EDITORIAL: Don’t Cancel Homearama, Relocate It

The past ten days have been interesting. A week ago I spoke with Keith Schneider from the New York Times about the booming residential property values in Cincinnati’s center city. Then, just one day later, the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati announced that they would be cancelling this year’s Homearama event in Clermont County.

The annual suburban home show has been going since 1962, and was cancelled this year due to, “increased activity in other segments of the housing market.” One of the builders that has traditionally participated in those over-the-top suburban home shows is Great Traditions, which recently expressed a growing interest in developing urban properties.

Great Traditions is not the only one. Greiwe Development has also said that they would like to start building homes along the Cincinnati Streetcar starter line, John Hueber Homes made the same transition to Over-the-Rhine, and Ashley Builders appears to just be getting started on their work in the center city.

So while homebuilders are struggling in the region’s outlying suburbs, they seem to be thriving in a manner that is pulsating outward from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

It seems more than likely that Homearama will return in the not-so-distant future, but should it? With all the demographic and economic trends pointing in the opposite direction, perhaps the energy and money put into the 53-year-old suburban home show should be shifted elsewhere. I could think of some very nice places to do urban home shows in Pleasant Ridge, Walnut Hills, Avondale, West End, Price Hill, East End, and College Hill. And that is not even considering the possibilities in Northern Kentucky’s river cities.

Yes, there is CiTiRAMA, but that annual home show is often limited in its scale and tends to leave much to be desired.

The writing appears to be on the wall, which makes the outlandish Fischer Homes Expressway proposal look all the more desperate. Why keep up the fight? There are plenty of opportunities in our region’s first-ring suburbs, and the city governments overseeing those sites will assuredly be more than happy to cooperate.

Don’t believe me? Just ask those developers that had been defined by their suburban subdivisions for decades how they are liking life in neighborhoods like East Walnut Hills, O’Bryonville, Northside, Clifton and Over-the-Rhine where condos are virtually sold-out.

I hope the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati decides to not cancel this year’s Homearama after all. I just hope they relocate it to the inner-city where the residential housing market is hot.

New Center City On-Street Parking Rates, Hours of Enforcement Now In Effect

New parking rates and hours of operation went into effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine on Friday. The changes come after Cincinnati City Council approved the matter in November 2014.

Under the arrangement, 500 new electronic parking meters have been installed throughout Over-the-Rhine to complement the existing set already in place in the Central Business District. Over the coming weeks, the City of Cincinnati will also be installing 1,000 additional electronic meters throughout the Clifton, Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, Northside, O’Bryonville, Oakley, and Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business districts, as well as key locations throughout Uptown.

The electronic meters, officials say, are meant to replace the old ones with newer models that accept credit card payments and are compatible with future plans for pay-by-phone technology and dynamic pricing structures. Pay-by-phone capabilities are expected to be operational by the middle of 2015.

While nearly a dozen neighborhoods will benefit from the new technology, only Over-the-Rhine will see its on-street parking policies change across the board. As part of the new policy, parking rates in Over-the-Rhine will double to $1/hour; while rates will remain set at $.50/hour and $2/hour in the other neighborhoods and in the Central Business District, respectively.

As of today, parking meters in the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine will now also be in effect from 9am to 9pm Monday through Saturday, and 2pm to 9pm on Sundays. Parking hours of enforcement in the remaining 50 neighborhoods, meanwhile, will remain unchanged.

The sweeping changes are meant to help improve the performance of the City’s broken parking system. While many small business owners in Over-the-Rhine have expressed their support for the changes, especially in light of ongoing vandalism of meters in Over-the-Rhine, some believe they have been singled out following the cancellation of a previous agreement that would have raised rates and increased enforcement city-wide.

“I’m not opposed to longer meter hours and higher rates, but what upsets me, as an OTR resident and business owner, is the fact that our neighborhood has been singled out,” Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, wrote in a Facebook post. “The same hours and rates should apply to other neighborhoods.”

The original Parking Lease & Modernization Plan approved in early 2013 was, of course, cancelled by Mayor John Cranley (D) almost immediately upon his arrival at City Hall at the end of 2013. While the mayor and many members of City Council bemoaned the previous plan, a similar plan appears to be taking shape, but in a piece-by-piece approach.

As like the original plan, new electronic meters are being installed that accept credit card payments and utilize dynamic pricing models, meters are being upgraded city-wide, and a contract has been signed with Xerox.

The Cranley Administration has not yet commented on plans for new hours or rates in the city’s remaining neighborhood business districts, where on-street parking meters exist, but they do say that they intend to systematically create multi-space parking that will “produce more aesthetically clean public right-of-way areas in Over-the-Rhine.”

This means that the newly retrofitted parking meters in the historic neighborhood will eventually be removed to make way for multi-space equipment, similar to what has been used in the Central Business District in the past. The upgraded parking meters from Over-the-Rhine will then be shifted to other neighborhoods throughout the city. This process, officials say, could begin as soon as this spring.

In addition to the specific focus on center city neighborhoods, the new parking policy differs from the previously approved plan by creating Sunday hours of enforcement. While the new Sunday hours of enforcement are only in effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine, it crosses what was considered a red line in the previous public debate over proposed parking changes.

All of the changes are expected to bring confusion to those parking in the affected areas, including a large group of people who drove to Christ Church Cathedral for the Boar’s Head & Yule Log Festival on Sunday. According to Michelle Dillingham, Director of Education at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, parking enforcement officers ticketed many cars parked on the street during the event.

“I walked out of the Boar’s Head event that was barely an hour long and almost every car had a parking ticket on their windshield…on a Sunday and in front of a church celebrating 75 years of a Cincinnati tradition,” Dillingham wrote. “I don’t know, but it just rubbed me wrong.”

The former Cincinnati City Council candidate went on to say that she had two separate conversations with people, who lived outside of the center city, that were very upset by the situation and would reconsider visiting downtown again due to the aggressive parking enforcement.

City officials acknowledge that there will be a bit of a learning curve, and say they are working to improve awareness of the new rates and hours of enforcement by distributing flyers and working with groups like Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce to inform drivers of the changes.

UC’s Niehoff Urban Studio Takes Bold New Look at the Future of Burnet Woods

On December 4, the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio hosted an end of the semester open house to showcase the final work of students in graduate planning, civil engineering capstone, and a multi-disciplinary freshman UC Forward seminar.

There were three classes offered at the Studio, located in Corryville, during the Fall Semester that focused on understanding and improving Burnet Woods. The aim, course leaders say, was to begin to produce a future vision for the 89-acre park.

City officials first began discussing an overhaul of Burnet Woods in 2007, but a lack of funding at the time doomed the project. However, Mayor John Cranley (D) made the project a priority in his inaugural State of the City Address, saying that the park, located immediately north of the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, could help make the uptown area an even greater destination.

“Burnet Woods is an underutilized gem in our parks system,” Cranley said in a statement. “It’s nice now, but it could be great.”

That caught the attention of UC President Santa Ono, along with the Uptown Consortium who requested that the studio work on the subject in consultation with community representatives and other stakeholders uptown. In addition, staff of the Cincinnati Park Board, who have sole control over what will happen with the park, have been engaged with the studio throughout the semester.

A large crowd showed up at the open house, held two weeks ago, to take a look at the visuals and learn about the observations and initial recommendations produced by the students for the roughly 142-year-old park.

After identifying various issues with Burnet Woods, as it stands today, the students proceeded to “rethink” the space and its uses. Nine teams of graduate Planning students organized their work around distinct thematic approaches to remaking the park. These themes included integrated Art Programming, a Health/Wellness destination, a food production system, a center for “fun” programming, and others.

Some of the many specific recommendations included creating seasonal programming, creating a soundscape as a placemaking tool, inserting a winding promenade to connect UC Main Street with the Ludlow Business District, elevating Martin Luther King Drive to allow for Burnet Woods to flow through underneath it into UC’s main campus, among others.

Some of the student teams extended the scope beyond the park by suggesting a cohesive streetscape experience extending from Burnet Woods and re-imagining the park as the center of an Uptown “eco-district” to create a broader ecological and social system.

One of the benefits of the studio course offerings came from engaging both planning and engineering students. As part of the course’s focus on building healthy and resilient places, civil engineering students proposed a number of green infrastructure ideas to help with stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows, and other technical projects.

Additionally, according to Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center, the multi-disciplinary UC Forward freshman seminar was able to survey the student body to determine its interest in the park and ended up proposing a student organization dedicated to providing advocacy and service to the park.

Russell says that this is only the beginning, with additional courses in Planning, Architectural Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Horticulture to come in the Spring Semester that will build on the ideas and research completed thus far. The hope, he says, is to create a well-grounded set of ideas that will make up the contents of an ‘idea book’ for use by the community in considering the future of Burnet Woods.

Other faculty involved in the Fall Semester included Vikas Mehta and Danilo Palazzo from the School of Planning; Richard Miller and Elizabeth Devendorf from the Civil Engineering Program; and Cory Christopher from UC Forward. Those interested in viewing the student work in detail may do so by appointment at the UC Niehoff Urban Studio, located at 2728 Vine Street, by emailing design.center@uc.edu.

PHOTOS: Ohio’s First Protected Bike Lane Attracting New Riders to Central Parkway

As bicycling continues to grow in popularity in Cincinnati, the city has built out more and more bike infrastructure. These new accommodations, including the new protected bike lanes on Central Parkway, are making it safer for bicyclists and are attracting more riders.

The Central Parkway Cycle Track provides a new protected, on-street route for bike travel between downtown and neighborhoods to the north, including Northside, Camp Washington and Clifton.

City transportation planners say that there has been apprehension for many cyclists to ride in high volumes of speedy traffic. This is particularly true for Central Parkway, which officials say was often avoided by many due to the intimidating nature of the street’s design that favored fast-moving automobiles. Since the opening of the Central Parkway Cycle Track, however, city officials say that there has been a substantial increased in bike traffic there.

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Bike advocacy groups consider the project to be the first of its kind in Ohio. It stretches approximately about two miles from Elm Street at the edge of downtown to Marshall Avenue in Camp Washington.

The protected lanes differ from other bike lanes recently built in other locations around the city in that they are separated from moving traffic by a painted median several feet wide. To further delineate the two modes of traffic, the median also includes flexible plastic bollards spaced about 15 to 20 feet apart. This separation then pushes on-street parking out away from the curb.

At one point along the parkway, close to Ravine Street, the southbound lane leaves the street to run on a newly constructed path along the sidewalk for several hundred feet in order to allow 24-hour curbside parking. The off-street path is made of concrete dyed in a color intended to resemble brick.

During the heated debate over this design change, many expressed concern that construction of the new pavement could result in the loss of a large number of trees. Fortunately, due to careful planning and design coordination between city planners and representatives from Cincinnati Parks, who have oversight of the city’s landscaped parkways, they were able to preserve many of the trees in this area. According to city officials, only two trees in total were lost due to the lane.

Transportation officials are now working to link these protected bike lanes along Central Parkway with future bike routes along Martin Luther King Drive and on the reconstructed Western Hills Viaduct.

Furthermore, after work on the Interstate 75 reconstruction project near Hopple Street is complete, planners will consider the extension of the protected lanes north to Ludlow Avenue. But first, Mel McVay, senior planner at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering, told UrbanCincy that the first segment needs to be examined first, and additional community feedback will be necessary.

“We need to see how successful the first section is,” McVay explained. “It [the second phase] will depend on what the community wants.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 25 photos were taken by Eric Anspach for UrbanCincy in late September 2014.

With Membership Rates Set, Cincy Red Bike to Begin Operations Monday

Those eager to sign-up for the region’s first bike share program found out at some point last week that the system was open. It marked the first time anyone was able to purchase annual memberships through Cincy Red Bike, and it also was the first time rates were revealed.

What those early members found out was that annual memberships cost $80 and daily rentals will cost $8. UrbanCincy has revealed that both of these rates are among the highest of B-cycle’s markets, but comparable to the other large cities served by the nation’s largest bike share company.

Part of the benefit for Cincy Red Bike members is the fact that the Cincinnati system is part of B-cycle’s national network. This means that their membership cards will also work in most any of B-cycle’s nearly two-dozen network cities.

B-cycle cities such as Austin, Denver, Fort Worth, Indianapolis and San Antonio all have the same annual membership rates as Cincinnati, but those amounts are slightly higher than the $75 annual fee charged for users in Chicago, Columbus and Washington D.C. where Montreal-based Bixi operates systems.

New York’s Citi Bike, which is also operated by Bixi, is the nation’s most expensive with $95 annual memberships.

In most cases the daily memberships cover an unlimited number of 30-minute rides. Bike share planners say that this is to encourage the use of the bikes for small trips and ensure high turnover.

Cincy Red Bike, however, will be a bit unique in that its $8 daily memberships will allow for an unlimited number of rides up to 60 minutes – making it one of just a handful of cities nationwide. The thought is that the longer ride period will allow for a better customer experience without damaging the performance of the system.

The longer check outs will lead to fewer people who don’t fully understand the pricing structure and therefore accidentally get charged user fees,” explained Cincy Red Bike executive director Jason Barron. “This is good from a customer satisfaction standpoint, but it is also good in that we will spend less time and resources dealing with unhappy customers.”

Those who go over that 60-minute time period will be charged $4 for each additional 30 minutes up to a total of $50 in added charges. Those who do not return the bike at all will be charged $1,200.

Cincy Red Bike locations

As of this point all of the 260 bikes and 30 stations have been put together and installed throughout Downtown and Uptown. Barron says that the system will officially go into operation on Monday, September 15 at 10:30am during a ceremony led by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) at The Banks.

Those who have already purchased memberships will be receiving their cards by mail next week, but Barron says that they can use the system through their membership prior to receiving their card by simply using the credit card tied to their account.

Those who have not yet purchased their memberships can do so online, and are encouraged to download the free B-cycle Now smartphone application to location stations and bike availability.