CNU’s 2018 Transportation Summit: Lessons for Greater Cincinnati

CNU’s 2018 Transportation Summit was September 16-17 in New Orleans. The purpose of the summit was to bring together people focused on the revitalization of urban neighborhoods disrupted by freeways. In attendance were people from Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington DC, and two members from CNU Midwest, Chris Meyer and Brian Boland. There were many takeaways from the summit but three lessons seem applicable to Greater Cincinnati.

The first is that freeways and urban fabric are incompatible. Urban fabric in Greater Cincinnati typically consists of fine-grained parcels, 2-5 story buildings, and a dense street with grid pedestrian-scale streetscapes. Urban fabric is fundamentally sized for people. The 19th century blessed present-day Greater Cincinnati with an abundance of high-quality urban fabric. A minor takeaway from the transportation summit was that other cities would be jealous if they knew what we have.

Freeways are scaled for cars and trucks. They are always interruptions in the urban fabric. They break up the street grid wherever they pass through it and form barriers to people passing. The urban fabric for blocks around a freeway is degraded not only by the dirt, noise, smell, and ugliness but also by the profusion of vehicles they concentrate and deliver into the urban fabric. This is true for greater Cincinnati along the I-75, I-71, and I-471 corridors.

Freeways are a necessary part of the urban economy but they are incompatible with the urban fabric. It was a mistake to run them through central cities. Dwight Eisenhower, the father of the interstate system, certainly thought so.

Multiple people at the summit noted that urban freeways are “monuments to racism.” That’s obviously the case in New Orleans. In Cincinnati, the West End neighborhood is physically gone but the Kenyan Barr photo exhibit, currently showing at the University of Cincinnati, illustrates the neighborhood destroyed by I-75. Ninety-seven percent of the residents were black.

A second lesson from the transportation summit is that urban fabric is valuable. Anyone familiar with CNU understands that. What was new is that urban fabric can be more valuable than the freeways running through it. Implicitly or explicitly, a big part of the argument to remove freeways, be it Denver, Oakland, or Austin, is to free up land for profitable new development.

The same principle applies to Cincinnati. The value of land with urban development on it is greater than the same amount of land with auto-centric development on it. The blocks around freeways are almost always taken up with auto-centric development because of how freeway ramps concentrate vehicles in a geographic space. Cincinnati would reap greater economic, tax, and social benefits if the space around Interstate-75 followed urban development patterns rather than auto-centric development patterns.

The third lesson is that the future of urban development doesn’t have to look like the past. When the first Congress for New Urbanism met in 1991, most new development was going to suburbs and central cities were still losing money and population. That has changed. People are moving back to places where they can live, work, and play, without a car. It’s happening in Cincinnati too.

Recognizing the value of urban fabric and the cost of freeways in the urban fabric allows people to recalculate the costs/benefits of future transportation projects. Two high-profile Cincinnati transportation projects include the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar and the Brent Spence Bridge expansion.

One argument against the streetcar is that it is not “profitable,” so it should be shut down. However, streetcars are compatible with the urban fabric. Most buildings and parcels on the streetcar route have been improved. Streetlife – outdoor dining, social interaction, economic activity – along the streetcar route is as vital as it’s been for decades. The streetcar is a fellow dancer in the sidewalk ballet. It improves the value of adjacent urban fabric, in opposition to freeways that destroy value. A better cost/benefit analysis of the streetcar would include the increased tax value derived from adjacent improved parcels.

The inverse argument occurs with the Brent Spence Bridge project. The primary cost/benefit evaluation looks at congestion. The potential value of restored urban fabric has never been a part of the bridge’s cost/benefit analysis. When they factored the value of urban fabric into the Fort Washington way redesign, they decided to sink the freeway below grade so it could be capped in the future. It’s easy to envision a redesigned bridge project that includes land for new urban fabric, much as the Fort Washington Way project did.

The 2018 CNU transportation summit brought together thought leaders, local activists, transportation professionals, and city designers. A repeated statement at the 2018 summit was that multi-million dollar infrastructure projects should improve the value of places where they are constructed. In Greater Cincinnati, it seems like the value of place is often not considered in the cost-benefit analysis of large transportation projects.

In the past, it was possible to argue that urban fabric had no value, or that its value was equal to auto-centric development. Those arguments can no longer be made in good faith. If Cincinnati is going to capitalize on the wealth of its urban fabric, the value of that fabric must be included when evaluating future transportation projects. If it’s done so accurately, we should be all the wealthier.

This is a guest article by Chris Meyer reporting on the 2018 CNU Transportation Summit. CNU and CNU Midwest are content partners with UrbanCincy. Chris is an Architect at Hub + Weber, PLC

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Foundation Event a Deep Dive into Bath House History

For decades these peculiar historic buildings sat hidden in plain sight. Maybe it was a house with two front entrances or a church. Maybe a building had a lot of hard concrete floors. In Over-the-Rhine, these could have been breweries, factories, or….a bath house?

Highlighting the history of one of the neighborhoods more hidden quirks, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation will host an event later this month in a former bath house.

A Sanborn Map showing the Pendleton Bath House

“In the early 20th century, the high cost of in-home plumbing and water heaters meant that Cincinnatians bathed at commercially operated bathhouses,” Foundation Trustee Tom Hadley told UrbanCincy, “Social reformers advocated for publicly funded baths as a way to check the spread of disease, improve living conditions and educate about the benefits of cleanliness.” He hopes the event can showcase this particular aspect of OTR history.

Foundation organizers hope the event will encourage attendees to explore the history of OTR in an informal and interactive experience.

The event called, “Taking the Plunge: History of Public Bath Houses” will be held on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 5:30 PM at the location of the former St. Mary’s Baptist Church in Pendleton. It is ticketed and tickets can be purchased here for $25. The Foundation will host a social hour at the Urban 3 Points Brewery following the program.

The event will be located within two blocks of a Cincy RedBike station on 12th and Broadway and is served by the #24 and #19 Metro bus routes via Sycamore Street.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.

EDITORIAL: Parking Requirement Removal Should Be First Step In Broader Reform

Recently, the Cincinnati City Planning Department sent out a notice to property owners in downtown and Over-the-Rhine regarding the implementation of an Urban Parking Overlay District. The city will hold several meetings with the next one being at the City Planning Commission meeting this Friday, July 27th at 9 a.m. If approved, the district would remove the requirement for uses in downtown to provide off-street dedicated parking.

Since 2012 when I first wrote about parking in downtown and Over-the-Rhine the number of off-street parking supplied has increased well over 3,000 parking spaces (38,760 in downtown alone according to DCI). The Banks parking garage alone with over 6,000 spaces is the third largest parking garage in the United States.

We have an abundance of parking in the urban core.

At its core function, the removal of required parking minimums has proven to allow for more creative parking solutions to blossom. As Donald Shoup, parking guru and professor at UCLA found in his book The High Cost of Free Parking, most parking minimums were established as arbitrary standards by planners in the middle of the last century. Many of these requirements are intended to account for the busiest times of the day or year. UrbanCincy interviewed Dr. Shoup in 2014 regarding a variety of local parking issues.

In Nashville for example, the removal of parking minimums helped remove barriers for small-scale developers who could not afford to acquire additional land for a few parking spaces. Instead, agreements with nearby garages helped facilitate automobile storage demands.

Back in 2012 Nashville Planner, Joni Priest told UrbanCincy, “Removing the parking requirements from downtown zoning allows flexibility for site-specific and program-specific solutions. Flexibility is key in urban environments,” said Priest. “As downtown becomes more comfortable for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, new development will have the flexibility to build less parking.”

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the city continues to struggle with developers looking to build new infill or rehabilitate and reactivate the many historic buildings in the urban core.

Even when parking requirements are reduced or eliminated most banks and investors still require parking to be provided or identified for developments to move forward. Removing zoning requirements for parking often allows the developer to build the parking that is really needed and not what is arbitrarily demanded by local zoning controls. This reduces the cost of development and in turn, allows more affordable housing to be provided.

Removing parking minimums also preserves historic structures from being demolished for parking lots and garages. Over-the-Rhine is the largest collection of German Italianate buildings in the country yet it currently has lost over half of its historic structures. If parking minimums are retained, the demolition of our communities historic assets will continue to be encouraged to meet the city’s parking requirements.

There is an abundance of alternative options to traverse to, from and around the urban core. These modes include walking, biking, CincyRedBike, buses, streetcar, uber, lyft, Gest, and Zipcar. In the near future, we’ll likely see Bird scooters and Lime bikes introduced. In the long-term, improved transit and autonomous vehicles will reduce the need to own and store a vehicle. Every one of these trips is one less parking space needed per resident, worker or visitor.

It would be wise for the City to anticipate criticisms from residents of the urban core. Some of whom recently voiced concerns regarding the increasing struggle to find on-street parking spaces. This is a struggle that is common in many dense, historic urban neighborhoods across the country where the expectation is that it is very rare to snag a parking space directly in front of a persons residence or business. However, it is important to consider this in light of a broader parking strategy, one that would balance resident, business and development demands.

There are a few additional strategies for city policymakers can consider in conjunction with approving the Parking Overlay District to remove parking requirements. Most of these are adapted from Dr. Shoup’s recommendations:

1.) Continue to pursue the implementation of the on-street residential parking permit program.

2.) Add on-street 10-30 minute convenience parking at some spaces around Findlay Market.

3.) Consider opportunities for future public underground parking facilities to serve Findlay Market and the rest of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street.

4.) Enable the demand-responsive capabilities for on-street parking meters. This strategy will encourage more meter usage and could be a potential revenue add for the city’s parking meter program.

As part of a broader plan, it makes sense to remove the parking space requirements in the urban core. To quote Shoup, “If Cincinnati uses fair market prices to manage on-street parking – the lowest prices that will leave one or two open spaces on every block at every time of the day – it won’t have to require off-street parking spaces for every land use. If the government regulated any other aspect of our lives as precisely as it regulates the number of off-street parking spaces everywhere, everyone would join the Tea Party.”

Removing parking minimums is a productive first step in the city’s comprehensive strategy to balance the demands of residents, workers, visitors who help make our urban core a vibrant and attractive place. Supporting this policy is a step in support of enhancing housing affordability, historic preservation, environmental sustainability and livability in our urban core.

Awards Ceremony Set For Infill Designs in Over-the-Rhine

The Over-the-Rhine Foundation is hosting a design competition to test a proposed set of new infill guidelines for the Over-the-Rhine community. The OTR Design Competition Awards Ceremony and Celebration will take place on Friday, March 23rd from 5-8 PM. The event will announce the winner of a competition designed to evaluate proposed guidelines for new development in the revitalizing neighborhood.

Since 2014, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation’s Infill Committee has focused on advocating for contextually appropriate infill design to complement the neighborhood’s rich historic fabric. As part of this effort, the committee has worked to revise the outdated new construction guidelines for the Over-the-Rhine Historic District. The Foundation is currently hosting the OTR Design Competition to challenge the design community to elevate new construction in the district while testing the proposed guidelines. Twelve local and national architects and designers work to design a hypothetical new construction project in the Northern Liberties portion of OTR at 1716-18 Vine Street, north of Liberty Street.

The Design Competition will showcase ideas for this site on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. (Photo by Travis Estell)

The intent of the competition is to present designs that will elevate the standard for new construction in the neighborhood and city. Foundation members hope that the design guidelines would inspire other cities to look to Cincinnati when it comes to inspiring contemporary architecture in a historic setting.

Board President Kevin Pape stated in a media release that, “We are thrilled to see the final design submissions for the competition. This is an exciting opportunity for us to showcase the influence of excellent urban design on new construction in our historic neighborhood.”

Partners in the development of the revised guidelines include the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, City of Cincinnati Office of the Urban Conservator, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, and Ohio History Connection.

Sponsors of the competition include the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, Cincinnati Preservation Association, 3CDC and the Niehoff Urban Studio.

The competition awards ceremony will take place at Union Hall’s 200-seat Beer Hall at 1311 Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine on Friday, March 23rd from 5:00PM-8: 00 PM. The presentation will begin at 6:00 pm. The ceremony is open to the public but RSVP‘s via Eventbrite is appreciated by Monday, March 19th. Complimentary beer and light snacks will be served with a suggested donation of $5.00. Donations can be made by paying to the order of ‘@OTRFoundation’ on Venmo or by cash or card at the event. 

The event is conveniently located along the Metro bus routes #46 and #78. It is a block away from the Northbound 12th and Vine and Southbound Race and Washington Park Cincinnati Bell Connector Streetcar stops. It is also located within a block from two Cincy RedBike bike share stations.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.

Candidates’ Forum to Focus on Historic Presevation, Urban Planning Topics

The candidates for Cincinnati City Council and Mayor have faced off in a number of debates and forums over the past several months. However, one forum being held tomorrow will be of particular interest to readers of UrbanCincy.

The Candidates’ Forum on Preservation will focus on historic preservation and related subjects, including policies on new development in historic neighborhoods. Fourteen city council candidates and both mayoral candidates will be in attendance and answering questions on these topics.

“The forum will discuss the role historic preservation plays in other important city issues, such as planning, neighborhood revitalization and economic development,” said Rob Nayor, Program Manager for Preservation Action.

Courtis Fuller of WLWT will serve as the host of the forum, which is being presented by Cincinnati Preservation Association, Cincinnati Preservation Collective, Over-the-Rhine Foundation, and Preservation Action. Candidates will not be ranked or endorsed based on their views. The event is meant to be informational and to allow the public to understand the candidates’ views on these issues.

The event will be held on Tuesday, September 19 at Memorial Hall, and will start promptly at 6:30 p.m. The venue is accessible via Metro routes 21 and 64 on Elm Street; routes 1, 6, and 20 on Central Parkway; the Cincinnati Bell Connector stop at 14th & Elm; and the Red Bike station at 14th & Elm. Parking is also available in the Washington Park Garage.