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.

Cincinnati Leaders Approve City’s Third Form-Based Code in Walnut Hills

Last week Cincinnati City Council approved the form-based code for Walnut Hills. The unanimous vote marks the third neighborhood to adopt this new regulatory tool for neighborhood redevelopment. Yet even after several years of development, many do not understand the basics about the new land use planning tool.

First of all, a form-based code is type of regulation that is developed by community stakeholders to guide future development or redevelopment of a community. Under a form-based code, new developments are typically configured to mesh with the character of the community’s vision.

Form-based codes get their name because it creates a type of regulation that typically focuses more on the form of the building and its relation to the public realm (i.e. the street) rather than the usage of the building. Development under the code occurs “by-right” and means if a new development complies with all the code’s provisions it can be built without having to go through the extensive and sometimes drawn-out process of traditional development.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over 700 American cities have adopted some type of a form-based code, with Miami being the largest city to completely adopt this type of code. Near by they have been used in Nashville and Columbus to spark development in revitalizing areas of their inner cities.

Former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) championed this movement locally and actually led groups of local officials and business leaders to Nashville to study the results of their form-based codes in 2008 and 2012.

While some cities have used these tools to encourage pedestrian friendly, mixed-use developments where none exist, older more established cities such as Cincinnati have opted to implement them in order to ensure that new development integrates seamlessly into the historic charm and character of the city.

Bellevue, KY became the first municipality in the Cincinnati region to adopt this type of regulation in 2011.

Cincinnati first began pursuing the idea of developing a form-based code in 2009. After receiving funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city staff selected Opticos to lead in developing the new code. Dan Parolek, principal of Opticos, wrote the book on form-based codes, quite literally.

After conducting a city-wide charrette in May 2012, the City of Cincinnati worked with Opticos to refine the code and prepare it for adoption. The form-based code was adopted in early 2013. From there staff from the city’s planning department worked closely with neighborhoods to craft the regulating plan map.

Four neighborhoods were included in the initial implementation schedule: Madisonville, College Hill, Westwood and Walnut Hills. Both Madisonville and College Hill have fully adopted the code with Walnut Hills being the latest. Westwood appears to be the next neighborhood poised to adopt the code after winning unanimous support from the city’s Planning Commission in December 2013.

UC Planning, Engineering Students Propose Hamilton Avenue BRT Corridor

Hamilton Avenue BRT CorridorLast fall UrbanCincy partnered with the Niehoff Urban Studio on an event that highlighted the work of an interdisciplinary group of students. That semester engineering and planning students focused on urban mobility and looked at bikeways and bus rapid transit ideas within the city.

Each of the student groups presented their final research and findings to fellow academics and industry experts from around the region. We then gathered a group of transit and bike experts to engage in a panel discussion about the student’s proposals and about transportation in the region in general.

Throughout the course of the day, we asked members of the public who attended to vote on their favorite proposal. The winner was a bus rapid transit corridor along Hamilton Avenue that focused heavily on a transit-oriented development (TOD) in Northside where The Gantry is now being built.

The six-person team consisted of Tyler Kiefer, Benjamin Lafferty, Christopher Murphy, Michael Orth and Michael Walsh from the College of Engineering & Applied Science and Alexander Cassini from the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning.

First and foremost, the group said that their Hamilton BRT Line would most closely resemble Cleveland’s highly publicized HealthLine, which is the highest-rated BRT line, by far, in North America. The group also examined lines in Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

One of the main reasons for the comparisons to Cleveland is the similarities between the corridors. In both Cincinnati and Cleveland, the corridors connect neighborhoods under-served by transit to institutional services, while also providing greater mobility.

“The 2010 U.S. Census has shown how the population along Hamilton Avenue has less access to quick and reliable means of transportation when compared to the stats of Cincinnati and Ohio as a whole,” explained Masters of Community Planning student Alexander Cassini. “This lack of mobility directly affects citizens’ access to essential services and employment opportunities.”

Their research found that Metro’s #17 bus route, which most closely aligns with their proposed BRT corridor, currently averages weekday ridership of about 4,500 people. Furthermore, they found that approximately 17% of the households along the corridor have no car, 10% of the commuters identify as bus riders and there are 6,387 people living per square mile.

The proposed BRT corridor runs from Downtown to North College Hill, and the engineering and planning students saw this particular corridor as a major opportunity to spread investment and attention from the center city to additional neighborhoods that would take advantage of the BRT route’s 12 stations spaced out between one-half mile to three-fourths of a mile apart that would ensure faster and more efficient service. Each of the 12 station locations, Cassini notes, was selected due to its significant population and employment nearby.

“Northside and North College Hill are historic places in the city and present a great opportunity for Cincinnati to keep growing as a city,” noted civil engineering student Michael Orth.

Orth went on to say that while one of the positives of this corridor was the amount of people and businesses it could positively impact, the area’s congestion was also one of the team’s greatest challenges, stating, “There is very little room to implement a bus only lane throughout the corridor, which would be ideal for a BRT line.”

To help address this situation the group said that they envision a bus only lane, or a hybrid lane for buses and cars depending on the hour, through the congested portions of the route. Although not recommended, if a hybrid lane was determined to not be satisfactory Orth said that further study could be done to examine whether there would be enough benefit to remove on-street parking in order to provide for a consistent, dedicated bus only lane.

Other technology to help facilitate the quick movement of buses along the corridor would include arrival detection at traffic signals so that the lights can change in order to accommodate an approaching bus.

Existing Metro bus service, they said, would largely be redeployed to avoid redundancy, but some would remain since local buses stop more frequently – potentially creating a corridor of localized bus and express BRT service.

Hamilton Avenue BRT in Metro*Plus Context
One area where the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has already begun enhancing bus service is along Montgomery Road, which connects Downtown with the Kenwood area. That new Metro*Plus service, while not full BRT, is a step in the right direction according to the University of Cincinnati students, and has already seen ridership triple since its upgrade.

“Metro*Plus service is good but it is only the first step towards a true BRT system for the Cincinnati metropolitan area,” Cassini cautioned. “Metro*Plus service can be even more efficient, and effective if totally dedicated lanes and other additional features are added.”

Reading Road, where Metro began operating articulated buses in 2010, is actually the region’s most heavily utilized bus corridor with Hamilton Avenue coming in second and Montgomery Road third. If Metro is to continue to build out its enhanced bus service, or full-on BRT operations, then Hamilton Avenue may very well be the next logical choice.

What helped the group’s proposal stand out from other presentations was its focus on the TOD in Northside. With a $13 million mixed-use project coming out of the ground on that site now, the group reflected on their own proposal.

While the team had collectively noted the large, clean open space as being one of the huge benefits of the site, it also made it particularly valuable in their opinion. As a result, several of the group members, while encouraged about the private investment, were also a bit underwhelmed by the Indianapolis-based Milhaus Developers’ architectural design.

Both Cassini and Orth mentioned that they would be interested in working full-time in the transportation industry someday, but for different reasons. When asked to briefly compare the wide variety of transportation projects current in the planning or development stages around the region, there was a uniform response that their excitement is for the Cincinnati Streetcar.

“Although the planned streetcar line does not expand sufficiently in our eyes, we believe it would be an incredible economic development booster for Cincinnati’s downtown and overall urban core,” Cassini explained. “The overall transportation efforts around Cincinnati will eventually pay off to form a comprehensive and more easily navigable system than today.”

The Niehoff Urban Studio is currently working with a new set of students on designs for the Wasson Corridor, which runs through several of Cincinnati’s eastern neighborhoods. This is another topic that was examined by one of the interdisciplinary groups of planners and engineers last year. UrbanCincy is once again partnering with the Niehoff Urban Studio and will be organizing a similar showcase and panel discussion in 2014.

BuyCincy Holiday Event Aims to Give Local Shops $500,000 Bump

The final two months of the year are often the make-or-break month for retailers. In some cases this relatively short time period can account for more than a third of a retailer’s annual revenues.

There is always much hype surrounding what specials the big retailers are offering on Black Friday, but there are also opportunities to support small, locally owned businesses this holiday shopping season.

What was previously known as Cincinnati Unchained will return this year as an expanded four-day event meant to encourage area shoppers to support locally owned shops, restaurants and bars. The BuyCincy Holiday Event will take place the week before Black Friday from Thursday, November 21 to Sunday, November 24.

East Walnut Hills Retail
Woodburn Avenue in East Walnut Hills. Photograph provided by 5chw4r7z.

According to Kurt Myers, co-founder and business director of BuyCincy, this will mark the seventh season for the event and that in previous years some merchants have reported that it ends up being their busiest day of the year.

There are more than 300 businesses participating in this year’s event, and that those shops are located in over 25 neighborhoods throughout the region. Organizers say that their goal is to generate new spending from over 35,000 customers, which would create an estimated economic impact of more than $500,000 with each shopper spending approximately $15.

“Supporting locally owned businesses has a three-and-a-half-times greater impact on the economy than shopping at a store that is not owned locally,” Myers explained. “Plus you get to support your friends and neighbors businesses and keep Cincinnati unique.”

In order to help encourage local shoppers to participate in the event, the Greater Cincinnati Independent Business Alliance (CiNBA) is working with retailers to offer raffle prizes. When customers visit a participating business they will receive a ticket to use in the raffle of thousands of dollars of prizes. To help further promote the effort, organizers are also encouraging people to use the #BuyCincy tag on social media.

A full list of the participating businesses and neighborhood business districts can be found at BuyCincy.com. Those businesses that are still interested in participating can do so by registering online and submitting a $25 minimum raffle donation.

If you want to support local businesses but are not quite sure about what to buy for that special someone, then you can also purchase them a Downtown Gift Card, which is redeemable at 180 stores and restaurants in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, including all Findlay Market merchants. Those gift cards can be purchased online, at the offices for Downtown Cincinnati Inc., or at Findlay Market.

Cincinnati’s Recommended Budget Calls for 201 Layoffs, Program Eliminations

Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney released his recommended budget that makes a large number of cuts to fill the $35 million budget gap left behind following the State of Ohio’s reduction of $26 million in funding to the City of Cincinnati.

The original budget proposal from Dohoney included $25.8 million from an upfront payment included in the parking lease and modernization plan, which would have also included $3 million in annual payments thereafter. This proposal was approved 5-4 by City Council, but was put on hold by a local court until opponents were able to file petitions and get the proposal put on this November’s ballot for public vote.

“Though a legal victory is being vigorously pursued, the ultimate resolution is not assured in time to affect what must be in place by June 1 to take effect July 1, 2013,” Dohoney explained. “Should a final legal victory be realized after July 1, the Administration would presume to move expeditiously to reverse some of the impacts of the cuts contained within the recommended budget.”

Cincinnati Mounted Patrol
Cincinnati’s mounted patrol would be cut entirely if City Council passes the recommended budget. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The end result of these cuts includes the elimination of 66 police officers, 71 fire fighters, 64 city employees, and the elimination of 60 vacant positions. The recommended budget will also eliminate funding for the following items:

  • Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance ($150,000)
  • Urban Agricultural Program ($65,000)
  • Heritage Events Subsidy – Opening Day Parade, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Black Family Reunion, Juneteenth ($36,000)
  • Camp Washington, Fairview, Filson, Spring Grove Village, and Ziegler Pools ($167,650)
  • Bush Recreation Center in Walnut Hills ($127,710)
  • Energy Management Program ($100,010)
  • Mounted Patrol ($95,000)
  • Community Prosecution Program ($83,857)
  • Delinquent Accounts/Receivables Program ($75,460)
  • Claims Program ($55,680)
  • Tire Collection Program ($30,880)

In addition to the elimination of these programs, no funding is budgeted for either 2014 or 2015 as a result of limited General Fund resources.

Furloughs for City Management staff will also take place, and the City of Cincinnati would also use a larger amount of projected casino revenues to balance this budget, even though Dohoney has recommended against that in the past due to the unpredictability of these funds.

“While balancing a budget deficit with mostly cuts is not preferred, the timing of the new fiscal year coupled with the timing of the litigation over the parking deal makes it the only real option with a number this large,” Dohoney stated in a prepared release. “Our goal is going to be to recall staff as soon as possible and provide the best customer service we can deliver for the citizens in the meantime.”

A number of other measures are taken in the recommended budget to help close the budget gap, but the large amount of savings is realized through personnel layoffs. Dohoney has also recommended that the property tax millage increase from 5.7 mills to its maximum allowed 6.1 mills to raise an additional $1.3 million annually.

To help engage the public in this budget process, Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) has scheduled three public hearings. The first will take place at the Duke Energy Convention Center on Thursday, May 16 at 6:30pm, the second will occur on Monday, May 20 at 6:30pm at the College Hill Recreation Center, and the final meeting will take place at the Madisonville Recreation Center on Wednesday, May 22 at 6:30pm.

“My priority for the FY 2014 city operating budget is to make sure that all Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are safe and that we continue to attack blight that breeds crime,” Qualls stated. “As chair of the Budget and Finance Committee I will work to further reduce the number of layoffs for police, fire and health department personnel, to ensure that we keep all our neighborhoods safe and clean.”

Cincinnati Recognized for Recent Planning Successes, Historical Achievements at APA

Last month the American Planning Association (APA) held its annual conference for planning professionals. The 2013 conference was held in Chicago and organizers made efforts to showcase planning efforts of The Second City.

The educational sessions at the conference are made up of presentations by planning officials across the country. A few of the sessions were hosted by Cincinnati Planning officials who highlighted some of Cincinnati’s recent planning successes.

Of the three sessions that featured Cincinnati city planners, one actually focused on the recently adopted PLAN Cincinnati comprehensive plan.

The Banks
Cincinnati and Hamilton County received a national award from the APA for the implementation of the Central Riverfront Master Plan and The Banks. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The plan was approved by the city in October 2012 and is the first long-term comprehensive planning vision of the city since 1980. The seminar also highlighted Cincinnati’s rich planning heritage as the city carries the noteworthy distinction of drafting the first ever city-wide comprehensive plan in the 1925 Master Plan. That plan, along with the 1907 Kessler Parks Plan, envisioned a walkable cityscape with an extensive parks system.

However, after World War II, the city drafted the 1948 Comprehensive Plan which proposed several highways and urban renewal projects. The 1948 plan was successfully implemented but instead of the promised revitalization of the city, the highway system and slum clearance policies supported by the plan drove the city’s population to the suburbs.

“The highway was unfortunately a successful implementation,” explained Gregory Dale from McBride Dale Clarion Associates, “Sixty years later we’re still trying to repair the damage.”

Presenters also highlighted how the Cincinnati’s Planning Department overcame the problems of being dissolved in 2002 and reconstituted in 2007.

“In some ways I think maybe if we had not been eliminated as a departments, maybe there would not be that strength today, maybe it wouldn’t have woken people up to see the importance of planning,” recalled Cincinnati Senior Planner Katherine Keough-Jurs.

She went on to say that she noticed the involvement and passion of participants in the new comprehensive plan was a positive sign that citizens were concerned about the future direction of the city. The citizen participation in the new plan highlighted residents desire for creating and reinvigorating walkable neighborhoods and commercial centers.

“The plan is unapologetically urban,”  Keough-Jurs told session attendees,”In many ways our new comprehensive plan returns to the vision of the 1925 plan.”

At the conference the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County received an Excellence in Planning award from the APA for the implementation of the Central Riverfront Master Plan. That plan, which was first developed in the late 1990′s when the stadiums and Fort Washington Way were proposed for reconstruction envisioned a new mixed-use riverfront neighborhood called The Banks.

In 2011 the first phase of the mixed-use neighborhood opened to the public and the second phase is slated to begin construction this year.

The planning department’s most recent project, the adoption of the final draft of the form-based code is on City Council’s Livable Communities Committee Agenda today for their 1pm meeting.

The code was approved by the city’s Planning Commission on March 7. Once the code wins approval from the committee it will go on to the full council for a vote. The city’s planning department is looking to meet with the four demonstration neighborhoods – Walnut Hills, Westwood, Madisonville, College Hill – in the coming months to move forward with changes in the zoning map to implement the form-based code.