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.

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.

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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.