Final Designs Revealed for Long-Envisioned Northside Transit Center

One of Cincinnati’s most popular neighborhoods will soon get its very own transit hub.

With more than 13,000 people boarding or exiting buses every day, Northside has long been one of the region’s busiest transit hubs. This is partially due to the neighborhood’s high population and business density, but also because of the numerous transfers from the eight bus routes there (15x, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23x, 27, 51).

This high transit ridership also creates an odd conversion of buses from all over the city. In an effort to clean up the operation of these bus routes, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has long been trying to streamline and enhance operations at Knowlton’s Corner.

After years of work, that vision is finally becoming reality with the $320,000 Northside Transit Center.

“Northside has been working to improve bus traffic through the neighborhood for most of two decades, and the pieces are finally falling into place,” said Ollie Kroner, President of the Northside Community Council.

“Metro presented preliminary plans to the community in July. I would say we are a hard group to impress, but their drawings really exceeded expectations,” Kroner continued. “This should be good for commuters, and also good for our business district.”

Its location is further complimented by the nearly location of a large Cincy Red Bike Station at Hoffner Park.

Cincinnati-based MSA Architects has completed its designs for the new transit hub in the heart of the Northside business district immediately south of the recently completed $15 million Gantry Apartments development. The new facility will boast dedicated bus lanes, boarding platforms, passenger shelters, bike racks and lockers, and real-time arrival technology.

The plan also calls for a significant upgrade and expansion of an adjacent parking lot, which SORTA officials envision as also serving as a miniature park-and-ride facility with 18 allocated spaces.

Project officials say that the Northside Transit Center project is expected to be completed by late 2017.

Larger Implications
Northside has become the center point for the city as hit-and-runs with people walking and biking have increased. In September, this even led to the community organizing public demonstrations urging City Hall to reduce the speed limit through the business district, while also committing to other safety improvements city-wide.

The implementation of the Northside Transit Center will significantly help consolidate bus traffic through the popular business district, while also create a safe and hospitable place for people to wait for their transit connections.

“We have the second busiest transit hub in the city after Government Square, in a neighborhood that was built before we had cars,” Kroner told UrbanCincy. “The transit hub should make riding the bus easier, more comfortable, and safer in Northside.”

While the City of Cincinnati has not committed to a Vision Zero campaign, or an official Complete Streets policy, residents continue to call for such measures.

Meanwhile, the move also comes as Metro attempts to reinvent its region-wide bus system in order to better connect people with jobs. Historically, many bus systems relied on what is called a spoke-and-hub system that ran all routes to a central downtown transit center. This train of thought has changed as cities have become increasingly more mixed-use and diverse.

Metro officials plan to unveil a new regional transit plan in early 2017, and may possibly put a transit tax increase before votes next November to help implement the recommendations laid out in that plan.

As Construction Nears Completion, Apartment Leasing to Begin at The Gantry

Construction work has progressed quickly on the $13 million Gantry development since ground was broken in June 2014; and developers expect to start leasing apartments in the near future.

Located in the heart of Northside, the project has transformed what had long sat as an empty and vacated rail yard. It is also the site of what had long stood as a controversial proposal to develop a suburban-style Walgreen’s on the site, which was adamantly fought by Northside residents in the early aughts.

After the success in fighting off what was seen as a damaging Walgreen’s proposal, and the success of the American Can Lofts just behind this site, which opened in 2011, the location has only become that much more desirable.

“Their [Bloomfield & Schon] work for American Can, getting that project through – I know it was a grueling process – really paved the way for Gantry to happen, and enables us to thrive in this great neighborhood,” explained Jake Dietrich at Milhaus, at the groundbreaking last year.

“Some might say that we’re taking a chance on Northside, but in a way Northside kind of took a chance on us, because this kind of project doesn’t happen more times than once. So the fact that Northside was willing to let an out-of-town developer come in and work with them so closely just goes to show just how much this neighborhood cares and how much potential this neighborhood has.

Located at the northeast corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton Avenue, the Gantry was designed by CR architecture + design and is being developed by Milhaus. It includes three new buildings with 131 apartments and approximately 8,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

Wire & Twine was one of the first businesses to sign on for space at Gantry, and will open this fall.

While the new retail will fill in an important gap for the business district, it is the influx of new housing that has many in the historic neighborhood excited.

According to Gregory Martin, Vice President of Development at Milhaus, most of the framing is now finished inside the buildings, and that leasing on the studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartments will begin in July, with the first residents moving in this September.

Those interested in getting on the waiting list now can do so by signing up on the Gantry’s website.

The project has been designed to achieve LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. In addition to its green building features, the development will also take advantage of being located in the walkable Northside business district, and being directly across the street from one of Cincy Red Bike’s newest stations at Jacob Hoffner Park, as well as Metro’s new Northside Transit Center.

“Northside is a community, that if you haven’t noticed, is a community that is very, very much on the upswing,” said Vice Mayor David Mann (D).

New Transit Hubs on the Way for Northside, Walnut Hills

Walnut Hills and Northside have long been two of the region’s busiest transit hubs, and now it appears that they will finally get their due as part of an ongoing effort by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) to broaden its services beyond its traditional hub-and-spoke model.

To-date those efforts have included the construction of the Glenway Crossing Transit Center, Uptown Transit District and Montgomery Road Metro*Plus Route – all of which have been found to be helping boost ridership.

Two action items before today’s meeting of SORTA’s Planning & Operations Committee call for the award of funds to two companies to design transit hubs in both neighborhoods.

The first item is a $126,000 award to Woolpert. This contract would fund the final design and construction contract services for what is being called the Walnut Hills Transit District, which would include new passenger shelters, lighting, route information, sidewalk improvements and other amenities at seven bus stops throughout the Peeble’s Corner District.

While not yet approved, the investment was hinted at when Metro announced that monthly passes and regional stored-value cards would be available for purchase at the Walnut Hills Kroger.

The second item on the agenda would provide $319,000 to Michael Schuster Associates Architects (MSA), who also designed Government Square and the Uptown Transit District, to provide the preliminary and final design and construction contract administration services for an off-street transit center in the heart of Northside’s business district at the intersection of Spring Grove, Hamilton and Blue Rock.

According to official documents, the new transit center will include new passenger shelters, pedestrian-scale lighting, next bus information, sidewalk and waiting area improvements, and other amenities. Further adding to the firm’s strength, MSA had completed a conceptual layout for the Northside Transit Center in 2012.

According to SORTA officials, the funds for both of these allocations will come from the agency’s annual capital budget funding.

For Northside it comes at a particularly good time, as the first Cincy Red Bike station outside of Uptown or Downtown is currently being installed.

First ‘Portland Loo’ Public Toilet Facility to Open Along Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront

Cincinnati Parks announced that they will install a first-of-its-kind public toilet facility at Smale Riverfront Park. The facility, often referred to as a ‘Portland Loo’ due to where it was first popularized, is an effort by city officials to come up with a more functional and affordable public restroom option.

The idea of installing such facilities throughout Cincinnati first came up in June 2011 when then political activist Jason Happ proposed them as a form of social equity. The issue came up again following the renovation of Fountain Square, and the subsequent frequent closures of the public restrooms built near the elevator head house next to Via Vite.

“Though some of us have more means than others, that doesn’t mean we are always prepared or capable to go buy something just for the privilege of using a toilet at a private business. That’s why, for years, I have been talking about the Portland Loo,” Happ wrote for StreetVibes in November 2012. “In short, the Portland Loo is an elegant solution for the problem of easy access to clean and safe public facilities.”

The issue resurfaced recently when community leaders, including City Councilman Chris Seelbach (D), called for the installation of a Portland Loo facility at Findlay Market.

“With more people, there’s more need for public restroom facilities that we just don’t have,” Seelbach said in January 2013. “A lot of research and thought has gone in to making sure that behavior that we don’t want to happen, doesn’t.”

While project officials have designed permanent restroom facilities into Smale Riverfront Park, the new Portland Loo will give Cincinnati Parks the opportunity to see how such a facility works for their operations. The idea is that such a system would allow for more public access with fewer operational costs and risks.

“This is an opportunity for the Park Board to test how well this facility works as a ready and free comfort solution for our community,” Willie F. Carden, Director of Cincinnati Parks, explained to UrbanCincy. “What we believe, however, first and foremost, is that the Portland Loo will become an essential park enhancement that demonstrates utmost respect for the human dignity each and every citizen deserves.”

As of now, public restroom facilities in city parks are often closed or not fully operational. They also often are considered a public health and safety concern due to their design. Some of the biggest benefits of the Portland Loo system is that they are designed in manner that allows for 24-hour use and are easily monitored, cleaned and maintained.

According to park officials, the improved safety is due to the angled lower louvers at the top and bottom of the facility, which allows for external monitoring of what is happening inside without disturbing the occupant’s privacy. They also say that the facility will be covered in graffiti-proof coating.

The new facility at Smale Riverfront Park will come online June 19 and will feature an outside hand-washing station, rooftop solar panels to power the station’s lights, and will be handicap accessible and include room for a bike or stroller.

Using just 1.28 gallons of water per flush, the toilets are also comparable to sustainable low-flush toilets that use anywhere between 1.1 to 1.6 gallons of water per flush.

Should the results of this first installation come back positive, it would seem likely that the City of Cincinnati would revisit the idea of installing one at Findlay Market where its bathroom facilities are also considered to be problematic. Beyond that, several other parks and neighborhood business districts might be ideal candidates for further expansion.

On the 47th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Northside neighborhood leader James Heller-Jackson discussed the hopes the community has for improving Jacob Hoffner Park in the heart of the neighborhood’s resurgent business district.

“The neighborhood has said that they want somewhere they can hold events, and have it [Hoffner Park] be the center of the community,” Heller-Jackson said on the podcast. “There are also some amenities that we would like – like bathrooms for instance. Those would be awesome there and would make it a lot easier to have events there.”

For now, however, the first Portland Loo will be put to the test along the central riverfront. Carden says that Cincinnati Parks will then assess if and when additional Portland Loos will be added to other parks in the system.

PHOTOS: Northside Rock N’ Roll Carnival Complimented Independence Day Celebrations

The Northside Fourth of July Parade has been was of the region’s most popular for decades, but this year neighborhood leaders decided to build upon that success with the Northside Rock N’ Roll Carnival.

The three-day event took place at Hoffner Park and began on Thursday and concluded on Saturday night. It included stand-up comedy, live music, various carnival activities and even a BMX and skateboard competition.

Like the parade, the Northside Rock N’ Roll Carnival was put on by the Northside Business Association and sponsored by a number of local businesses including Spun Bicycles, CityBeat, Comet, CoSign, Gaslight Property, Happen, Inc., Milhaus Development, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company, Northside Tavern, N.Y.P.D. Pizza, and Shake It Records.

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While this was the first official year for the carnival festivities, organizers say the three-day event is an extension of the festival that has been put on since the 1980s.

“The Rock ‘N Roll Carnival was initially dreamt up by Chris Schadler in 2005 then carved out, cleaned up and driven home by Leslie Scott & Chris in 2006,” organizers say on the festival’s website.

“The event has endured weather, economy and exhaustion and continues through the work and support of the Northside Business Association and numerous Northside residents and businesses for the sake of showcasing Cincinnati’s most independent neighborhood.”

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 57 photographs in these galleries were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy between Thursday, July 3 and Saturday, July 5, 2014.