City Officials to Present Alternatives for Two-Way Street Conversions in Walnut Hills

City officials are moving forward with potential changes to E. McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road in East Walnut Hills. The proposed changes are a continuation of other improvements that have been made in the area in recent years, and will be presented to the public at an open house meeting on Tuesday, November 18.

Developed by planners and engineers at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE), the improvements being considered include two-way street conversions of E. McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road between Victory Parkway and Woodburn Avenue, and Woodburn Avenue between E. McMillan Street and Taft Road.

The proposal is an extension of two other two-way street conversions that were completed in 2012.

According to community leaders, the projects are seen as an opportunity to better connect the business districts of Walnut Hills and East Walnut Hills.

“The two-way conversion would make the two neighborhoods much more connected and make the distance between DeSales Corner and Peeble’s Corner more walkable,” explained Kevin Wright, Executive Director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “Our goal is to make the two districts more connected. Imagine grabbing a pizza at Fireside and then walking down to Myrtle’s Punch House, with a stop at Brewhouse along the way.”

The idea of converting one-way streets to two-way travel is one that has been gaining traction nationwide amongst residents and business owners looking to slow traffic and improve access within their communities.

While former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) had pushed for the conversion of the one-way streets in Walnut Hills to two-way travel, there have also been a number of other conversions throughout Over-the-Rhine in recent years, including the ongoing effort to transition Main Street back to two-way traffic.

City planners, however, say that the two-way street conversions are not the only improvements being proposed. Other components include the typical streetscape enhancements, as well as some gateway features for the neighborhood business districts. All of the proposed changes, they say, are the result of recent conversations and feedback from neighborhood residents and stakeholders.

“The stretch of McMillan between Park Avenue and Woodburn, currently, is very auto centric,” Wright conceded. “Our hope is that this is one of many changes that will be put in place over the next few years to make that area more walkable.”

Greg Koehler, Senior Economic Development Analyst at Cincinnati’s Department of Trade & Development, says that the open house will be held at the Keller Student Center at St. Ursula Academy. The event will run from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. Official presentations will be made at 5:45pm and 6:45pm, but City staff will be on-hand throughout the entire meeting to answer any questions regarding the plans.

City officials were unable to provide UrbanCincy with the drawings of the proposed changes ahead of the meeting. Those interested in reviewing the detailed plans are encouraged to attend the open house scheduled for Tuesday, November 18. The meeting location is highly accessible via Metro bus service, and free bike parking is located at the school.

CNU22: Cincinnati Wins National Planning Award for Form-Based Code

The City of Cincinnati’s Department of Planning & Buildings has been on a roll lately. This past weekend in Buffalo, at the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) national conference, the city won its third national award of the year for its new form-based code.

CNU’s grand prize for the Best Planning Tool or Process was actually a tie and thus jointly awarded to Cincinnati for its form-based code (FBC) and Station Center, a transit-oriented development in Union City, California.

As first reported by UrbanCincy, the Department of Planning & Buildings was honored with the Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan at the American Planning Association’s (APA) national conference in Atlanta.  Additionally, in late 2013, the Department won the Ohio APA’s award for Comprehensive Planning for a Large Jurisdiction.

In 2012, city leaders were also awarded with the Frank F. Ferris II Community Planning Award from the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

In addition to city staff and thousands of Cincinnatians, those involved in developing Cincinnati’s award-winning FBC included Opticos Design, Hall Planning & Engineering, Urban Design Associates, glaserworks, Wise Economy Workshop, and Urban Fast Forward.

“It is an honor for us to have our code recognized by an organization that is on the cutting edge of best practices with regard to planning tools and good urbanism,” said Alex Peppers, senior city planner for Cincinnati. “We put a lot of work into developing a code that would fit our context and assets.”

What makes Cincinnati’s FBC unique is that it is a voluntary tool for neighborhoods who seek to preserve the character of their centers of activity and historic business districts. Thus far, it has been adopted in College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills and Westwood.

Jurors noted that they were particularly impressed by the code’s extensive photo documentation and mapping analysis that calibrated the code’s application, and reinforced the unique characteristics of Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods.

“The Cincinnati code is an excellent example of that advancement in the deployment of SmartCode, with particular attention paid to public process, neighborhood structure and graphic presentation,” explained Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, one of CNU’s award jurors. “It reinforces Cincinnati’s historic urban patterns with guidance for appropriate infill and predictable redevelopment building.”

The final draft of Cincinnati’s form-based code is available online and can be accessed here.

On the twelfth official episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we were joined by Roxanne Qualls to discuss Cincinnati’s development and implementation of form-based codes. You can subscribe to The UrbanCincy Podcast on iTunes for free.

Cincinnati’s Streetcar Victory a Decade in the Making

The final, final, final vote for the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar took place today. Perhaps by now you all know the outcome. A six-person veto-proof super-majority voted to continue construction. Cincinnati, as Mayor John Cranley (D) said today, will have a streetcar.

What is important in this moment is to realize that everyone involved lived up to their campaign promises. Wendell Young (D), Chris Seelbach (D) and Yvette Simpson (D) stood strong in their support of the project – even in the face of uncertain outcomes.

At the same time, Christopher Smitherman (I), Amy Murray (R) and Charlie Winburn (R) held true to their promises to oppose the streetcar no matter what. They were the three lone votes against restarting construction.

Construction work will soon resume on Cincinnati’s $133M streetcar project. Photographs by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Then there are the three council members who campaigned on taking a serious look at the numbers and making a prompt decision about whether to cancel the project or proceed. P.G. Sittenfeld (D), David Mann (D) and Kevin Flynn (C) all did that once they saw the numbers in detail. Cancelling a project this far along would have been fiscally irresponsible, and they voted true to their campaign promises to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars.

UrbanCincy has been covering this project since we started the website back in 2007. Our original coverage focused on redevelopment efforts in Downtown and then Over-the-Rhine, but the streetcar quickly became a big part of that redevelopment narrative. It is no secret that we are strong supporters of the project and believe it will improve mobility in the center city and set the city on a path toward building the regional rail system everyone seems to now desire.

There are many people responsible for getting Cincinnati to this stage, but the biggest credit must absolutely be given to John Schneider. If it were not for his unrelenting leadership on this issue over the past decade, we would not be anywhere close to where we are now.

The emergence of Mayor Mark Mallory (D) then gave the city a prominent leader to push the project forward, and Mallory leaned on the expertise and leadership of former City Manager Milton Dohoney and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) to get it all done.

It is important to keep in mind that the person who first pushed for the Uptown extension to be included in phase one was in fact Roxanne Qualls. The Uptown Connector was never part of the original phase one plan, but was added in later as “Phase 1b” at the urging of Qualls, who then worked with Mallory and then Governor Ted Strickland (D) to secure state funding to make that happen.

Hard fought victories in 2009 and 2011 helped keep the project alive, but also delayed it and ran up the project’s costs. Those delays also allowed enough time for Governor John Kasich (R) to assume office and pull the $52 million in state funding Ohio had originally pledged.

So while Qualls’ leadership and vision to have the first phase include the Uptown Connector is not being realized at this exact moment, our attention must now turn to extending the streetcar line to neighborhoods in Uptown as quickly as possible.

Cincinnati Regional Rail Plan
The first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system is a small part of a much larger regional rail plan envisioned by leaders. Map provided by OKI Regional Council of Governments.

A new wave of leaders and organizers has emerged in Cincinnati as a result of this most recent battle over the streetcar project. This includes the heroic efforts of Eric Avner and the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation for drumming up private support to contribute $9 million toward the project’s ongoing operations.

Their hard work and courage should certainly be commended, but let’s also not forget the people who have been pounding the pavement on behalf of the streetcar since the beginning. Most Cincinnatians in 2007 did not know what a streetcar was, much less a modern one and the benefits it would bring. The hard work put in by those people early on was necessary.

This movement was not built overnight and these supporters are not fair-weather fans of the city. The movement has grown in size and grown more sophisticated over the past decade and is now stronger than ever.

You too can join this urbanist movement in Cincinnati.

We gather at the Moerlein Lager House around the first Thursday of every month to host URBANexchange – an urbanist networking and social event. We also partner with the Niehoff Urban Studio at the University of Cincinnati to study complex issues facing our city and engage the public in that dialog. Please join us at our next URBANexchange and pay us a visit in Corryville for our next event with the Niehoff Urban Studio.

Now is a time to celebrate and reflect. But it is not the time to get complacent. There are more issues to address and this energy that saved the streetcar needs to be redirected there. Congratulations, Cincinnati! Let’s get to work.

Chicago leading a movement of increasingly popular participatory budgeting practice

Under Roxanne Qualls’ (D) guidance, Cincinnati dove into priority-driven budgeting in 2012. The proposal had mixed reviews and ultimately City Council ended up ignoring much of what the public had to say in order to prevent any cuts to public safety. The concept of participatory budgeting, however, is gaining popularity nationwide, and Chicago is looking to implement it city-wide in the near future. More from NextCity:

Five years after Moore’s district first tried participatory budgeting, three other wards have followed its lead, picking up a practice pioneered 25 years ago in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Since 2011, nine city council districts in New York adopted it. The city of Vallejo, Calif. did the samelast year, as did one council district in San Francisco. The results are promising, with participation levels relatively strong and zero scandals to date.

Episode #12: Cincinnati’s Form-Based Code

On the twelfth episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Cincinnati’s Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls joins the UrbanCincy team to discuss the city’s adoption of a form-based code.

We discuss the advantages of a form-based code over a traditional zoning code, and Vice Mayor Qualls explains the process four Cincinnati neighborhoods (College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills, Westwood) have used to put the code in place. John Yung shares his experiences with implementing a form-based code, and Randy Simes shares his concerns about needing to plan at a regional level.

We also discuss the now-adopted Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first comprehensive plan in 33 years. We discuss what makes Cincinnati’s comprehensive plan unique and how the plan will influence investments made by the city and  organizations like the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA).

Finally, we discuss how projects like the two-waying of Taft and McMillan Streets in Walnut Hills and a Liberty Street “road diet” could add to the livability of Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods.