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.

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.

VIDEO: ‘Mobile Cyclist’ Explores Cincinnati’s Growing Bike Culture

The growth of Cincinnati’s bike culture has attracted national and even international attention over recent months. While much of the attention has been paid to the growth in ridership and use of Red Bike, less focus has been on the more intangible growth of the various support industries and groups helping fuel the change.

In the third episode of Mobile Cyclist, a web-based TV series focused on bicycling culture across the United States, host Anthony Barr explores the Queen City. In the nearly 13-minute video Barr takes viewers to a collection of bicycle friendly destinations that help shed some light on the region’s bike scene.

He first stops at Velocity Bike & Bean in Florence, where he tries some coffee and talks to the owners. Then he visits the Cincinnati Bike Center at Smale Riverfront Park to discuss how it operates, and how its bike rental services differ from those offered by Red Bike. Following that, Barr stops to speak with the ever-present Frank Henson from Queen City Bike, before making his way to Element Cycles in Hyde Park to check out their art work and bamboo bikes.

The last stop on his tour takes him to Fifty West Brewing where he learns about the Little Miami Scenic Trail and Oasis Trail, along with their bicycle friendly brew called Radler.

Cincinnati’s Growth in Bicycle Commuters Third Fastest in America

Newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the number of people commuting to work by bike continues to rise all across the United States. The League of American Bicyclists took an in-depth look at these numbers and found that Cincinnati is one of the fastest-growing bicycling cities in America.

According to the data produced by the American Community Survey, Cincinnati has the highest percentage of people commuting to work by bike of any city in Ohio.

This places the Queen City in 31st place for the largest percentage of bike commuters in America. Columbus and Cleveland come in at 36th and 40th, respectfully. Toledo, meanwhile, was the only other Ohio city to crack the top 70 and came in at 67th.

“Cincinnati is leading the state in establishing bicycle commuting as a viable means of active transportation,” Frank Henson, President of Queen City Bike‘s Board of Trustees, told UrbanCincy. “We are coming to an understanding that bicycle commuting is safe, sustainable and a healthy choice for everyday transportation.”

What is perhaps more telling is that Cincinnati registered the third-fastest growth rate of bicycle commuters in American from 2000 to 2014.

During that four-year period, ACS data shows that Cincinnati saw a 350% increase in its percentage of bicycle commuters, trailing only Pittsburgh (361%) and Detroit (403%), and edging out Portland, OR (307%). Cleveland also clocked in amongst the top ten in this category with a 238% increase; while Columbus registered a 124% increase. For Cincinnati this builds on its impressive showing over the previous decade where it was a Midwest leader.

Industry experts note that a common thread between many of the communities registering the fastest growth rates is increased investment in bike lanes.

In fact, it was in June 2010 when Cincinnati adopted and began implementing its Bicycle Transportation Plan, which calls for 445 miles of on-street and off-street bike paths by 2025. While that plan mostly calls for non-protected bike lanes, best practices have quickly evolved and now protected bike lanes, like the one on Central Parkway, are widely considered the safest and most efficient alternative.

“Ironically, these days when drivers yell at me for riding in the street, they are just as likely to yell ‘Get in the bike lane!’ as ‘Get off the street!”, explained Margy Waller, who helps organize several group bike rides throughout the year. “To me this suggests that drivers understand the value of the bike lane for all street users. Unfortunately, the drivers don’t seem to realize that most streets don’t have a bike lane, but I bet they’d support more of them.”

While the growth in the number of people commuting by bike is impressive, it still accounts for less than 1% of all commute-related trips in Cincinnati. Implementation of the Bicycle Transportation Plan has been important in notching these improvements over the past four years, but that progress has been slow and inconsistent.