EDITORIAL: City Should Move Forward on Liberty Street

Liberty Street was originally built as a typical 30 foot wide city street, but was widened to 70 feet in 1955 to serve as a connector to Interstate 471 and Reading Road. The widening required a significant number of building demolitions and physically severed the neighborhood into two halves. Over the past fifteen years, as the southern half of OTR has redeveloped, the northern half has seen much less investment–and most of this has been in the area around Findlay Market, not along Liberty Street.

It is uncomfortable as a pedestrian to cross Liberty Street, as the walk light changes almost immediately to a countdown timer, and it takes about a half a minute to cross walking at an average speed. The current design, at 7 lanes wide, is optimized for speeding cars and is wholly inappropriate for a dense urban neighborhood like Over-the-Rhine.

Liberty Street is too wide and the City knows it. At an open house event in 2015, the City of Cincinnati first proposed a “road diet” for the street. Over the next several years, they facilitated several community input sessions regarding what came to be called the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project. Each of these meetings was held at the Woodward Theater for a packed audience of people who live, work, or spend time in Over-the-Rhine. Members of the community spoke about the need to make Liberty Street safer for all people, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders–not just drivers.

DOTE staff took the community input into consideration and ultimately presented their final plan to OTR Community Council on October 23, 2017. The plan called for removing two lanes from the south side of Liberty Street, reducing the crossing distance for pedestrians and discouraging excessive speeding. Additionally, this will free up land for new development along the south side of the street, providing space for new housing, retail, or office space.

As of June this year, the project was set to go out for bid this fall and begin construction in 2019, according to the city’s website.

Unfortunately, in August, the City Administration decided to “pause” the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project because of concerns about the traffic that will be generated by the new FC Cincinnati stadium in the West End and a sudden concern about how the installation of a new water main would be funded.

The Liberty Street plan, which has been in the works for years, has now been mothballed because of a stadium plan that didn’t exist until a few months ago–publicly, at least. To make matters worse, City Council previously denied the OTR Community Council’s request to be involved in the stadium’s Community Benefits Agreement, saying that OTR would not be impacted by the stadium; but now seems that Over-the-Rhine may be negatively impacted by the cancellation of the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project.

The City Administration’s concern about traffic is bizarre, as the narrowed Liberty Street would maintain five lanes of traffic during peak traffic times, the same number of travel lanes that exist today. Typically the outer lanes would be used for parking during off-peak periods, but the city could install “no parking” signs on game days. Therefore, the impact on traffic through the neighborhood would be minimal or non-existent.

As for the water infrastructure, that can be solved through a mix of council and departmental leadership. An example of that is a potential solution presented by Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld to use the money from the sale of the Whex garage to plug the budget gap.

We urge the City Council to keep the city’s promise to the Over-the-Rhine community and pass legislation requiring the City to follow through with the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project.

OTR Leaders Close to Turning Pleasant Street Into Neighborhood Connector

A coalition of community organizations organized a public event on July 11 that encouraged people to explore Pleasant Street and showcase it as a model pedestrian pathway connecting two of Over-the-Rhine’s biggest anchors.

Neighborhood leaders have long wanted to better connect Washington Park with Findlay Market via Pleasant Street. The effort really gained traction when the first phase of City Home was developed at the southern terminus of the street in 2012. Prior to that, however, the street was one of the worst in the neighborhood in terms of the status of its buildings and the street itself. That has changed.

The recently held event closed off the narrow street to vehicular traffic so that people could better visualize how a pedestrian-friendly Pleasant Street might look and feel.

In coordination with that event, an ongoing public art project, entitled Alternate Steps, has overseen the installation of several pop-up pocket parks along the corridor between Washington Park and Findlay Market. The first example of this is a wiffle ball field that doubles as a working garden that supports Findlay Market’s other production gardens.

Built adjacent to the former AVP Volleyball court, Field of Greens is a partnership between People’s Liberty, Findlay Market, 3CDC, OTR Community Council, and a bundle of classes at the University of Cincinnati.

Organizers say the overarching goal is to foster a better connection between the areas both north and south of Liberty Street in OTR.

“The idea is to encourage pedestrian traffic,” said Erica Bolenbaugh. “Actually thousands of people walked by today and we are in hope to have them provide feedback on which options are most appealing.”

The most recent part of this effort is a seating option made with tires that was designed by a graduate-level architecture program at UC. The participants in the MetroLAB program say that they have been working with residents through various community engagement activities to determine how residents and the community would like to use the street.

“It was very important for us to engage the Pleasant Street community in this process,” explained Findlay Market’s executive director, Joe Hansbauer. “We wanted this project to be as community-led as possible.”

While the redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine has come with some criticisms that it has not been inclusive enough, considering the diverse range of incomes in the neighborhood, the university team is working to show that even good design and ideas can be implemented and used by everyone.

As a result the MetroLAB team designed an outdoor kitchen, that they hope to install soon, that was made of used plastic baskets. The idea is that it is something that is scalable and can be done by just about anyone, regardless of their economic standing.

“We used low price materials to let people know that this is something that they could build in their own backyard,” Michael Zaretsky, Director of MetroLAB, told UrbanCincy. “We are working on a permit for one of those parklets; hopefully we can make this great idea come true in the early August.”

Cincy Stories Aims to Bring Neighbors Together Through Storytelling

Cincy Stories Poster - 020315 (1)-page-001One of the great aspects of urban life is the ability to meet new people and be exposed to diverse ideas you have not encountered before. Many of us, however, seem to take this fact for granted, and do not often engage in conversations with neighbors or other people we encounter throughout the city.

The creators of Cincy Stories, a new event series, hope to change exactly that. The quarterly event aims to bring people together to share stories personal from their lives.

“Cincy Stories is about intimately connecting to our neighbors and just sharing stories like people do in their living rooms or around their dining room tables,” event co-founder Shawn Braley told UrbanCincy.

Braley says that the event is modeled after others, such as The Moth in New York. Cincinnati has also had several previous recurring storytelling events like this, including UrbanCincy‘s urban campfire storytelling event in East Walnut Hills.

The first Cincy Stories will feature three speakers: Cincinnati City Council Member Chris Seelbach, OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, and mixologist-entrepreneur Molly Wellmann. It will be held on Tuesday, February 3 at 7pm in the Sword Room at MOTR Pub. The event is free and open to anyone who would like to come and listen.

You can follow Cincy Stories on Facebook for more information about this and future events.