Streetcar Supporters to Announce Expanded Coalition Urging for System’s Expansion Uptown

AcDowntown to Uptown Cincinnati Streetcar Routecording to officials at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which governs Metro, more than 1,000 of the 1,500 Founders’ Club cards were sold within the first three days of going on sale.

The rate of sales is exceeding expectations, and many believe the remaining allotment will be sold within the next few days. In fact, $25 cards have already been taken off of Metro’s website, with a very limited number remaining at City Hall and Metro’s sales office.

The remaining $50 and $100 cards can still be purchased online, but it is not clear for how much longer due to their dwindling supply.

Streetcar supporters are pointing to this as clear evidence of the excitement surrounding the project, especially given that those buying the cards will not be able to use them until the system goes into operation in September 2016.

“Selling $72,000 worth of fare cards for a starter line that’s nearly two years from being operational shows the level of support and enthusiasm for the Cincinnati Streetcar to finally be up and running,” Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, told UrbanCincy. “This is the definition of pent up demand.”

Of course, there is also the financial benefit. Selling all 1,500 of the cards will net Metro $72,000 in fare revenue nearly two years before the Cincinnati Streetcar goes into operation.

The news comes as Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots coalition that formed a year ago to save the project from cancellation, has organized a press conference to announce a broad new coalition of organizations and community leaders urging for the expansion of the streetcar system to Uptown.

“While we must celebrate the success we have had over the past year with construction of tracks in the OTR loop nearing completion and the downtown loop well underway, we must also be looking forward,” explained Ryan Messer, Founder of Believe in Cincinnati.

The path forward, evidently, goes uptown, and not to Northern Kentucky even as leaders there are calling for an expansion of the system south across the Ohio River.

“As of today, we still do not have an official plan in place for our uptown expansion that will link downtown and OTR to the University of Cincinnati and the uptown neighborhoods,” Messer wrote in an email. “We are ready to ignite these conversations and be prepared to implement these plans into action.”

The growing support for an uptown expansion comes at a time of large investment occurring along the initial starter line – investment that many streetcar supporters are crediting for the $18 million budget surplus at City Hall in 2014, and the rosy tax receipt estimates for 2015.

“Imagine what the impact will be when we connect Cincinnati’s core, with its 40,000 jobs and growing residential population, to the 30,000 jobs and 40,000 students in the uptown neighborhoods,” Bauman exclaimed. “This vision is as exciting as it will be transformative for the City of Cincinnati.”

The Believe in Cincinnati press conference will be held at the corner of Race and Elder Streets, near Findlay Market, and where track stub has been constructed for the accommodation of a future uptown extension. Organizers say the event will take place at 10am and will show off the new, expanded coalition of streetcar supporters urging for its expansion.

 

UC’s Niehoff Urban Studio Takes Bold New Look at the Future of Burnet Woods

On December 4, the University of Cincinnati Niehoff Urban Studio hosted an end of the semester open house to showcase the final work of students in graduate planning, civil engineering capstone, and a multi-disciplinary freshman UC Forward seminar.

There were three classes offered at the Studio, located in Corryville, during the Fall Semester that focused on understanding and improving Burnet Woods. The aim, course leaders say, was to begin to produce a future vision for the 89-acre park.

City officials first began discussing an overhaul of Burnet Woods in 2007, but a lack of funding at the time doomed the project. However, Mayor John Cranley (D) made the project a priority in his inaugural State of the City Address, saying that the park, located immediately north of the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, could help make the uptown area an even greater destination.

“Burnet Woods is an underutilized gem in our parks system,” Cranley said in a statement. “It’s nice now, but it could be great.”

That caught the attention of UC President Santa Ono, along with the Uptown Consortium who requested that the studio work on the subject in consultation with community representatives and other stakeholders uptown. In addition, staff of the Cincinnati Park Board, who have sole control over what will happen with the park, have been engaged with the studio throughout the semester.

A large crowd showed up at the open house, held two weeks ago, to take a look at the visuals and learn about the observations and initial recommendations produced by the students for the roughly 142-year-old park.

After identifying various issues with Burnet Woods, as it stands today, the students proceeded to “rethink” the space and its uses. Nine teams of graduate Planning students organized their work around distinct thematic approaches to remaking the park. These themes included integrated Art Programming, a Health/Wellness destination, a food production system, a center for “fun” programming, and others.

Some of the many specific recommendations included creating seasonal programming, creating a soundscape as a placemaking tool, inserting a winding promenade to connect UC Main Street with the Ludlow Business District, elevating Martin Luther King Drive to allow for Burnet Woods to flow through underneath it into UC’s main campus, among others.

Some of the student teams extended the scope beyond the park by suggesting a cohesive streetscape experience extending from Burnet Woods and re-imagining the park as the center of an Uptown “eco-district” to create a broader ecological and social system.

One of the benefits of the studio course offerings came from engaging both planning and engineering students. As part of the course’s focus on building healthy and resilient places, civil engineering students proposed a number of green infrastructure ideas to help with stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows, and other technical projects.

Additionally, according to Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center, the multi-disciplinary UC Forward freshman seminar was able to survey the student body to determine its interest in the park and ended up proposing a student organization dedicated to providing advocacy and service to the park.

Russell says that this is only the beginning, with additional courses in Planning, Architectural Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Horticulture to come in the Spring Semester that will build on the ideas and research completed thus far. The hope, he says, is to create a well-grounded set of ideas that will make up the contents of an ‘idea book’ for use by the community in considering the future of Burnet Woods.

Other faculty involved in the Fall Semester included Vikas Mehta and Danilo Palazzo from the School of Planning; Richard Miller and Elizabeth Devendorf from the Civil Engineering Program; and Cory Christopher from UC Forward. Those interested in viewing the student work in detail may do so by appointment at the UC Niehoff Urban Studio, located at 2728 Vine Street, by emailing design.center@uc.edu.

Support Continues to Grow for Daily Train Service Between Cincinnati and Chicago

Midwest Regional Rail ServiceOhio is surprisingly one of the nation’s least-served states by intercity passenger rail service, but All Aboard Ohio is working to change that.

Perhaps best well known for their fruitless advocacy for the 3C Corridor – an intercity passenger rail line that would have linked Ohio’s largest cities – All Aboard Ohio has regained relevancy as of late. While continually advocating for improvements on existing Amtrak service across the northern reaches of the state, the non-profit organization has also become increasingly involved with efforts to establish rail service between Columbus and Chicago, and Cincinnati and Chicago.

Columbus currently has no connections to the capital of the economically robust Great Lakes region, but Cincinnati does, albeit ever so slightly. As of now, Cincinnatians can get to Chicago via the scrappy three-day-a-week train service offered on Amtrak’s Cardinal Route. In addition to not being daily service, trains infamously arrive and depart in the middle of the night.

This is something, however, that area leaders and All Aboard Ohio officials are working to change. One potential example, they say, is to extend existing service offered on Amtrak’s Hoosier Route. The combination of Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier routes offers Indianapolis daily service to Chicago. From there, the hope is to make gradual improvements to bring the service up to 110mph speeds.

“There is a buzz and excitement in southwest Ohio about connecting to Indy and Chicago that is palpable,” explained Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio. “Even those that have not necessarily been fans of previous rail projects see the necessity of connecting to Chicago – the business and commerce epicenter of the U.S. between the coasts.”

The energy Bauman speaks of was recently seen at an area meeting held by All Aboard Ohio at the Christian Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine. According to Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio, such meetings are typically pretty dull, but this was not the case in Cincinnati.

“Our free local meetings are usually less extravagant than our statewide meetings, and are more akin to briefing or coordination gatherings,” Prendergast told UrbanCincy. “They generally only draw a dozen or two dozen people, so this meeting’s attendance was pretty good.”

All Aboard Ohio welcomed Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R) as their special guest. Over the past few months Murray has taken on a bit of a leadership role in the discussion about establishing daily rail service to Indianapolis and onward to Chicago. Her leadership has also come at a time when Hamilton County Commissioners, in a surprising fashion, voted unanimously in favor of studying the establishment of such service.

Bauman says that All Aboard Ohio has been working with the OKI Regional Council of Governments on a potential scope and funding plan for a feasibility study on the manner, following the unanimous vote from Greg Hartmann (R), Todd Portune (D) and Chris Monzel (R). He says that the group has also been meeting with local jurisdictions and business leaders to grow support even further.

“A big part of this is educating stakeholders on what our competitor regions throughout the Midwest are doing,” said Bauman. “For example, Detroit has three Amtrak roundtrips a day, Milwaukee has seven, St. Louis has five, and even Carbondale, IL has three. Simply put, we are being left behind.”

Some of that recent outreach has included both Hamilton and Oxford – communities that sit along the existing Cardinal Route and would be prime candidates for stops in a case where service is enhanced. To that extent, both communities, in addition to Miami University, have expressed their support for the effort. Now, according to Bauman, the next steps are to reach out to Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.

“As we continue to work with business and government leaders toward establishing at least daily service to Cincinnati, coordinating with our regional institutions of higher learning will be a growing and vital piece of our advocacy partnership focus,” Bauman explained. “Bringing back proper inter-city rail services will be transformative for our region and positively impact the lives of people.”

How is Tucson’s New Streetcar Line Performing Compared to Expectations?

Construction on the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system is well underway. While the project has been well documented in the media over the past decade, it is not often viewed from a perspective of where it stands in the national conversation.

Tucson recently opened their first modern streetcar line and their program administrator, Shellie Ginn, sat down with Jeremy Hobson from Here & Now to discuss their project. The two discuss both the pros and cons of such systems, while also highlighting the specific results being realized in Tuscon.

“We actually have higher ridership than we’d estimated. We have a lot more people riding that we hadn’t anticipated,” Ginn explained in terms of the perceived notion that only tourists would ride their streetcar. “We’ve had a really good response on taking advantage of the streetcar as well. It’s about a four mile line and it connects our University of Arizona Medical Center to some shopping districts that also connect to a downtown, and over to a western redevelopment area.”

Similarly, Cincinnati’s first modern streetcar line is 3.6 miles in length and connects a downtown, shopping districts, riverfront entertainment district and a neighborhood ripe for redevelopment. Should future phases extend the system to Uptown, it would connect the initial line with the University of Cincinnati, the region’s medical district and several other large employers and attractions. An extension across the river into Northern Kentucky would add additional shopping and entertainment districts as destinations.

Uptown Leaders Hoping $2.4M Northern Townhomes Project Accelerates Avondale’s Rebirth

Earlier this month community leaders and City officials gathered in Avondale to celebrate the groundbreaking for eight new market-rate townhomes in the long beleaguered Uptown neighborhood.

The Northern Townhomes project, named after the street on which it is located, is just the latest evidence of a startling transformation that has taken place along the Burnet Avenue corridor over recent years, which has included the construction new office mid-rises, street-level retail and renovation of historic buildings to accommodate new residences.

Much of this transformation has been spurred by the continued growth of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, which has added thousands of jobs since 2000. But that jobs growth, however, has not yet translated into an improved housing market in the impoverished neighborhood. Community leaders are hoping that Northern Townhomes will be the first of many more projects that will work toward improving just that.

“Any community developer knows that the key to smart growth is home ownership,” stated Ozie Davis, Executive Director at Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation, in a prepared release.

Avondale currently has one of the lowest home ownership rates in the city at just 33%. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the City of Cincinnati and State of Ohio, respectively, have home ownership rates of 40.5% and 68%.

The realization of this development has taken years, following a community-developed master plan for the area years ago. Correspondingly, the funding for the $2.4 million project also came from a diverse coalition of neighborhood stakeholders including the University of Cincinnati, UC Health, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and TriHealth.

“The potential for the strong neighborhood revitalization like ours comes from good visioning, smart planning and patience, and this Northern Townhomes project proves that Avondale, Uptown Consortium and the Uptown institutional members have all three,” Davis emphasized.

Project officials say that each of the eight townhomes is approximately 1,400 square feet. Six are two-bedroom residences, while the remaining two have three bedrooms. Additionally, each home has a one-car garage and what the developers are calling tandem on-street parking.

As of now, the expected price point for each townhome is starting at $175,000, and may qualify for a 15-year LEED tax abatement should the developers successfully achieve LEED for Homes Silver certification.

If all goes according to plan, project construction is expected to be completed by fall 2015. After that project officials say that there is room for a second phase of another eight townhomes. The corner of Northern Avenue and Burnet Avenue, meanwhile, is being reserves for another commercial development.

“Avondale is key to the spirit of Uptown Cincinnati, and Avondale community leaders have been a great collaborator and convener as we have work together to revitalize the Burnet Avenue corridor,” concluded Beth Robinson, President and CEO of the Uptown Consortium. “Market rate housing is a fundamental anchor to a diverse residential neighborhood, and we are delighted to have this project be a significant milestone in the Burnet Avenue revitalization.”

Additional residential and mixed-use components remain to be realized as part of the Burnet Avenue corridor master plan, and no timeline has been identified for those elements as of yet.