VIDEO: Are ‘Protected Intersections’ the Next Bicycle Infrastructure Innovation?

The City of Cincinnati and other area municipalities have been working to improve the region’s bicycle infrastructure in order to both make cycling more attractive and safer. Those improvements have included new bike lanes, sharrows, cycle tracks, trails and dedicated parking for bikes.

City officials say that protected bike lanes, like the cycle tracks to be installed along Central Parkway, offer the larger population an incentive to get out on their bicycles. Those officials point to results from public polling that show large percentages of people that would be open to riding bikes if they felt safer on the roads, and that protected bike lanes would do wonders to accomplishing that.

But Nick Falbo, an urban planner and designer at Alta Planning+Design, thinks protected bike lanes aren’t enough.

“Protected bike lanes lose their benefits when they reach intersections,” Falbo states in his six-minute-long video proposal. “The buffer falls away and you’re faced with an ambiguous collection of green paint, dashed lines and bicycle markings.”

In his submission to the George Mason University 2014 Cameron Rian Hays Outside the Box Competition, Falbo proposes what he calls the Protected Intersection - a design overhaul for intersections that he says will not only improve the value and safety of protected bike lanes, but also make the intersection more usable for all modes of traffic.

“It doesn’t matter how safe and protected your bike lane is, if intersections are risky, stressful experiences. We need to make intersections just as safe and secure as the lanes that lead into them. What the protected bike lane needs is a protected intersection.”

Small Businesses Have Been Biting the Dust Early in 2014

Small Business ClosuresA staggering number of small businesses in Greater Cincinnati have resolved to shut their doors at the start of 2014. Already more than a dozen establishments have been effected since late last year in a downturn that has not been as drastic since 2008.

Cord Camera was the first to announce it would close. Once prosperous with over 30 stores in Ohio and Indiana, its remaining eight retailers struggled to meet expectations during the holiday shopping season. Chief Financial Officer, John Crotty, said the company’s demise was due to the increasing popularity of digital photography with smartphones and less demand for printing pictures.

The next was the shocking departure of It’s Just Crepes, with a vague note on their website that read “Thanks for a great five years!” The eatery had expanded to three locations, two downtown and another in Crescent Springs, and appeared to be constantly bustling during lunchtime. Both of the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were shut down without notice, and the owners have not been able to be reached for comment.

Decorative retailer, Joseph Williams Home, began sounding the alarm in the fourth quarter, discounting items up to 60% off through the end of December. Owner Fred Arrowood explained that his five year lease was ending for his space at the corner of Thirteenth and Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. Upon renegotiating, he was unable to come to an agreement for another five-year lease with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), who wanted to increase rent despite the store’s marginal sales.

“3CDC has become focused on restaurants and bars rather than retail and meeting the needs of residents,” said Arrowood. In an interview with the Cincinnati Business Courier, Anastatia Mileham, Vice President of Communications for 3CDC, attributed the increase in rent to high demand for prime real estate in Over-the-Rhine, like Arrowood’s corner store location.

Further complicating the matter locally was a combination of aging owners and slow sales, such as was the case with Chez Nora in Covington. Just shy of its 20th Anniversary, the three-floor restaurant and jazz bar never recovered from the economic decline and lost too many customers to competition across the river.

“We got culinarily passed by,” said owner Jimmy Gillece of the new eateries that developed as part of The Banks and revitalization of Over-the-Rhine.

Down the street, Behle Street Café succumbed to a similar fate. After 19 years in operation, the loss of two major companies in Covington and new competition at The Banks and in Over-the-Rhine, prompted owner Shawn Thomas to close the restaurant. “We just couldn’t keep up. Although great for Cincinnati, it’s not so good for Covington,” he stated in a release.

The litany of other lost businesses continues to grow, including: Enzo’s (Over-the-Rhine), Bayou Fish House (Newport), Spare Time Grill (Alexandria), Take The Cake (Northside), Fabulous Finds For Less (Bellevue), Mayberry (Over-the-Rhine), Smartfish Studio (Over-the-Rhine), and Past & Presents (Bellevue).

Not all the news is grim, however, as many of these locations have either already been filled by another local business, or will be soon.

Five years is traditionally the make or break point for small businesses – businesses that exist to generate a customer. It will be increasingly important going forward that entrepreneurs are creating shops that meet the demand of a community and allow for the businesses to be sustainable.

But as businesses continue to reach the end of their tenure and evaluate progress, consumers should brace themselves for the trend of closings to continue.

Next up on the chopping block will be vintage clothing shop Atomic Number Ten, which closes its doors on Saturday, January 18. Located at Thirteenth and Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, owner Katie Garber simply stated that it was time to move on to bigger and better things. “We really hope you can make it in to say goodbye,” Garber wrote to her customers in a blog post. “It’s been a great ride!”

UC Planning, Engineering Students Propose Hamilton Avenue BRT Corridor

Hamilton Avenue BRT CorridorLast fall UrbanCincy partnered with the Niehoff Urban Studio on an event that highlighted the work of an interdisciplinary group of students. That semester engineering and planning students focused on urban mobility and looked at bikeways and bus rapid transit ideas within the city.

Each of the student groups presented their final research and findings to fellow academics and industry experts from around the region. We then gathered a group of transit and bike experts to engage in a panel discussion about the student’s proposals and about transportation in the region in general.

Throughout the course of the day, we asked members of the public who attended to vote on their favorite proposal. The winner was a bus rapid transit corridor along Hamilton Avenue that focused heavily on a transit-oriented development (TOD) in Northside where The Gantry is now being built.

The six-person team consisted of Tyler Kiefer, Benjamin Lafferty, Christopher Murphy, Michael Orth and Michael Walsh from the College of Engineering & Applied Science and Alexander Cassini from the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning.

First and foremost, the group said that their Hamilton BRT Line would most closely resemble Cleveland’s highly publicized HealthLine, which is the highest-rated BRT line, by far, in North America. The group also examined lines in Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

One of the main reasons for the comparisons to Cleveland is the similarities between the corridors. In both Cincinnati and Cleveland, the corridors connect neighborhoods under-served by transit to institutional services, while also providing greater mobility.

“The 2010 U.S. Census has shown how the population along Hamilton Avenue has less access to quick and reliable means of transportation when compared to the stats of Cincinnati and Ohio as a whole,” explained Masters of Community Planning student Alexander Cassini. “This lack of mobility directly affects citizens’ access to essential services and employment opportunities.”

Their research found that Metro’s #17 bus route, which most closely aligns with their proposed BRT corridor, currently averages weekday ridership of about 4,500 people. Furthermore, they found that approximately 17% of the households along the corridor have no car, 10% of the commuters identify as bus riders and there are 6,387 people living per square mile.

The proposed BRT corridor runs from Downtown to North College Hill, and the engineering and planning students saw this particular corridor as a major opportunity to spread investment and attention from the center city to additional neighborhoods that would take advantage of the BRT route’s 12 stations spaced out between one-half mile to three-fourths of a mile apart that would ensure faster and more efficient service. Each of the 12 station locations, Cassini notes, was selected due to its significant population and employment nearby.

“Northside and North College Hill are historic places in the city and present a great opportunity for Cincinnati to keep growing as a city,” noted civil engineering student Michael Orth.

Orth went on to say that while one of the positives of this corridor was the amount of people and businesses it could positively impact, the area’s congestion was also one of the team’s greatest challenges, stating, “There is very little room to implement a bus only lane throughout the corridor, which would be ideal for a BRT line.”

To help address this situation the group said that they envision a bus only lane, or a hybrid lane for buses and cars depending on the hour, through the congested portions of the route. Although not recommended, if a hybrid lane was determined to not be satisfactory Orth said that further study could be done to examine whether there would be enough benefit to remove on-street parking in order to provide for a consistent, dedicated bus only lane.

Other technology to help facilitate the quick movement of buses along the corridor would include arrival detection at traffic signals so that the lights can change in order to accommodate an approaching bus.

Existing Metro bus service, they said, would largely be redeployed to avoid redundancy, but some would remain since local buses stop more frequently – potentially creating a corridor of localized bus and express BRT service.

Hamilton Avenue BRT in Metro*Plus Context
One area where the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has already begun enhancing bus service is along Montgomery Road, which connects Downtown with the Kenwood area. That new Metro*Plus service, while not full BRT, is a step in the right direction according to the University of Cincinnati students, and has already seen ridership triple since its upgrade.

“Metro*Plus service is good but it is only the first step towards a true BRT system for the Cincinnati metropolitan area,” Cassini cautioned. “Metro*Plus service can be even more efficient, and effective if totally dedicated lanes and other additional features are added.”

Reading Road, where Metro began operating articulated buses in 2010, is actually the region’s most heavily utilized bus corridor with Hamilton Avenue coming in second and Montgomery Road third. If Metro is to continue to build out its enhanced bus service, or full-on BRT operations, then Hamilton Avenue may very well be the next logical choice.

What helped the group’s proposal stand out from other presentations was its focus on the TOD in Northside. With a $13 million mixed-use project coming out of the ground on that site now, the group reflected on their own proposal.

While the team had collectively noted the large, clean open space as being one of the huge benefits of the site, it also made it particularly valuable in their opinion. As a result, several of the group members, while encouraged about the private investment, were also a bit underwhelmed by the Indianapolis-based Milhaus Developers’ architectural design.

Both Cassini and Orth mentioned that they would be interested in working full-time in the transportation industry someday, but for different reasons. When asked to briefly compare the wide variety of transportation projects current in the planning or development stages around the region, there was a uniform response that their excitement is for the Cincinnati Streetcar.

“Although the planned streetcar line does not expand sufficiently in our eyes, we believe it would be an incredible economic development booster for Cincinnati’s downtown and overall urban core,” Cassini explained. “The overall transportation efforts around Cincinnati will eventually pay off to form a comprehensive and more easily navigable system than today.”

The Niehoff Urban Studio is currently working with a new set of students on designs for the Wasson Corridor, which runs through several of Cincinnati’s eastern neighborhoods. This is another topic that was examined by one of the interdisciplinary groups of planners and engineers last year. UrbanCincy is once again partnering with the Niehoff Urban Studio and will be organizing a similar showcase and panel discussion in 2014.

Crafty Supermarket Kicks Off Shop Local Season at Music Hall

Over 4,000 people went shopping at Music Hall last weekend during the fourth annual Crafty Supermarket Holiday Show.

Kicking off the Shop Local season, independent retailers traveled from as far as Minnesota and North Carolina to sell their wares in Cincinnati. More than 90 vendors were hand selected from a competitive application process, making this the largest Crafty Supermarket to date.

Crafty Supermarket Cincinnati
Visitors browse the offerings at Cincinnati’s Crafty Supermarket Holiday Show at Music Hall. Photographs by Paige Malott for UrbanCincy.

The assortment of products offered something for everyone on your gift list: hand-crafted fragrances, recycled crayons, wallets made from old transit maps, knitted gloves and scarves, jewelry, home décor, small-batch chocolates, and more.

Furthermore, there were plenty of Cincinnati-themed items showed off hometown pride, including: stationary, neighborhood holiday ornaments and pennant flags, ink and stamp sets of Cincinnati landmarks, coasters, necklaces, wallets, iPhone covers, throw pillows, beer glasses, dish towels, Ohio-shaped bars of soap, and many styles of locally inspired t-shirts.

If you missed Crafty Supermarket, fret not. All of the vendors have online shops, which is also perfect for those wishing they had bought just one more thing.

If shopping in storefronts is more your style, Fabricate in Northside, MiCA 12/V in Over-the-Rhine and Broadhope Art Collective in Westwood carry products from a majority of the sellers.

Record Fair to Gather Area Music Lovers in Northside This Weekend

Northside Presbyterian ChurchHundreds of vinyl collectors and music lovers will gather in Northside this weekend for the second annual Northside Record Fair.

The event, according to its website, seeks to “bring together record collector dorks from all over the Midwest to buy, sell, trade and generally nerd out” over thousands of records, CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, reel-to-reels, posters, concert DVDs, zines and other music memorabilia.

More than 40 vendors from across the Midwest – a mix of independent record stores, small limited-edition labels, dealers and private collectors – will sell at the event, including event sponsor Shake-It Records, Black Plastic in Northside and Louisville record store Astro Black.

The Northside Record Fair extends beyond the boundaries of a typical record swap however.

“I’m more of the mindset of wanting the record fair more out there than just Elvis records and Beatles records,” explained event organizer Jon Lorenz. “My interests are in more obscure punk records or indie records or experimental stuff.”

Lorenz had always wanted to organize a large-scale record fair, taking inspiration from New York’s WFMU Record Fair. When a friend first suggested organizing a record swap in 2012, Lorenz said, “Why not go all out and make it as big as we can?”

Last year’s inaugural Northside Record Fair at Hoffner Lodge attracted over 400 people from Cincinnati and as far as Lexington, Louisville, Indianapolis and Columbus. This year Lorenz anticipates an even bigger crowd.

The event is produced by Lorenz under the moniker Dome Presents, a music promoter specializing in underground, DIY and experimental music. Lorenz says that he started Dome Presents to try to engage bigger bands that have a more underground or cult following that would normally skip Cincinnati.

The Northside Record Fair will take place on Saturday, November 23 at the Northside Presbyterian Church on Hamilton Avenue from 11am to 4pm. Early bird admission will cost $10 and start an hour earlier at 10am. Regular admission will cost just $5.

The event is easily accessible by several Metro bus routes, and Northside offers an abundance of free bicycle parking.

BuyCincy Holiday Event Aims to Give Local Shops $500,000 Bump

The final two months of the year are often the make-or-break month for retailers. In some cases this relatively short time period can account for more than a third of a retailer’s annual revenues.

There is always much hype surrounding what specials the big retailers are offering on Black Friday, but there are also opportunities to support small, locally owned businesses this holiday shopping season.

What was previously known as Cincinnati Unchained will return this year as an expanded four-day event meant to encourage area shoppers to support locally owned shops, restaurants and bars. The BuyCincy Holiday Event will take place the week before Black Friday from Thursday, November 21 to Sunday, November 24.

East Walnut Hills Retail
Woodburn Avenue in East Walnut Hills. Photograph provided by 5chw4r7z.

According to Kurt Myers, co-founder and business director of BuyCincy, this will mark the seventh season for the event and that in previous years some merchants have reported that it ends up being their busiest day of the year.

There are more than 300 businesses participating in this year’s event, and that those shops are located in over 25 neighborhoods throughout the region. Organizers say that their goal is to generate new spending from over 35,000 customers, which would create an estimated economic impact of more than $500,000 with each shopper spending approximately $15.

“Supporting locally owned businesses has a three-and-a-half-times greater impact on the economy than shopping at a store that is not owned locally,” Myers explained. “Plus you get to support your friends and neighbors businesses and keep Cincinnati unique.”

In order to help encourage local shoppers to participate in the event, the Greater Cincinnati Independent Business Alliance (CiNBA) is working with retailers to offer raffle prizes. When customers visit a participating business they will receive a ticket to use in the raffle of thousands of dollars of prizes. To help further promote the effort, organizers are also encouraging people to use the #BuyCincy tag on social media.

A full list of the participating businesses and neighborhood business districts can be found at BuyCincy.com. Those businesses that are still interested in participating can do so by registering online and submitting a $25 minimum raffle donation.

If you want to support local businesses but are not quite sure about what to buy for that special someone, then you can also purchase them a Downtown Gift Card, which is redeemable at 180 stores and restaurants in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, including all Findlay Market merchants. Those gift cards can be purchased online, at the offices for Downtown Cincinnati Inc., or at Findlay Market.