Metro To Offer Limited Late Night Bus Service This Saturday

Metro and CincyYP are teaming up for the second year to encourage young people in Cincinnati to try out the city’s bus service beyond typical commuting uses.

Many people view transit as a means to get to and from work, but the reality is that nearly three-fourths of all trips made each day have nothing to do with work commutes. As Metro works to grow ridership and expand its customer base, choice riders – those who choose to take transit instead of other alternatives – are becoming an increasingly targeted demographic.

One of the efforts to get more young people taking transit will take place this Saturday, August 29 from 8pm to 2am. Organizers are calling it an entertainment bus that will take riders around to some 18 bars in seven different neighborhoods.

“This is a fun way for young professional to be introduced to Metro’s services,” said Kim Lahman, Outreach and Sustainability Manager at Metro. “I believe most participants will feel more comfortable giving Metro a try after they experience just how easy and convenient public transit can be.”

Unlimited trip passes for the late night shuttle can be purchased online for $7 per person, or $20 for groups of four. The public can also simply purchase single trips at Metro’s normal $1.75 fare anywhere along the route. Those who may not have the cash, or just want to get a bit more involved, are being encouraged to volunteer for two hours and receive a complimentary pass in return.

As Lahman suggests, the hope is to get young people more familiar with using the city’s bus service, and will learn tips about how to plan their trip, read a schedule, catch a bus and use Metro’s real-time arrival services.

“YPs should be interested in attending this event because it’s a first step in creating change,” explained event organizer Kaitlyn Kappesser. “If we can prove to Metro that a bus route like this is in demand more than one night a year, we could evolve this into an every weekend thing.”

Kappesser told UrbanCincy that she believes such a route is an important step to not only introducing new riders to Metro, but also toward reducing drunk driving and spurring business at establishments outside of Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

“Because of this event, people will get to experience and try other neighborhoods,” Kappesser said. “Also, who doesn’t like drink specials.”

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.

Here’s How to Improve Access Between Ohio and Kentucky’s East/West Neighborhoods

When discussing regional transportation issues, the topic seems to always be about congestion. In reality, outside of a few limited periods, the Cincinnati region has relatively good traffic flow with little actual congestion. So instead of trying to solve a problem that does not exist, we should be instead focusing our resources on maintaining our current system and improving mobility within the overall region.

As is the case in any city, the natural environment often serves as a chokepoint and barrier to regional mobility. This is true for Cincinnati with its hills and rivers.

With the region’s population largely centered along the Ohio River, it is natural that this is where the most choke points exist. Outside of the center city, however, there are very few river crossings. In fact, there are only two Ohio River crossings outside of the center city, and both of those are for I-275.

One such area that makes sense for a new local road bridge is around Cincinnati’s Columbia Tusculum neighborhood and Dayton, KY near where the $400 million Manhattan Harbour project is planned.

An increasing amount of development continues to occur on the northern bank of the river in Columbia Tusculum and East End. Further up the hill sits prosperous neighborhoods like Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park, and Oakley; and just around the bend lies Lunken Airfield.

Conversely, on the south side of the river in Kentucky, large-scale development projects have long been envisioned, but are often derailed due to poor access via existing roadway networks. This remains true for Manhattan Harbour where concerns exist about the traffic burden that would be placed on the narrow KY 8 running through historic Bellevue’s quaint business district.

A local road bridge that is one lane in each direction with space for pedestrian and bicycle paths would be an ideal fit for this area of the region. It would improve mobility and access to two difficult-to-access areas. It would also offer a highway alternative for those looking to cross between the two states.

A second location where a local bridge of this nature would make sense is near where the Anderson Ferry currently operates today on the city’s west side.

While little development has occurred in this area for some time, this may soon change. The Ohio River Trail West will soon make its way toward this area, and several developers have been eyeing the western riverfront for major projects.

The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport sits on the southern side of the river where this bridge would land. This area continues to be bolstered by warehouses, distribution facilities and other airport-related services, and could be further bolstered with better access. What’s more, Cincinnati’s western neighborhoods that have long had to deal with excessive airplane noise, yet long treks to the airport, could at least resolve one of those injustices with a new local access bridge.

The Taylor-Southgate Bridge is the most recent span that has been constructed over the Ohio River. It was completed in 1995 and cost $56 million at that time – approximately $85 million when adjusted for inflation. Both of these new bridges would need to span an approximate 1,700-foot-wide width, which is about 300 feet more than the Taylor-Southgate Bridge river width.

One of the main differences, however, is that the Taylor-Southgate Bridge includes two lanes of traffic in each direction, plus sidewalks. The need for only one lane of traffic on these bridges would allow them to have a deck width of around just 30 to 35 feet.

Another good nearby comparison is the U.S. Grant Bridge in Portsmouth, OH. That cable-stayed bridge was completed by the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2006 for approximately $30 million – or about $35 million in today’s dollars.

In addition to access and mobility improvements for motorists, a new bridge in both of these locations would also be a boon for cyclists. Those riding along the Little Miami Scenic Trail and the Ohio River Trail would now also be able to continue on to Northern Kentucky’s Riverfront Commons Trail, which will eventually stretch 11.5 miles from Ludlow to Ft. Thomas.

The Cincinnati region does not need multi-billion dollar solutions for a traffic congestion issues that largely do not exist. Reasonable and affordable projects that aim to increase mobility and access, along with maintaining our existing assets, should be the priority.

New local bridges connecting the region’s east and west side neighborhoods would open up land for new development, improve access between both states, enhance mobility for pedestrians and cyclists, and would do so at a price tag we can afford.

Cincinnati Reaches Agreement With Norfolk Southern on Purchase of Wasson Railroad Corridor

Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee gave a unanimous okay to an ordinance that would solidify an agreement to purchase 4.1 miles of railroad right-of-way from Norfolk Southern for $11.8 million, providing a key piece of the 7.6-mile Wasson Way recreational trail.

The agreement would give the City a two-year purchase option for the property, which extends between the Montgomery-Dana intersection along the Norwood/Evanston line to the intersection of Red Bank and Wooster roads in Columbia Township.

The ordinance was a last minute by-leave item on the committee calendar, made necessary due to a TIGER grant application that is due on Friday. Project backers are seeking $17 million of the $20 million project cost, and City support makes their application much more attractive.

The trail has been in the works since 2011, and a group of nearly 20 volunteers with the Wasson Way nonprofit got a big boost when Mayor John Cranley (D), City Manager Harry Black, and City staff assisted with the negotiations.

“We started looking at the TIGER grant application,” said Mel McVay, senior planner at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering. “They really talk about ‘ladders of opportunity’, increasing mobility and accessibility for folks throughout the region, and so we saw an opportunity between the property we could purchase and some property we already had, and some existing trails.”

Director of Department of Trade and Development Oscar Bedolla spelled out the project’s urgency.

“One of the statutory requirements associated with the scoring for TIGER is related to readiness,” he said. “And so, the more that we can do to show that the project is potentially shovel-ready enhances our ability to acquire or be selected for TIGER funding.”

Bedolla added that under the terms of the agreement, the City would pay nothing in the first year if it does not proceed with the purchase. If the purchase is pursued within the second year, there would be a 5% fee added to the price.

The City’s matching funding of between $3 million and $4 million for construction costs could be made up of a combination of state and federal grants, plus funds raised by Wasson Way, he said.

Still up in the air is approximately two miles or the corridor between the Columbia Township end point and Newtown, where it could connect with the Little Miami Scenic Trail.

“We’re working on it,” McVay said. “Unfortunately, the railroad was not open to selling any additional property east of that point. We’re investigating three or four ways that we can get farther east to the existing Little Miami Trail. We’re very confident we can get there.”

David Dawson, a resident of Mt. Lookout and realtor with Sibcy Cline, expressed concern about how a long-envisioned light rail line could be brought to the corridor once its freight rail designation is abandoned – a legal process that is handled by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

“It just can’t be said enough, in my view, that the City will now become the steward of a very valuable asset,” Dawson said. “This is a regional corridor that, in this day and age, cannot really be duplicated. If we lose that ability to eventually have transit, rail transit, or some sort of transit in the future, we won’t be able to put it back.

Dawson and other rail advocates are calling for the corridor to be railbanked, so that the addition of light rail transit remains an option in the future.

“This doesn’t just connect our neighborhoods, but in the future it has the potential to connect the entire region out to Clermont County,” Dawson said.

The use of this corridor has long been eyed for light rail transit, including in the 2002 MetroMoves regional transit plan. A 2014 study by KZF Design recommended a design solution that would preserve the ability to develop both light rail transit and a trail; and estimated that such an approach would bring the cost of developing the trail to approximately $11.2 million.

Andrea Yang, senior assistant City solicitor, said that the purchase agreement would give the City some time to work out those issues.

“The way that the abandonment process is structured, there is a time period which we could utilize to further investigate other options,” Yang said. “Had we chosen to railbank the property and attempt to preserve it, it would actually follow the same process for abandonment, so there’s definitely time to look into that if that is what Council’s interested in seeing.”

In April, Cincinnati’s Planning Commission voted to place an Interim Development Control Overlay District on this corridor in order to give the city more time to allow plans to progress without new development creating new conflicts.

Hyde Park, Roselawn Community Leaders Push Back Against Perceived “Commercial Creep”

“Commercial creep” was the dominant theme of Friday’s meeting of the Cincinnati City Planning Commission.

The commission chose to table a zoning change request by Stagnaro, Saba & Patterson Co. (SSP) to rezone a property at 3443 Zumstein Avenue in Hyde Park from single-family residential use to office use, which would allow the firm to relocate four of its 13 employees from its adjacent office to the building’s first floor.

The zoning change was opposed by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Council, which fears the expansion of businesses onto its residential streets, a loss of parking, and uncertainty about the property’s future use.

“In our meetings with Mr. Saba [Peter Saba, attorney and SSP shareholder], he revealed that the short-term plan was to use the first floor for office, which appears to be rather innocuous,” said Gary Wollenweber, chair of Hyde Park Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee. “But then he explained that future plans may be to occupy the entire building, or demolish the entire building and build a parking lot, or perhaps enlarge his current building.”

Saba said that his firm was only exploring its options.

“Specifically, at that point in time when we looked at it, we realized our only plan we wanted to do is use that first floor space,” he said. “At this point, that’s all we have on the table. Anything else is beyond economic feasibility for us right now.”

SSP has a second office in Anderson Township, and it has been suggested that the firm could expand there. But Jeff Stagnaro, who is also an attorney and shareholder with SSP, said that the majority of his firm’s clients prefer the Hyde Park location.

“Your choice is really to move the entire firm to Anderson Township, or stay here in Hyde Park,” he said. “It is somewhat about us, but it’s about our clients more than it’s about us.”

To Wollenweber, the residents of Zumstein Avenue may have little defense over the zoning change, citing a recent change on Edwards Avenue as precedent.

“One of the arguments that was used against us was that it’s just one more parcel in the middle of a block, and what difference would it make if you just move one more parcel north?” he said. “This is the first parcel with a Zumstein address. So we are turning the corner off of Erie and now starting to march down Zumstein.”

The issue may appear before the commission again in May or June, giving time for the firm and the neighborhood to explore possible solutions.

In a less contentious debate, the City Planning Commission rejected a zoning change at 1780-1816 Section Road in Roselawn from residential multi-family use to office use.

Property owner Schuyler Murdock, who has run design-build firm CM-GC from the property since 2009, wants to make utility upgrades to her non-conforming building and is trying to market the adjacent parcels for the construction of two condominium buildings of four units apiece, plus a spa and wellness center.

Murdock told commissioners that she has already lined up an operator for the spa and has pre-sold two condominiums.

But with no concrete development plans and a fear that nothing would be built and the stepped-up zoning would remain, she failed to draw the support of the Roselawn Community Council.