DOTE Hosts Final Open House for Liberty Street Narrowing Alternatives

The City’s Department of Transportation and Engineering will present the final two design alternatives for consideration at its third public open house tomorrow night at the Woodward Theater. The study which began in 2013 as a Complete Streets initiative proposed by the OTR Brewery District Master Plan now lives on as a proposal to physically narrow the street by ten to twenty feet on the south side. The new land could potentially unlock development sites along the street.

In its original configuration Liberty Street was once the dividing line between unincorporated territory and the city of Cincinnati. It was a narrow street with enough room for parking and less than two full lanes for traffic. In 1959 the City began to demolish properties along the south end of the street to widen the street to seven vehicle lanes and two parking lanes. The once quiet side street became a thru-way for automobile traffic looking to connect to the interstates and Central Parkway.

As revitalization progresses in Over-the-Rhine renewed attention is being paid to the street. The narrowing is an attempt to stitch back the fabric of the north and south halves of the neighborhood. Because of its configuration it is difficult for pedestrians to cross the street in the provided amount of time and bicycling is unsafe due to the high volume and speeds of automobile traffic.

Initial configurations were many ranging from a restoration of the original street width to preserving the current set up. In between proposals called for a reduction to four or five lanes with bicycle lanes or rush hour traffic configurations. After two subsequent meetings the options are down to two: A five-lane and a six-lane configuration. Input taken from this open house will be used to narrow down to the final alternative. Once that alternative is selected it will be presented for adoption at the Over-the-Rhine Community Council in September.

The meeting is this Tuesday evening, 6PM at the Woodward Theater on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The Theater is accessible by the #17, #19 and #24 Metro bus routes, and is within 100 feet of a Cincy Red Bike Station located at Main Street and Orchard Street.

Cincinnati’s $109M Capital Acceleration Plan Ignores Adopted Bike Policy

On Thursday, the City of Cincinnati celebrated the start of its bold, new road rehabilitation effort. The six-year program will include the resurfacing and rehabilitation of aging streets, replacement of city vehicles outside of their life cycle, and establish a new focus on preventive road maintenance that city officials will save money in the long-run.

The $109 million Capital Acceleration Plan is a strategic policy shift at City Hall, and represents a large infusion of money into road repair. The new focus on preventive maintenance is particularly noticeable as it represents an eight-fold increase in spending on that front.

“This is much bigger than just spending money to improve the condition of local streets. CAP is about making an investment in the city and people who live here,” City Manager Harry Black said in a prepared release. “This strategic investment in our roadways and infrastructure will serve as the foundation of Cincinnati’s sustained long-term growth.”

City officials say that the investments will improve the condition of 940 center-line miles of streets over the next six years. In its first year, its $10.6 million for street rehabilitation and $4 million for preventive maintenance, officials say, will impact 16 different neighborhoods and improve 120 center-line miles of roads.

With so many streets poised to be improved over the coming years, many people advocating for safer bicycling and walking conditions on the city’s roadways were optimistic that across-the-board improvements could be made. In fact, their cause for optimism is not without cause. The City of Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, which was adopted by City Council in June 2010, calls for incremental improvements to the city’s bike network as road resurfacing projects take place.

“Many of the facilities recommended in this plan can be implemented in conjunction with already scheduled street rehabilitation projects,” the Bicycle Transportation Plan notes. “When this coordination occurs, costs for implementing the bicycle facilities may be reduced by over 75%.”

According to officials at the Department of Transportation & Engineering, such savings can be achieved since the capital costs can be shared for both sets of improvements, and labor costs can be maximized.

The Bicycle Transportation Plan goes on to state that City Hall will be opportunistic and take advantage of every occasion where bicycle facilities can be included with street rehabilitation projects or other capital projects. Taking such an approach, the adopted policy says, “will reduce costs to the lowest levels possible.”

City Hall, however, has fallen woefully behind on the implementation of the recommendations made in the Bicycle Transportation Plan; and the current administration has even made a point of noting that they do not generally support the idea of on-street bike facilities. Rather, Mayor John Cranley (D) and his administration have focused on investing in off-street recreational bike trails.

Such an approach has left many people who use bikes as a means of transportation frustrated; and with $69 million of CAP going toward road improvement projects, it would seem like a great opportunity to maximize the improvements by performing these projects in a manner that also improves safety conditions for the city’s rapidly growing number of people commuting by bike.

Based on statements from City Hall, however, it seems that it will prove more so to be an opportunity lost; and put the city in an impossible position to meet its adopted policy objectives within their target time frames.

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.

City Hosting Open House On Conversion of Main Street to Two-Way Travel

13063206_10153551968558597_3927391729015920711_oAlmost two years ago we reported that community groups in Over-the-Rhine requested City Hall to evaluate the possibility of converting Main Street from one-way to two-way travel.

Converted in the 1930’s, the street acts a couplet with Walnut Street directing automobile traffic northward on its two travel lanes to facilitate the speedy flow of traffic. However, as evidence of the detrimental effects of one-way streets has been documented, this practice is slowly falling out of favor.

Nearby, in 1999, the City of Cincinnati converted Vine Street in OTR to two-way and, despite the city’s Department of Transportation & Engineering finding the change caused seconds worth of delay for motorists, the street has flourished with pedestrian activity.

But as Vine Street flourished, Main Street stagnated.

Despite long time storefronts such as Iris Bookcafe and Mr. Pitifuls, the corridor, from Twelvth Street to Liberty Street, has had difficulty in attracting and retaining retail activity, despite the growing availability of storefronts that were previously galleries for Final Friday.

So the question many neighborhood leaders are now asking is whether similar treatment, as Vine Street, could work similar magic on Main Street.

On Wednesday, April 27, the City’s DOTE will host its third open house on the matter. City officials say that purpose of the open house is to present information that the City has gathered, and to also solicit public input regarding the request.

A flyer for the event states that, “The business association’s desire is to calm traffic speeds, improve pedestrian comfort and promote better vehicular accessibility of the businesses. They perceive that the two-way traffic pattern will provide these needs.”

The open house will take place at the Woodward Theater and run from 6pm to 7:30pm. The theater is very accessible by Metro routes #16, #17, #19 and #24, and is less than a block from the Main and Orchard Red Bike station.

Cincinnati DOTE Aiming to Narrow Liberty Street Redesign to Two Alternatives

Tomorrow night will be the second meeting of the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Study – an effort previously called the Liberty Street Complete Street Project in its 2013 iteration.

At the meeting, Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering will present various concepts for the street’s reconfiguration, including five separate options at seven lanes, and additional six, five, four and three-lane options. Many of these scenarios contribute enough additional space to make development on the south side of Liberty Street feasible.

A major consideration, as the project’s title would suggest, is the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists that share the roadway. The current excessive width of the road, coupled with the speed of cars, contributes to an environment incongruous to pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Other elements being considered include pedestrian and cycling facilities, development potential on the south side of Liberty Street, streetscape aesthetics, automobile capacity/safety, and the preservation of on-street parking.

Both current and past public input, like the 2011 Brewery District Master Plan, stress a strong desire to improve the connection of urban fabric between the northern and southern portions of Over-the-Rhine.

“Liberty Street cuts off two sections of OTR,” said Frank Henson, a local cycling advocate. “All other north-south routes get cut up by the expansive width of Liberty; and I support narrowing it, with the inclusion of space for bicycle facilities.”

Many believe that the narrowing of Liberty Street can accomplish both of these objectives; although questions remain about how much narrowing is appropriate, and what should be done with the additional space that is made available.

According to data from the OKI Regional Council of Governments, Liberty Street has an annual average daily traffic (AADT) count of 14,278, which is actually less than the much narrower Ludlow Avenue’s 14,551 AADT in Clifton.

Ludlow Avenue has parking on both sides of the street, aside from peak hours from 7am to 9am where it is prohibited on the south side of the road, and 4pm to 6pm where it is prohibited on the north side of the road. This means that Ludlow Avenue, with its nearly identical traffic count, has fewer lanes of traffic during both peak and non-peak hours.

Martin Luther King Drive, near the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, has the same width as Liberty Street, but carries upwards of 20,000 AADT; and portions of Reading Road carry more than 25,000 AADT with just five lanes.

As a result, one could then deduce that travel demand on Liberty Street is far, far less than its width warrants.

Should Liberty Street be significantly narrowed, based on these figures, it could still absorb its current capacity, and, if necessary, divert traffic to Central Parkway, Fort Washington Way, or one of the many east-west thoroughfares that also have highway access.

Option 7d includes a “shared use bicycle/pedestrian pathway;” and while this widened path is intended to accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists, it is generally considered a less safe practice, as compared to separate facilities, to mix the two due to the faster travel speeds of people on bicycles.

An option that has bike and pedestrian facilities, preserves on-street parking, while also providing three travel lanes could reduce speed, increase safety, provide additional space for development, and still manage capacity based on comparable traffic counts.

The Ludlow Avenue and Reading Road examples disprove the idea that any decrease in capacity would be crippling. However, should demand increase, traffic is also highly divertible to other thoroughfares within a short distance.

Residents and interested parties can express their opinions on Tuesday, March 1 from 6pm to 8pm at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine. City officials say that they hope to narrow the alternatives to two following this meeting.