Opinion: A Boulevard for Brent Spence Bridge Exit

Covington is in the midst of a redevelopment wave. A number of prominent historic buildings have recently been rehabbed and several large new mixed-use buildings are in the planning stages or under construction.

Two of the new projects, “Riverhaus” at 501 Main Street, and the John R. Green Lofts at 411 West 6th Street are scheduled to bring 369 new apartments into the Main Strasse neighborhood.  Census tract 603 covers most of the Main Strasse neighborhood and it shows 1,491 residents living there in 2015. Those two new projects will add a significant increase in the local residential population density.  Their ongoing progress reflects the demand for residential development in pedestrian-friendly urban spaces.

Part of Covington’s urban core that hasn’t seen any new residential development is the area north of 4th street between Madison Ave. and I-75.  Dubbed “Hamburger Heaven” in the city’s recent City Center Action plan, it contains multiple fast food restaurants, the sprawling one-story IRS center, and a sea of parking lots. Part of the reason the area hasn’t seen any development is that Covington’s 4th Street delivers 27,000+ cars per day to I-75. That much traffic is incompatible with pedestrian-friendly urban space.  

The City Center Action Plan makes redevelopment of the Hamburger Heaven and IRS sites a priority but it does not address the area’s inhospitable traffic. It’s a problem: How do you connect new development north of 4th street to the existing pedestrian-friendly urban fabric while maintaining all the traffic to the interstate?

The imminent closure of the IRS site presents an opportunity to address the problem. The 23-acre site covers 3-1/2 blocks of frontage on 4th street. Most of the remaining space adjacent to 4th street between the IRS site and I-75 consists of parking lots.

Once the IRS site is closed, the city of Covington should widen 4th street and convert it into a multiway boulevard.

A multiway boulevard consists of a series of central lanes to move through-traffic, side lanes with on-street parking to serve local vehicles and bicycles, and broad sidewalks to serve pedestrians. Tree-lined medians separate the local traffic from through-traffic, and trees on the sidewalk further separate pedestrians from traffic. Think of it as a “mixed-use street.” Because the street supports a different mix of uses – people, bicycles, transit, through traffic – it can more readily support mixed-use buildings at its edges. Mixed-use buildings add the density and diversity of uses that support pedestrian-friendly urban space.

San Francisco recently took an existing street and converted a portion of it into a new multiway boulevard. The creation of Octavia Boulevard was possible because an earthquake damaged a freeway and made it unusable. Instead of rebuilding the freeway, San Francisco added its right-of-way to a four-block stretch of Octavia Street, which became Octavia Boulevard.

Today, Octavia Boulevard moves 45,000 cars per day in two directions, it has side streets and broad sidewalks to serve local residents, and the creation of the street spurred new development on its edges. Octavia Boulevard sets a clear precedent for converting underutilized auto-oriented development into more productive mixed-use urban development. Octavia Boulevard is aesthetically pleasing, practical at moving traffic, and successful at promoting economic development.

To implement Covington’s “4th Street Boulevard Project” the street’s existing 50-foot right-of-way would be widened to the north to create a 100+ foot wide right-of-way.

The expanded right-of-way will accommodate the multiway boulevard’s additional lanes, medians, and sidewalks. Expanding the right-of-way will require part of the IRS parcel, a number of parking lots, and the demolition of a fast food chain restaurant.

Different design options could include making 4th street’s through lanes either one-way or two-way. A dedicated transit lane could be accommodated. Bicycles can share the local lanes with local vehicular traffic.  

Implementing the 4th Street Boulevard Project would have multiple effects that support the ongoing urban renaissance. The medians and parked cars provide protection for people to walk, eat, drink, and socialize outside. Trees also protect pedestrians and provide a canopy for shade and cooling. Bicycle use will be safe and easy. Converting 4th street from a single use – channeling cars to I-75 – into a multiway boulevard will facilitate the development of dense mixed-use buildings.

There’s a historic opportunity here. The IRS site was born out of federal urban renewal projects in the 1950s. Its time is now at an end.  The trend of the future is to live, work, and play in the urban core. The current traffic on 4th street is a barrier to urban development. Converting 4th street into a multi-way boulevard will support the traffic flow but mitigate its negative impacts. Recent examples provide good evidence.

If the ongoing urban development is to be sustained and space north of 4th street – just blocks away from the Ohio River – is to be put to its highest and best use, then the traffic along 4th street must be addressed. Converting 4th street into a multiway boulevard will do just that.


This is a guest editorial by Chris Meyer that originally appeared in the CNU Midwest blog. CNU and CNU Midwest are content partners with UrbanCincy.

If you would like to have your thoughts and opinions published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

VIDEO: Max Wilson’s Incredible Two-Year Timelapse of Chicago

We occasionally post videos put together by people from around the world for no other reason than to share their incredible job of showcasing cities. The latest such example began surfacing a couple of weeks ago, and this time the video profiles Chicago.

The approximately six minute video, entitled Windy City Nights, was put together by Max Wilson over a nearly two-year period. The extraordinary timelapse video showcases a number of Chicago landmarks while also profiling some more casual scenes from about The Windy City.

According to Wilson, he shot over 200,000 exposures to end up with the final product. It also apparently taxed him due to his simultaneous full-time work and family commitments.

Well, Max Wilson’s struggles are for your enjoyment. So sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful video of the capital of the Midwest.

The rise of downtowns and resurgence of inter-city bus travel

The resurgence of center cities and urban living has been well-documented. When combined with the inability of the United States to significantly invest in inter-city passenger rail, it appears to be only natural that inter-city bus travel has boomed. More from Chicago Magazine:

“In 1960, there were 454 daily arrivals and departures by bus in and out of Chicago. In 1980, 290; in 2002, 147 (O’Hare has about 2,400 flights every day). From 2002-2006, intercity bus service across the country declined eight percent. Then it turned around…With the resurgence of central-business districts, travelers too young to remember the stigma associated with bus travel, especially those living on college campuses and in large cities, are turning to motor coaches in especially large numbers.”

Cincinnati: A Love, Love, Hate Relationship

This guest post by Greg Meckstroth originally appeared on urbanOut.

Oh Cincinnati, Oh. How I love, love, hate you. Before moving to Indianapolis I spent 2 years living in Cincinnati, Ohio in the neighborhood of Clifton. During this time I gained a true appreciation for what the city is and all the quirks that exist there. What I concluded is that there is a lot to love about the City, but also some things to hate…but more love than hate. Culturally, physically, and emotionally, Cincinnati is an amazingly unique place with a provincial attitude completely different than any other Midwest counterpart. With these oddities and attitudes comes certain social down sides that gives the City a bad reputation and why it ultimately isn’t a creative class destination. Below, I list the positives and negatives of Cincinnati.

Here is why I love, love Cincinnati:

  • Identity: The region has a unique, provincial culture not found anywhere else. Whether it’s the food (Skyline Chili, Dewey’s, Graeter’s to name a few), the government, or the institutions, Cincinnati seems to have retained its sense-of-self in ways other Midwest cities have not. People in the area don’t consider themselves from Ohio, but instead just from Cincinnati. Cincinnati is its own city-state.
  • Local: Locally owned businesses seem to thrive in Cincinnati. While other Midwest towns have become ‘Chain City USA’s’, Cincinnati celebrates their local businesses and builds community around them. What I find interesting about downtown Cincinnati’s renaissance is the number of locally owned establishments fueling the rebirth. Unlike other towns, Cincinnati isn’t marking their downtown’s success by which chains it does and does not have.
  • Community: The sense of community pride in the City is strong. More often than not, people who live in Cincinnati love Cincinnati. Also, since the City is so neighborhood focused, each having it’s own flavor and sense-of-place, people latch on to their respective communities, keep up on current events, and actively voice concerns. More so than other places, Cincinnati citizens definitely care about their community.
  • Density: Cincinnati is structurally America’s oldest inland City and thus developed before the car and in extremely dense fashions similar to East Coast cities. Plus, the City’s hills constrained development, making the neighborhoods even denser (Cincinnati was the densest City in the United States outside of New York for quite some time).
  • Geography: Cincinnati’s hilly geography allowed each neighborhood to develop separately, each with their own business district and each in different forms. On top of this, the hilly, river valley geography provides great views and interesting urban landscapes and juxtapositions.
  • Architecture: The City’s core features the Midwest’s best collection of 19th Century architecture as well as innovative new architecture (hello The Ascent and Contemporary Arts Center).

So enough gushing about how great the City is, because with this love, love comes the ‘hate’:

  • Cliques: Because of the provincial culture, Cincinnati seems closed off to outsiders and their respective ideas. Newcomer’s often describe Cincinnati as ‘cliquey’ and find it difficult to fit in to social circles.
  • Close-minded: The City has a negative reputation with being open to minorities, namely the gay and lesbian population and African-Americans. As a gay man living in the City, I feel this stereotype applies more to the surrounding suburbs than the liberal leaning City, but it nonetheless is a perception problem the reigon has to deal with.
  • Status-quo: While other parts of the country progress on certain issues, Cincinnati seems to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. If something is proven successful time and time again, Cincinnati will come on board, and probably when other places like New York and San Francisco have already moved on to the next big thing. Thus, the City seems comfortable with the status quo, and progress happens slowly here.

There are plenty of other things to both love and hate about Cincinnati, but my analysis is limited to the region’s provincialism and unique culture. I have to say that I have seen great progress in Cincinnati over the past few years, with current leadership and community activism geared towards ending the status quo, ridding the City of this ‘hate’ I speak of, and moving forward in positive ways. With this progress comes the question: if Cincinnati continues to open itself to other ideas and virtues, can it hold onto its uniqueness?

In general, can a City continue celebrating it’s uniqueness while opening up to the outside? I think the obvious answer is ‘yes’, a City can do this and there are plenty of examples. But unfortunately, there are also examples that point to the contrary. So as Cincinnati moves forward it must be aware of this give and take and find the proper balance in becoming a bigger and better 21st Century City.

For as long as I can remember, I have had this love, love, hate relationship with Cincinnati. However, my ideas are not new and have been examined before. Check out this post by the Urbanophile for a similar take on Cincinnati.

Greg Meckstroth holds a Geography degree from the Ohio State University along with a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally-ranked School of Planning. Greg currently works as a planner with an urban design firm in Indianapolis.

Sen. Brown announces $700k for Ohio Hub

United States Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has announced the passage of $2.75 million in federal funds for transportation and infrastructure projects in Ohio. $700,000 of that money will be going towards improving the capacity of passenger and freight trains – a critical component of the Midwest Regional Rail System that officials says will integrate the region’s air, highway, and local transit networks along 3,000-mile interstate rail network with more than 45 proposed passenger stations.

Senator Brown said that, “investing in Ohio’s transportation infrastructure is critical to ensuring the long-term economic competitiveness of our state. These funds will help communities make necessary improvements to buildings, roads, and public transportation.”

Also within the bill, the Cincinnati Freestore Foodbank, Inc. will receive $500,000 for renovation and improvement work at their 110,000 square-foot food distribution facility. Senator Brown’s office states that these improvements will allow the center to increase capacity and food handling efficiency, while also creating a suitable space to the organization’s Nonprofit Training Center.