With Commuters Slow to Embrace It, Cincinnati Bike Center Finding New Niche

Tucked away beneath the Schmidlapp Event Lawn at Smale Riverfront Park is a great resource for the local cycling community. The Cincinnati Bike Center serves downtown commuters, as well as tourists and locals who may want to take a spin around riverfront parks and urban neighborhoods.

The bike center opened with the first phase of the park four years ago. Located at 120 East Mehring Way, the facility is built into the park structure at the bottom of the Walnut Street Steps, which features a bike runnel for easy movement between levels of the park, and operates in this location under contract with Cincinnati Parks.

Brady Willenbrink, who has served as the manager for the past year-and-a-half, told UrbanCincy that he is setting out to increase public awareness of the center and its many services.

While the center does not sell bicycles, it does operate as a repair shop, performing small fixes such as tire replacements and minor adjustments, or larger jobs like full tuneups and part replacements. Some cycling apparel and accessories are available for sale.

The original vision for the facility was to serve as a commuter station for downtown workers. Such an operation was seen as being similar to the famed McDonald’s Bike Center in Chicago’s Millennium Park. In fact, Cincinnati’s concept even used the same operator and hired the director of Chicago’s center to come and run the new outpost along Cincinnati’s central riverfront.

Over the past four years the Cincinnati Bike Center has signed up just 30 members – a number they say continues to grow. True to the original vision, those commuting members have 24 hour access to a secure, camera guarded space with bike racks and locker rooms. Members are also provided with 20% discounts on repairs, apparel and most other services offered at the CBC.

“They get a locker, take a shower, clean up, go to work, come back, change into their bike clothes and go home,” Willenbrink explained.

Commuters may join with monthly or annual memberships, and the option to use the station on a daily basis is available for occasional commuters or those wishing to try out the facility. Riders also can take advantage of bike valet parking in the secure space during Cincinnati Reds baseball games at the nearby Great American Ball Park. This service is open to all, not only members, and costs just $1 per bike.

It is these more temporary service offerings, however, that have proven to be most popular. Of those, none has been more well-received than the bike rentals offered at the facility.

The resounding popularity of Smale Riverfront Park has made it a day or weekend destination for many visiting the center city since it has opened. With a variety of bikes available by the hour or by the day – including cruiser, road, electric assist, kids, tandem bikes, and bikes that are driven by hand-powered cranks for free use by the disabled. In addition, the center’s small, large, and extra large ‘Quadcycles,’ which have four wheels and seat up to nine people, have been extremely popular with families and other large groups.

Taking lessons from this, the Cincinnati Bike Center has established several popular bicycle and Segway tours. These are scheduled daily along several routes throughout the center city and even extend into Northern Kentucky.

While the center’s operators are hopeful the completion of the Ohio River Trail to the city’s eastern and western suburbs will bolster commuter memberships, Willenbrink says that they will also build on their strengths by soon hosting group bike rides one Friday per month that will be open to the public.

Detailed information on those rides, he says, will be shared soon through their social media pages.

Proposed Tax Would Provide Dedicated Parks Funding Stream, $85M in Improvements

A campaign to improve Cincinnati’s parks by raising the City’s property tax by 1 mill will “change the city for the better,” according to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D).

Cranley made his remarks during the official launch of the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks levy campaign on Saturday morning at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn.

The charter amendment would raise the City’s property tax rate to 13.1 mills and would bring in approximately $5.3 million a year. The move would require City Council to fund the Parks Department’s capital budget at its 2016 budget level, and approve bonds for capital improvements using levy revenue.

Proponents say that 75% of the levy revenue will be available for the City to borrow against in order to fund 13 designated capital projects selected by the mayor and city manager. The remaining 25% will go to system-wide maintenance and operating costs.

“We’re asking to voters to pass a very small property tax that we believe, for that small amount of money – $35 a year per $100,000 value – will increase property values and increase the quality of life for all Cincinnatians as we take the wonderful park system and we bring it to the neighborhoods,” Cranley said.

The group needs to collect approximately 6,000 signatures by August 15 to make it on to the November 3 ballot. Cincinnati Parks has not placed a levy on the ballot since 1927.

“We have decided that the only fair way to do this, if we’re going to be asking the taxpayers to pay more money, is to ask the citizens first to even let us put it on the ballot,” Cranley said. “At the end of the day, we’re putting this decision in the hands of the voters, and we believe the value proposition is there. We believe that this will build a better city.”

Vision needs funding
Board of Park Commissioners President Otto M. Budig, Jr. said that his organization has been charged with creating the best parks system in the country, but despite generous City funding and donor contributions, it continually finds itself short on money for major initiatives.

“We have had some difficulty in developing major projects that have long been needed,” he said. “I went to the mayor and I said, ‘We need these funds to bring about a new vision. You give us a vision, we’ll take care of the details.’ The mayor has given us the vision.”

While many of the projects are only in the conceptual stage at current time, the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks website says that they were chosen due to being the most shovel-ready, with the ability to be completed quickly.

Multipurpose recreational trails are a major component of the plan, including the Oasis River Trail ($8 million), Wasson Way ($12 million), Mill Creek Greenway Trail ($5 million), and the Ohio River West Trail ($6 million). The City also plans to work with the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance to develop more than 20 miles of off-road trails in Mount Airy Forest ($11 million).

“The bike system that will be created as a result of this levy, off-road, which is a big thing for me – I think off-road is a much safer, dedicated path that doesn’t have as many accidents – the most extensive, bicycle urban path in America,” Cranley said.

The plan would also raise $10 million for a joint venture between the City, the University of Cincinnati, and Clifton Town Meeting to create a new master plan for Burnet Woods.

“As I often say, Burnet Woods – even more so that Washington Park – could be the Central Park of Cincinnati,” Cranley said. “If you think about Corryville, CUF, Clifton, Avondale…all surround this park. It’s the densest part of the city and it’s right across the street from 30,000 students. We can have the same impact with that park as we did with Washington Park.”

Other projects include:

  • Developing part of the 20-acre New Prospect Baptist Church grounds into a communal programming center, athletic fields, and an urban camp site that would cost $8 million;
  • A public-private partnership with Western & Southern Financial Group that would provide $5 million to renovate and reprogram Lytle Park;
  • $5 million for the redevelopment of a portion of the former Mercy Hospital complex in Westwood into athletic fields and green space for an expanded Oskamp Park;
  • A $5 million redesign of Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine/Pendleton, in conjunction with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC);
  • $4 million for streetscape and roadway improvements surrounding Christ Hospital and improvements to Inwood Park in Mount Auburn;
  • $2 million for the preservation of the historic King Studios site and development of a small café/museum in Evanston;
  • $2 million for upgrades around Westwood Town Hall and Epworth Avenue; and
  • $1.8 million for a new boat dock/marina at Smale Riverfront Park.

“Now we have this new vision,” said Parks Director Willie Carden, who already has overseen the amazing transformations at Smale Riverfront Park and Washington Park, among others. “The vision brings ‘parkonomics’, partnerships to the neighborhoods. We can do this. We can make this a safer, healthier community, but we need your help.”

Phase One of Ohio River Trail West Secures $1.3M in Funding

River West Working Group has announced that the western leg of the Ohio River Trail through Cincinnati has been awarded a $1 million Federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality grant. An additional funding commitment of $261,000 from the City of Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Program brings the total to $1.3 million.

Project leaders say that the money will be put toward construction of the first phase of the bikeway and greenway project along Cincinnati’s western riverfront.

“We greatly appreciate the initiative of the City’s Department of Transportation & Engineering in developing and submitting the grant application, and the support of Mayor John Cranley, who set up the bike program funding that seeded the Federal grant,” said Tom Croft, co-chair of River West Working Group.

Croft, a Price Hill community activist, also credited the work of ODOT, OKI Regional Council of Governments, State Senator Bill Seitz (R), and Representatives Bill Blessing (R) and Lou Terhar (R).

The first phase of work will extend roughly 3.7 miles downriver from the planned Price Landing park to the Gilday Recreation Center. The recently allocated funds will go toward constructing more than half of this phase of work.

The overall plan for Ohio River Trail West is a 28-mile bikeway and greenway network, separated from nearby roads, that serves as a connection between Smale Riverfront Park and Shawnee Lookout.

The river alignment of this trail makes it unique to any other east/west corridor on Cincinnati’s west side in that it does not traverse steep or extended hills. Such an orientation will allow cyclists the opportunity to get to the trail and have a level path into the city center.

Due to the relationship of the project to the existing freight railroad lines, project leaders say that additional coordination is needed before the group is able to move forward with the third segment of work within the first phase of construction activities.

“We are not going to announce work on that until we have negotiated some type of agreement”, Dave Zelman, co-chair of River West Working Group told UrbanCincy.

Further complicating matters is that the City of Cincinnati recently worked with the freight railroad companies to rebuild the four tracks along that stretch in recent years. Regardless, neighborhood leaders and project proponents are confident that the work will progress and serve as a major benefit for the communities along the corridor.

“The Ohio River Trail West is a big factor in the ongoing revitalization of our western Hamilton County neighborhoods, many of which are underserved by this kind of amenity,” concluded Zelman. “It will encourage access to the Ohio River and its surrounding hillsides, our greatest natural assets.”

Lower Price Hill’s MetroWest Site Looking for Someone to Follow

Buildings ablaze 10 years ago, now long gone. The former Queen City Barrel Company site is mostly empty, but not devoid of potential.

As you travel 1.5 miles from downtown along the Eighth Street Viaduct, you pass over the 18 acres of vacant land that welcomes you to Lower Price Hill. While new construction happening elsewhere in the city is constrained by existing buildings and streets, MetroWest Commerce Park is a blank slate 4.5 times the size of a typical city block, and almost as close to downtown as Findlay Market is to Fountain Square.

Though no tenants or buyers have agreed to terms on the City-owned property, Al Neyer Inc., Resurgence Group, and Colliers International are working to market the site. Highly contaminated from previous industrial uses, redevelopment of MetroWest has been years in the making, but the City has received notice from the Ohio EPA that the site is now clean enough for new construction. Sam Stephens, an economic development officer at the city, believes in the site’s potential.

“The project is not only about cleaning up the Queen City Barrel Company site, but more importantly facilitating a development that can bring productive jobs to Lower Price Hill and positively impact the environment,” Stephens told UrbanCincy.

The team marketing MetroWest believes it is an ideal location for manufacturing thanks to its easy access to I-75, active rail lines on site, and is within 1.5 miles of downtown. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Sewer District is nearby and can offer up to 50 million gallons of any water quality daily, potentially lowering the costs for businesses that require high water use that need not be potable.

In 2008, Cincinnati completed its Growth and Opportunities Study (GO Cincinnati) with a team of national advisers in economic development and real estate. The final study categorized the Queensgate/South Mill Creek Corridor as “a generally obsolete corridor,” but also noted that “recycling South Mill Creek into the hub of green production in the region, and perhaps the nation, is indeed a unique market opportunity that could catalyze development in this aging industrial stock area.”

Perhaps serving as a contradiction is that while GO Cincinnati recommends the corridor for mostly ‘drivable sub-urban’ development, it also specifically identifies Lower Price Hill as “a ‘walkable-urban’ place, which is experiencing the beginning of a revitalization.”

The current task is marketing the site to find a buyer or tenant. Images shown to promote the site look ripped from the context of a suburban industrial park, places that are not even remotely ‘walkable-urban.’ Even though, project team members say, these images are only intended to show buildable square feet, they could quickly become reality.

The GO Cincinnati Study cites industrial tenants’ primary concern to be purely functional, with little concern for aesthetics or prestigious location. It should then fall to the City to make sure what is developed is actually beneficial to Cincinnati and the surrounding neighborhoods. Does Lower Price Hill want to welcome people on the Eighth Street Viaduct to their community with dirty manufacturing rooftops cluttered with mechanical units?

When asked about the City’s vision for the site, all of the development parties emphasized there will not be heavy industry and welcomed any interested manufacturing or light industrial businesses. Given the site’s history, and the City’s spotty responsiveness to environmental concerns in the past, the neighborhood would be right to be weary of new industrial development.

Eileen Gallagher, Lower Price Hill Community Council Secretary, says that the neighborhood is open to a variety of businesses but would want express their opinions on any business, saying, “LPH would welcome positive, safe development that would utilize potentially valuable land, create jobs, expand the city’s tax base, and perhaps give training and employment to neighborhood people.”

A vision should be expected from the city, one to which residents can respond. GO Cincinnati began that vision, but the recommendation for a “green industrial park” is not being followed. The City has owned the property for almost a decade and has spent years marketing the site without finding a buyer or tenant. Stephens, however, puts the idea of visioning a little differently.

“It’s the city’s job to serve our citizens, not define communities,” Stephens explained. However, even if Lower Price Hill creates a vision, will the City listen?

Alternative Vision: Industrial Mixed-Use with Residential
MetroWest is a few hundred feet east of Oyler School, and another few hundred feet from the LPH Community School. Paired with Evans Field Park, it will be a gateway to the future Price Landing park and Ohio River Trail West.

Increasingly, developers are recognizing the potential benefits of light industrial mixed use as manufacturing becomes greener, lighter, and cleaner. A Los Angeles study showed tax income on mixed-use development to be five times greater than solitary industrial uses. With a prime location near downtown and access to transportation, it would seem that MetroWest is a great location for residential use. Perhaps even the Eighth Street Viaduct could once again allow access to buildings from the sidewalk.

Ohio EPA’s approval for development at MetroWest, however, came with a caveat: the site can only be used for industrial and commercial uses. While the site is approved as safe, residential uses are prohibited. City officials say that the decision was made to only clean the site to commercial/industrial standards because the remediation grant would not cover the increased cost of cleaning the soil to a residential standard.

Another problem is that the site is currently zoned Manufacturing General, which would limit residential use. While the site, as is, cannot be used for residential, the decisions leading to this circumstance now appear short-sighted. Cincinnati’s zoning code is changing; and MetroWest will likely become Industrial Mixed Use (IX) in the current draft of the City’s Land Development Code. This important change would allow for residential use on upper floors, except for the covenant with Ohio EPA.

The city could go after more grant money to remediate the site to residential standards, but this would require a total restart of the remediation process – something that may very well be a bridge too far.

Alternative Vision: Sustainable Dreams
Without changing the site plan in marketing images, these are a few solutions that could significantly enhance the property.

  1. Densely plant trees around the building. Over time the ‘forest’ would help absorb air and noise pollution, and would be aesthetically breathtaking.
  2. Where deeper soil is clean enough, water gardens surrounding buildings could help contain storm water and provide an ecological habitat to complement the Mill Creek and Ohio River.
  3. Rooftop gardens could be used for edible or non-edible plants. If a nursery were created for native trees, any nearby resident could pick up a sapling (ash, maple, oak, walnut, cherry, locust) for free. In 40 years the neighborhood could be heavily forested. Alternatively, Kroger might be interested in a new distribution center with edible greens on their roof similar to what Whole Foods had done with one of their stores in Brooklyn, NY.

While much is not yet clear about the future of this site, it is evident that something will be built at MetroWest; and when it is, it will bring some amount of jobs to Lower Price Hill. The question now is whether a developer or industrial tenant will dictate the development, likely benefiting their own interests, or if the City of Cincinnati will work to enhance its environment with sustainable infrastructure and buildings that benefit Lower Price Hill.

Expert Panel to Discuss Bus Rapid Transit, Bikeway Planning in Cincinnati on 4/19

The Cincinnati region is rethinking the way it moves people and goods throughout the region with major investments and studies taking place on bus rapid transit, bikeways, and multi-modal corridors. The Cincinnati region will evolve, for better or worse, depending on how these investments are planned.

To help further this discussion, we are proud to announce a new partnership between the Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy that will focus on the work produced by students at the interdisciplinary design center.

The exhibits produced by the students will be judged by those in attendance at the planned semi-annual events, and followed by an expert panel discussion. The best student project will then be profiled on UrbanCincy.

Metropolis & Mobility: Bus Rapid Transit and Bikeways

The first event of the new partnership, Metropolis & Mobility: Bus Rapid Transit and Bikeways, will take place on Friday, April 19, and will include discussion about how multi-modal transportation concepts can be applied throughout Cincinnati.

The expert panel will include Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority CEO Terry Garcia-Crews, Cincinnati Bike Center manager Jared Arter, and Parsons Brinckerhoff transportation planner Tim Reynolds.

“Bus rapid transit is a new form of urban transport, already in place in many American cities that can be modeled for Cincinnati to put us one step closer to a much-needed rapid regional transit system,” explained Niehoff Urban Studio director Frank Russell.

Russell goes on to say that the discussion regarding bikeway planning will focus on three new proposals for the Mill Creek Greenway, Western Riverfront Trail, and the Wasson Way.

The event is free and open to the public, and will include an open house session from 5pm to 6pm where visitors can view the student exhibits and mingle with the panel, and the panel discussion itself from 6pm to 7:30pm.

There will be a cash bar and complimentary light snacks provided for those in attendance.

The Niehoff Urban Studio is located at 2728 Vine Street in Corryville. The event is easily accessible via Metro bus service, and $1 parking will be available at the 2704 parking structure accessible from Vine Street.