Metro, Uber Ink Deal Aimed at Addressing First and Last Mile Connections for Transit Riders

Business leaders from Uber and transit officials with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority gathered yesterday to announce a new partnership between the region’s largest transit provider and the increasingly omnipresent ridesharing service.

As part of the partnership, Metro will place interior transit cards on buses advertising a unique code that will offer a free ride to first-time Uber users. While the deal is similar to Uber’s many other marketing relationships, it may be the first step toward greater collaboration between the two organizations.

“Many of our customers have expressed their interest in using rideshare services like Uber in conjunction with their Metro trip to bridge the gap between service hours and locations,” Metro CEO & General Manager Dwight A. Ferrell said in a prepared release.

In other cities, like Dallas and Atlanta, Uber has partnered with regional transit agencies to integrate their mobile app with the route planning offered within the transit agency’s app. However, these relationships have been critiqued for what being a lopsided arrangement favoring the fast-growing tech company.

Other partnerships looking to address the first mile, last mile challenge have so far struggled to amount to much, but this has not stopped transit officials in Minneapolis and Los Angeles from inking deals to cover trip costs on Uber as part of their respective guaranteed ride home programs.

Such issues, however, are not deterring Metro officials from looking at the potential upsides that might come out of the partnership.

“We’ve seen the significant success Uber has had with other major public transit providers,” Ferrell stated. “We believe Uber is an ideal partner to help us meet the needs of our customers, ultimately making their experience as convenient and enjoyable as possible.”

If the partnership is successful, it could create significant value for Metro riders and help tackle one of the most difficult challenges facing transit agencies throughout North America – how to get riders to and from transit stations without the use of a personal automobile. Eliminating such a problem would allow many people to significantly reduce their reliance on a personal automobile, or eliminate it altogether.

Uber and Public Transit Pairing [FiveThirtyEight]

“Cincinnatians are already combining Uber and Metro to reach their destinations and we are excited to partner to spread the word further that Uber is an option to take Metro riders that ‘Last Mile,’” said Casey Verkamp, general manager of Uber Cincinnati.

Verkamp and Ferrell are right in being optimistic about the potential. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight found that people the combined cost of public transit and Uber becomes more cost effective than owning a personal automobile when the person uses public transit for approximately 85% of their trips and Uber for the rest.

With the average household making 2,000 trips annually, that equates to roughly 300 Uber trips per year. Of course, the average Cincinnatian takes far fewer than 1,700 trips per year on public transit, so a fully functioning arrangement of this kind would be hugely beneficial for both Uber and Metro. The main problem in Cincinnati is that the vast majority of people living in the region are not well-served by transit, and are essentially unable to take 85% of their annual trips by public transit.

Nevertheless, this is the first partnership of its kind in Ohio. While its limited scope leaves much unanswered about how it will benefit area transit riders over the long-term, it does illustrate that Metro officials are thinking about the future of how to move people effectively and efficiently throughout the region.

“This partnership exemplifies how cities like Cincinnati are embracing innovation and creative solutions to meet the needs of their residents,” Verkamp concluded.

Minneapolis is laughing at all other Midwestern cities as it builds out its bike network

With one of the highest rates of biking in North America, Minneapolis already should be proud of its accomplishments in diversifying its transportation network. Instead, the city that averages around 54 inches of snowfall each year is looking to double down on the effort. The newly released plan from the City of Minneapolis calls for adding 55 miles of bike lanes to the city’s existing 37-mile network. More from Streetsblog USA:

The 30-mile plan is expected to cost about $6 million, with funding coming from city, county, and federal budgets. Minneapolis will also save money by folding bike lane construction into regularly scheduled road resurfacing projects, according to the Star Tribune. The paper notes the entire plan will cost less than building a single mile of roadway.

The city has tentatively identified 19 corridors that will get protected bike lanes. About half are in downtown or the University of Minnesota area. The other half are in outlying neighborhoods that aren’t currently well-served by bike infrastructure, said Fawley. The city had hoped to install 8 miles of protected bike lanes this year, but it doesn’t look like it will quite reach that goal, due to some construction delays.

The world’s best cities have lots of traffic congestion, and that’s a good thing

When discussing transportation, the difference between traffic and congestion is often lost. There is, however, a difference between the two and that often plays a significant role in the livability of a city. What we have learned over the years is that congestion is often a good thing, particularly in cities. More from Streetsblog USA:

The pattern that emerges is that the places with the most traffic and driving also have the least congestion…Swan notes that the most congested places are also the places where people have good travel options that don’t involve driving. His chart suggests that car congestion itself is not the problem that needs to be solved — as long as there are other ways to get around, in a congested city few people will actually have to sit in traffic.

Construction Work Progressing on Hamilton’s $11.8M Artspace Lofts Project

From the construction of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, to aggressively marketing Pyramid Hill, to proclaiming itself The City of Sculpture, Hamilton has been actively reinventing itself as an arts-friendly and arts-centered community since the early 1990s. One of the most recent efforts, however, has been the development of the Artspace Hamilton Lofts, a partnership between Neighborhood Housing Services of Hamilton and Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects.

When finished next summer, the $11.8 million mixed-use development will include 42 market-rate rental units including studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom options. It will also include commercial and studio space on the first floor for burgeoning local artists.

Since its inception in the late 1970s, Artspace has transformed itself from simply being an advocate for the needs of artists into one of the premier non-profit developers of art-centric residential and commercial space in the United States. From artist cooperatives, to family lots, to non-residential projects, the Artspace Hamilton Lofts will continue their mission of creating unique, historic spaces for artists and arts organizations.

The Artspace project is also indicative of Hamilton’s efforts to reinvigorate its downtown by embracing its architectural past. Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, in an effort to appear more modern and match the neighboring structures that were being constructed, many of Hamilton’s downtown buildings had superficial metal facades installed on them that masked the original architectural details.

Fortunately, two of these surviving buildings, the Mehrum Building and Lindley Block, are in the process of having those metal facades removed as part of the Artspace project. The two properties were selected for the project after an extensive search, for the best location in Hamilton, over the past several years.

According to the Hamilton Lofts project lead, Sarah White, these facades have, in an ironic twist, protected the buildings from the elements over the years. While the structurally important aspects of the two century-old buildings will be left intact, the soft interiors are being completely gutted and rebuilt so that they will function as one.

The project was funded through a combination of public and private sources, including state historic tax credits and the National Endowment for the Arts and the Hamilton Community Foundation.

Project officials say that leasing will begin in the spring, and that those who are interested in applying for one of the residential or commercial art spaces can do so by attending their next informational session on Tuesday, November 18 at the Oxford Community Arts Center.

EDITORIAL NOTE: As part of our efforts to continue to keep you connected with what is happening in the urban areas of our region, we have added a new writer dedicated to covering Butler County’s historic urban cities of Hamilton and Middletown.

David A. Emery, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning and former Hamilton resident, will be covering these cities in an effort to provide coverage of two other urban centers in our metropolitan region that boast significant populations and were 19th century boomtowns along the Great Miami River and Miami-Erie Canal.

Over many generations, both cities have been pulled into Cincinnati’s cultural and economic influence, and now essentially serve as satellite cities to the Queen City. The both, however, also are interesting places that are dealing with issues of urban redevelopment, diverse populations and changing economies.

Cincinnati Gentrified at One of Nation’s Fastest Rates Immediately Following Housing Boom

During the housing boom years between 2000 and 2007, many cities saw an influx of new housing and new wealth into their core neighborhoods. It was a trend that was consistent throughout America as wealthier individuals looked to move back into the cities that had been abandoned in prior decades.

This trend was more pronounced in some cities – Atlanta, Washington D.C., Denver, and Seattle – than others. But for the most part, the majority of the cities were gaining wealth relative to their regional average. Following the burst of the housing bubble, however, virtually every city saw this rate of improvement slow down.

According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the majority of 59 cities studied now fall between either a one percentile decline or one percentile increase between 2007 and 2010. This is in contrast to the housing boom period which saw cities like Atlanta and Washington D.C. move up 8.7 and 5 percentiles respectively.

“During the housing boom, a number of large cities in the United States experienced redevelopment in their lower-income neighborhoods as higher-income residents moved in, a process known as gentrification,” wrote researcher Daniel Hartley. “Since lending standards have tightened with the onset of the housing bust and the financial crisis, we wondered whether gentrification has continued after the recession in places where it was happening before.”

The results of their research found that only a select handful of regions reasonably continued to see relative wealth growth in their principal cities. The findings also detected one region that bucked the trend and actually increased its gains over the housing boom period.

“Another interesting case is Cincinnati, which barely changed in income ranking from 2000 to 2007 but has increased at a pace similar to Denver or Washington during the 2007 to 2010 period,” the research team noted.

Hints of such activity were realized in December 2013 when UrbanCincy uncovered that census tracts all over the city were experiencing wealth increases.

While the gains in wealth may seem like a positive thing for the city, not everyone is so thrilled about the changes taking place in Cincinnati.

“It seems to me what this information really indicates is how, when people experiencing poverty are systematically removed from a certain area, and housing stock is renovated with the goal of selling to wealthier people, property values increase,” says Jason Haap, an area teacher and prominent advocate for the city’s homeless population. “The fact that Cincinnati has seen gentrified growth during a time of slow economic growth in minority communities further exacerbates the situation.”

One of the tools in order to prevent the displacement Haap mentions from happening is including ‘set asides’ in new developments for affordable housing. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has done this a bit in Over-the-Rhine at projects like Mercer Commons and Bremen Lofts, but there is no official city policy or requirement to do so.

What also factors into the relative changes studied by the Federal Reserve Bank is the widespread poverty and low income levels of those living within city limits. Thus, even nominal improvements would show up as a potentially significant increase.

We do know, however, that some housing prices, particularly in the city center where demand is highest, are starting to get out of hand. Most new apartment developments in the Central Business District now feature rents of $2,000 or more per month, and in one recent case, a three bedroom flat on Sixth Street rented for a whopping $4,600 per month.

In such cases it is leaving many now wondering if these prices are not only driving out existing residents but, paradoxically, also preventing many new potential residents from moving in.

“Demand in Cincinnati’s core is insatiable, and supply is only coming online at a trickle,” explained Derek Bauman, an urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Without urban housing supply, we may miss the coming wave of new residents. At nearly $2 per square-foot rents and $250-$300 a square-foot sales, we may not have Manhattan prices yet, but we’re damn near Brooklyn.”