St. James Pocket Park To Clean Up Eye Sore, Crime Hot Spot in Walnut Hills

The St. James cut through in Walnut Hills has been the focus of a significant amount of attention in recent months. It is a pedestrianized walkway between McMillan Street and Curtis Street that has been a crime hot spot.

As the City’s NEP program – a targeted 90-day sweep of code enforcement, law enforcement and beautification – moved into Walnut Hills, Curtis Street and the St. James cut through became focal points of the program.

The cut through is street-width with an adjacent parking lot to the west. It is a high traffic pedestrian path due to the presence of Kroger and a CVS across McMillan Street at the cut-through terminus. It currently contains post-modern design elements with existing, neglected raised cement beds for landscaping.

In order to improve the aesthetics and safety of the space, neighborhood leaders have begun raising funds to improve it. The rejuvenation of the space will not require an entire overhaul, but rather a reimagining, which has been led by MKSK Design, an architectural firm with offices in Covington.

“We hope to facilitate the activation of a vibrant, positive urban space through design,” said the lead designer of the project, Julianna Silveira of MKSK. “The design now is harsh, with a lot of concrete – the design will make it greener, with bright colors, and an ideal location for arts and cultural events.”

The parking lot portion of the park will be “depaved”, a process whereby parking lots are dismantled, and re-designed using naturalized elements and pervious surfaces. The kiosk in the middle of the park will be repurposed into a book-share station.

Over the past month, volunteers have been picking up garbage, painting, planting and have otherwise been active in the space’s incremental transformation. The St. James cut-through is affectionately being called the St. James Pocket Park within the neighborhood, as it is now looking more like a place one might stop and enjoy, rather than just, well, cut-through.

Although there is still work to be done, the park was chosen as the wrap-up location for the NEP on November 14. The event was attended by Mayor John Cranley (D), numerous city and neighborhood leaders, as well as the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and The Model Group, who unveiled renderings for the Trevarren Flats, a mixed-use apartment project that will utilize a historic structure a stone’s throw away from the park.

Later that night, a jazz concert was held in what is now the parking lot portion – event organizers were pleased to discover that the acoustics in the space were ideal for concerts, and provided encouragement for future events that could be held there.

So far the idea for the pocket park has been well-received, and the community’s ideas for how to improve it even earned it a spot in the finals of The Orbit Challenge, which could mean a $5,000 grant to help further the progress.

If any members of the public seek to be involved in any part of the park’s transformation, either through submitting ideas or volunteering, information can be found at the kiosk in the center of the park or on the St. James Pocket Park Facebook Page.

22 Photos From the 2014 Edition of Park(ing) Day in Cincinnati

The 2014 edition of the international protest related to the wasteful use of public land for automobile parking took place this past Friday. PARK(ing) Day, as it is known, took place in hundreds of cities across the globe, including Cincinnati.

As with past years, the majority of Cincinnati’s parking spaces turned temporary parks or hangouts were concentrated in the center city. Perhaps the most prominent installations were in Over-the-Rhine and across the river in Covington.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 22 photos were taken by Travis Estell and Bradley Cooper for UrbanCincy on Friday, September 19.

Covington Estimates It Will Make $516,113 on Parking This Budget Cycle

While Cincinnati leaders would like to see their parking system generate more in revenue than it costs to operate and maintain it, that is not the reality. It is, however, the reality across the river in Covington.

A review of Covington’s recently approved 2014-2015 budget estimates the parking system will bring in approximately $1.6 million in revenue, while costing only $1.1 million for operations, maintenance and upgrades.

One of the largest chunks of Covington’s annual parking revenue, however, comes from lease payments which total about $491,000 – or nearly one-third of the city’s annual parking revenues.

Had Cincinnati followed through with its parking lease agreement, it too would have realized these benefits by offloading expenses and locking in fixed lease payments. Under Cincinnati’s parking lease, the city would have received anywhere from $3-4 million in annual payments from the concessionaire.

In order just to break even, the City of Cincinnati has and continues to defer needed maintenance and upgrades, while also depleting its parking fund.

Covington will also benefit from increased parking rates, which will net the city an additional $68,500 in the first year. Those changes include a 10-cent per hour increase for on-street parking meters, and a $2 per day increase at the RiverCenter Parking Garage.

In addition to on-street parking meters throughout downtown, Covington has 818 parking spaces in 16 surface lots and another 1,574 spaces in three different parking garages.

Should ‘Kathy Plates’ Be Added to Roebling Suspension Bridge?

In the spirit of throwing new ideas out there, UrbanCincy would like to propose installing Kathy Plates on the Roebling Suspension Bridge in order to improve the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists using the 148-year-old span.

The idea first came to mind when we hosted our Bikes+Brews ride in May 2013. The route took our group of approximately 20 cyclists across the bridge. Following the law, and protecting the safety of pedestrians also using the bridge, we rode across with automobile traffic.

Those familiar with the Roebling Suspension Bridge know that it is somewhat famous for the humming sound it makes as you drive across. Well, this sound is created by the friction between each vehicle’s tires and the grated bridge deck. That same deck that evokes such a pleasant and memorable sound, also can at times redirect a car slightly as it navigates the numerous grooves.

This also occurs for people traveling across the bridge on bicycles, although to a much greater effect due to the lighter weight of the bike compared to the car.

This same phenomenon exists on dozens of Chicago’s famous bascule bridges. The bascule bridge type was invented in Chicago and proved to be an engineering innovation still paying dividends more than 100 years later. The design, however, requires a delicate management of the bridge’s weight distribution – even a new coat of paint has the potential to throw things out of whack.

Chicago has seen an explosion in the number of people using bicycles as their form of transportation, and, as a result, saw many cyclists crashing on the bridges due to the grooves in the grated bridge decks and their joints that are similar to what exist on Cincinnati’s famed Roebling Suspension Bridge.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) came up with a solution that aimed to remedy the safety hazard while also respecting the delicate balancing act required to make bascule bridges go up and down.

That solution is the ‘Kathy Plate’ application, which is named after activist Kathy Schubert, who lobbied for the plates after she had crashed on Chicago’s LaSalle Street Bridge.

It is a fiberglass plate that is affixed to the bridge deck where bicyclists would be riding, thus creating a smooth and consistent surface without throwing off the bridge’s weight distribution.

Mike Amsden, Assistant Director of Transportation Planning with CDOT, told UrbanCincy that the city initially used steel plates or concrete infill, but has since switched to the fiberglass alternative due to its lower cost and lighter weight. As of today, Chicago has one bridge with steel plates, seven with concrete infill, and five with the new fiberglass plate option.

Amsden says that CDOT first began using the fiberglass plates more than two years ago, and has not yet needed to replace any of them – even with Chicago’s harsh winters.

“The open grate bascule bridges can be very slippery, especially when wet,” Amsden explained. “Because bridges can be such a barrier to bicycling, we’re putting extra emphasis on making our bridges bicycle friendly.”

CDOT says that they incorporate these fiberglass plates on any bike lane project that crosses a bridge, and uses the concrete infill option on bridges that are being reconstructed, regardless of whether a bike lane crosses the bridge.

“We match the plate width to the approaching and departing bike lane width,” said Amsden. “So, as you can see on Dearborn, it’s a wide two-way bike land, so the plates are much wider.”

There are no marked bike lanes approaching or departing from the Roebling Suspension Bridge, but cyclists typically use the congested and winding sidewalks cantilevered outside of the bridge columns.

A simple application of these fiberglass plates in each direction could help to improve safety and mobility on Cincinnati’s most iconic bridge.

According to Queen City Bike, it is something they said they would like to research further and consider for potential application on the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

Episode #36: Summer Update

Uptown Transit DistrictOn the 36th episode of The UrbanCincy PodcastJohn and Jake join Travis for an update on several projects happening around Cincinnati.

The main focus is transportation, with discussion of the Brent Spence Bridge and other I-75 work, the new MLK Interchange at I-71, Central Parkway bike lanes, the Uptown Transit District and various Uptown shuttle buses, as well as an update on the streetcar construction progress.

We also discuss the Uptown Consortium’s vision for new pedestrian-friendly development along Martin Luther King Drive, and revisit the conversation about the possibility of a downtown grocery store.