CNU’s 2018 Transportation Summit: A New Traffic Model for Brent Spence Project

The underlying assumption of the Brent Spence Bridge project is that the level of congestion warrants relief with a new bridge and freeway expansion. The problem of congestion will be solved with new freeway capacity. However, that simple formula does not account for all the costs of the freeway expansion or the benefits not running a freeway through the urban core.

Two important pieces missing from the Brent Spence Bridge project cost/benefit analysis are the value of urban land and induced demand. As noted in a prior article, urban land is valuable. The sustained growth in Over the Rhine is local proof of the national trend that people want to live, work, and play in cities. Proponents of the bridge expansion project assume that the congestion relief is worth the price tag and loss of urban land for the next 50+ years. But what if the congestion relief is ephemeral?

Others in Cincinnati have described induced demand. To reiterate, it is the propensity for freeway lanes to fill to capacity once they are created. New capacity creates new demand. Decreasing the cost of driving with shorter, faster commutes, increases the number of drivers. Road expansions are intended to expand capacity and reduce congestion; however, new freeway capacity quickly fills up and becomes just as congested as before.

There appears to be no upper limit at which enough lanes eliminate capacity. The Katy Freeway in Texas provides the case in point. First constructed in the 1960s, it was six to 8 lanes wide. A $2.8 billion expansion project finished in 2011 that expanded it to one of the widest freeways in North America at 26 lanes: At one segment each direction has 6 lanes of through traffic, 4 feeder lanes, and 3 HOV/toll lanes. Travel times decreased immediately after the expansion, and in 2012 the Katy Freeway was hailed as a success story. However, by 2014, travel times increased 30 percent during the morning commute and 55 percent during the evening commute. $2.8 billion and 18 extra lanes improved traffic for three years, then made it worse than before the project. It achieved congestion relief for less than three years.

The predicted benefits of the Kary Freeway did not last. Cincinnati should learn from that lesson and include the effects of induced demand in the Brent Spence Bridge expansion cost/benefits accounting. The previous design did not adequately analyze induced demand.

Part of the reason that the project did not include induced demand as part of the analysis is that the software used to model traffic volumes is not up to the task. The model, called Static Traffic Assignment (STA), was designed to run on computers from the 1970s. Since you are reading this article on a computer there is no need to explain how much computers have changed in that time. There have been upgrades to the STA software but it retains the same fundamental architecture. STA produces usable predictions for daily traffic volumes but not for peak demand (rush hour). Accurate predictions of peak demand are necessary to understand induced demand.

There are two problems with STA that provide inaccurate peak demand forecasts. First, STA assumes roadway segments are independent, so that a problem in road segment “A” will not impact road segment “B.” In reality, congestion in one road segment does impact adjacent segments. Second, STA allows modeled traffic volumes to exceed capacity. If the model predicts capacity beyond what a given freeway can support, the model will queue vehicles up “outside the model.” In reality, those cars queued “outside the model” are either stuck in traffic or they’ve left the freeway and are taking surface roads to work.

The interstate system is a network that seeks equilibrium. If there is congestion in the network, drivers will avoid it. If there is capacity in the system, drivers will fill it up. The current Brent Spence Bridge project was modeled with STA. STA does not look at the network holistically. It either breaks up the system in segments or moves extra traffic outside the model. The failure to look at the system holistically makes it difficult for STA to predict where induced demand will come from and how intense the demand will be.

A better model now exists to forecast traffic. Called Dynamic Traffic Assignment (DTA), it is a more sophisticated computer model designed to run on contemporary computers. DTA holistically models an interconnected network in equilibrium. If a bottleneck causes a traffic backup, DTA assumes traffic will divert to surface roads rather than move outside the model.

The 2018 CNU Transportation Summit on Highways to Boulevards featured the presentation of a recent paper on DTA. Overall, DTA is a more powerful modeling tool that can better analyze effects on complex systems. There are five vehicular bridges over the Ohio River in Cincinnati, plus the two I-275 bridges. The traffic model must accommodate the regional impact of the bridge expansion on traffic, including the effects of induced demand. This is doubly important if the Brent Spence Bridge expansion is tolled and other bridges are not.

A DTA model of the Brent Spence bridge project will better show the impact of additional vehicles on local streets. Civic leaders in Cincinnati and Covington should have a better accounting of how moving an additional 50,000 vehicles per day through the urban core will affect their street networks, which must be paid for with city tax dollars.

Would it make sense to spend five years building the expansion project if the congestion relief dissipated within five years? Before moving ahead with such a large and expensive project there must be a full accounting of the costs and benefits. Particularly relevant to CNU, the loss of urban land has not adequately been included in the cost of the project. The benefit of congestion relief is diminished by induced demand. There are new tools at hand to better tally up these costs and benefits. A project the size and scale of the Brent Spence bridge expansion project requires a full and transparent accounting of the costs and benefits to move forward.

This is a guest article by Chris Meyer reporting on the 2018 CNU Transportation Summit. CNU and CNU Midwest are content partners with UrbanCincy. Chris is an Architect at Hub + Weber, PLC

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

CNU’s 2018 Transportation Summit: Lessons for Greater Cincinnati

CNU’s 2018 Transportation Summit was September 16-17 in New Orleans. The purpose of the summit was to bring together people focused on the revitalization of urban neighborhoods disrupted by freeways. In attendance were people from Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington DC, and two members from CNU Midwest, Chris Meyer and Brian Boland. There were many takeaways from the summit but three lessons seem applicable to Greater Cincinnati.

The first is that freeways and urban fabric are incompatible. Urban fabric in Greater Cincinnati typically consists of fine-grained parcels, 2-5 story buildings, and a dense street with grid pedestrian-scale streetscapes. Urban fabric is fundamentally sized for people. The 19th century blessed present-day Greater Cincinnati with an abundance of high-quality urban fabric. A minor takeaway from the transportation summit was that other cities would be jealous if they knew what we have.

Freeways are scaled for cars and trucks. They are always interruptions in the urban fabric. They break up the street grid wherever they pass through it and form barriers to people passing. The urban fabric for blocks around a freeway is degraded not only by the dirt, noise, smell, and ugliness but also by the profusion of vehicles they concentrate and deliver into the urban fabric. This is true for greater Cincinnati along the I-75, I-71, and I-471 corridors.

Freeways are a necessary part of the urban economy but they are incompatible with the urban fabric. It was a mistake to run them through central cities. Dwight Eisenhower, the father of the interstate system, certainly thought so.

Multiple people at the summit noted that urban freeways are “monuments to racism.” That’s obviously the case in New Orleans. In Cincinnati, the West End neighborhood is physically gone but the Kenyan Barr photo exhibit, currently showing at the University of Cincinnati, illustrates the neighborhood destroyed by I-75. Ninety-seven percent of the residents were black.

A second lesson from the transportation summit is that urban fabric is valuable. Anyone familiar with CNU understands that. What was new is that urban fabric can be more valuable than the freeways running through it. Implicitly or explicitly, a big part of the argument to remove freeways, be it Denver, Oakland, or Austin, is to free up land for profitable new development.

The same principle applies to Cincinnati. The value of land with urban development on it is greater than the same amount of land with auto-centric development on it. The blocks around freeways are almost always taken up with auto-centric development because of how freeway ramps concentrate vehicles in a geographic space. Cincinnati would reap greater economic, tax, and social benefits if the space around Interstate-75 followed urban development patterns rather than auto-centric development patterns.

The third lesson is that the future of urban development doesn’t have to look like the past. When the first Congress for New Urbanism met in 1991, most new development was going to suburbs and central cities were still losing money and population. That has changed. People are moving back to places where they can live, work, and play, without a car. It’s happening in Cincinnati too.

Recognizing the value of urban fabric and the cost of freeways in the urban fabric allows people to recalculate the costs/benefits of future transportation projects. Two high-profile Cincinnati transportation projects include the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar and the Brent Spence Bridge expansion.

One argument against the streetcar is that it is not “profitable,” so it should be shut down. However, streetcars are compatible with the urban fabric. Most buildings and parcels on the streetcar route have been improved. Streetlife – outdoor dining, social interaction, economic activity – along the streetcar route is as vital as it’s been for decades. The streetcar is a fellow dancer in the sidewalk ballet. It improves the value of adjacent urban fabric, in opposition to freeways that destroy value. A better cost/benefit analysis of the streetcar would include the increased tax value derived from adjacent improved parcels.

The inverse argument occurs with the Brent Spence Bridge project. The primary cost/benefit evaluation looks at congestion. The potential value of restored urban fabric has never been a part of the bridge’s cost/benefit analysis. When they factored the value of urban fabric into the Fort Washington way redesign, they decided to sink the freeway below grade so it could be capped in the future. It’s easy to envision a redesigned bridge project that includes land for new urban fabric, much as the Fort Washington Way project did.

The 2018 CNU transportation summit brought together thought leaders, local activists, transportation professionals, and city designers. A repeated statement at the 2018 summit was that multi-million dollar infrastructure projects should improve the value of places where they are constructed. In Greater Cincinnati, it seems like the value of place is often not considered in the cost-benefit analysis of large transportation projects.

In the past, it was possible to argue that urban fabric had no value, or that its value was equal to auto-centric development. Those arguments can no longer be made in good faith. If Cincinnati is going to capitalize on the wealth of its urban fabric, the value of that fabric must be included when evaluating future transportation projects. If it’s done so accurately, we should be all the wealthier.

This is a guest article by Chris Meyer reporting on the 2018 CNU Transportation Summit. CNU and CNU Midwest are content partners with UrbanCincy. Chris is an Architect at Hub + Weber, PLC

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

EDITORIAL: City Should Move Forward on Liberty Street

Liberty Street was originally built as a typical 30 foot wide city street, but was widened to 70 feet in 1955 to serve as a connector to Interstate 471 and Reading Road. The widening required a significant number of building demolitions and physically severed the neighborhood into two halves. Over the past fifteen years, as the southern half of OTR has redeveloped, the northern half has seen much less investment–and most of this has been in the area around Findlay Market, not along Liberty Street.

It is uncomfortable as a pedestrian to cross Liberty Street, as the walk light changes almost immediately to a countdown timer, and it takes about a half a minute to cross walking at an average speed. The current design, at 7 lanes wide, is optimized for speeding cars and is wholly inappropriate for a dense urban neighborhood like Over-the-Rhine.

Liberty Street is too wide and the City knows it. At an open house event in 2015, the City of Cincinnati first proposed a “road diet” for the street. Over the next several years, they facilitated several community input sessions regarding what came to be called the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project. Each of these meetings was held at the Woodward Theater for a packed audience of people who live, work, or spend time in Over-the-Rhine. Members of the community spoke about the need to make Liberty Street safer for all people, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders–not just drivers.

DOTE staff took the community input into consideration and ultimately presented their final plan to OTR Community Council on October 23, 2017. The plan called for removing two lanes from the south side of Liberty Street, reducing the crossing distance for pedestrians and discouraging excessive speeding. Additionally, this will free up land for new development along the south side of the street, providing space for new housing, retail, or office space.

As of June this year, the project was set to go out for bid this fall and begin construction in 2019, according to the city’s website.

Unfortunately, in August, the City Administration decided to “pause” the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project because of concerns about the traffic that will be generated by the new FC Cincinnati stadium in the West End and a sudden concern about how the installation of a new water main would be funded.

The Liberty Street plan, which has been in the works for years, has now been mothballed because of a stadium plan that didn’t exist until a few months ago–publicly, at least. To make matters worse, City Council previously denied the OTR Community Council’s request to be involved in the stadium’s Community Benefits Agreement, saying that OTR would not be impacted by the stadium; but now seems that Over-the-Rhine may be negatively impacted by the cancellation of the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project.

The City Administration’s concern about traffic is bizarre, as the narrowed Liberty Street would maintain five lanes of traffic during peak traffic times, the same number of travel lanes that exist today. Typically the outer lanes would be used for parking during off-peak periods, but the city could install “no parking” signs on game days. Therefore, the impact on traffic through the neighborhood would be minimal or non-existent.

As for the water infrastructure, that can be solved through a mix of council and departmental leadership. An example of that is a potential solution presented by Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld to use the money from the sale of the Whex garage to plug the budget gap.

We urge the City Council to keep the city’s promise to the Over-the-Rhine community and pass legislation requiring the City to follow through with the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Project.

GUIDE: How to Ride the Bus in Cincinnati

So maybe you’ve been thinking for a while that you should actually take this ‘public transit’ thing that you’re always saying we need more of. Maybe you’ve been meaning to ride the bus to get to bars and shopping but put it off because you can’t figure out how to use the system. Or maybe you work downtown and would ride the bus, but you either get a parking or bus pass from your employer and you drive because it seems easier.

Regardless of the reason, there are many benefits to taking public transit as opposed to driving or taking a rideshare vehicle in Cincinnati. While our city gets a bad rap on the state of our bus system, the reality is that most of the city is easily accessible by bus. The 6 heaviest routes offer good daytime frequencies, serve the densest parts of the city, and are easy to understand when it comes to where they serve. These routes serve the arterial, or main, roads in Cincinnati, including Glenway, Hamilton/ Clifton, Vine, Reading, Montgomery, and Madison/Erie Avenues. Due to the geography and history of development in Cincinnati, most business districts and dense residential areas are on these roads. We are a lot more accessible than you might think!
But how do I use this bus? It may seem challenging to those who are not familiar with the system and how it works, but it’s nearly as easy as calling an Uber. In this article, I will address the three basic questions people have about riding the bus in Cincinnati: how do I know where it goes, how do I pay for my trip, and how do I not miss my stop.

Where Does the Bus Go?

There are several apps and websites that will plot the best route(s) to take as well as alternatives. Google Maps, which is standard on most smartphones, is easy to use and understand. Simply type in your destination and hit the transit icon as your travel mode and Google will do the rest. The app tells you where the nearest bus stop is, walking directions to the stop, and the estimated travel time once you are on the bus.

Another great app which offers much more functionality is the Transit App. This app gives the same directions as Google Maps does, but also includes a live tracker and time countdown of each bus on every route so you don’t have to wonder where the hell your bus is. The user interface is a little friendlier than Google’s as it is centered around transit usage. Additionally, the Transit App works in nearly every city worldwide that has public transportation options. It works especially well with multimodal travel and can estimate your travel time using a combination of travel modes like bike to bus, walk to bus, or bus to bus.

If you are more map-oriented and want to check out the entire route to learn where it goes, the Transit App has the ability to show the actual routing of each bus line and how long it would take to travel to each stop in the entire network by bus. Metro also offers its bus schedules and route maps on its website under Schedules. However, you must already know which line you are taking to take advantage of this.

Finally, you are always welcome to step onto a bus at your stop and ask the driver if this bus is going to X location. The drivers are knowledgeable about their routes as they drive them every day and will give you good advice on whether you should take this bus or another route nearby.

How Do I Pay for My Trip?

There are several ways to pay your bus fare with cash, credit/debit card, smartphone app, or stored value card. First, an explanation of the fare system. The fare in Zone 1, which includes the City of Cincinnati, Norwood, St. Bernard, Elmwood Place, Golf Manor, Delhi Township, and Cheviot, is $1.75 per rider. If you will need to transfer to another line to complete your trip, a transfer slip is an additional $0.50. Hot tip: if you are traveling somewhere and anticipate you will be returning by bus within 2 hours of first paying your fare, ask for a transfer and use that to return home. Transfers are good for up to 2 hours after requesting one and this can save you from spending another $1.75 for your return trip. If you are traveling outside of Zone 1 into Zone 2, the rest of Hamilton County, the one-way fare is $2.65 and transfers are still $0.50.

The most basic way to pay your fare is with cash, but keep in mind that the buses’ farebox does not give back change. If you only have singles, you will not be getting a quarter back for buying a Zone 1 ticket. Beyond paying cash you may purchase a stored value card, which you can load up with cash or by credit/debit card at any Ticket Vending Machine and select stores throughout the city. For example, the Clifton Market on Ludlow Ave sells stored value cards. You may put multiples of $10 on a stored value card. Don’t lose your card! Paying for your fare is as simple as swiping your stored value card on the bus, and it will automatically deduct your fare from the card’s balance. This removes the need to carry cash to pay the fare and is much easier and faster to use.

Finally, last year Metro introduced its Metro EZRide app which allows users to pay their fare with their smartphones. Once you have entered your credit/debit card information into the app you may purchase tickets on your phone at any time, to be used at any time. This also includes streetcar tickets. The app is quick enough that you can quickly buy a ticket as your bus approaches the stop if you forgot to beforehand. Simply activate your ticket as you step onto the bus and show the driver your screen. That’s it!

How Do I Not Miss My Stop

Generally speaking, Metro’s buses do not announce the stops they are approaching outside of major stops and transfer points. While some have good spatial minds and generally know where they are at all times, most people need a little help remembering which stop is their destination. I would recommend the Transit app as you can tell it to remind you when you are approaching the stop. Using your GPS location, the app will give you a notification and a ding in your headphones to alert you that you will approach your stop in about a minute. Alternatively, you can ask the driver to tell you when the bus has reached the stop you are going to, although if the bus is full they may be too busy with other passengers to remind you.

When the bus passes the stop prior to your destination stop you must alert the driver to stop the bus by pulling the yellow/grey cord strung up on the walls of the bus, push the vertical yellow tape near the doors, or push the red button on some of the poles coming down from the ceiling. Alternatively, you can yell “THIS STOP PLEASE” to the driver if you would prefer to do it that way. When disembarking the bus, use the back doors to exit so as not to block people entering the bus. This will result in a shorter trip time for everyone aboard.

Useful Links and Pictures

All Route Maps and System Network Maps

Bike & Ride Info

Nate Wessel’s Frequency Map is still up to date, frequencies are generally the same

Parking Permit Policy On Deck for Over-the-Rhine

With parking requirements poised to be lifted in the urban core, the City of Cincinnati is moving forward with implementing a Residential Parking Program for Over-the-Rhine. The program is being finalized and could appear in City Council chambers in the near future.

In 2015, the city studied and proposed an on-street residential parking permit program for the historic neighborhood only to have Mayor John Cranley (D) veto the measure after a contentious 5-4 vote in favor of the program from City Council. At the time the Mayor favored charging residents up to $500 per permit for the program, a measure UrbanCincy supported at the time. The prior program would have cost $108 for an annual permit and would have had a cap of 450 total permits for the southern part of the neighborhood.

A map of the proposed Residential Parking Permit Program for Over-the-Rhine

Following the veto, City Councilman David Man (D) directed the administration to study the parking conditions of Over-the-Rhine and develop a set of recommendations to help guide the city in its decision making on the policy. The City hired Walker Consultants to conduct a study, which extended over several years and engaged various Over-the-Rhine community stakeholders.

The results of that study have been released and the city is moving quickly to act. Under the plan developed by the city, residential parking permits will cost $150 per year with a cap of 500 total permits. Of those permits, half of them would go to qualifying low-income residents who will pay a reduced annual rate of $25 a year.

Permits will allow residents to park in non-metered residential streets as well as “flex” areas on main commercial streets in the neighborhood. In a memo to City Council, Director of Community and Economic Development Phillip Denning recommended that permit numbers and cost should be regulated by the City Manager so costs and numbers for the program can change over time as the city gets feedback and measurable data from the program.

The initial costs are estimated at $180,000 to install signage and start the program. Annual operations costs are pegged at $73,500 and are expected to be covered by the permit fee income generated from the program.

If approved by City Council the program could be implemented by the end of the year.

The cost and number of permits have been a point of contention from residents in the neighborhood who voiced their concerns at a City Planning public staff conference for the removal of parking requirements in the urban core.

In his report to City Planning Commission for the Urban Parking Overlay Senior Planner Alex Peppers wrote that “the primary concerns voiced by residents were for the permit cost, the total number of permits issued and the lottery system in which they are issued, lack of community engagement, and how the City would conduct enforcement.”

No official council hearings have been set regarding the program however the first step of Walker Consultants recommendations which will remove off-street parking requirements in the urban core will be discussed tomorrow at City Planning Commission and again at the Economic Growth & Zoning Council Committee Meeting next Tuesday at 9 AM in City Council Chambers at City Hall.