parkway protected bike lane was the first of its kind in Ohio. Since then other cities around the state have developed their own protected bike lanes, but Cincinnati has gone back to discussing the merits of the project after a handful of motorists complained that it made the roadway more dangerous and confusing to navigate.

Those suggestions were refuted in a report issued earlier this month that found conflicts along the 2.2-mile stretch of Central Parkway with the protected bike lane are no different, or even safer, than on other comparable streets around the city; but that further experience and education is needed for motorists.

“The Cincinnati Police Department and DOTE both believe that as drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians become more familiar with the area and with the rules for the bike lane operations, there should be fewer conflicts,” the report concluded. “DOTE will continue to monitor conditions, and improvements may be made in the future as best practices evolve.”

Whether the future of Cincinnati’s bike infrastructure continues to focus on off-street bike trails, or shifts to a more balanced approach is yet to be seen. Queen City Bike is hoping last night’s event, and others to come in the future, will help grow the number of people advocating for a more robust bike network, but also refine the vision based around what it is the community wants to see pursued.

The Cranley administration has put forth a proposed budget that increases spending on bicycle infrastructure, but the overwhelming majority of that money has been tagged for off-street trails, not protected bike lanes or other sorts of infrastructure improvements.

City Council has until the end of June to review, make proposed changes and approve next year’s budget. This will give the growing bike advocacy community a strong opportunity to make their voices heard.

Pendleton Apartment Development Becomes City’s First “Bicycle Friendly” Residential Destination

One of Pendleton’s newest multi-family residential developments has not only saved a historic structure from the wrecking ball, but it has also become one of the city’s most bicycle friendly destinations in the process.

Cincinnati-based BiLT Architects designed, developed and rehabbed the 1870s tenement building to fit what they called a modern urban lifestyle. They were able to do this by retaining original architectural details, while also responding to new trends in Cincinnati’s rapidly growing bicycling community.

Located at 512 E. Twelfth Street in Pendleton, the seven-unit development offers an unparalleled amount of amenities for bicyclists looking to take advantage of the building’s central location.

On-site, the property has dedicated bike lockers and a fully outfitted bicycle workstation with bicycle stand, pump, and repair tools. Tenants can also purchase 50% discounted memberships to Cincy Red Bike, connecting them to a network that has grown to 385 bikes at 50 stations throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

These efforts have earned Abigail Apartments the distinction of being the first apartment building in the city to be named an official “Bicycle Friendly Destination” by local advocacy organization Queen City Bike, of which Abigail Apartments is also a member.

The project does not have dedicated on-street parking, but this has not been an issue for prospective tenants. For example, the developers say, some people with employer-provided parking downtown have said they might leave their car parked at work and instead walk and bike for their other trips.

BiLT Architects’ Andre Bilokur said that he and his partner, Patricia Bittner, designed the project with people like their daughter in mind – renters who work in the center city want to live a car-free or “car-lite” lifestyle near all of the action, without sacrificing affordability or good design. More broadly, they expect the project to appeal to people on either side of having a family – young professionals and “never nesters”, or empty nesters, much like Andre and Patricia themselves, who also live and work in Over-the-Rhine.

BiLT purchased the property in late 2014 from OTR A.D.O.P.T., and, thanks to a tax abatement from the City of Cincinnati and an Ohio Historic Tax Credit, they were able to restore the structure and preserve many features of the original tenements, including refinished hardwood floors, restored windows, room layouts, and even privy closets. Accent patches on the walls also cleverly reveal old layers of plaster from former occupants.

The apartments began pre-leasing in April and will welcome the first residents in the coming weeks. Rents range from $840 to $880, or $1.50 to $1.60 per square foot.

This is BiLT Architects’ second adaptive reuse project in the area, following a townhouse project they designed and developed 1431-1435 Elm Street.

Andre and Patricia say more such projects are in the pipeline, including a set of commercial properties currently under construction near the townhomes on Elm Street. They say that these are expected to come on line by the end of the summer. A future phase at 1437 Elm Street will add a new construction, single-family home between the townhomes and commercial properties.

VIDEO: Use Red Bike to Experience Best of Downtown Cincinnati

It’s no secret that the center city boasts a seemingly endless number of things to see and do, for both visitors and locals alike. Moving about from one destination to the next will soon get easier when the Cincinnati Streetcar opens for service, but, for those able to do so, Red Bike serves as a perfect tool to check out as many places as possible.

By taking transit, walking or riding a bike, you can avoid the hassles of fighting traffic, looking and paying for parking, and can check your concerns about parking tickets or other hassles. Plus, it’s also a great way to get some exercise in the process.

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. knows this well.

To help promote such information, they partnered with US Digital Partners on a video to showcase just how convenient and enjoyable it can be to explore the center city by bike. And thanks to the continued expansion of Red Bike, you can now take it to go beyond Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

If the embedded video does not function properly, you can watch it on Vimeo here.

Area Organizations Teaming Up to Encourage Active Transportation This Spring Season

Tri-State Trails is aiming to encourage the public to get outdoors with the Opening Day on the Trails Challenge – a seven week series of hikes, group bike rides, and other events on trails and in parks throughout the Cincinnati region.

The challenge starts with an event at Sawyer Point from 12pm to 5pm on Saturday, April 16, which is also Earth Day.

The Opening Day on the Trails Challenge is part of a national kickoff by the Rails-to-Trail Conservancy to promote the spring outdoor season. Running from mid-April to early June, the challenge overlaps with National Bike Month in May.

Information on the challenge can be found online at MeetMeOutdoors.com. Participants can register on the website, and sign up to receive email newsletters and social media alerts. A Trails Challenge Passport is also available for download. To participate, individuals and families attend group events, which are listed on a schedule included with the passport. Attendance at activities is logged on the passport, and those who attend at least one event are eligible to win a prize.

Organizers say that the challenge will conclude with an award ceremony on National Trails Day on June 4 at the Purple People Bridge. Participants who complete the challenge will receive a Nalgene water bottle and other items. A raffle will also be held to award prizes, donated by local businesses and Cincy Red Bike, to registered participants.

Tri-State Trails, a program of Green Umbrella, is the local host of the challenge, and is hoping it will encourage more people to get out and explore the region’s network of bike paths and trails.

Wade Johnston, Regional Trails Coordinator for Tri-State Trails, sees the event as an opportunity to showcase not only the many multimodal trails in the Cincinnati region, but also the hiking and mountain biking trails. Tri-State Trails has been told by the Rails to Trails Conservancy that the Challenge in the Cincinnati region is the largest and longest program of any opening day trail event in the United States.

Johnston told UrbanCincy that public support and usage of the region’s trail system is increasing, citing the Cincinnati Connects plan, and efforts to expand the Mill Creek Greenway, Ohio River Trail, and Wasson Way.

The Opening Day on the Trails event is supported by a $25,000 grant from Interact for Health. While this is the first year for this event in Cincinnati, it is intended to be an annual event in the future.

Green Umbrella’s Outdoor Event Series will continue through the summer with the Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo on July 22 at Winton Woods Harbor, and the Great Outdoor Weekend on September 24 and 25 at a variety of locations around the Cincinnati area.

10 Questions and Answers With Cincinnati’s New Sustainability Coordinator

Oliver Kroner 2016The City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability recently hired Oliver Kroner as the office’s new sustainability coordinator. In this position Kroner will work with the long-time director of the office, Larry Falkin, in implementing programs and projects that help reduce the city’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment.

I sat down with the Northside resident, who goes by Ollie, to ask him 10 questions about his new role and vision for the city.

Randy Simes: First of all, congratulations on the new position. Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got to this point in your career?
Oliver Kroner: Thanks Randy, I am very excited for the role and the potential for impact. My background has included work in sustainability issues in a number of different capacities. As an environmental scientist, I have worked in the nonprofit and academic sectors conducting research around the environmental and human health impacts of chemicals in our lives.

In the last few years as President of Northside Community Council, we have led several green initiatives in an urban planning and development context. As an entrepreneur, I have worked in green development, renewable energy, and the sharing economy. In many ways the Sustainability Coordinator role combines the skills I have developed in these different roles.

RS: Larry Falkin has been in charge of this office since its inception. Is there anything in particular that you are hoping to learn from Mr. Falkin as you settle into this role?
OK: I’m grateful for the opportunity to work for Larry and OES. He has a good grasp of where we have come from, and what opportunities lay before us as a city. Much of our time together so far has been spent meeting City officials and community leaders. It is probably his ability to weigh information and see an issue from different perspectives that I really hope will rub off on me.

RS: You have a background working with communities that may be at-risk to chemical exposures. Do you see this experience assisting you in this role?
OK: I worked as an environmental scientist with the TERA Center, which is now part of the University of Cincinnati. The Center specializes in chemical risk assessment – analyzing, modeling, and quantifying risk in a way that can be communicated to regulators or communities. I expect the ability to communicate analytical findings and regulations to be valuable in this role.

RS: Sustainability can mean a lot of different things. What does it mean to you in general, and in relation to this specific role?
OK: Sustainability is probably the most intriguing and most complex issue facing humanity. There are large global trends at play that have some pretty scary potential outcomes. We have the opportunity to redirect some of these trends in ways that would benefit quality of life, the environment, and the economy. But to do so will require the cooperation of economics, science, and behavioral modifications.

It is my role as Sustainability Coordinator to work with City of Cincinnati government, businesses, non-profits, and community members, to help these forces align, develop clear steps forward, and establish systems for bench marking and tracking our progress. Our Green Cincinnati Plan has outlined some bold goals- I intend to help Cincinnati advance these goals and lead by example.

RS: What would you say has been the greatest accomplishment of OES since its inception?
OK: OES helped move the City of Cincinnati to 100% green energy and reduced city emissions by 247,000 tons carbon dioxide each year.

RS: What do you think is an area where OES could further grow and make a positive impact in the community?
OK: Considering that approximately 60% of Cincinnatians rent their homes, that most of our building stock is very old, and that we have 30% of our population living in poverty – incentivizing upgrades to rental units could offer significant quality of life gains and energy savings.

One of the first items on my desk is to develop a dashboard to track our progress on various sustainability initiatives. We hope that these data will help us determine where to focus our efforts.

RS: How do you primarily get around town (i.e. walk, bike, bus, car)?
OK: I live with my wife, Libby, and our two boys, Quincy and Julian in Northside. We can put our boys in the wagon, and walk to almost anything we want to do. If I have to cross town, I drive an old diesel Mercedes that runs biodiesel in the warmer months. We’ll take the bikes out for fun, but bike commuting with toddlers is pretty tough! We have Red Bike passes here at the office to zip around Downtown.

RS: You mentioned that you live in Northside. What attracts you to that neighborhood? Would you recommend it as a place to live for other people?
OK: Northside is a community in the strongest sense of the word. We moved back from Boston because we wanted to live in a place where strangers walking on the sidewalk looked each other in the eye and said hello, and we found that here. The walkable historic business district, the old houses, the food scene, live music every night of the week, all surrounded by green space – it’s pretty easy to live here. If that sounds appealing, you should probably come spend a day here.

RS: Paper or plastic?
OK: I brought my own bags, thank you.

RS: Anything else?
OK: I know UrbanCincy has a loyal following of thought-leaders with many ideas for improving our city. I welcome ideas! Please reach out at oliver.kroner@cincinnati-oh.gov.