Could Narrowing Liberty Street Unlock New Development Potential in OTR?

Streets can set the mood and feel of a place. Narrow streets with low traffic are quiet, easy to walk across and casual. Wide streets can be chaotic, full of traffic and hard to bridge on foot. There is a wide street in Over-the-Rhine that cuts through the northern part of the neighborhood and the southern revitalizing part of it. It’s Liberty Street.

Liberty Street was not always so wide. Before 1955 the street, which now dead ends at Reading Road and the I-471 ramps, extended from Highland Avenue on the hill in Mt. Auburn to the U.S. Post Office facility in Queensgate. The width of the street was a modest 25 feet.

In 1955, however, the city decided to widen and connect it to Reading Road as a east-west cross town access point for the interstate highway system. Buildings on the south side of the street were demolished and the street was widened from a two lane road to one with five lanes.

The street is currently 70 feet wide and is both dangerous and difficult to cross for people walking. Development has not taken place on the south side of the street since most of remaining lots are too small and oddly shaped for development.

Beyond its physical barriers, Liberty Street also serves as a psychological barrier between the nascent Brewery District and vibrant Gateway Quarter.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In 2012, the City’s Department of Transportation & Engineering began studying ways to calm traffic on the street in order to make it safer. After spending two years evaluating traffic conditions, City Hall is beginning to engage the public for comment on the proposal. The first will be tomorrow night at the Woodward Theater.

The session will build upon the idea proposed in the OTR Brewery District Master Plan, which called for the removal of a lane of traffic to add protected bicycle lanes in both directions. The UrbanCincy team recently discussed the proposal and found that while this is a good starting point, there is a larger opportunity for the street to spur more redevelopment along the corridor.

Our proposal eliminates one lane of traffic in each direction, but preserves the middle turn lane. A two-way contraflow protected bicycle lane would then be installed on the south side of the street. This leaves approximately 15 feet of unused street right-of-way.

This unused right-of-way could be returned to property owners on the south side of the street, thus narrowing the overall street by 15 feet. It would also increase the size of the southern properties which would increase their development potential and improve safety for pedestrians crossing the street. This would serve as particularly beneficial for small parcels such as those at the corner of Vine and Liberty or between Main and Sycamore.

This idea builds on the ideas put forward by Jeff Speck, who recently released a video on traffic calming and embraces modern street design standards that are found in the National Association of City Transportation Officials Street Design Manual.

The Liberty Street Safety Improvement Open House will take place at the Woodward Theater located at 1404 Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The session starts at 6pm and will last until 8pm. It is served by the #16, 17, 19 and 24 Metro bus routes, and is less than a block away from a Cincy Red Bike station.

Metro Proposing To Alter 14 Express Bus Routes Through Downtown

Metro will hold an open house on Thursday to share a variety of proposed changes to the routing of express commuter bus routes through downtown. Officials with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority say that the re-routings simplify their operations and make the routes more easily understandable for riders.

There are some 14 express routes that have been identified for these changes. In many cases, the routes come into the downtown area one way in the morning, and depart a different way in the evening.

The express routes are those that primarily impact those commuting into the center city from outlying suburbs, so the meeting time has been scheduled during the middle of the workday so that those commuters can easily attend and provide feedback.

The proposed changes would greatly simplify many of the routes, thus allowing for some stops to be eliminated, while others are relocated. The end result should enable faster and more reliable operations through the center city.

The recommendations come as the region’s largest transit provider is working to both expand and reform existing operations in order to improve its bus service operations. It also comes at a time when Metro is gathering public feedback with regard to what kinds of improvements existing and would be transit riders would like to see made.

The open house will take place from 10am to 2pm on Thursday, November 5 in the boardroom of Metro’s main office, which is located on the 12th floor of 602 Main Street.

In addition to large posters of the proposed route changes, which are all made available at the end of this story, Metro’s planning staff will be on-hand to answer any related questions. Those unable to attend the open house in person are encouraged to email comments to or submit comments through an online submission form. All comments received prior to 5pm on Thursday will become part of the official project record.

Following this public feedback period, transit planners will final revisions and begin putting together an implementation plan. Based on the current schedule, Metro officials believe the changes can be implemented by March 2016.

Metro Looking For Feedback On How To Improve Regional Transit System

Over the past month, Metro has been hosting public listening sessions in order to get a better idea for what current and would-be transit riders are looking for out of the region’s largest transit provider.

While the five sessions have been completed, Metro is still accepting feedback through an online survey that takes about five minutes to complete. Agency officials have not said when that process will be closed, but they say that the goal is to compile the data by the end of the year.

This public feedback process falls in line with growing speculation that Metro will ask Hamilton County voters next fall to approve a sales tax increase that would pay for expanded bus service throughout the county. As it is now, Metro is almost exclusively funded by the City of Cincinnati, and thus primarily provides service within those boundaries. Service outside of those boundaries costs riders extra – a situation that would be removed should voters approve the sales tax increase.

“At the end of the day, the transit system belongs to the people,” explained Jason Dunn, SORTA Board Chair. “It is our job to be good stewards of the transit system and uphold its mission. Ultimately, we’ll use this feedback to help us make decisions that will set the agenda for transit in the future.”

The public is asked to weigh in on a number of key items in the survey, including where bus service should be extended, and what kinds of operating schedules are preferred. The survey also asks about whether real-time arrival display boards, enhanced shelters and ticketing machines would be desired. All of these are items Metro has been adding over recent years, but at a modest pace.

In relation to service operations, Metro officials ask about adding more direct crosstown routes, park-and-ride lots, operating buses earlier or later, increasing weekend frequencies, and adding service to major commercial corridors like Glenway Avenue, Hamilton Avenue, Vine Street, Reading Road and Madison Avenue.

Each of these corridors have been identified for more robust service akin to what has been done along Montgomery Road, which features the first Metro*Plus route in the region. While not full-blown bus rapid transit, Metro officials see it as a step in that direction with its more frequent service, enhanced bus shelters and less frequent stops that allow for faster travel.

Of course, without a dedicated regional transit tax many of these improvements will be difficult to accomplish, or take many years to realize. In the most recent round of TIGER funding, Cincinnati did not apply for any transit-related projects, nor did it even compete for any funds in the recent distribution of the FTA’s Transit-Oriented Development Planning Pilot Program.

While City Hall focused its TIGER grant applications on the Elmore Street Bridge and Wasson Way, both of which were unsuccessful, Metro officials said they did not apply for the FTA funds because they did not believe they had projects ready for successful consideration. But some local transit advocates disagree.

“Our elected officials and administrators are asleep at the wheel,” said Derek Bauman, Southwest Ohio Director of All Aboard Ohio and Chair of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Pools of money exist, particularly at the federal level, for all types of transit planning and construction. We must at accept that times have changed, prepare for the modes of transportation that people are demanding today, and then avail ourselves to resources to make it happen as they become available.”

An additional meeting will be held to gather public feedback from young professionals on Wednesday, November 11 from 6pm to 7:30pm at MORTAR Cincinnati in Over-the-Rhine. Metro CEO and General Manager Dwight Ferrell will be there to take part in the Q/A, and the first 50 people in attendance will receive a free $10 stored value bus pass.

Metro officials say that all of the feedback from the listening sessions and online survey will be considered by the newly created Metro Futures Task Force, which is made up of community leaders who will then present their findings to the SORTA Board in early 2016.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect an additional public meeting that will be held on the evening of Wednesday, November 11.

PHOTOS: Cincinnati’s First Modern Streetcar Arrives in Over-the-Rhine

On Friday, October 30, Cincinnati’s first modern streetcar vehicle arrived at the Maintenance and Operations Facility in Over-the-Rhine.

A crowd was gathered on Race Street as Cincinnati Streetcar #1175, which continues the numbering system Metro used for its streetcars when they went out of service decades ago, arrived on the back of a flatbed truck and was carefully lowered onto the track and towed into the building.

The most common reaction overheard from the crowd was, “It’s big!” While renderings of the streetcar have been available online, many people will be surprised when they see the streetcars in person. Each vehicle can hold 150 passengers, about three times more than a bus.

The remaining four streetcars are expected to arrive in Cincinnati by February 5, 2016. Each vehicle must be thoroughly tested before allowing passengers on board, so don’t be surprised if you see streetcars throughout Downtown and Over-the-Rhine over the next several months.

The system is still expected to open to passengers in September 2016.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These 14 photos were taken by Travis Estell and John Yung for UrbanCincy.

National Citizen Survey Shows Perceptions of Hamilton Continue To Improve

With the recent announcements of two major new employers, London-based Barclaycard and Colorado-based StarTek, bringing hundreds of new jobs to Hamilton, it may come as no surprise that the city performed comparatively well on the 2015 National Citizen Survey.

Made available to residents in nearly 550 other localities throughout the United States, the NCS is considered by most counties and municipalities as the standard-bearer for collecting meaningful qualitative data and providing informative, actionable feedback.

At the survey’s conclusion, each participating community received an in-depth report that summarized their residents’ responses in three areas: community characteristics, governance and participation. In aggregate, these are compiled to give a general overview of the community’s livability and quality of life. Embedded within this, the questions collect residents’ thoughts about eight key aspects that are central to any community: safety, mobility, the natural environment, the built environment, recreation/wellness, education/enrichment, and community engagement.

While the comparison to other communities is certainly useful, what’s most telling is how the Hamilton of today compares to the Hamilton of its not-so-distant past.

When lined up against its results from the 2011 NCS, the city saw positive gains in a nearly two-thirds of the survey. Not only did the city improve upon those areas where it had been lagging for decades, it also continued to bolster its status as a high-quality, cost-effective producer of public utilities and public goods.

From its best-tasting water, its increased hydroelectric energy production, to its publicly accessible natural-gas station (the first and only in Greater Cincinnati); Hamilton has proven that it is indeed possible to effectively provide public services through economically uncertain times.

It wasn’t all great news, however, with some of the lowest scores falling within the realm of transportation. In particular, few residents responded positively to questions about public transit and traffic flow, both of which have been notoriously subpar for a city of Hamilton’s size. By comparison, nearby Middletown, which is smaller than Hamilton, has had direct access to Interstate 75 and its own four-line public bus system for decades.

Within the city proper, there are only three bridges that connect the city across the Great Miami River within the city proper, all of which carry local roads. Further complicating this is Hamilton’s lack of any highway-grade road infrastructure of any significance as well as numerous at-grade railroad crossings on both sides of the river.

The city is attempting to address some of these transportation issues by moving forward with the $29 million South Hamilton Crossing project, while also lobbying to restore regular passenger rail service.

Public transit of any kind is non-existent in Hamilton, which only frustrates this situation even more. In response to this, city leaders say that they are working to improve relationships with Butler County and other entities within the county, including Middletown and Miami University, to improve public transit offerings.

In particular, the Butler County Regional Transit Authority has essentially absorbed operation of what had been independent bus services in Middletown and Oxford in order to build connectivity among the county’s population centers. BCRTA also maintains routes to West Chester and Tri-County Mall in coordination with Cincinnati’s Metro bus system.