Redesigned Streetscapes Could Turn Fourth and Race Streets Into Vibrant Public Spaces

Fourth Street offers one of the more impressive urban street canyons in all of America. Its pre-war high-rises dominate the streetscape and offer a glimpse into the proud history of Cincinnati.

Once the very center of business activity, Fourth Street was historically known as the region’s financial district – a place where all the power players lingered and conducted business. Since its heyday in the early 20th century, that center of financial clout has shifted. Some say it has shifted to Third Street, while others say it has moved east along Fourth or even north to Fifth Street.

In any case, many of those power players are now in other nearby districts, while the impressive structures they built are left behind.

City leaders had believed, with good reason, that Fourth Street would become the region’s premier shopping destination. However, with the demise of downtown malls and department stores, that vision never fully came to be.

All has not been lost though. Virtually all of the impressive, historic urban fabric remains and has since been largely converted into residential space. There is also a movement afoot from some business and civic leaders to breathe new life into not only Fourth Street’s retail scene, but Race Street’s as well.

Part of the ongoing transformation includes Mabley Place, which converted the former Tower Place Mall into a parking garage with street-level retail, the proposed 30-story residential tower that would replace the aging Pogue’s Garage, and the nearby and soon-to-open dunnhumbyUSA headquarters tower.

There is even the possibility of Fourth Street being converted back to two-way traffic following the activation of the now unused ramp to I-75 from Third Street.

As all of these projects start to become reality, they offer a unique opportunity to redo the public space in the area. One particular area that has long needed a redo, and has been the subject of many studio projects at DAAP, is Fourth Street’s dated streetscaping. Not only does the design of the sidewalks, benches and street trees leave much to be desired, they also do not follow standard good design practices.

The renovation of Fountain Square realized this and implemented good urban design practices in its final product. Things like softscaping and movable furniture are powerful elements to a good public space. The same could be done along Fourth Street’s, and for that matter much of Race Street’s, wide sidewalk widths.

Being in the midst of the digital age, it would also make sense to make the area more welcoming to tech users by implementing Internet hot spots and including solar-powered charging stations at benches and tables set up along the street.

Specifically, the areas best suited for such a transformation would be the north side of Fourth Street between Vine and Elm, and the east side of Race Street between Fifth and Seventh.

With more and more hotels opening up downtown in general, and specifically on or very near Fourth Street, this public space could also serve as a convenient and desirable ‘third place’ for travelers that are looking to spend some time out in the city, without feeling obligated to purchase endless cups of coffee or beer, but not also be trapped inside their hotel room.

Such a design could also activate the largely lifeless corridor with people from all backgrounds, and provide more passing customers for existing and potential businesses looking to setup shop there.

With all the construction taking place and about to get started, it would make most sense to leverage these private investments to improve this public space at the same time. Heck, it might even be the perfect opportunity to connect the new Central Parkway Cycle Track with the Ohio River Trail.

PHOTOS: Cincy Red Bike Quickly Taking Shape Throughout City Center

Last week’s press conference on Fountain Square revealed a number of new details regarding Cincinnati’s new bike share system. In addition to unveiling the design of the bikes, stations and membership cards, officials also finally shared the system’s name – Cincy Red Bike.

Jason Barron, executive director of Cincy Red Bike, said that dozens of volunteers quickly assembled 260 of the bikes that will populate the initial 35-station system. Barron further clarified a point discussed in our analysis from just before the conference, and stated that each station will have between 13 and 19 docks, thus giving the system an initial docking capacity of 520 bikes. This would easily exceed the ideal 50% space contingency.

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The press was also informed that the station at Union Terminal, which would have been a far off island from the rest of the initial system, has since been scratched for that very reason.

“Research indicated that having an island station like that is difficult for system balancing and that it typically does not get much use,” Barron told UrbanCincy. “An exception may be a park or someplace where people check out the bike ride it around the park and them check it back in.”

In terms of handling the balancing for such a large initial system, Cincy Red Bike will be utilizing a small van at first, but may add a trailer or a bike trailer to the balancing fleet at a later date depending on the system’s needs.

The process of getting a system like this operational so quickly comes with some challenges. While installing two to three new stations a day, officials are also still trying to work out the final membership and daily rates for users. Barron also says that the system map has changed some since initial releases, and that a new map will be released soon.

Those who want to stay up-to-date on the rapidly evolving system can do so now by following Cincy Red Bike on Facebook and on Twitter @CincyRedBike.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 24 photos were taken by Breanna Tracy for UrbanCincy on August 16, 2014.

Initial $2M Phase of Cincy Bike Share On-Pace for September Opening

Cincinnati Bike Share Station MapCincinnati city officials and community leaders are expected to gather at Fountain Square Tuesday morning to unveil the first of Cincy Bike Share’s 35 stations. The ceremony will mark the official start to construction of Ohio’s second and largest bike share system.

Queen City Bike says that the process will move quickly, with two to three stations being installed daily until all 35 stations planned for Downtown and Uptown are built. At the same time, there will be a volunteer effort to assemble the system’s 300 bikes.

“We hope to assemble at least 200 bike share bikes by Friday,” said Frank Henson, President of Queen City Bike, and member of Cincy Bike Share’s Board of Trustees. “This is being done by area volunteer mechanics under the supervision of B-Cycle.”

The aggressive schedule puts the system on track to open by early September, which is not far off the initial goal of opening by August.

The progress comes after Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) announced $1.1 million to more than half of the initial $2 million in upfront capital costs. At the time, Cincy Bike Share director, Jason Barron, said the commitment from the City of Cincinnati was critical in not only getting things moving, but also showing the private sector that it is all for real.

“The mayor’s commitment makes the project a true public private partnership,” Barron told UrbanCincy in April. “The City’s commitment is important to the private funders we have been speaking to, and I believe that it will unlock the last bit of funds that we need.”

Bike share systems have been growing in popularity in North America over recent years. While the most notable are Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare, Chicago’s Divvy and New York City’s Citi Bike, there are now dozens of other cities operating similar systems. The large number and established time period of operations now has given planners a chance to examine empirical data to see what works best.

The more complexities you add to a mode of transportation’s functionality, the less likely someone is to choose that given mode for their trip. This is something that is true across all modes of transportation. As a result, the station density and space contingency calculations have proven to be consistent indicators for a bike share system’s success or failure.

Studies have found that a higher station density is better, and that a target should be approximately 28 stations per square mile. For a city like Cincinnati, that averages out to be a station every couple of blocks. However, the number and placement of Cincy Bike Share stations will be much lower than this target.

When examining of each of the 35 station locations, the system’s station density can be calculated in two different ways. The first would look at just the immediate area in which the stations are located. The second would look at the intended service area for those stations. Naturally, the latter is a bit more subjective.

In the case of the first scenario, the Downtown/OTR portion of the system would have approximately 15 stations per square mile, while the Uptown portion would have 10. Overall, the system in its entirety would average out to a respectable 13 stations per square mile.

But under the more second scenario that factors for intended service area these numbers drop. In this case, Downtown/OTR would fall to 12 stations per square mile, and Uptown would plummet approximately four stations per square mile. Overall, the system total would average out to be nearly stations per square mile.

It is important to note that neither of these scenarios includes the Union Terminal station in its calculation since it is an outlier and would clearly skew the results. Furthermore, Downtown/OTR and Uptown were separated in their calculations since many planners and observers concede that the two areas will most likely operate in isolation of one another.

The point is to ensure that there are consistently stations within a short distance of one another so that if one station is full or empty, another station is close by for the potential user. If that user encounters such a situation, however, it is most likely that the potential user will avoid using bike share altogether and instead opt for a different mode.

One of the ways this can be combatted is through the use of real-time tracking technology that allows users to see exactly how many bikes or stalls are available at any station at any given time. This, of course, only aids those with access to data plans on compatible smart phones, and those who think to use it.

In order to fix the problem of full or empty stations, system operators perform ‘bike balancing’ which moves excess bikes from one station to another that is low on bikes. This balancing act proves to be one of the most costly elements of operating a bike share system. In Chicago and bigger cities they utilize small vans to move the bikes around. But in Salt Lake City, where their GREENBike system is quite small, they utilize trailers hitched to the back of other bikes.

As a result of this complex balancing act, and potential barrier to users, another key element of bike share systems is a space contingency at each station. What this means is that if a station has a capacity for 10 bikes, it should not be stocked with 10 bikes. Instead, data suggests that about a 50% space contingency is ideal.

In Cincinnati’s case, Cincy Bike Share will have enough bikes for there to be roughly nine docked at each of the system’s 35 stations. If the system were to fall in line with this 50% space contingency, which would mean that an additional four to five stalls should be available at any given time, meaning each station should have a total of 13-14 stalls. This, however, is not the case.

Cincinnati’s typical station will have 10 stalls, and thus only have a 10% space contingency. Cincy Bike Share officials have not yet commented as to how this will be mitigated, but a potential solution would be simply to not deploy all 300 bikes at once – something that seems reasonable since bikes will need to rotate in and out for repairs. In this case, a more appropriate number of bikes to be in use at any given time might be 240.

Cincinnati’s bikes are expected to be available for use 24 hours a day, and will most likely be available for use year-round. Cincy Bike Share will be responsible for setting the rate structure, which is not final yet, but annual memberships are pegged at $75 to $85 and daily passes between $6 to $8.

Uptown was originally envisioned as a second phase to the system; but now that it is being included in the initial rollout, it leaves an expansion to Northern Kentucky as the next logical choice.

More details are expected to be announced at the press event later in the week.

BoBa Cha Brings Taiwanese Flavor to Over-the-Rhine’s Northern Liberties

After opening earlier this month, BoBa Cha has been attracting a healthy crowd for its bubble tea offerings at 1606 Main Street.

The small Over-the-Rhine bubble tea shop is owned by Ingrid Huang and Andrew Lui. The couple previously owned Tea N’ Bowl in Clifton Heights, and said they wanted to open a shop closer to where their customers were coming from.

Huang and Lui moved to Cincinnati from California to raise their family and open Tea N’ Bowl in April 2007. The restaurant offered both the bubble tea in which they now focus, but also healthy Asian food selections. They won a Best of Cincinnati award in 2012, but after seven years their bubble tea had become so popular that they thought it was time to consider a new concept.

In Chinese, cha (茶) means tea and boba (粉圆) is a slang term that stands for the tapioca pearls typically found in bubble tea, which was popularized in Taiwan in the 1980s.

With their family and cultural roots in mind, Huang and Lui said they were looking for a new location with a steady stream of customers that would also serve as a place that would bring the community together; where friends and families can meet with no worries.

“We decided to move to OTR to make our place more accessible and now focus, 100%, on making the bubble tea better and healthier, and using fresher ingredients than before,” Huang explained.

The new shop does not serve any food, but the owners have set up an arrangement with Maki to deliver sushi to the location should customers chose to order it. In addition to the fresh ingredients, the primary focuses of BoBa Cha is on the overall health benefits of the tea they serve.

“The common thing [among flavors of tea] is antioxidants that help to clean the body and help metabolism,” said Huang. As a result, they are also offering more tea bases like Oolong, Jasmine, Green Tea, Black Tea, Golden Tea, Thai Tea, as well as organic herbs like Lotus, Ginseng, Dandelion Root, Peppermint and others.

In addition to their new Over-the-Rhine shop, BoBa Cha has a drink cart that can be found on Fountain Square every Tuesday and in Washington Park each Wednesday. Huang also says that they hope to bring the cart to Findlay Market on Saturdays and Sundays in the near future.

The owners say that BoBa Cha will close down during the cold winter months, but that they are working on arrangements with area Asian restaurants to sell their tea while they are closed for the season. In the meantime, however, the couple says they are excited to be in Over-the-Rhine.

“Right after opening we felt the welcome and support of our neighborhood,” Huang explained. “It made us feel like we were a big part of the community and so far.”

Located inside a 154-year-old building that was renovated in 2008, BoBa Cha is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 8pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 8pm.

PHOTOS: Holidays in the City [Cincinnati]

It has been quite a year in Cincinnati and it’s easy to sometimes get caught up in all the drama and miss out on the everyday beauty around you. This has been particularly true in Cincinnati this holiday season, but we asked one of our favorite local photographers, Brian Spitzig, to go around and gather some photographs these past two months.

If his name sounds familiar, that might be because you are remembering when we featured two of Brian’s tilt-shift videos on UrbanCincy in February 2012 and March 2012.

After reaching out to Brian again he put together the following collection of 48 photographs from all over the city that capture it in its holiday splendor. If you like Brian’s photos as much as we do, then please follow him on Twitter @b_spitz and on Instagram @bspitz.

This will be our last post this year, but we hope you all had a very wonderful 2013 and wish you the best in the year to come. Enjoy!

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