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.

On-Bike Advertising, System Expansion On-Deck for Cincy Red Bike

Cincy Red Bike Phase 1 MapCincy Red Bike has been in operation for nearly six months. So far, city leaders and system operators are encouraged by the more than 600 members and roughly 18,000 trips that have been made during that time. As a result, many are now calling for the system’s expansion as it heads into the best six weather months of the year.

As of now, Cincy Red Bike’s system includes 30 stations throughout Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights, Clifton, Corryville, University Heights and Avondale. While 263 bikes were originally purchased, the bike share system’s executive director, Jason Barron, says that there are normally around 220 bikes deployed, and that the number has dropped to as low as 140 during recent heavy snow events.

Barron told UrbanCincy that the goal was to reach 52,000 rides in the first year of operations. While Cincy Red Bike has so far provided approximately one-third of that, they say they are undeterred.

“We are obviously under that projection so far, but that assumes linear ride rates,” he explained. “Because of the weather, we do not expect to be above the pace so far. What we do know is that we had huge numbers in our first month, which was decent weather, and we have seen a great spike on decent weather days in the winter.”

When comparing Cincinnati’s performance to other cold weather peers, Barron’s optimism appears to be justified. In January, for example, Cincy Red Bike logged around 1,800 rides, while the system in Indianapolis had just 1,200.

While opening up to cold weather months may seem like a rough way to start a system, Barron says that it was, in part, intentional to have a slow start period in order to have time to learn how to make modifications to the system and its operations.

One of those lessons learned is that stations like the one at Main/Orchard are far more popular than what was originally anticipated. This falls in line with national research that shows stations located in densely populated residential clusters are more heavily used than those located by landmarks. As a result, the next round of expansion will most likely include stations situated in those types of locations.

“The three busiest stations, by a factor of a third, are Fountain Square, 12th/Vine and Main/Orchard,” noted Barron. “We will start to look at areas in the West End like Linn Street, Bank Street, City West and maybe Brighton. We have to look and see where there are opportunities to connect people and make a difference in their lives.”

Beyond the West End, most additional stations, which cost approximately $50,000 each, will most likely be placed near the existing service area, but much has recently been made about an expansion across the river into Northern Kentucky. Since political discussions, permitting and fundraising are still underway, Barron was naturally hesitant to discuss specific details about the number or location of new stations.

“Public space is at a premium. The trick is finding a place where people want to be, but that is also available.”

A recent partnership between Cincy Red Bike and The Enquirer yielded over 1,000 location suggestions for new stations. In addition to Northern Kentucky, Barron says that Northside and Walnut Hills were also top choices.

Rumors have it that there will be 10 to 12 stations to open initially in Covington, Newport and Bellevue; while, in Cincinnati, Northside may be the next neighborhood to be graced with a station near Hoffner Park.

What is confirmed is that four new stations will be installed in Cincinnati in March, and Barron says the goal is to roll out the initial expansion into Northern Kentucky later this summer. Like Uptown and Downtown, bike share operators clearly see Kentucky’s densely populated river cities as a major opportunity.

“It’s not enough to just launch in Northern Kentucky. We need to launch successfully,” Barron said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to raise all the funds we need to roll this out right.”

Fundraising continues to be a significant matter for Cincy Red Bike, which was launched, with much acclaim, under the auspice that it would primarily be funded with private contributions. While financial data has not yet been released, Barron says that they have been hitting their targets and plan to unveil on-bike sponsorship opportunities in the coming months.

“We going to be building out a bit here or there, but we really want to go where we think we can activate new ridership bases,” said Barron. “Really, though, I can’t wait for spring.”

New Yorkers skeptical of proposed ferry network, but could it work here?

Almost exactly six years ago, UrbanCincy proposed a comprehensive water taxi network for Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Right now, New York City is looking at expanding and developing a comprehensive, city-wide ferry network. The idea has been proposed there before, but it is being met with skepticism due to a perceived inability to provide the much greater amounts of capacity that are needed there. More from Second Avenue Sagas:

Let’s stop to acknowledge that ferry service can be useful. It’s a complementary element of a robust transit network that can bridge awkward gaps…That said, no matter how many times politicians leap to embrace ferries, the same problems remain. It is, flat out, not a substitute for subway service and, because of the scale of ridership figures and planned routing, won’t help alleviate subway congestion. If it takes a few cars off the road, so much the better, but the mayor should be looking at high capacity solutions to the city’s mobility problems.

New Payment Technology Allows Metro, TANK to Partner on Regional Fare Card

Regular commuters who cross the Ohio River, either into Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky, are well aware of bringing the required amount of change to transfer between Metro and TANK buses. Other non-seasoned riders, however, were stuck with navigating a complex combination of transfer fees and payment options.

The region’s two largest transit agencies announced that technology afforded to them in 2011 will support the introduction of a long-anticipated regional fare payment card. Metro unveiled the shared stored-value card earlier this month at The Westin’s Presidential Ballroom during the annual State of Metro address.

Transit officials say that the card works with both TANK and Metro buses, thus eliminating the need for carrying change on either system. The card deducts the correct fare amount for each agency so if a rider boards a Metro bus it will deduct $1.75 for Zone 1 or $1.50 for a TANK bus fare.

“We are trying to make this a more seamless and integrated approach to transit.” Metro spokesperson Sallie Hilvers told UrbanCincy.

While there already is a monthly pass that can be used for both systems, the pass is limited to rides on TANK and Metro buses within Cincinnati city limits. As a result, officials from Metro and TANK believe the new shared stored-value card provides better accessibility and flexibility to people who use both systems on both sides of the river.

Behind the scenes, Metro handles the accounting for the stored-value cards so if the card is used on a TANK bus, the agency reports that usage to Metro, which then reimburses TANK for the fare.

“We’ve seen more people buying day passes and stored value passes since we introduced them.” Hilvers said.

The pass is available for purchase online, and at the 24-hour ticketing kiosks Metro began installing earlier this year. TANK’s Covington Transit Center is not yet selling the new stored-value cards, but transit officials there anticipate it becoming available in the near future.

This kind of collaboration is not what has traditionally defined the relationship between Metro and TANK, but Hilvers said that this has been years in the making and hopes that it will lead to even more collaboration in the future.

According to Hilvers, the next goal is to work with local universities to develop a standard student and faculty card that would cover access to area institutions served by both transit agencies. Currently Metro has separate agreements with the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State, while TANK has an agreement with Northern Kentucky University.

Such changes would seem to bode well for both Metro and TANK. In 2013, Metro reported surging ridership due to the implementation of new collaborative programs and improved fare payment technology.

While the new technology and services are a step toward a broader overhaul of the way area residents and visitors pay for and use the region’s transit networks, it is still a ways from what is considered industry best practices.

Leadership at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which oversees Metro bus and streetcar operations, says that they are working on ways for riders to get real-time arrival information system-wide.

The challenge, they say, is to make sure it is a benefit available to all users. Therefore, transit officials are working to implement real-time arrival information that utilizes smartphone, adaptive website and phone service technologies. Metro representatives are tentatively saying that they are hopeful such services could be in place by spring 2015.

How is Tucson’s New Streetcar Line Performing Compared to Expectations?

Construction on the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system is well underway. While the project has been well documented in the media over the past decade, it is not often viewed from a perspective of where it stands in the national conversation.

Tucson recently opened their first modern streetcar line and their program administrator, Shellie Ginn, sat down with Jeremy Hobson from Here & Now to discuss their project. The two discuss both the pros and cons of such systems, while also highlighting the specific results being realized in Tuscon.

“We actually have higher ridership than we’d estimated. We have a lot more people riding that we hadn’t anticipated,” Ginn explained in terms of the perceived notion that only tourists would ride their streetcar. “We’ve had a really good response on taking advantage of the streetcar as well. It’s about a four mile line and it connects our University of Arizona Medical Center to some shopping districts that also connect to a downtown, and over to a western redevelopment area.”

Similarly, Cincinnati’s first modern streetcar line is 3.6 miles in length and connects a downtown, shopping districts, riverfront entertainment district and a neighborhood ripe for redevelopment. Should future phases extend the system to Uptown, it would connect the initial line with the University of Cincinnati, the region’s medical district and several other large employers and attractions. An extension across the river into Northern Kentucky would add additional shopping and entertainment districts as destinations.