Can Metro, Megabus Come to Terms on Moving the Intercity Bus Operator Into the Riverfront Transit Center?

Following the announcement last week that Megabus would relocate its downtown Cincinnati stop to a parking lot at 691 Gest Street in Queensgate, there has been a new round of public calls for the intercity bus operator to move its stop into the underutilized Riverfront Transit Center.

The move is just the latest in a series of moves after Megabus was forced out of its original stop at Fourth and Race due to construction taking place at Mabley Place, and complaints from neighbors about noise and loitering. Those complaints have since plagued Megabus as it has tried to find a new stop somewhere in the center city.

Perhaps the most troublesome complaint has been allegations of public urination at Megabus stops by their riders. As a result, city leaders have been looking for a more permanent stop location that includes public restrooms. This has led to a number of people to suggest Findlay Market and the Horseshoe Casino, near the existing Greyhound station, as possible locations.

But through all of this there appears to be a growing sentiment that the Riverfront Transit Center be used not only to accommodate Megabus, but all intercity bus operators serving Cincinnati.

“There is, of course, plenty of parking available, and riders can wait in a safe and secure enclosed area, out of the elements and with restrooms available,” stated Derek Bauman, urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Megabus will benefit by finally having a permanent home that was built for just this purpose.”

In addition to there being plenty of parking nearby, the Riverfront Transit Center, designed to accommodate up to 500 buses and 20,000 passengers per hour, also has plenty of capacity.

Beyond Megabus, there may be an even greater upside for other operators, like Greyhound and Barons Bus, to relocate into the Riverfront Transit Center.

“Greyhound could benefit by moving from and selling its current location near the casino, which would then be ripe for development as a hotel or other higher use. This would also save the company millions in capital dollars to fund needed upgrades and rehab of the current facility.”

As has been noted by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), someone who has served as a leader on trying to find a solution to this problem, there are difficulties with getting Megabus and others into the transit center neatly tucked beneath Second Street.

The Riverfront Transit Center is technically owned by the City of Cincinnati and operated by Metro, which uses the facility Metro*Plus layover, special events and leases some of its east and west aprons for parking. According to transit agency officials, these operations generate approximately $480,000 in annual revenue and net roughly $170,000 in annual profit for Metro.

Therefore, any new operators or changes to this structure would not only present logistical issues, but also potentially negatively affect Metro’s finances unless new revenues are collected – something Megabus has not been particularly keen of thus far.

“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, told UrbanCincy. “As a tax-supported public service, Metro would need to recover the increased costs related to maintenance, utilities, security, etc. from Megabus, which is a for-profit company.”

Hilvers also stated that while Metro is open to the idea, that there would also be some legal and regulatory issues that would also need to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the Riverfront Transit Center seems to be the logical place to consolidate intercity bus operators. The facility is enclosed, includes bathrooms, waiting areas, is centrally located and within close proximity to other transportation services such as Government Square, Cincinnati Streetcar and Cincy Red Bike.

“Welcoming visitors to Cincinnati at the RTC at The Banks showcases our city and is much more welcoming than a random street corner in Queensgate outside of downtown,” Bauman emphasized. “This just makes sense, it’s as simple as that. Everyone involved should continue do whatever is necessary to come to an agreement and make it happen.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) did not respond to UrbanCincy‘s request for comment on this story.

New High-End Townhomes Add to Pendleton’s Ongoing Revitalization

A relatively small development called Pendleton Street Townhomes will bring 10 new single-family residences to the center city in two phases over the next two years.

One of the interesting components about the project is that it is blending in mostly new infill on vacant lots with a renovation of an existing historic structure that dates back to the 1870s. The work also comes at the same time as a flurry of other investments nearby that are poised to transform the historic neighborhood.

Often considered a sub-neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton is actually one of the smallest of the city’s 52 official neighborhoods. Its building stock and urban form are essentially identical to that of its more well-known neighbor to the west.

The neighborhood has long had a slightly unique sub-culture of its own, perhaps driven by the Pendleton Arts Center, which boasts the world’s largest collection of artists under one roof. While this claim may be more hyperbole than reality, the Pendleton Arts Center is located in an impressively large warehouse building that has more than 500 studios and 200 resident artists.

Over the past two decades the Pendleton Arts Center has served as an anchor for the neighborhood, and the new townhomes being developed are fittingly located in its proud shadow.

Developers broke ground in late August on what will be four newly constructed townhomes, and one renovated property. Each home, developers say, is approximately 3,100 square feet and ranges in price from $390,000 to $449,000.

The second phase will include five more newly constructed townhomes and is anticipated to break ground next fall. While it is still preliminary, developers expect those homes to be slightly smaller and to go for around $400,000.

Evidence of the area’s hot real estate market is the fact that developers sold five of the units before even breaking ground just over a month ago.

One of the key marketing points, and a policy point of pride for those promoting sustainable development practices, is that each of the properties will be LEED certified and thus qualify for the City of Cincinnati’s tax abatement program for such properties.

The townhomes within the first phase of work under construction are expected to be complete in spring 2015.

EDITORIAL: Cincinnati Should Embrace John Cranley’s Residential Parking Permit Idea

We subsidize parking for automobiles in almost all situations in our society, but it is especially true when it comes to public parking. This can be seen quite clearly throughout the city where public parking garages, lots and on-street spaces are regularly priced below market rates.

A recent proposal by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) to charge $300 annually for a residential parking permit in Over-the-Rhine was met with immediate criticism. Perhaps the criticism was fair given that such a rate would be the highest in the country by a long shot. And yes, that includes far higher than what’s charged in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York.

UrbanCincy, however, believes this says more about the sad state of subsidizing parking than anything else. In fact, we believe that the $300 annual parking permit is reasonable.

To better understand how this proposed permit fee stacks up, let’s consider that it averages out to approximately $25 per month. According to the most recent State of Downtown report, the average monthly parking rate in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton is $89. This average accounts for approximately 36,400 monthly parking spaces available in 2013.

While this average monthly parking rate is skewed by much higher rates in the Central Business District, many lots and garages reserved for residential parking in Over-the-Rhine charge between $40 and $110 per month. This means that Mayor Cranley’s proposal would put the city’s on-street parking spaces nearly in-line with their private counterparts.

This is a smart move. We should stop subsidizing parking as much as possible. Therefore, such a proposal should not only be examined in greater depth for Over-the-Rhine, but all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods.

According to parking management policy expert and UCLA professor Donald Shoup, charging market rate prices is particularly important for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons, however, is the fact that the higher prices will cause higher turnover and thus positively influence a number of other factors such as reduced congestion from cars circling the block and reduced pollution from those cars’ exhaust.

UrbanCincy recommends identifying what the market rate for parking is throughout the city and establish districts where on-street residential parking permits can be purchased. The proceeds from those permits could then be reinvested back into those neighborhoods for improvements of selected by those neighborhoods.

In Over-the-Rhine it has been suggested that the money could go toward offsetting the operating costs of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, but in other neighborhoods it could support public art, cleanup activities, public art or whatever it is that neighborhood desires.

This may not have been what the mayor had in mind when first proposing the residential parking permits for Over-the-Rhine, but if it was then Mayor Cranley deserves serious kudos.

With Membership Rates Set, Cincy Red Bike to Begin Operations Monday

Those eager to sign-up for the region’s first bike share program found out at some point last week that the system was open. It marked the first time anyone was able to purchase annual memberships through Cincy Red Bike, and it also was the first time rates were revealed.

What those early members found out was that annual memberships cost $80 and daily rentals will cost $8. UrbanCincy has revealed that both of these rates are among the highest of B-cycle’s markets, but comparable to the other large cities served by the nation’s largest bike share company.

Part of the benefit for Cincy Red Bike members is the fact that the Cincinnati system is part of B-cycle’s national network. This means that their membership cards will also work in most any of B-cycle’s nearly two-dozen network cities.

B-cycle cities such as Austin, Denver, Fort Worth, Indianapolis and San Antonio all have the same annual membership rates as Cincinnati, but those amounts are slightly higher than the $75 annual fee charged for users in Chicago, Columbus and Washington D.C. where Montreal-based Bixi operates systems.

New York’s Citi Bike, which is also operated by Bixi, is the nation’s most expensive with $95 annual memberships.

In most cases the daily memberships cover an unlimited number of 30-minute rides. Bike share planners say that this is to encourage the use of the bikes for small trips and ensure high turnover.

Cincy Red Bike, however, will be a bit unique in that its $8 daily memberships will allow for an unlimited number of rides up to 60 minutes – making it one of just a handful of cities nationwide. The thought is that the longer ride period will allow for a better customer experience without damaging the performance of the system.

The longer check outs will lead to fewer people who don’t fully understand the pricing structure and therefore accidentally get charged user fees,” explained Cincy Red Bike executive director Jason Barron. “This is good from a customer satisfaction standpoint, but it is also good in that we will spend less time and resources dealing with unhappy customers.”

Those who go over that 60-minute time period will be charged $4 for each additional 30 minutes up to a total of $50 in added charges. Those who do not return the bike at all will be charged $1,200.

Cincy Red Bike locations

As of this point all of the 260 bikes and 30 stations have been put together and installed throughout Downtown and Uptown. Barron says that the system will officially go into operation on Monday, September 15 at 10:30am during a ceremony led by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) at The Banks.

Those who have already purchased memberships will be receiving their cards by mail next week, but Barron says that they can use the system through their membership prior to receiving their card by simply using the credit card tied to their account.

Those who have not yet purchased their memberships can do so online, and are encouraged to download the free B-cycle Now smartphone application to location stations and bike availability.

PHOTOS: First Phase of Pendleton’s $26M Broadway Square Development Taking Shape

The first phase of Broadway Square in Pendleton is on schedule for completion later this fall. Recently, UrbanCincy had a chance to tour the construction of the project.

This is the first of three phases in the $26 million Broadway Square development. The buildings are being developed by Model Group, and the leasing of the retail and office space is being managed by Urban Fast Forward. Once completed, phase one will include 39 market rate apartments, 8,000 square feet of office and four retail spaces.

The development is located close to Horseshoe Casino and is adjacent to the recently renovated Spring Street Plaza & Playground and “multi-sensory and interactive” Spinnradl sculptures.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 17 photos were taken by John Yung for UrbanCincy in late July 2014.