With Commuters Slow to Embrace It, Cincinnati Bike Center Finding New Niche

Tucked away beneath the Schmidlapp Event Lawn at Smale Riverfront Park is a great resource for the local cycling community. The Cincinnati Bike Center serves downtown commuters, as well as tourists and locals who may want to take a spin around riverfront parks and urban neighborhoods.

The bike center opened with the first phase of the park four years ago. Located at 120 East Mehring Way, the facility is built into the park structure at the bottom of the Walnut Street Steps, which features a bike runnel for easy movement between levels of the park, and operates in this location under contract with Cincinnati Parks.

Brady Willenbrink, who has served as the manager for the past year-and-a-half, told UrbanCincy that he is setting out to increase public awareness of the center and its many services.

While the center does not sell bicycles, it does operate as a repair shop, performing small fixes such as tire replacements and minor adjustments, or larger jobs like full tuneups and part replacements. Some cycling apparel and accessories are available for sale.

The original vision for the facility was to serve as a commuter station for downtown workers. Such an operation was seen as being similar to the famed McDonald’s Bike Center in Chicago’s Millennium Park. In fact, Cincinnati’s concept even used the same operator and hired the director of Chicago’s center to come and run the new outpost along Cincinnati’s central riverfront.

Over the past four years the Cincinnati Bike Center has signed up just 30 members – a number they say continues to grow. True to the original vision, those commuting members have 24 hour access to a secure, camera guarded space with bike racks and locker rooms. Members are also provided with 20% discounts on repairs, apparel and most other services offered at the CBC.

“They get a locker, take a shower, clean up, go to work, come back, change into their bike clothes and go home,” Willenbrink explained.

Commuters may join with monthly or annual memberships, and the option to use the station on a daily basis is available for occasional commuters or those wishing to try out the facility. Riders also can take advantage of bike valet parking in the secure space during Cincinnati Reds baseball games at the nearby Great American Ball Park. This service is open to all, not only members, and costs just $1 per bike.

It is these more temporary service offerings, however, that have proven to be most popular. Of those, none has been more well-received than the bike rentals offered at the facility.

The resounding popularity of Smale Riverfront Park has made it a day or weekend destination for many visiting the center city since it has opened. With a variety of bikes available by the hour or by the day – including cruiser, road, electric assist, kids, tandem bikes, and bikes that are driven by hand-powered cranks for free use by the disabled. In addition, the center’s small, large, and extra large ‘Quadcycles,’ which have four wheels and seat up to nine people, have been extremely popular with families and other large groups.

Taking lessons from this, the Cincinnati Bike Center has established several popular bicycle and Segway tours. These are scheduled daily along several routes throughout the center city and even extend into Northern Kentucky.

While the center’s operators are hopeful the completion of the Ohio River Trail to the city’s eastern and western suburbs will bolster commuter memberships, Willenbrink says that they will also build on their strengths by soon hosting group bike rides one Friday per month that will be open to the public.

Detailed information on those rides, he says, will be shared soon through their social media pages.

VIDEO: Use Red Bike to Experience Best of Downtown Cincinnati

It’s no secret that the center city boasts a seemingly endless number of things to see and do, for both visitors and locals alike. Moving about from one destination to the next will soon get easier when the Cincinnati Streetcar opens for service, but, for those able to do so, Red Bike serves as a perfect tool to check out as many places as possible.

By taking transit, walking or riding a bike, you can avoid the hassles of fighting traffic, looking and paying for parking, and can check your concerns about parking tickets or other hassles. Plus, it’s also a great way to get some exercise in the process.

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. knows this well.

To help promote such information, they partnered with US Digital Partners on a video to showcase just how convenient and enjoyable it can be to explore the center city by bike. And thanks to the continued expansion of Red Bike, you can now take it to go beyond Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

If the embedded video does not function properly, you can watch it on Vimeo here.

VIDEO: Family Focused, Center City Activities Abound With Return of Baseball Season

Now that baseball is back, it means it is time for Cincinnati’s tourism season to pick-up steam. The return of the Reds means the migration of regional baseball fans to the Queen City to take in the nation’s past time.

Of course, no season can compare to those like last year, which featured the All-Star Game, or seasons where the Reds are in the playoff hunt. But baseball in Cincinnati is tradition; and traditions are, well, traditions. So with that said, here’s a look back at last summer when the Reds failed to live up to expectations, but still drew millions to Great American Ball Park.

The following three-minute video takes a look at some of the center city’s most prominent attractions through the eyes of a family. And if there is one thing at which Cincinnati excels, it is family focused vacations centered around baseball season.

If the embedded video fails to play, you can view it on Vimeo here.

Covington’s Parking Plan for MainStrasse To Go Into Effect March 30

After being approved this past October, Covington’s new parking plan for MainStrasse Village will go into effect later this month.

Historically it has been free to park in the area, but the parking plan, which includes new metered street parking, a pay lot, and parking permits, will change that. According to the City of Covington, pay stations will be installed along Main and W. Sixth Street on March 26, signs will go up a few days later, and the pay stations will be live on March 30.

The project is intended to increase parking turnover and create designated parking for residents, so that it is easier for both visitors and residents to find a spot to park in the popular business district.

MainStrasse has seen a surge of new business activity of late. The last year alone saw the opening of Son & Soil, Bean Haus, Frida 602, and Mac’s Pizza Pub. Three more – Commonwealth Bistro, Craft & Vines, and Lisse Steakhouse – are slated to open soon.

Since being announced last fall, the plan has proven to be controversial. Business owners, residents and area patrons have all spoken out both in favor and against the idea.

One of the common concerns is how the new parking fees will affect new and existing businesses. The worry is that the plan will hurt MainStrasse’s ability to compete with other nearby entertainment and restaurant districts including Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, and The Banks, even though those districts also include payment-based parking setups.

The enforcement hours in MainStrasse will be limited, relative to street parking in Newport or downtown Cincinnati, particularly in the evenings, which are prime business hours for restaurants and bars that make up the district.

With street parking free after 5pm, and lots capped at $2 after one hour, businesses may actually still struggle with limited parking turnover during their busy hours at night.

At $0.35 per half hour on the street, and $1 per half hour (with a maximum charge of $2) in lots, the cost of parking in MainStrasse will be somewhat lower than what is charged in Over-the-Rhine, downtown Cincinnati, or Newport, although slightly more expensive than parking in Cincinnati’s other neighborhood business districts.

In addition to visitor-oriented changes, the plan includes modifications to improve parking availability for nearby residents – for a fee.

Sections of Philadelphia Street, Bakewell Street, Johnson Street, W. Sixth Street, and part of the Fifth Street lot will become resident-only parking. Passes to park in these spaces will cost $25 to $30 annually, and each property will be allowed to purchase two passes. Going against national trends to get rid of one-way streets, Bakewell Street, between W. Sixth Street and W. Ninth Street, will become one-way to allow for even more residential parking spaces.

The move will place MainStrasse alongside Pendleton, Newport, and Clifton as areas that also have resident-restricted parking, but it will be the only area charging a fee for the residential permits.

While efforts continue to take place to establish something similar in Over-the-Rhine, such efforts have been stymied due to an impasse between Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s (D) administration and neighborhood residents and business owners. Under those previously proposed plans, Over-the-Rhine parking permits would have cost $108 per year or $18 per year for low-income households.

Hamilton County Pushes Forward With Latest Phase of The Banks

Hamilton County has awarded the latest bid package for a variety of trade contracts on the infrastructure work for Phase III of The Banks, which includes a 690-space addition to the Central Riverfront Garage and a one-block addition of other infrastructure south of Freedom Way.

All three contacts were valued at a combined $653,228; and all went to area companies. According to Phil Beck, project executive for The Banks development, Universal Contracting Corporation will perform site work, Geograph Industries will handle signage, and ESI will manage security of the site.

While not particularly large or sexy contracts, project officials say they are representative of the continued progress being made at the massive central riverfront mixed-use development.

“Awarding these contracts for work at The Banks signals that another aspect of the riverfront development is nearing completion,” said Chris Monzel (R), president of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. “This phase of the project sets the stage for more economic impact.”

The University of Cincinnati Economics Center has estimated that, once fully completed, the first phase of The Banks will positively impacting the local economy by some $276 million per year – a figure they expect to grow substantially once later phases are built out. General Electric’s new 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, alone, is projected to boost the region’s economy by roughly $1 billion annually.

While Hamilton County is overseeing the construction of the infrastructure work at Phase III, the City of Cincinnati and the private development team is making progress on the vertical build of GE’s new building, the 165-room AC Hotel, and 291 apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail within the first two phases of the project.

THP Limited and Burgess & Niple are in charge of the design of Phase III work, while Messer is handling the construction.

As of now, all the infrastructure work being managed by Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati is $29.3 million within budget; and project officials say that they have achieved 30% Small Business Enterprises participation on all work, but just 17.3% on phase three activities thus far. Beck also says that phase three work is on schedule to be complete by September.