PHOTOS: The Impressive Impact of Smale Riverfront Park

There are dozens of development projects underway at any given time, but few have the opportunity to make a truly transformative impact. Smale Riverfront Park is one of those rare exceptions.

As UrbanCincy has chronicled in the past, the changes that have taken place along Cincinnati’s central riverfront over the past two decades have been truly remarkable. The consolidation and burial of Fort Washington Way. The construction of two behemoth stadiums, a world class museum and an entire new neighborhood. And now the opening up of the Ohio River through the redesigned riverbank and park.

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What was once an asphalt riverfront separated from the rest of the city by an inhospitable highway now the region’s central gathering place for tourists and a destination for everyone in the region looking to the river that gave the city its birth. The changes are breathtakingly wonderful.

Of course, there is nothing better than images to help visual such changes. Instead of posting photos of what the area was once like, as we have in the past, this collection of photos are from that past few weeks at Smale Riverfront Park’s latest addition, and its immediate surroundings.

Projects like this and Washington Park, which is currently hosting thousands of thrilled Cincinnatians as part of this year’s Lumenocity event, are the types of investments and projects that change a city. What’s even better is that they’re accessible to everyone.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 20 photographs were taken by Eric Anspach in July 2015.

VIDEO: Latest Phase of Work at Smale Riverfront Park Virtually Complete

Cincinnati Park officials have celebrated a string of openings at Smale Riverfront Park over the past month. While a few more openings remain, the vast majority of work in the latest major phase of the $120 million park is now essentially complete.

In the latest video update from project manager Dave Prather, he explains what all has taken place and what remains before work slows down considerably. At this point, Prather said, attention will turn to raising funds for the next wave of work, including the boat dock and western reaches of the 45-acre park.

The latest additions to the central riverfront park are more active than what has been developed so far. There are more of the popular family swings overlooking the river, an interactive foot piano, a flying pig playset, water pumps and channels, Carol Ann’s Carousel, and the P&G go Vibrantscape. Where railyards once existed, there are now even movable picnic tables sat atop rail ties.

Two of the larger features of the latest expansion are actually passive spaces. The Great Lawn is now nearly complete and the “beach” is in its early stages of formation. Once complete, visitors will be able to walk all the way down to the water’s edge, although this “beach” will not be made of sand due to the risk of erosion.

Two unique historical features are also part of this latest work. The first is a cornerstone marker in the middle of the Great Lawn that shows where the first addressed building in Cincinnati was situated. The second is a collection of foundation walls that were uncovered during the park’s excavation. These foundations, historians say, remain from 19th century buildings developed along the Ohio River.

This is expected to be the last video update from the Smale Riverfront Park development team for some time. As development at The Banks catches up, the park will soon be able to continue its westward expansion.

VIDEO: Smale Riverfront Park’s Carousel Taking Shape in Mansfield

Carol Ann’s Carousel is taking shape about three hours north of Cincinnati in Mansfield. It is there where master wood carvers are hand-crafting the $1 million showpiece for Smale Riverfront Park.

Carol Ann’s Carousel is being built by an Ohio company that claims to be world’s largest manufacturer of wooden carousels. Founded in 1986, Carousel Works has built dozens of the rides that are now in operation throughout North America. According to their employees, Cincinnati’s is one of the more unique and interesting projects they have worked on to-date.

“I’ve got to work on some really fun ones so far, but I have to say that the Cincinnati’s carousel is going to be really fantastic,” explained carver Tim Gorka. “I  really think it’s going to be a favorite of most of the people working here.”

The $4.5 million structure that will house the amusement ride is now largely in place, with the glass walls and roofing all in place just west of the Roebling Suspension Bridge along the central riverfront.

Project officials say that the progress is advancing according to plan, and that the 44-character carousel will open to the public on Saturday, May 16.

Latest Excavation Work at Smale Riverfront Park Creates Beach Along Ohio River

Great weather seems to always bring great news for construction projects, and this is the case in the latest project update for Cincinnati’s $120 million Smale Riverfront Park.

In the video, project manager Dave Prather points out that the structure enclosing Carol Ann’s Carousel now has its roof decking and framing in place, with the glass wall panels being readied for installation soon. Prather further showed where the elevator shaft has been completed and the large skylight that will form the roof of the building, thus allowing for a flood of natural light inside.

“Keep an eye on this side, it’s really gonna have a transformation” Prather noted. “But right now you can get a sense of how open the structure is.”

Since the last project update, the cascade water features and light fixtures are now in place at the Vine Street Fountain & Steps, which mirror the setup at the already complete Main Street Fountain & Steps. The area is now just awaiting the installation of its granite surface.

One of the more interesting elements of this project update is the excavation work at the river’s edge to make way for the Great Lawn. Now virtually complete, the excavation work as created a beach of sorts going directly into the Ohio River. The completion of this work has also opened up a variety of new views of the Roebling Suspension Bridge that were not previously visible.

Prather then discussed a wall that is now in place along the river bank where the riverwalk will continue from already completed portions of the sprawling park.

“We are now able to connect with the river in a way never had before,” Prather noted proudly.

All components of the current phase of construction work are still anticipated to be completed in late spring or early summer ahead of the 2015 MLB All-Star Game to be held at Great American Ball Park.

Should ‘Kathy Plates’ Be Added to Roebling Suspension Bridge?

In the spirit of throwing new ideas out there, UrbanCincy would like to propose installing Kathy Plates on the Roebling Suspension Bridge in order to improve the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists using the 148-year-old span.

The idea first came to mind when we hosted our Bikes+Brews ride in May 2013. The route took our group of approximately 20 cyclists across the bridge. Following the law, and protecting the safety of pedestrians also using the bridge, we rode across with automobile traffic.

Those familiar with the Roebling Suspension Bridge know that it is somewhat famous for the humming sound it makes as you drive across. Well, this sound is created by the friction between each vehicle’s tires and the grated bridge deck. That same deck that evokes such a pleasant and memorable sound, also can at times redirect a car slightly as it navigates the numerous grooves.

This also occurs for people traveling across the bridge on bicycles, although to a much greater effect due to the lighter weight of the bike compared to the car.

This same phenomenon exists on dozens of Chicago’s famous bascule bridges. The bascule bridge type was invented in Chicago and proved to be an engineering innovation still paying dividends more than 100 years later. The design, however, requires a delicate management of the bridge’s weight distribution – even a new coat of paint has the potential to throw things out of whack.

Chicago has seen an explosion in the number of people using bicycles as their form of transportation, and, as a result, saw many cyclists crashing on the bridges due to the grooves in the grated bridge decks and their joints that are similar to what exist on Cincinnati’s famed Roebling Suspension Bridge.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) came up with a solution that aimed to remedy the safety hazard while also respecting the delicate balancing act required to make bascule bridges go up and down.

That solution is the ‘Kathy Plate’ application, which is named after activist Kathy Schubert, who lobbied for the plates after she had crashed on Chicago’s LaSalle Street Bridge.

It is a fiberglass plate that is affixed to the bridge deck where bicyclists would be riding, thus creating a smooth and consistent surface without throwing off the bridge’s weight distribution.

Mike Amsden, Assistant Director of Transportation Planning with CDOT, told UrbanCincy that the city initially used steel plates or concrete infill, but has since switched to the fiberglass alternative due to its lower cost and lighter weight. As of today, Chicago has one bridge with steel plates, seven with concrete infill, and five with the new fiberglass plate option.

Amsden says that CDOT first began using the fiberglass plates more than two years ago, and has not yet needed to replace any of them – even with Chicago’s harsh winters.

“The open grate bascule bridges can be very slippery, especially when wet,” Amsden explained. “Because bridges can be such a barrier to bicycling, we’re putting extra emphasis on making our bridges bicycle friendly.”

CDOT says that they incorporate these fiberglass plates on any bike lane project that crosses a bridge, and uses the concrete infill option on bridges that are being reconstructed, regardless of whether a bike lane crosses the bridge.

“We match the plate width to the approaching and departing bike lane width,” said Amsden. “So, as you can see on Dearborn, it’s a wide two-way bike land, so the plates are much wider.”

There are no marked bike lanes approaching or departing from the Roebling Suspension Bridge, but cyclists typically use the congested and winding sidewalks cantilevered outside of the bridge columns.

A simple application of these fiberglass plates in each direction could help to improve safety and mobility on Cincinnati’s most iconic bridge.

According to Queen City Bike, it is something they said they would like to research further and consider for potential application on the Roebling Suspension Bridge.