Cincinnati’s $109M Capital Acceleration Plan Ignores Adopted Bike Policy

On Thursday, the City of Cincinnati celebrated the start of its bold, new road rehabilitation effort. The six-year program will include the resurfacing and rehabilitation of aging streets, replacement of city vehicles outside of their life cycle, and establish a new focus on preventive road maintenance that city officials will save money in the long-run.

The $109 million Capital Acceleration Plan is a strategic policy shift at City Hall, and represents a large infusion of money into road repair. The new focus on preventive maintenance is particularly noticeable as it represents an eight-fold increase in spending on that front.

“This is much bigger than just spending money to improve the condition of local streets. CAP is about making an investment in the city and people who live here,” City Manager Harry Black said in a prepared release. “This strategic investment in our roadways and infrastructure will serve as the foundation of Cincinnati’s sustained long-term growth.”

City officials say that the investments will improve the condition of 940 center-line miles of streets over the next six years. In its first year, its $10.6 million for street rehabilitation and $4 million for preventive maintenance, officials say, will impact 16 different neighborhoods and improve 120 center-line miles of roads.

With so many streets poised to be improved over the coming years, many people advocating for safer bicycling and walking conditions on the city’s roadways were optimistic that across-the-board improvements could be made. In fact, their cause for optimism is not without cause. The City of Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, which was adopted by City Council in June 2010, calls for incremental improvements to the city’s bike network as road resurfacing projects take place.

“Many of the facilities recommended in this plan can be implemented in conjunction with already scheduled street rehabilitation projects,” the Bicycle Transportation Plan notes. “When this coordination occurs, costs for implementing the bicycle facilities may be reduced by over 75%.”

According to officials at the Department of Transportation & Engineering, such savings can be achieved since the capital costs can be shared for both sets of improvements, and labor costs can be maximized.

The Bicycle Transportation Plan goes on to state that City Hall will be opportunistic and take advantage of every occasion where bicycle facilities can be included with street rehabilitation projects or other capital projects. Taking such an approach, the adopted policy says, “will reduce costs to the lowest levels possible.”

City Hall, however, has fallen woefully behind on the implementation of the recommendations made in the Bicycle Transportation Plan; and the current administration has even made a point of noting that they do not generally support the idea of on-street bike facilities. Rather, Mayor John Cranley (D) and his administration have focused on investing in off-street recreational bike trails.

Such an approach has left many people who use bikes as a means of transportation frustrated; and with $69 million of CAP going toward road improvement projects, it would seem like a great opportunity to maximize the improvements by performing these projects in a manner that also improves safety conditions for the city’s rapidly growing number of people commuting by bike.

Based on statements from City Hall, however, it seems that it will prove more so to be an opportunity lost; and put the city in an impossible position to meet its adopted policy objectives within their target time frames.

As Challenges Persist For Central Parkway Bike Lane, Cyclists Look to Organize

With National Bike Month coming to a close, the rhetoric surrounding the fate of the city’s lone protected bike lane continues. Following weeks of discussion and political wrangling, the city’s latest politicized transportation project will be studied again after two initial reports were found to be inconclusive by some leaders at City Hall.

The debate is, perhaps not coincidentally, taking place while the city’s bike community is becoming more active in terms of numbers of riders, group rides and political activism.

Last night at the Mercantile Library dozens crowded the venue to hear a panel discussion and engage in discussion about the current and future state of Cincinnati’s bike network. Organized by Queen City Bike and other area advocacy groups, the event served as an opportunity for people to constructively discuss the good and bad about the city’s bike infrastructure.

First adopted in June 2010, Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan has served as the official document meant to guide policy decisions at City Hall. Since its adoption, however, the planning document has largely sat on the shelf, with targets for the development of bike lanes and other infrastructure falling behind schedule.

Mayor John Cranley’s administration has made it very clear that they are not interested in the development of on-street bike lanes, particularly those that are physically protected from automobile traffic. In lieu of pursuing those targets, the Cranley administration has instead focused on off-street bike trails; while also providing the critical upfront investment to launch Red Bike.

“Under our public-private relationships and support of council and a very vibrant cyclist community, in my opinion, we’re going to be the most bike-friendly city in America in four years,” Mayor Cranley told Aaron Renn in 2014. “We have three major bike trails that can be connected on abandoned train tracks into downtown; and, candidly, we intend to get all three of them build in the next four years. There’s just nothing like it in any city.”

National studies have found that protected on-street bike lanes not only provide the greatest level of safety for both bicyclists and motorists, but also encourage a greater range of demographics to bike. According to the American Journal of Public Health, this is largely attributable to the fact that streets with protected bike lanes saw 90% fewer cyclist injuries per mile than those without.

When it opened in July 2014, the Central Parkway protected bike lane was the first of its kind in Ohio. Since then other cities around the state have developed their own protected bike lanes, but Cincinnati has gone back to discussing the merits of the project after a handful of motorists complained that it made the roadway more dangerous and confusing to navigate.

Those suggestions were refuted in a report issued earlier this month that found conflicts along the 2.2-mile stretch of Central Parkway with the protected bike lane are no different, or even safer, than on other comparable streets around the city; but that further experience and education is needed for motorists.

“The Cincinnati Police Department and DOTE both believe that as drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians become more familiar with the area and with the rules for the bike lane operations, there should be fewer conflicts,” the report concluded. “DOTE will continue to monitor conditions, and improvements may be made in the future as best practices evolve.”

Whether the future of Cincinnati’s bike infrastructure continues to focus on off-street bike trails, or shifts to a more balanced approach is yet to be seen. Queen City Bike is hoping last night’s event, and others to come in the future, will help grow the number of people advocating for a more robust bike network, but also refine the vision based around what it is the community wants to see pursued.

The Cranley administration has put forth a proposed budget that increases spending on bicycle infrastructure, but the overwhelming majority of that money has been tagged for off-street trails, not protected bike lanes or other sorts of infrastructure improvements.

City Council has until the end of June to review, make proposed changes and approve next year’s budget. This will give the growing bike advocacy community a strong opportunity to make their voices heard.

Pendleton Apartment Development Becomes City’s First “Bicycle Friendly” Residential Destination

One of Pendleton’s newest multi-family residential developments has not only saved a historic structure from the wrecking ball, but it has also become one of the city’s most bicycle friendly destinations in the process.

Cincinnati-based BiLT Architects designed, developed and rehabbed the 1870s tenement building to fit what they called a modern urban lifestyle. They were able to do this by retaining original architectural details, while also responding to new trends in Cincinnati’s rapidly growing bicycling community.

Located at 512 E. Twelfth Street in Pendleton, the seven-unit development offers an unparalleled amount of amenities for bicyclists looking to take advantage of the building’s central location.

On-site, the property has dedicated bike lockers and a fully outfitted bicycle workstation with bicycle stand, pump, and repair tools. Tenants can also purchase 50% discounted memberships to Cincy Red Bike, connecting them to a network that has grown to 385 bikes at 50 stations throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

These efforts have earned Abigail Apartments the distinction of being the first apartment building in the city to be named an official “Bicycle Friendly Destination” by local advocacy organization Queen City Bike, of which Abigail Apartments is also a member.

The project does not have dedicated on-street parking, but this has not been an issue for prospective tenants. For example, the developers say, some people with employer-provided parking downtown have said they might leave their car parked at work and instead walk and bike for their other trips.

BiLT Architects’ Andre Bilokur said that he and his partner, Patricia Bittner, designed the project with people like their daughter in mind – renters who work in the center city want to live a car-free or “car-lite” lifestyle near all of the action, without sacrificing affordability or good design. More broadly, they expect the project to appeal to people on either side of having a family – young professionals and “never nesters”, or empty nesters, much like Andre and Patricia themselves, who also live and work in Over-the-Rhine.

BiLT purchased the property in late 2014 from OTR A.D.O.P.T., and, thanks to a tax abatement from the City of Cincinnati and an Ohio Historic Tax Credit, they were able to restore the structure and preserve many features of the original tenements, including refinished hardwood floors, restored windows, room layouts, and even privy closets. Accent patches on the walls also cleverly reveal old layers of plaster from former occupants.

The apartments began pre-leasing in April and will welcome the first residents in the coming weeks. Rents range from $840 to $880, or $1.50 to $1.60 per square foot.

This is BiLT Architects’ second adaptive reuse project in the area, following a townhouse project they designed and developed 1431-1435 Elm Street.

Andre and Patricia say more such projects are in the pipeline, including a set of commercial properties currently under construction near the townhomes on Elm Street. They say that these are expected to come on line by the end of the summer. A future phase at 1437 Elm Street will add a new construction, single-family home between the townhomes and commercial properties.

Area Organizations Teaming Up to Encourage Active Transportation This Spring Season

Tri-State Trails is aiming to encourage the public to get outdoors with the Opening Day on the Trails Challenge – a seven week series of hikes, group bike rides, and other events on trails and in parks throughout the Cincinnati region.

The challenge starts with an event at Sawyer Point from 12pm to 5pm on Saturday, April 16, which is also Earth Day.

The Opening Day on the Trails Challenge is part of a national kickoff by the Rails-to-Trail Conservancy to promote the spring outdoor season. Running from mid-April to early June, the challenge overlaps with National Bike Month in May.

Information on the challenge can be found online at MeetMeOutdoors.com. Participants can register on the website, and sign up to receive email newsletters and social media alerts. A Trails Challenge Passport is also available for download. To participate, individuals and families attend group events, which are listed on a schedule included with the passport. Attendance at activities is logged on the passport, and those who attend at least one event are eligible to win a prize.

Organizers say that the challenge will conclude with an award ceremony on National Trails Day on June 4 at the Purple People Bridge. Participants who complete the challenge will receive a Nalgene water bottle and other items. A raffle will also be held to award prizes, donated by local businesses and Cincy Red Bike, to registered participants.

Tri-State Trails, a program of Green Umbrella, is the local host of the challenge, and is hoping it will encourage more people to get out and explore the region’s network of bike paths and trails.

Wade Johnston, Regional Trails Coordinator for Tri-State Trails, sees the event as an opportunity to showcase not only the many multimodal trails in the Cincinnati region, but also the hiking and mountain biking trails. Tri-State Trails has been told by the Rails to Trails Conservancy that the Challenge in the Cincinnati region is the largest and longest program of any opening day trail event in the United States.

Johnston told UrbanCincy that public support and usage of the region’s trail system is increasing, citing the Cincinnati Connects plan, and efforts to expand the Mill Creek Greenway, Ohio River Trail, and Wasson Way.

The Opening Day on the Trails event is supported by a $25,000 grant from Interact for Health. While this is the first year for this event in Cincinnati, it is intended to be an annual event in the future.

Green Umbrella’s Outdoor Event Series will continue through the summer with the Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo on July 22 at Winton Woods Harbor, and the Great Outdoor Weekend on September 24 and 25 at a variety of locations around the Cincinnati area.

VIDEO: ‘Mobile Cyclist’ Explores Cincinnati’s Growing Bike Culture

The growth of Cincinnati’s bike culture has attracted national and even international attention over recent months. While much of the attention has been paid to the growth in ridership and use of Red Bike, less focus has been on the more intangible growth of the various support industries and groups helping fuel the change.

In the third episode of Mobile Cyclist, a web-based TV series focused on bicycling culture across the United States, host Anthony Barr explores the Queen City. In the nearly 13-minute video Barr takes viewers to a collection of bicycle friendly destinations that help shed some light on the region’s bike scene.

He first stops at Velocity Bike & Bean in Florence, where he tries some coffee and talks to the owners. Then he visits the Cincinnati Bike Center at Smale Riverfront Park to discuss how it operates, and how its bike rental services differ from those offered by Red Bike. Following that, Barr stops to speak with the ever-present Frank Henson from Queen City Bike, before making his way to Element Cycles in Hyde Park to check out their art work and bamboo bikes.

The last stop on his tour takes him to Fifty West Brewing where he learns about the Little Miami Scenic Trail and Oasis Trail, along with their bicycle friendly brew called Radler.