National Citizen Survey Shows Perceptions of Hamilton Continue To Improve

With the recent announcements of two major new employers, London-based Barclaycard and Colorado-based StarTek, bringing hundreds of new jobs to Hamilton, it may come as no surprise that the city performed comparatively well on the 2015 National Citizen Survey.

Made available to residents in nearly 550 other localities throughout the United States, the NCS is considered by most counties and municipalities as the standard-bearer for collecting meaningful qualitative data and providing informative, actionable feedback.

At the survey’s conclusion, each participating community received an in-depth report that summarized their residents’ responses in three areas: community characteristics, governance and participation. In aggregate, these are compiled to give a general overview of the community’s livability and quality of life. Embedded within this, the questions collect residents’ thoughts about eight key aspects that are central to any community: safety, mobility, the natural environment, the built environment, recreation/wellness, education/enrichment, and community engagement.

While the comparison to other communities is certainly useful, what’s most telling is how the Hamilton of today compares to the Hamilton of its not-so-distant past.

When lined up against its results from the 2011 NCS, the city saw positive gains in a nearly two-thirds of the survey. Not only did the city improve upon those areas where it had been lagging for decades, it also continued to bolster its status as a high-quality, cost-effective producer of public utilities and public goods.

From its best-tasting water, its increased hydroelectric energy production, to its publicly accessible natural-gas station (the first and only in Greater Cincinnati); Hamilton has proven that it is indeed possible to effectively provide public services through economically uncertain times.

It wasn’t all great news, however, with some of the lowest scores falling within the realm of transportation. In particular, few residents responded positively to questions about public transit and traffic flow, both of which have been notoriously subpar for a city of Hamilton’s size. By comparison, nearby Middletown, which is smaller than Hamilton, has had direct access to Interstate 75 and its own four-line public bus system for decades.

Within the city proper, there are only three bridges that connect the city across the Great Miami River within the city proper, all of which carry local roads. Further complicating this is Hamilton’s lack of any highway-grade road infrastructure of any significance as well as numerous at-grade railroad crossings on both sides of the river.

The city is attempting to address some of these transportation issues by moving forward with the $29 million South Hamilton Crossing project, while also lobbying to restore regular passenger rail service.

Public transit of any kind is non-existent in Hamilton, which only frustrates this situation even more. In response to this, city leaders say that they are working to improve relationships with Butler County and other entities within the county, including Middletown and Miami University, to improve public transit offerings.

In particular, the Butler County Regional Transit Authority has essentially absorbed operation of what had been independent bus services in Middletown and Oxford in order to build connectivity among the county’s population centers. BCRTA also maintains routes to West Chester and Tri-County Mall in coordination with Cincinnati’s Metro bus system.

Hamilton Earning National Praise For Its Smart Growth Development Approach

Last month, the City of Hamilton was recognized for its built projects by the US EPA as one of three National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement in 2015.

The awards are given annually to three local government entities that embody the spirit of smart growth by embracing policies and strategies that re-utilize existing infrastructure, protect the environment, provide inclusive mixed-income housing, and strengthen local economies.

In the selection process, Hamilton was specifically singled out for a public-private partnership with Historic Developers, LLC that resulted in three redevelopment and preservation projects. This included Mercantile Lofts, Hamilton’s first new downtown housing in decades, and the conversion of the Journal-News’ former offices into an arts and dance studio that now houses the Miami Valley Ballet Theatre.

Officials say that the partnership leveraged just over $17 million to spark an additional $15 million in investment at adjacent properties.

Over the past five years, these initial projects have been a part of more than $65 million in direct investment, by both local and regional developers, along downtown Hamilton’s High Street corridor.

This award follows numerous others that have been given to the city by other organizations, including the International Economic Development Council’s Excellence in Economic Development awards in 2013 and 2014.

The other two cities recognized in this year’s National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement were Newark, NJ for its revitalized riverfront park, and Jackson, TN for its Jackson Walk mixed-use development in its completely rebuilt downtown district.

Hamilton Installing New Electronic Parking Meters, Offering Mobile Payment Options

Following in Cincinnati’s footsteps, the City of Hamilton introduced a new mobile pay option for 248 on-street parking meters in the downtown area.

In total, these meters represent about 45% of the city’s total. They are similar in nature to Cincinnati’s and even use the same PassportParking app to handle mobile payments.

“The option of mobile payment will make the process of parking downtown quick and convenient, which is great for both parkers and small businesses,” Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said in a prepared release. “It will be a welcomed change to carrying around coins and will make it easier for customers to support downtown Hamilton’s small businesses.”

When asked why all of the city’s on-street parking meters were not included, Richard A. Engle, Hamilton’s Director of Public Works, said that they wanted to focus on the most frequently used meters first to see how the new system was received.

“We wanted to pilot test the market before installing the system on all parking meters,” Engle told UrbanCincy.

In coordination with the new mobile payment app, city officials also said that they installed six credit card only parking meters a block south of High Street as a pilot test as well. So far he says that the changes have not impacted the operation of Hamilton’s Traffic Division yet, but that they will be monitoring its performance.

The changes come as cities across North America are working to modernize their parking assets, while also improving their market performance. While Engle says Hamilton is not quite ready to introduce real-time, market-based pricing for their on-street meters, he did not rule out the possibility.

“As parking demands increase, this may be considered,” Engle said. “However, it is too early to contemplate using a demand-based system at this time.”

The idea for now is to offer more modern payment options, and make the process of parking on the street easier for those visiting the downtown area.

Those interested in utilizing the PassportParking app in either Cincinnati or Hamilton can do so by creating an account at, and then downloading it from the iPhone App Store or Android Google Play.

Construction to Start on $29M South Hamilton Crossing Project This March

Hamilton city officials recently celebrated the announcement that Barclaycard would bring up to 1,500 jobs to Vora Technology Park for a new call center. Now, in almost perfect timing, public officials say they are ready to move forward with a $29 million project that will greatly improve access to the site.

Last week the OKI Regional Council of Governments awarded $3.75 million to the South Hamilton Crossing project. This is in addition to a previous allocation of $2.45 million from OKI, and $10 million from the State of Ohio. The remaining funds are coming from the City of Hamilton and Butler County.

“OKI’s support of the South Hamilton Crossing project is crucial to its success and illustrates how important the overpass is to our regional transit network,” City Manager Joshua Smith stated in a prepared release.

Hamilton has long been defined by its numerous freight railways. While they have been productive for the city, they have also served as barriers between neighborhoods since they typically operate at-grade.

The Jack Kirsch Underpass on High Street is the only grade-separated rail crossing in Hamilton that offers east-west flow. As a result, the South Hamilton Crossing has long been envisioned; with some plans showing it that date all the way back to 1911.

As of now, Grand Boulevard terminates at the CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks in Lindenwald. People walking, biking or driving must then head north along Central Avenue and then cut across the four railroad tracks diagonally.

This new project will extend Grand Boulevard to the west to University Boulevard, serving Vora Technology Park and Miami University Hamilton. Instead of crossing the four railroad tracks, the extended road will bridge them, thus offering fewer conflicts for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, along with fewer restrictions for freight operators.

“SHX is very important for both safety and economic reasons,” said Smith. “With the recent announcement that Barclaycard is opening a 1,500 person facility at Vora Technology Park, the need for better access to the area is more important now than ever.”

Transportation officials say that 56 trains travel through this crossing on a daily basis, which results in its blockage a total of 15.3% of the time. As a result, the new overpass is expected to greatly improve connectivity, reduce travel times, and increase safety.

Project leaders say that construction should begin in March 2016 and be completed in mid-2018.

Hamilton Looking For Public Input on Annual Action Plan

Hamilton OHThe City of Hamilton is seeking input from the general public as it prepares its Annual Action Plan for 2016-17 for grants received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The funds are disbursed to localities throughout the country to help address the needs of low- to moderate-income residents. Some of the programs that are funded fully or in part by these HUD grants include youth services, elderly services, transportation improvements, neighborhood stabilization programs, crime prevention, job training, and much more.

Hamilton qualifies for support due to its higher-than-average poverty rate (22.9%) and its lower-than-average homeownership rate (56.5%).

If you currently live or work, have ever lived or worked, or just generally care about the future of Hamilton, city officials are hoping to get your input on how these resources should be used.

In particular, the 15-question survey asks about the state of housing maintenance, balance of rental and owner-occupied housing, public transportation, social services, historic preservation, infrastructure, and economic development strategies.

The survey takes only a few minutes to complete, and all responses, including those to demographic questions, are kept anonymous and confidential. Any questions should be directed to John Creech at Hamilton’s Department of Community Development at 513-785-7350 or