Will Uptown Transit District increase ridership for Metro?

Uptown Transit DistrictThe UC*Metro program, which allows University of Cincinnati students, faculty, and staff to purchase discounted transit passes, has seen many changes since it was introduced in 2007. With the latest extension to the agreement, the cost is unchanged; students will be able to purchase passes for $53 per semester for the next three academic years. The cost for employees is also unchanged at $160 per semester.

What riders will notice, however, is that several of the Metro facilities they’ll use have been significantly upgraded. Work is now complete on the Uptown Transit District, Metro’s name for a number of improvements at four locations near campus. In addition to wayfinding signage and improved lighting, all of the new stops feature real-time arrival information, which was first introduced by Metro in 2012, and two of the stops also feature ticket vending machines, like the ones Metro installed at the Government Square bus hub earlier this year.

The Uptown Transit District upgrades are an example of how the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is continuing to improve service and increase ridership in spite of its limited budget. In February, we reported that SORTA is one of the best stewards of limited financial resources, compared to 11 peer agencies across the country.

In 2012, SORTA built the Glenway Crossing Transit Center park and ride location, which seves several routes, including the 32, 38X, and 41. Earlier this year, SORTA reported that ridership was up by as much around 20% on these routes compared to the previous year.

While SORTA isn’t anticipating a specific increase in ridership due to the Uptown Transit District upgrades, the goal of those improvements was to “make it easier for current and new riders,” Jill Dunne, Public Affairs Manager for SORTA, told UrbanCincy.

Initial $2M Phase of Cincy Bike Share On-Pace for September Opening

Cincinnati Bike Share Station MapCincinnati city officials and community leaders are expected to gather at Fountain Square Tuesday morning to unveil the first of Cincy Bike Share’s 35 stations. The ceremony will mark the official start to construction of Ohio’s second and largest bike share system.

Queen City Bike says that the process will move quickly, with two to three stations being installed daily until all 35 stations planned for Downtown and Uptown are built. At the same time, there will be a volunteer effort to assemble the system’s 300 bikes.

“We hope to assemble at least 200 bike share bikes by Friday,” said Frank Henson, President of Queen City Bike, and member of Cincy Bike Share’s Board of Trustees. “This is being done by area volunteer mechanics under the supervision of B-Cycle.”

The aggressive schedule puts the system on track to open by early September, which is not far off the initial goal of opening by August.

The progress comes after Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) announced $1.1 million to more than half of the initial $2 million in upfront capital costs. At the time, Cincy Bike Share director, Jason Barron, said the commitment from the City of Cincinnati was critical in not only getting things moving, but also showing the private sector that it is all for real.

“The mayor’s commitment makes the project a true public private partnership,” Barron told UrbanCincy in April. “The City’s commitment is important to the private funders we have been speaking to, and I believe that it will unlock the last bit of funds that we need.”

Bike share systems have been growing in popularity in North America over recent years. While the most notable are Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare, Chicago’s Divvy and New York City’s Citi Bike, there are now dozens of other cities operating similar systems. The large number and established time period of operations now has given planners a chance to examine empirical data to see what works best.

The more complexities you add to a mode of transportation’s functionality, the less likely someone is to choose that given mode for their trip. This is something that is true across all modes of transportation. As a result, the station density and space contingency calculations have proven to be consistent indicators for a bike share system’s success or failure.

Studies have found that a higher station density is better, and that a target should be approximately 28 stations per square mile. For a city like Cincinnati, that averages out to be a station every couple of blocks. However, the number and placement of Cincy Bike Share stations will be much lower than this target.

When examining of each of the 35 station locations, the system’s station density can be calculated in two different ways. The first would look at just the immediate area in which the stations are located. The second would look at the intended service area for those stations. Naturally, the latter is a bit more subjective.

In the case of the first scenario, the Downtown/OTR portion of the system would have approximately 15 stations per square mile, while the Uptown portion would have 10. Overall, the system in its entirety would average out to a respectable 13 stations per square mile.

But under the more second scenario that factors for intended service area these numbers drop. In this case, Downtown/OTR would fall to 12 stations per square mile, and Uptown would plummet approximately four stations per square mile. Overall, the system total would average out to be nearly stations per square mile.

It is important to note that neither of these scenarios includes the Union Terminal station in its calculation since it is an outlier and would clearly skew the results. Furthermore, Downtown/OTR and Uptown were separated in their calculations since many planners and observers concede that the two areas will most likely operate in isolation of one another.

The point is to ensure that there are consistently stations within a short distance of one another so that if one station is full or empty, another station is close by for the potential user. If that user encounters such a situation, however, it is most likely that the potential user will avoid using bike share altogether and instead opt for a different mode.

One of the ways this can be combatted is through the use of real-time tracking technology that allows users to see exactly how many bikes or stalls are available at any station at any given time. This, of course, only aids those with access to data plans on compatible smart phones, and those who think to use it.

In order to fix the problem of full or empty stations, system operators perform ‘bike balancing’ which moves excess bikes from one station to another that is low on bikes. This balancing act proves to be one of the most costly elements of operating a bike share system. In Chicago and bigger cities they utilize small vans to move the bikes around. But in Salt Lake City, where their GREENBike system is quite small, they utilize trailers hitched to the back of other bikes.

As a result of this complex balancing act, and potential barrier to users, another key element of bike share systems is a space contingency at each station. What this means is that if a station has a capacity for 10 bikes, it should not be stocked with 10 bikes. Instead, data suggests that about a 50% space contingency is ideal.

In Cincinnati’s case, Cincy Bike Share will have enough bikes for there to be roughly nine docked at each of the system’s 35 stations. If the system were to fall in line with this 50% space contingency, which would mean that an additional four to five stalls should be available at any given time, meaning each station should have a total of 13-14 stalls. This, however, is not the case.

Cincinnati’s typical station will have 10 stalls, and thus only have a 10% space contingency. Cincy Bike Share officials have not yet commented as to how this will be mitigated, but a potential solution would be simply to not deploy all 300 bikes at once – something that seems reasonable since bikes will need to rotate in and out for repairs. In this case, a more appropriate number of bikes to be in use at any given time might be 240.

Cincinnati’s bikes are expected to be available for use 24 hours a day, and will most likely be available for use year-round. Cincy Bike Share will be responsible for setting the rate structure, which is not final yet, but annual memberships are pegged at $75 to $85 and daily passes between $6 to $8.

Uptown was originally envisioned as a second phase to the system; but now that it is being included in the initial rollout, it leaves an expansion to Northern Kentucky as the next logical choice.

More details are expected to be announced at the press event later in the week.

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.

EDITORIAL: It’s Time for Cincinnati to Build a New First-Class Arena

The Cincinnati region has an arena problem that is two-fold. The first part of the problem is that there is no stand-out venue that offers both the capacity and modern amenities to attract large-scale events. The second is that the region has far too many venues competing with one another.

Within a one-hour drive from Fountain Square there are eight arenas with a capacity of more than 9,000 people for their primary tenants. Of these, only three have been built or undergone major renovations since the year 2000. The lone major project currently on the books is the $310 million renovation and rebuild of Rupp Arena in Lexington, which also happens to be the furthest away of the eight venues mentioned.

  1. Rupp Arena (23,500): Built in 1975 with minor renovations in 2001. Primary tenant is University of Kentucky athletics. Major renovation and rebuild planned for completion in 2017.
  2. U.S. Bank Arena (17,566): Built in 1975 with a major renovation in 1997 and subsequent minor renovations. Primary tenant is the minor league hockey Cincinnati Cyclones team.
  3. UD Arena (13,409): Built in 1969 with major renovations in 2002 and minor renovations again in 2010. Primary tenant is University of Dayton athletics.
  4. Fifth Third Arena (13,176): Built in 1989 with several minor renovations since. Primary tenant is University of Cincinnati athletics.
  5. Cintas Center (10,250): Built in 2000. Primary tenant is Xavier University athletics.
  6. Cincinnati Gardens (10,208): Built in 1949 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is the amateur women’s roller derby Cincinnati Rollergirls team.
  7. Bank of Kentucky Center (9,400): Built in 2008. Primary tenant is Northern Kentucky University athletics.
  8. Millett Hall (9,200): Built in 1968 with no major renovations since its opening. Primary tenant is Miami University athletics (sans hockey).

Recent talks closer to the core of our region have revolved around either embarking on a major renovation of Fifth Third Arena, or building a new one altogether; and performing major renovations on U.S. Bank Arena. The problem with these two approaches, however, fails to address the two core problems with the region’s plethora of arenas.

Any discussion on this topic should be focused on creating a stand-out venue that is both large enough and offers the modern amenities needed to attract major events, while also decluttering the regional arena landscape.

To that end, UrbanCincy recommends building a brand new arena adjacent to the Horseshoe Casino at Broadway Commons that would become the new home for the Cincinnati Cyclones, Cincinnati Rollergirls and University of Cincinnati Men’s Basketball. This venue would also accommodate the existing events held at U.S. Bank Arena and should be built in a way that is conducive for casino operators to program additional events, such as boxing, at the venue.

As part of this plan, U.S. Bank Arena and the Cincinnati Gardens should be torn down, and Fifth Third Arena used as the multipurpose facility it was originally intended to be.

This location makes perfect sense with immediate access to the center city’s hotels and convention facilities, casino, streetcar system, highways and abundant parking. Such a plan would also allow for the current U.S. Bank Arena site to be redeveloped with additional housing and shops akin to what is being developed at The Banks.

The land left over at the Cincinnati Gardens site in Bond Hill could then be repackaged, with surrounding land, to be developed as part of community-driven master plan.

As is often the case, funding is one of the primary hurdles preventing any of this from getting done. In this particular plan, each of the partners (University of Cincinnati, City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Horseshoe Casino) could contribute to the capital costs. Furthermore, value capture tools could be used for the U.S. Bank Arena and Cincinnati Gardens properties to help offset costs even more.

The last thing our region needs is another tax to pay for a sports or entertainment complex. Those scarce public resources should be reserved for more pressing things like improving our region’s transit network.

Our region’s political and business leaders need to think holistically when it comes to this challenge. Moving forward in a panicked and rushed fashion will get us an end result that does not solve the problems before us, and ultimately squanders public dollars.

Let’s build ourselves a modern arena venue that can attract top-level events, but do so without placing the burden on the taxpayers. Let’s also do so in a way that rids the region of some of its excess number of existing arenas, and frees up land to be redeveloped in a more productive manner for our neighborhoods.

There is a wealth of talent and C-Level executives in this region. Let’s get creative and start thinking beyond the sales tax. Let’s get this done.

Celebrate Summer at UrbanCincy’s July #URBANexchange

URBANexchange at Taste of BelgiumSummer is finally upon us which means its time to enjoy some craft brews outside at this Thursday’s URBANexchange event (weather permitting)! We’ve received so much good feedback about our location change that we have decided to make Taste of Belgium’s Short Vine location our main venue for the happy hours.

Join us for crepes and craft beers this Thursday from 5:30pm to 8pm. This is a great opportunity to check out the continued progress of the new streetscape being installed on Short Vine in Uptown and discuss some of the transportation topics we brought up in our latest podcast.

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.