The 2016 biennial list from Bicycling.com shows Cincinnati ranked 36th out of 50 bike-friendly US cities. The ranking is determined by variables such as the number of bicycle facilities, bicycle-friendly businesses, bike-share programs, and the length and safety of infrastructure, amongst others. This year and since 2014, Cincinnati has seen a dramatic increase in bikeability, due to Red Bike and the Central Parkway bike lane, being hailed the 3rd fastest growing biking community in the US. Even with our successes, Cincinnati has fallen from last year’s rank of #35. So, why the fall from #35?
Bicycling.com claims the lack of progress on the City’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, adopted in 2010, coupled with the increasing urban population, with little access to bicycle infrastructure, for the decrease. This year, the first 4.1 miles of the potentially 7.6 mile Wasson Way was purchased just prior to the release of the biennial list. The first phase implementation of the trail, which is scheduled for next year could positively affect the city’s standings in future rankings. However; future on-street connections to the new trail would further boost the city’s access to bicycle infrastructure.
The Central Parkway Protected Bike Lane
This could mean that our rank will increase in coming years. With 100,000 people living within one mile of Wasson Way, the potential for new cyclists and trail-servicing businesses are high and will undoubtedly affect the bike friendliness of the city.
Plans are also underway to secure $21 million in funding to create 42 miles of bike paths, in order to connect Wasson Way, Oasis Trail, Mill Creek Greenway and the Ohio River Trail West. This project is known as Cincinnati Connects and if it passes, will further the city’s bikeability. Additionally, Cincy Red Bike has been an ongoing success; their annual installation of new stations, since its inception in 2014, has added to the momentum of Cincinnati’s bike friendliness.
Although change is afoot, Cincinnati still lacks the complete designation of being ‘bike friendly’ by its residents and outsiders, like those at the top of Bicycling.com’s list. When locals are asked about their view towards biking in Cincinnati, it’s still met by most with negativity: seen as an annoyance, while others are very concerned for their safety while cycling in the city. Cars still dominate the roadways, with some even parking in the bike lane along Central Parkway.
With the new year around the corner, Cincinnati appears to be on a continued path to being a top bike-friendly city however; the following issues are key: residents being made aware of the benefits and safety of cycling; continued implementation of the 2010 Bicycle Master Plan; and policy changes that mirror those cities at the top of the biennial list.
Tri-State Trails is aiming to encourage the public to get outdoors with the Opening Day on the Trails Challenge – a seven week series of hikes, group bike rides, and other events on trails and in parks throughout the Cincinnati region.
The challenge starts with an event at Sawyer Point from 12pm to 5pm on Saturday, April 16, which is also Earth Day.
The Opening Day on the Trails Challenge is part of a national kickoff by the Rails-to-Trail Conservancy to promote the spring outdoor season. Running from mid-April to early June, the challenge overlaps with National Bike Month in May.
Information on the challenge can be found online at MeetMeOutdoors.com. Participants can register on the website, and sign up to receive email newsletters and social media alerts. A Trails Challenge Passport is also available for download. To participate, individuals and families attend group events, which are listed on a schedule included with the passport. Attendance at activities is logged on the passport, and those who attend at least one event are eligible to win a prize.
Organizers say that the challenge will conclude with an award ceremony on National Trails Day on June 4 at the Purple People Bridge. Participants who complete the challenge will receive a Nalgene water bottle and other items. A raffle will also be held to award prizes, donated by local businesses and Cincy Red Bike, to registered participants.
Tri-State Trails, a program of Green Umbrella, is the local host of the challenge, and is hoping it will encourage more people to get out and explore the region’s network of bike paths and trails.
Wade Johnston, Regional Trails Coordinator for Tri-State Trails, sees the event as an opportunity to showcase not only the many multimodal trails in the Cincinnati region, but also the hiking and mountain biking trails. Tri-State Trails has been told by the Rails to Trails Conservancy that the Challenge in the Cincinnati region is the largest and longest program of any opening day trail event in the United States.
Johnston told UrbanCincy that public support and usage of the region’s trail system is increasing, citing the Cincinnati Connects plan, and efforts to expand the Mill Creek Greenway, Ohio River Trail, and Wasson Way.
The Opening Day on the Trails event is supported by a $25,000 grant from Interact for Health. While this is the first year for this event in Cincinnati, it is intended to be an annual event in the future.
Green Umbrella’s Outdoor Event Series will continue through the summer with the Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo on July 22 at Winton Woods Harbor, and the Great Outdoor Weekend on September 24 and 25 at a variety of locations around the Cincinnati area.
The Cincinnati Department of Transportation & Engineering is taking public input on the proposed second phase of Westwood Trail. A public meeting was held last Wednesday, at the recently christened District 3 Police Headquarters on Ferguson Road, at which the proposed route was presented.
At that time it was explained that things are moving forward thanks to a $500,000 Federal Transportation Alternatives grant for the $718,000 project. The remainder of the budget, officials say, will come out of Cincinnati’s capital budget.
The new half-mile extension is proposed to connect to the existing loop trail at Dunham Recreation Center; and run approximately 1,200 feet between the Kroger parking lot and the Gilbert Dater/Western Hills High School sports facilities to the south. Engineers and planners with the City say that a cross slope on this portion of the route presents a challenge, so the path is to be cut into the slope, with a new 8-foot high, 355-foot long retaining wall.
Along Ferguson Avenue, the sidewalk in front of the newly constructed District 3 Police HQ was built as shared use path, and has a width sufficient to accommodate people walking and biking. The trail will then continue north on Ferguson, and west on Glenhills Way to Western Sports Mall.
City officials say that the existing sidewalks to the north and west of the police substation are not the width required for a shared use path and will need to be rebuilt. This may be, in part, due to the fact that the Bicycle Transportation Plan adopted in June 2010 called for on-street bike lanes along Glenhills Way, not a shared use off-road trail like what is now being proposed.
City Hall has not currently identified the funding to build the next extension of the trail to the west of the Western Sports Mall, but officials say that the intent is for it to eventually extend northwest to the Green Township Trail, and east to the Lick Run Greenway.
These extensions would incorporate the Westwood Trail into a larger regional trail network, including the Mill Creek Greenway. The work also fits into the Cranley Administration’s aim of prioritizing trails over on-street bike facilities.
The charter amendment would raise the City’s property tax rate to 13.1 mills and would bring in approximately $5.3 million a year. The move would require City Council to fund the Parks Department’s capital budget at its 2016 budget level, and approve bonds for capital improvements using levy revenue.
Proponents say that 75% of the levy revenue will be available for the City to borrow against in order to fund 13 designated capital projects selected by the mayor and city manager. The remaining 25% will go to system-wide maintenance and operating costs.
“We’re asking to voters to pass a very small property tax that we believe, for that small amount of money – $35 a year per $100,000 value – will increase property values and increase the quality of life for all Cincinnatians as we take the wonderful park system and we bring it to the neighborhoods,” Cranley said.
The group needs to collect approximately 6,000 signatures by August 15 to make it on to the November 3 ballot. Cincinnati Parks has not placed a levy on the ballot since 1927.
“We have decided that the only fair way to do this, if we’re going to be asking the taxpayers to pay more money, is to ask the citizens first to even let us put it on the ballot,” Cranley said. “At the end of the day, we’re putting this decision in the hands of the voters, and we believe the value proposition is there. We believe that this will build a better city.”
Vision needs funding
Board of Park Commissioners President Otto M. Budig, Jr. said that his organization has been charged with creating the best parks system in the country, but despite generous City funding and donor contributions, it continually finds itself short on money for major initiatives.
“We have had some difficulty in developing major projects that have long been needed,” he said. “I went to the mayor and I said, ‘We need these funds to bring about a new vision. You give us a vision, we’ll take care of the details.’ The mayor has given us the vision.”
While many of the projects are only in the conceptual stage at current time, the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks website says that they were chosen due to being the most shovel-ready, with the ability to be completed quickly.
Multipurpose recreational trails are a major component of the plan, including the Oasis River Trail ($8 million), Wasson Way ($12 million), Mill Creek Greenway Trail ($5 million), and the Ohio River West Trail ($6 million). The City also plans to work with the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance to develop more than 20 miles of off-road trails in Mount Airy Forest ($11 million).
“The bike system that will be created as a result of this levy, off-road, which is a big thing for me – I think off-road is a much safer, dedicated path that doesn’t have as many accidents – the most extensive, bicycle urban path in America,” Cranley said.
The plan would also raise $10 million for a joint venture between the City, the University of Cincinnati, and Clifton Town Meeting to create a new master plan for Burnet Woods.
“As I often say, Burnet Woods – even more so that Washington Park – could be the Central Park of Cincinnati,” Cranley said. “If you think about Corryville, CUF, Clifton, Avondale…all surround this park. It’s the densest part of the city and it’s right across the street from 30,000 students. We can have the same impact with that park as we did with Washington Park.”
Other projects include:
Developing part of the 20-acre New Prospect Baptist Church grounds into a communal programming center, athletic fields, and an urban camp site that would cost $8 million;
“Now we have this new vision,” said Parks Director Willie Carden, who already has overseen the amazing transformations at Smale Riverfront Park and Washington Park, among others. “The vision brings ‘parkonomics’, partnerships to the neighborhoods. We can do this. We can make this a safer, healthier community, but we need your help.”
Construction is nearly complete on the fourth phase of work on the Mill Creek Greenway. As part of that work, a new 0.7-mile trail stretches along the border of South Cumminsville and Milvale, from the Millcreek Road Bridge to the intersection of Fricke Road and Beekman Street near Ethel Taylor Academy.
Once this work is complete, project planners say, the stretch will include additional accommodations for the trail to safely cross the creek on the existing roadway bridge, along with traffic calming measures for a safe crossing at Beekman Street near the school.
This latest phase of work is part of the much larger Mill Creek Greenway project that is being spearheaded by Groundwork Cincinnati – Mill Creek. The non-profit organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and is hoping that the planned 15-mile green corridor, which starts at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Carthage and will eventually reach the Ohio River Trail in Lower Price Hill, will help clean up one of the region’s most notoriously polluted corridors.
“We have done 33 ecological restoration projects as part of the greenway program,” Robin Corathers, Executive Director of Groundwork Cincinnati – Mill Creek, told UrbanCincy. “That includes bank stabilization, stream bed stabilization, wetland restoration, wildlife habitat restoration.”
In addition to that, Corathers says that edible forest gardens have been planted along the trail, with seven layers of vegetation that mimic a natural forest ecosystem. Improving the health of the ecosystem is a key component of Groundwork’s strategy, and more work is planned to help revitalize and heal damage to the natural resources within the Mill Creek Valley – one of the city’s oldest industrial corridors.
This latest phase of work was funded through a $245,000 grant from the Clean Ohio Trail Fund, $80,000 grant from the Interact for Health Foundation, $30,000 grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and $191,000 from the City of Cincinnati that was provided through its annual capital budget. Corathers also notes that the C.W. Wood Company donated a strip of land along Fricke Street for the trail.
The project, however, is not just about new trails and habitat restoration. Groundwork leadership also says that they are focused on capacity building, community involvement, and environmental education programming for 4,000 fourth through twelfth grade students each year.
“Phase four is really important to us for several reasons” explained Corathers. “As a ground work trust we are committed to working in economically distressed and historically under-served communities and neighborhoods; and in this case it’s the neighborhoods in the lower Mill Creek watershed.”
To this end, Corathers says that community leaders and neighborhood residents have been excited about the project and the process by which it is being implemented. She says that neighborhood councils become involved in the planning and design work of each phase of the trail, which leads to moments like this past November 12 when they celebrated the groundbreaking for the latest phase of work with about 85 area residents and business owners.
While there has been a good deal of neighborhood support, there are still challenges that exist for project leaders. One of those challenges is the Millcreek Road Bridge, which is envisioned as a crossing for the trail, but is currently only one lane in each direction for automobile traffic.
To tackle this issue, Groundwork Cincinnati has been working closely with Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) to address safety issues with the narrow bridge. City officials say that the aging Mill Creek crossing is not considered a priority bridge and is not scheduled for replacement.
As a result, transportation engineers have come up with a solution that will retrofit the lightly used span to have one lane for shared two-way traffic flow, and one lane dedicated to the trail. The DOTE says that new signals will be installed, in February, at either end of the bridge to control alternating movements of vehicles across the Mill Creek Bridge.
“It’s a great investment. The bridge will be so much safer for people, for bikes, and also for vehicles,” Corathers said when emphasizing the importance of the trails connection. “The trail provides opportunities for outdoor exercise and recreation, active living, and active transportation for people in the Mill Creek corridor and nearby.”
Crossing the Mill Creek at this location is critical in the project’s overall goal of eventually reaching the Ohio River to the south. Once getting past this location, project planners say that a former CSX rail corridor can be used to take the trail all the way to its envisioned terminus.
The former freight rail right-of-way is considered to be wide enough to accommodate the Mill Creek Greenway Trail, as well as tracks for a future transit line. The use of this corridor, Corathers says, will also allow the Mill Creek Greenway Trail to tap into the planned $192 million Lick Run project, which will include another corridor of green space and trails.
Ultimately, the ongoing efforts could produce what would become a large network of interconnected trails through the heart of the city, including the Ohio River Trail, Little Miami Scenic Trail, Mill Creek Greenway, Lick Run, and West Fork Mill Creek Trail in Carthage.
The next 2.9-mile phase of work on the Mill Creek Greenway is estimated to cost $860,000, and project officials say they have already secured $500,000 of that from the State of Ohio, $50,000 from Interact for Health, and $10,000 from Duke Energy. The hope is that the remaining funds can come from City Hall. Should the final funding fall into place, Groundwork Cincinnati believes phase five work could be completed next year – creating a continuous eight-mile stretch of trails.
An attempt has been made all along to keep the trail close to the Mill Creek, but in some places, such as along Este Avenue, project planners say that it has not possible. But in locations where restoration and stabilization work has been performed along the creek, recovery of the ecosystems is easily visible.
“We now have great blue heron that fish in Mill Creek. We’ve got turtles, lizards, salamanders, beavers, birds, and all kinds of wildlife” Corathers exclaimed. “What we’re doing is breathing life back into this corridor. The trail allows users and visitors to experience an urban river that is coming back.”
In addition to Groundwork Cincinnati and the DOTE, Queen City Bike, Human Nature, IBI Group, Kolar Design, and Prus Construction have contributed to the development of the Mill Creek Greenway over the past six years.