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 Bringing Neighborhood Enhancement Program to Lower Price Hill, Mt. Auburn

The City of Cincinnati has announced that it will take its award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program to Lower Price Hill and Mt. Auburn this year.

These two neighborhoods represent the 21st and 22nd communities to participate in the program, which utilizes a 90-day collaborative focus between various city departments and community organizations to address crime hot spots, beautifying streetscapes, and tackling blight.

“Cincinnati has a long and proud history of neighborhood involvement and that core value is one of the reasons the NEP is so effective,” Mayor John Cranley (D) said in a prepared statement. “The importance of collaboration with local businesses and volunteers in making our neighborhoods sustainable cannot be underestimated.”

City officials say that Lower Price Hill’s NEP will take place from March through May, while the program will take place in Mt. Auburn from mid-August through mid-November.

While the NEP has consistent goals for each community in which its employed, city leaders also work closely with each individual neighborhood to make sure the program is tailored specifically to meet its needs. Those details, program administrators say, will be developed more for both Lower Price Hill and Mt. Auburn over the coming months.

In addition to reducing blight and addressing crime activity, the program has also started to take on signature projects identified by each respective community. Last year, this included the renovation of Grant Park Playground in Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Outdoor Gym in Roselawn.

“This program is about much more than just building playgrounds and cleaning up empty lots,” noted Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black. “It’s about making meaningful and sustainable investments in some of Cincinnati’s historic communities in order to ensure they’re thriving places.”

Pay-by-Phone Technology Now Available for Cincinnati’s Parking Meters

Smart Meter IdentificationCincinnati city officials announced last week that the more than 4,000 smart parking meters that have been installed throughout the city are now functioning in coordination with a new mobile app payment system.

The announcement fulfills a long-held desire for motorists looking for more convenient ways to pay parking meter fees.

It is expected that such technology will help reduce the amount of tickets that are dolled out since drivers will now be able to refill their meter from anywhere, simply by using their phone. Those without smartphones capable of operating the PassportParking app will also be able to use their phones to reload meters by visiting http://m.ppprk.com, or by calling 513-253-0493.

“This enhancement is part of the City’s ongoing parking modernization plan to improve the quality and efficiency of the City parking system,” officials stated in a prepared release. “In accordance with these efforts parking rates were adjusted earlier this year, and motorists saw the introduction of prepay and extended hours.”

In addition to the convenience for parkers, the new technology also allows for local businesses to register so that they can discount the parking costs for their customers.

While the new technology will make payments easier and more convenient, it does not help motorists locate available on-street parking spaces, or utilize dynamic pricing that would encourage those looking for a parking space to navigate toward a lesser used area.

While dynamic pricing has been mentioned as a future possibility by both Mayor John Cranley (D) and City Manager Harry Black, it has not yet been made clear when that will take place.

“Pay-by-phone parking is representative of what we are doing across our organization. We are using technology to enhance services we offer our residents and visitors,” said City Manager Black. “This technology won’t replace more traditional means of paying to park at a meter, but it gives people a new, convenient option that makes visiting Downtown or business districts across Cincinnati easier.”

The mobile payment app, which charges a 25-cent convenience fee, will only work for on-street parking meters and kiosks – not off-street lots or garages. In order to properly use the system, drivers will be asked to input the zone, along with the meter number, into the application so that the payment can be traced to that particular space, and thus monitored by parking enforcement officers.

All of this comes after the contentious cancellation of the parking lease agreement put into place by Mark Mallory‘s administration in 2013.

Under that agreement, the City would have leased its on-street parking meters, along with a number of garages and lots, to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, which then was to enter into operation agreement with Xerox. In return, the City would have received a large upfront payment, along with guaranteed annual payments.

The new structure maintains more control at City Hall, but it misses on the upfront capital, along with the guaranteed payments.

Instead, the City takes on the risk of meeting revenue projections and keeping operation and maintenance costs within their targets. One thing that remains the same is the presence of Xerox, although their role appears to have been greatly diminished from what it would have been under the Mallory administration deal.

So far the response to the new parking meters and payment functionality has been positive, although some neighborhood business districts, where the meters are arriving for the first time, have experienced some temporary glitches with pricing and hours of operation programmed into the meter.

Car-Sharing Could Reduce Costs, Improve Efficiency of Cincinnati’s Vehicle Fleet

When a brother and sister are fighting over the same toy, a parent quickly steps in and teaches the children to take turns and share.

Now that Over-the-Rhine parking is at a premium, and the residential permit plan has been vetoed, the residents of OTR are going to have to find a way to share parking, or risk losing more of the historic neighborhood to parking lots and garages. Sharing also presents an opportunity when it comes to modernizing the City of Cincinnati’s fleet of 2,149 vehicles.

Mayor John Cranley (D) received unanimous support for this year’s budget, which includes $110 million to make much-needed upgrades to the City’s fleet and roadways over the next six years. While some vehicles, like those for police and fire, cannot be shared, others certainly can; and by implementing a program like Zipcar’s FastFleet program, Cincinnati would benefit from significant savings and operating efficiencies.

In 2012, an internal audit of the Fleet Services Division found that fleet management has been “unwieldy” and mentioned that a knowledgeable and empowered staff is needed to properly manage the system. This has proven difficult over the past decade due to a severe cut in funding for the department in 2003.

“Almost the entire management team left the department near the end of 2007 and was not replaced,” the internal audit noted. “While the staff operates to the best of their abilities, they are undermanned without the resources to correct the inertia of the department.”

The Fleet Services Division operates under the Public Services Department, and controls and maintains 2,149 motorized vehicles for various departments at City Hall. These departments pay $63 an hour for maintenance and repair of the vehicles and are allocated a portion of the capital budget based on their proportion of need with regards to their percentage of obsolete fleet.

In 2011 Fleet Services was allocated $4,301,900 in capital dollars and $5,240,600 was allocated for 2012. These numbers are expected to rise as soon as the approved budget is published on July 1, but more money for new vehicles is only part of the solution. The 2012 audit also recommended reducing the size of the fleet, evaluating underutilized equipment, and examining the cost of leasing sedans and light trucks.

With services like FastFleet, City Hall could optimize its fleet without degrading operations, thus lowering maintenance and administrative costs.

FastFleet works by tracking vehicle usage by employees through GPS monitoring systems. This enables the service to produce real-time data, with recommendations on synergy and optimization. Once this data is analyzed, car assignments can be reorganized to allow for sharing of each vehicle by city employees, ultimately allowing for more efficient usage of vehicles.

In Washington D.C., city officials there were able to benefit from $6 million in savings over a five-year period by eliminating more than 200 administrative vehicles from their fleet. While Cincinnati’s fleet is smaller than the nation’s capital, proportional savings are safe to be assumed.

With City Hall poised to invest millions into its fleet operations, now is the perfect time to look into a solution such as this that could potentially reduce the City’s fleet, while also improving its performance.

A program could even be put in place to allow for public use of the vehicles, akin to the city’s existing Zipcar system, when city employees are not in need of the fleet. The revenue collected from these services could then be used to offset the public’s cost of maintaining the city’s fleet, while also expanding car-sharing services to other neighborhoods outside of the city center.

As it stands now, the City of Cincinnati does not even know what the optimal size is for its vehicle fleet. Tracking the performance of the fleet and analyzing the data will help bring clarity to the matter, and allow for the fleet to perform more efficiently.

Implementing a vehicle sharing program for Cincinnati’s municipal fleet would help save additional taxpayer dollars, improve operations and bolster car-sharing throughout the city.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Chad Schaser contributed to this article.