With Commuters Slow to Embrace It, Cincinnati Bike Center Finding New Niche

Tucked away beneath the Schmidlapp Event Lawn at Smale Riverfront Park is a great resource for the local cycling community. The Cincinnati Bike Center serves downtown commuters, as well as tourists and locals who may want to take a spin around riverfront parks and urban neighborhoods.

The bike center opened with the first phase of the park four years ago. Located at 120 East Mehring Way, the facility is built into the park structure at the bottom of the Walnut Street Steps, which features a bike runnel for easy movement between levels of the park, and operates in this location under contract with Cincinnati Parks.

Brady Willenbrink, who has served as the manager for the past year-and-a-half, told UrbanCincy that he is setting out to increase public awareness of the center and its many services.

While the center does not sell bicycles, it does operate as a repair shop, performing small fixes such as tire replacements and minor adjustments, or larger jobs like full tuneups and part replacements. Some cycling apparel and accessories are available for sale.

The original vision for the facility was to serve as a commuter station for downtown workers. Such an operation was seen as being similar to the famed McDonald’s Bike Center in Chicago’s Millennium Park. In fact, Cincinnati’s concept even used the same operator and hired the director of Chicago’s center to come and run the new outpost along Cincinnati’s central riverfront.

Over the past four years the Cincinnati Bike Center has signed up just 30 members – a number they say continues to grow. True to the original vision, those commuting members have 24 hour access to a secure, camera guarded space with bike racks and locker rooms. Members are also provided with 20% discounts on repairs, apparel and most other services offered at the CBC.

“They get a locker, take a shower, clean up, go to work, come back, change into their bike clothes and go home,” Willenbrink explained.

Commuters may join with monthly or annual memberships, and the option to use the station on a daily basis is available for occasional commuters or those wishing to try out the facility. Riders also can take advantage of bike valet parking in the secure space during Cincinnati Reds baseball games at the nearby Great American Ball Park. This service is open to all, not only members, and costs just $1 per bike.

It is these more temporary service offerings, however, that have proven to be most popular. Of those, none has been more well-received than the bike rentals offered at the facility.

The resounding popularity of Smale Riverfront Park has made it a day or weekend destination for many visiting the center city since it has opened. With a variety of bikes available by the hour or by the day – including cruiser, road, electric assist, kids, tandem bikes, and bikes that are driven by hand-powered cranks for free use by the disabled. In addition, the center’s small, large, and extra large ‘Quadcycles,’ which have four wheels and seat up to nine people, have been extremely popular with families and other large groups.

Taking lessons from this, the Cincinnati Bike Center has established several popular bicycle and Segway tours. These are scheduled daily along several routes throughout the center city and even extend into Northern Kentucky.

While the center’s operators are hopeful the completion of the Ohio River Trail to the city’s eastern and western suburbs will bolster commuter memberships, Willenbrink says that they will also build on their strengths by soon hosting group bike rides one Friday per month that will be open to the public.

Detailed information on those rides, he says, will be shared soon through their social media pages.

VIDEO: Family Focused, Center City Activities Abound With Return of Baseball Season

Now that baseball is back, it means it is time for Cincinnati’s tourism season to pick-up steam. The return of the Reds means the migration of regional baseball fans to the Queen City to take in the nation’s past time.

Of course, no season can compare to those like last year, which featured the All-Star Game, or seasons where the Reds are in the playoff hunt. But baseball in Cincinnati is tradition; and traditions are, well, traditions. So with that said, here’s a look back at last summer when the Reds failed to live up to expectations, but still drew millions to Great American Ball Park.

The following three-minute video takes a look at some of the center city’s most prominent attractions through the eyes of a family. And if there is one thing at which Cincinnati excels, it is family focused vacations centered around baseball season.

If the embedded video fails to play, you can view it on Vimeo here.

Episode #56: Stadiums and Cities

St. Louis NFL stadium proposalOn the 56th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we are joined by Alex Ihnen of nextSTL to discuss stadiums and their impacts on cities.

We talk about the new NFL stadium proposed for St. Louis’ north riverfront and whether it could actually help redevelop that struggling part of the city. We also discuss whether this proposal is an example of sports team owners ripping off cities, or whether it could be positive financially for the St. Louis.

Finally we compare the proposal with the experience of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in building the new Reds and Bengals stadiums, as well as the desire to replace or upgrade US Bank Arena.

PHOTOS: The Impressive Impact of Smale Riverfront Park

There are dozens of development projects underway at any given time, but few have the opportunity to make a truly transformative impact. Smale Riverfront Park is one of those rare exceptions.

As UrbanCincy has chronicled in the past, the changes that have taken place along Cincinnati’s central riverfront over the past two decades have been truly remarkable. The consolidation and burial of Fort Washington Way. The construction of two behemoth stadiums, a world class museum and an entire new neighborhood. And now the opening up of the Ohio River through the redesigned riverbank and park.

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What was once an asphalt riverfront separated from the rest of the city by an inhospitable highway now the region’s central gathering place for tourists and a destination for everyone in the region looking to the river that gave the city its birth. The changes are breathtakingly wonderful.

Of course, there is nothing better than images to help visual such changes. Instead of posting photos of what the area was once like, as we have in the past, this collection of photos are from that past few weeks at Smale Riverfront Park’s latest addition, and its immediate surroundings.

Projects like this and Washington Park, which is currently hosting thousands of thrilled Cincinnatians as part of this year’s Lumenocity event, are the types of investments and projects that change a city. What’s even better is that they’re accessible to everyone.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 20 photographs were taken by Eric Anspach in July 2015.

VIDEO: Latest Phase of Work at Smale Riverfront Park Virtually Complete

Cincinnati Park officials have celebrated a string of openings at Smale Riverfront Park over the past month. While a few more openings remain, the vast majority of work in the latest major phase of the $120 million park is now essentially complete.

In the latest video update from project manager Dave Prather, he explains what all has taken place and what remains before work slows down considerably. At this point, Prather said, attention will turn to raising funds for the next wave of work, including the boat dock and western reaches of the 45-acre park.

The latest additions to the central riverfront park are more active than what has been developed so far. There are more of the popular family swings overlooking the river, an interactive foot piano, a flying pig playset, water pumps and channels, Carol Ann’s Carousel, and the P&G go Vibrantscape. Where railyards once existed, there are now even movable picnic tables sat atop rail ties.

Two of the larger features of the latest expansion are actually passive spaces. The Great Lawn is now nearly complete and the “beach” is in its early stages of formation. Once complete, visitors will be able to walk all the way down to the water’s edge, although this “beach” will not be made of sand due to the risk of erosion.

Two unique historical features are also part of this latest work. The first is a cornerstone marker in the middle of the Great Lawn that shows where the first addressed building in Cincinnati was situated. The second is a collection of foundation walls that were uncovered during the park’s excavation. These foundations, historians say, remain from 19th century buildings developed along the Ohio River.

This is expected to be the last video update from the Smale Riverfront Park development team for some time. As development at The Banks catches up, the park will soon be able to continue its westward expansion.