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.

The City Series Aims To Create Scalable Development Model In Established Walkable Neighborhoods

The City Series is an interesting and somewhat new approach for urban housing development in Cincinnati. Instead of pursuing big developments with a large amount of land, or the redevelopment of existing structures, it instead is focused on challenging infill sites.

Leadership at Great Traditions and D-HAS, which is overseeing The City Series, say they chose the sites due to their walkable environments. They believe that the city’s neighborhoods represent the most important aspect of real estate today – walkability.

In addition, the development team says that they were attracted to each particular site cluster, of which they currently have three, because of its distinctive character. As of now their sites are located in Northside, O’Bryonville and East Walnut Hills.

So far, it seems as though the team’s assessment is correct. Two of the five currently available homes located on Gold Street in O’Bryonville and Cleinview Avenue in East Walnut Hills have already sold. With six more homes coming soon, the team expects that number to quickly rise.

What is also unique is that in each case the homes are being built in line with traditional design characteristics of their neighborhood surroundings. But starting at $595,000, the homes in East Walnut Hills and O’Bryonville are also being priced higher than most nearby properties. In Northside, the townhomes will range from $250,000 to $350,000.

The four homes on Cleinview Avenue are being built around an 1860s servant’s house from the original Klein Estate – the developer of the neighborhood in the late 19th century. In this case D-HAS came up with a design solution that uses three variations on an open floor plan, with car access coming through a rear yard with detached garages. This, the design firm says, allows the new homes to contribute to the streetscape at a pedestrian scale – no curb cuts to accommodate cars – and match the historic nature of the neighborhood.

About a mile east on Madison Road is the three-home Gold Street development, which actually sits on a road named Paul Street. Sitting at the end of a narrow side street, the site is within easy walking distance of both the Hyde Park and O’Bryonville business districts. For this development, D-HAS says that they looked to maximize the use private outdoor space in spite of the site’s difficult location and terrain.

Across town sits the team’s newest announced project on Fergus Street. Like the other projects, the five homes in this development are located in the heart of a historic neighborhood and feature a design reflective of its roots. Due to the differences of Northside compared to the other two neighborhoods, these homes are slightly smaller, but have the added benefit of being next to a neighborhood playground.

“We worked with the community groups – Cincinnati Northside Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CNCURC) and the Northside Community Council to design a series of homes that would be a catalyst for the surrounding neighborhood”, explained Doug Hinger, owner of D-HAS and President of Great Traditions. “There are a lot of very cool and committed people in Northside that have been active for decades and I really enjoy our partnership.”

Driven by his passion for urban design, Hinger said he established D-HAS to provide a vehicle for his architectural pursuits. And from a business standpoint, he said they saw an opportunity to start these three smaller projects as a way to bridge the gap to bigger sites and see how designs in walkable neighborhoods like this will be accepted.

“We have found value in several facets,” Hinger told UrbanCincy. “Probably the biggest value is that we’re growing the business and developing a body of work that we can take into other Cincinnati neighborhoods.”

Great Traditions and D-HAS believe they are off to a good start, and hope to use these developments as a foundation for more projects like on a somewhat larger scale.

“We’re always looking for the next project and there are several neighborhoods where we think The City Series can work,” Hinter stated. Having a viable commercial aspect in place will certainly help bolster the prospects for scalable projects of this nature, especially since they are intending to push the boundaries of the current marketplace focus.

For many urbanists, the idea of scaling up the size of such an approach is an appealing one, and one that many thought would be the defining feature of Cincinnati’s annual CiTiRAMA home show. CiTiRAMA, however, has not yet been able to consistently produce successful urban infill in the way that Great Traditions and D-HAS are attempting to do.

Hinger’s hope is to make The City Series a citywide endeavor. If successful, Cincinnati’s urbanists may finally get the annual urban home show they have long desired.

New Center City On-Street Parking Rates, Hours of Enforcement Now In Effect

New parking rates and hours of operation went into effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine on Friday. The changes come after Cincinnati City Council approved the matter in November 2014.

Under the arrangement, 500 new electronic parking meters have been installed throughout Over-the-Rhine to complement the existing set already in place in the Central Business District. Over the coming weeks, the City of Cincinnati will also be installing 1,000 additional electronic meters throughout the Clifton, Hyde Park, Mt. Lookout, Northside, O’Bryonville, Oakley, and Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business districts, as well as key locations throughout Uptown.

The electronic meters, officials say, are meant to replace the old ones with newer models that accept credit card payments and are compatible with future plans for pay-by-phone technology and dynamic pricing structures. Pay-by-phone capabilities are expected to be operational by the middle of 2015.

While nearly a dozen neighborhoods will benefit from the new technology, only Over-the-Rhine will see its on-street parking policies change across the board. As part of the new policy, parking rates in Over-the-Rhine will double to $1/hour; while rates will remain set at $.50/hour and $2/hour in the other neighborhoods and in the Central Business District, respectively.

As of today, parking meters in the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine will now also be in effect from 9am to 9pm Monday through Saturday, and 2pm to 9pm on Sundays. Parking hours of enforcement in the remaining 50 neighborhoods, meanwhile, will remain unchanged.

The sweeping changes are meant to help improve the performance of the City’s broken parking system. While many small business owners in Over-the-Rhine have expressed their support for the changes, especially in light of ongoing vandalism of meters in Over-the-Rhine, some believe they have been singled out following the cancellation of a previous agreement that would have raised rates and increased enforcement city-wide.

“I’m not opposed to longer meter hours and higher rates, but what upsets me, as an OTR resident and business owner, is the fact that our neighborhood has been singled out,” Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, wrote in a Facebook post. “The same hours and rates should apply to other neighborhoods.”

The original Parking Lease & Modernization Plan approved in early 2013 was, of course, cancelled by Mayor John Cranley (D) almost immediately upon his arrival at City Hall at the end of 2013. While the mayor and many members of City Council bemoaned the previous plan, a similar plan appears to be taking shape, but in a piece-by-piece approach.

As like the original plan, new electronic meters are being installed that accept credit card payments and utilize dynamic pricing models, meters are being upgraded city-wide, and a contract has been signed with Xerox.

The Cranley Administration has not yet commented on plans for new hours or rates in the city’s remaining neighborhood business districts, where on-street parking meters exist, but they do say that they intend to systematically create multi-space parking that will “produce more aesthetically clean public right-of-way areas in Over-the-Rhine.”

This means that the newly retrofitted parking meters in the historic neighborhood will eventually be removed to make way for multi-space equipment, similar to what has been used in the Central Business District in the past. The upgraded parking meters from Over-the-Rhine will then be shifted to other neighborhoods throughout the city. This process, officials say, could begin as soon as this spring.

In addition to the specific focus on center city neighborhoods, the new parking policy differs from the previously approved plan by creating Sunday hours of enforcement. While the new Sunday hours of enforcement are only in effect for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine, it crosses what was considered a red line in the previous public debate over proposed parking changes.

All of the changes are expected to bring confusion to those parking in the affected areas, including a large group of people who drove to Christ Church Cathedral for the Boar’s Head & Yule Log Festival on Sunday. According to Michelle Dillingham, Director of Education at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, parking enforcement officers ticketed many cars parked on the street during the event.

“I walked out of the Boar’s Head event that was barely an hour long and almost every car had a parking ticket on their windshield…on a Sunday and in front of a church celebrating 75 years of a Cincinnati tradition,” Dillingham wrote. “I don’t know, but it just rubbed me wrong.”

The former Cincinnati City Council candidate went on to say that she had two separate conversations with people, who lived outside of the center city, that were very upset by the situation and would reconsider visiting downtown again due to the aggressive parking enforcement.

City officials acknowledge that there will be a bit of a learning curve, and say they are working to improve awareness of the new rates and hours of enforcement by distributing flyers and working with groups like Downtown Cincinnati Inc. and the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce to inform drivers of the changes.