Downtown Signal Study Stuck in Political Traffic

Every weekday tens of thousands of commuters in downtown Cincinnati struggle in traffic to get onto the highway and back to their homes in other neighborhoods or the suburbs. However, City Hall is stalling on taking advantage of a unique opportunity to capitalize on funds to study and re-time the traffic signals to benefit all road users downtown.

The last time the traffic patterns of the city’s downtown Central Business District were studied was in the mid 1990’s. Back then the city had about 80,000 workers (a New York Times article puts the number at 82,000 in 1991) which is about 17,000 more than the most recent Downtown Cincinnati Inc. count of 65,000.

There are plenty of other things that have happened in downtown Cincinnati since the last traffic signal study, such as the reconfiguration and realignment of Fort Washington Way, the building of the Banks development, an increase of over 10,000 residents and of course the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar.

A traffic study and signal improvements would benefit all modes of transportation downtown

The funds for the study would come from the Cincinnati Streetcar Contingency Fund, basically funds left over from the construction and startup of the system. The study would not only allow the city’s Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) to conduct the study but also would fund much needed upgrades to signals across downtown.

This would allow for the city to implement a more robust and flexible traffic timing scheme beyond the archaic three phase programming of the current signal system which is only programmed for rush hour, non-rush hour and weekend traffic patterns.

In October, City Council voted to approve a motion to start the traffic study.  Since then, however, progress has been stalled for unknown reasons.  The study was discussed again in council chambers this week as Council members probed Metro and City Administration on streetcar operations.

Streetcar supporters are quick to blame the city leadership on stalling to create a narrative that the streetcar is a failure. And the response to that, to blame Transdev, the company that operates the streetcar, should not go unheeded. However; the city is stalling on a golden opportunity to modernize and coordinate downtown traffic for the 21st Century.

This is a project that would fit perfectly into the data driven decision-making vision this administration values. And maybe we will all benefit from time saved being stuck in traffic whether we are drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, bus commuters or even streetcar riders.

GUEST COMMENTARY: How Personal Finances Factor Into Home-Work Commute

The recent Brookings study looking at “job growth” and “jobs near the average resident” got me thinking again about how my past two home and workplace decisions have affected my personal finances. For those not familiar with the report, it’s mostly negative news:

Between 2000 and 2012, the number of jobs within the typical commute distance for residents in a major metro area fell by 7%. Of the nation’s 96 largest metro areas, in only 29—many in the South and West, including McAllen, Texas, Bakersfield, Calif., Raleigh, N.C., and Baton Rouge, La.—did the number of jobs within a typical commute distance for the average resident increase. Each of these 29 metro areas also experienced net job gains between 2000 and 2012.

As employment suburbanized, the number of jobs near both the typical city and suburban resident fell. Suburban residents saw the number of jobs within a typical commute distance drop by 7 percent, more than twice the decline experienced by the typical city resident (3%). In all, 32.7 million city residents lived in neighborhoods with declining proximity to jobs compared to 59.4 million suburban residents.

As poor and minority residents shifted toward suburbs in the 2000s, their proximity to jobs fell more than for non-poor and white residents. The number of jobs near the typical Hispanic (-17%) and black (-14%) resident in major metro areas declined much more steeply than for white (-6%) residents, a pattern repeated for the typical poor (-17%) versus non-poor (-6%) resident.

Residents of high-poverty and majority-minority neighborhoods experienced particularly pronounced declines in job proximity. Overall, 61% of high-poverty tracts (with poverty rates above 20%) and 55% of majority-minority neighborhoods experienced declines in job proximity between 2000 and 2012. A growing number of these tracts are in suburbs, where nearby jobs for the residents of these neighborhoods dropped at a much faster pace than for the typical suburban resident (17% and 16%, respectively, versus 7%).

For local and regional leaders working to grow their economies in ways that promote opportunity and upward mobility for all residents, these findings underscore the importance of understanding how regional economic and demographic trends intersect at the local level to shape access to employment opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged populations and neighborhoods. And they point to the need for more integrated and collaborative regional strategies around economic development, housing, transportation, and workforce decisions that take job proximity into account.

Now looking at this from a personal finance perspective, I previously lived and worked in Indianapolis where my one-way commute was roughly 16 miles. For this distance, I found over time that it cost me about $5 a day to get to work.

When I moved to Cincinnati for a new job, I first lived in Covington where I paid $1 to ride the Southbank Shuttle in the morning and usually walked home. After moving to Clifton, I still found that my now driving commute of less than 3 miles came to cost around $1 per day.

So the $5 per day Indianapolis commute cost me roughly $100 per month in gas, where the $1 per day Cincinnati commute cost me only $20. Now this may not seem like a huge amount or difference, but to most people, $80 would nearly be a full day’s work. What’s not reflected in this difference is the reduced frequency and cost related to vehicle maintenance, specifically oil and tire changes. With the greatly reduced frequency of need for these two items, the monthly savings I’ve found is closer to the full $100 amount, essentially a pay raise simply for living close to work.

Employees obviously can have little impact on where an employer chooses to locate, but they do still have control over where they live and as long as I am able, 3 miles is the maximum distance I will live from work. This distance is also interesting as I’ve found it to be the maximum distance where taking the bus is a reasonable time-cost choice, a huge benefit during the recent snowy winters, and it is also a distance where my non-work trips to downtown stay at what I think is a reasonable level for places I like to visit.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest commentary was authored by Eric Douglas, a native of Grand Rapids, MI who currently lives in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood. Eric is a member of the Congress for New Urbanism and earned a Bachelors of Science from Michigan State University. Since that time he has worked for Planning, Community Development and Public Works departments in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Detroit.

If you would like to have your thoughts published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

VIDEO: James Howard Kunstler Trashes America’s Vast Suburbs in TED Talk

While this TED Talk was first delivered by James Howard Kunstler in 2004, virtually all of it still holds true today more than a decade later.

In the speech Kunstler, an outspoken critic of suburban sprawl, discussed the idea that designers and officials have seemed to largely forget how to properly design public spaces, which he contends should be thought about more carefully as spaces created and framed by buildings.

Instead, he says, that America’s suburban sprawl has been the “greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” He goes on to say that suburbia is largely not worth caring about by anyone, and is the reason why those areas of the United States continue to fail to deliver on any of the promises they originally touted following the end of World War II.

The nearly 20-minute talk includes a variety of colorful comparisons and striking examples of how poorly designed America’s suburbs are. The ongoing argument throughout the course of the speech, is that these places are not places worth fighting for; and that our armed men and women fighting for American freedoms deserve better.

“We have about, you know, 38,000 places that are not worth caring about in the United States today. When we have enough of them, we’re going to have a nation that’s not worth defending. And I want you to think about that when you think about those young men and women who are over in places like Iraq, spilling their blood in the sand, and ask yourself, “What is their last thought of home?” I hope it’s not the curb cut between the Chuck E. Cheese and the Target store because that’s not good enough for Americans to be spilling their blood for. We need better places in this country.”

As planners throughout North America continue to spend exhaustive amounts of time reviewing said curb cuts, total signage area and other rather trivial details, Kunstler argues that the bigger picture of building proud communities is being missed.

While the New York native does not discuss Cincinnati in his talk, he very well could have. While most regions have their fair share of poorly designed suburbs, Cincinnati has become infamous for having some of the worst in the United States. Suburbs that are so bad, in fact, that even The Enquirer editorial board recently published an opinion urging the move away from such badly designed communities.

GUEST EDITORIAL: Is Society Too Demanding When it Comes to Urbanity?

As new cities and neighborhoods emerge these days, with tall buildings and structures, one can’t help but notice and say that urbanity is indeed here.

But the word ‘urbanity’ doesn’t even have a concrete definition being discussed. Henri Lefebvre is even critical of the definition of modern urbanism because it does not define urban life really well. For him, urbanity is an encounter saying that it is “the meeting of difference, of strangers in the city, it was about everyday life and play, the sensuality of the city.”

Urbanity principles are also said to be applicable to any land projects from a single building to an entire city. More so, in urban planning debates, the concept of urbanity is always present but only to the visions of governments, architects, landowners and developers. But what is urbanity in its truest sense? And if defined, does it clearly serve its purpose, or does it give a meaning different from what we expect? And if people understood urbanity, will they be totally sold out to the idea, or will they contest it?

The Hard (or Strong) Way of Urbanity
People, who strongly support the idea of urbanity, bank on its benefits to the people who might reside or work in an urban setting. In fact, Congress for the New Urbanism details four primary benefits of urbanism.

For people who will reside or work in urban cities, it means being able to achieve a higher quality of life including improved living places and improved building and property architecture such as a condo; work and play included. Property lands are valued higher, yet are more stable. Experts highlight the idea of being close to everything that you need. Residents are able to feel safe and secure thanks to pedestrian-friendly sites and reduced transportation costs since you can simply take a walk or have a short ride to your destination anywhere in the city.

It also includes additional benefits to businesses, focusing on increased sales and revenues. It also drives loyal customers living in the city itself, and better lifestyle for business owners by having spaces above their stores also known as live-work units.

Developers also have reasons to be happy for urban cities. Communities will be able to adopt smart growth principles which in turn can save more money and time. A higher density mixed-use land project can also generate a greater income potential thanks to more leasable square footage of land, high selling prices, and high property values.

Municipalities embracing the idea of urbanity will benefit as well, with less crime rates due to enhanced security and presence of more people at day time and night time. Compact and high-density projects will allow governments to spend less on infrastructure and utilities, compared to a suburban development.

The Harder Resistance for Urbanity
Looking on the other side of urbanity, those who are against it point out several factors why urbanity does not work at all. In one case, urban areas experience more traffic congestion with the increased growth rate of its population.

Also, there are new urban developments that just aren’t for everyone; say for those who want wider spaces in their condominiums, people living in close proximity to each other thus providing small living spaces pose a problem. Even though pro-urbanists will say that their innovative structures are adapting through the needs of time, anti-urbanists will be more skeptical of it and instead pose more questions on what those structures can do for them based on their preferences.

And the stronger opposition comes from the idea of affordable spaces in these urban cities. Searching for good places is harder because of high prices especially for those lands near shopping malls, parks, schools, etc. Anthony Flint, in his article, ‘A Tipping Point—But Now the Hard Part‘ talks about the increasing demand for alternatives due to high prices. In Little Elm, Texas, homes are priced starting at $100,000. Add to it heating and cooling bills for large homes which greatly affects a family’s budget.

The Hard or Easy Way for Urbanity?
There are certain ideas that are totally applicable to urban cities, but some can’t be implemented due to certain factors.

Skyscrapers are also included in urban planning and land development. But certain cities in the U.S. can’t build skyscrapers that are too tall and too thin or what they call “superskinnies”, because of land availability. According to architect Gordon Gill, together with his firm Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill, there are some places where superskinnies are not possible.

“We cut slots, we punch holes, we create notches in the corners of the buildings to mitigate the effects of wind, on tall and thin buildings alike. But there are some places where superskinnies will just never go. No matter how pitched income inequality comes to be in San Francisco, these towers will never rise there. For areas that are seismic, the slenderer buildings are not advisable,” Gill says.

Pro-urbanists will also push the idea that green architecture has impacts on energy use and sustainability trends are here to stay. And the anti-urbanists will continue to look for loopholes on their arguments.

The decision of embracing the idea of urbanity lies on the people itself, and how they will see their roles in it. It might be hard for some, but still others will be comfortable in living in an urban setting. Certain improvements need to be in place, such as government policies, improved infrastructure and living spaces. With all of these factors in place, people might be possibly united in the concept of urbanity.

Kimberly Grimms describes herself as a futurist and is a writer for Social Media Today. She studied Community Development and currently resides in New Jersey. You can follow and interact with her on Twitter @KimberlyGrimms.

If you would like to have your thoughts and opinions published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

Beat the Heat With Us at This Thursday’s #URBANexchange in Corryville

URBANexchange at Taste of BelgiumThe dog days of summer are upon us but that is no reason to not enjoy good food, drinks and company. It’s time again to have our monthly URBANexchange happy hour event! Join us at Taste of Belgium on Short Vine fine Belgian foods and craft beers this Thursday from 5:30pm to 8pm.

As always, the event will be a casual setting where you can meet others interested in what is happening in the city. We will gather in a section near the crepe bar so that each person can choose how much or little they buy in terms of food or drink. Although we do encourage our attendees to generously support our kind hosts at Taste of Belgium.

As always URBANexchange is free and open to the public.

Taste of Belgium is located on Vine Street in Corryville between the University of Cincinnati’s east and west campuses and is located just two blocks from a future uptown streetcar stop. If you choose to bike, free and ample bike parking is available outside the building. The venue is also served by SORTA’s Metro*Plus bus, as well as buses on the #19, #78 and #46 routes.