The Bengals will have their season home opener this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. While a sellout crowd is not expected, tens of thousands of football fans are still expected to make the trip to the central riverfront in order to attend the game or participate in nearby festivities.
As is to be expected, many of those people will be drinking alcohol. This presents a business opportunity for nearby restaurants and bars, but it also presents a challenge for law enforcement as the likelihood of people driving while under the influence increases.
In order to help combat that, Miller Lite is partnering with the Bengals to provide free rides on all Metro bus routes on Sunday.
This is the 28th year for the program, and this season Miller Lite is partnering with six NFL cities. In total the program has come to 20 cities and provided approximately 4.8 million free rides.
“We’re excited to work together with local public transit companies, our distributor partners and our NFL alliance partners to remind fans that the best moments of the game are those enjoyed responsibly,” a Miller Lite representative told UrbanCincy. “We’re happy to begin a new partnership with Metro and hope to grow our relationship in the future.”
While the free rides will only be available for this Sunday’s home opener, Metro officials are hoping it makes people aware of the transit alternatives available for getting to and from all Bengals games.
Those who wish to take advantage of the free rides need only to get on the bus during regular service hours. No game ticket or verification will be necessary.
The Bengals won their first game of the season in Oakland against the Raiders, and will host the San Diego Chargers this Sunday at 1pm. Tickets are still available and can be purchased online or at the Paul Brown Stadium ticket office.
There has been much rancor over the past week about how or if to operate the streetcar during major events such as Oktoberfest or Taste of Cincinnati. The perceived problem is that the streetcar’s tracks cross the existing location of those major festivals, and would thus pose a conflict.
It is worth taking a look at these festivals and their locations along Fifth Street, along with what other options might exist.
Both festivals got their start in the 1970s, with Oktoberfest tapping its first keg in 1976 and the Taste of Cincinnati kicking off in 1979. While Oktoberfest originally began on Fifth Street, Taste of Cincinnati did not. In fact, it was not until very recently that the Taste of Cincinnati moved to Fifth Street and joined its mega-festival partner.
When Taste of Cincinnati modestly kicked off 36 years ago, it was actually held in Piatt Park. It stayed there for three short years and then moved to Central Parkway, where it remained until 2007 when the renovation of Fountain Square was completed. At that time, it made sense to host both festivals to Fifth Street around the reborn Fountain Square.
When the city’s first modern streetcar line opens next year, it will have been nine years since both festivals were regularly being held on Fifth Street. Following this year’s scheduled events, it will also be time for both festivals to consider moving to even better environs along the central riverfront. Of course, since the streetcar isn’t planned to open for operations until September, that means Taste of Cincinnati could stay where it is without any problems for 2016 as well.
One of the biggest positives and negatives about Fifth Street is its central location and connectivity to Fountain Square – the traditional public gathering point for Cincinnatians. Everyone knows where it is. The problem with it is that it is also all of that for everyday residents, visitors and workers in the bustling central business district; and these events shut down that corridor for days at a time.
With the events typically extending from Race/Vine Street to Sycamore/Broadway Street – a four- to five-block span – they also require a number of cross streets and major transportation hubs like Government Square to shut down. When the streetcar begins its operations, it too will have to alter its operations and only run approximately half of its initial route during the events.
By moving both festivals to the central riverfront they would be able to take advantage of the huge Central Riverfront Garage underneath The Banks, and also be able to take direct advantage of the Riverfront Transit Center, which was custom built for serving massive crowds such as those that attend Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati.
At the same time, Metro bus service and streetcar operations would be able to continue uninterrupted.
Furthermore, unlike Fifth Street, the streets at The Banks do not serve as major access points for the regional highway system, so closing those streets off would not severely disrupt the flow of goods and people in the central business district. Without that restriction, Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati could explore the idea of taking place over additional days, instead of being limited to three-day weekends.
Like Fifth Street, the central riverfront is within close walking distance of the many hotels located in the central business district, but it doesn’t serve as a barrier to them with its tents, debris and staging.
In addition to the hotels, businesses at The Banks would be much better-suited to handle mega events such as these. Buildings and storefronts along and around Fifth Street have been designed in a traditional sense, while those at The Banks have been custom built to accommodate large street crowds and festivals with walk-up windows, fold open walls and the forthcoming open-container law.
In fact, the huge popularity of Oktoberfest has already begun to spread beyond Fifth Street. UberDrome is now set-up in Smale Riverfront Park by the Moerlein Lager House and Paulaner; and the growing number of breweries in Over-the-Rhine are also now hosting special events during the period during and around Oktoberfest. A perfect connection between all of the festivities, as has been suggested by Christian Moerlein’s owner Greg Hardman, is the first leg of the streetcar.
Organization and Set-Up
Fifth Street, unlike the central riverfront, has very little in terms of open areas for special activities. With the $125 million dunnhumby Centre now complete at Fifth and Race, Fifth Street has also lost a large surface parking lot that had served as a staging area for these festivals. Along the central riverfront there are several event lawns that not only offer more flexibility for programming, but also are more comfortable for event-goers than the hardscapes offered along Fifth Street.
Furthermore, while Cincinnatians have grown accustomed to the linear organization of these types of festivals, which may not be the best set-up for them. With the ability to shut down multiple streets at a time without causing problems for traffic flow, The Banks allows for a more district-oriented festival. This would allow people to more easily get from one spot to another, without needing to go back against the grain an entire four blocks to meet friends just arriving.
In addition to all of this, The Banks development and Smale Riverfront Park are only getting bigger. So as they expand over the coming years, so will the possibilities for both of these great festivals that help to define the spirit of Cincinnati and its people.
While the Cincinnati Streetcar may be sparking this conversation, the decision to move Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati to the central riverfront is clear on its own merits and should be seriously considered. Both continue to grow in popularity and set record crowds each year. At some point soon we are going to have to make a decision about how to accommodate these growing crowds.
Let’s allow our companies in the central business district to flourish without interruption, our transit systems to serve huge crowds at full capacity, and two of our greatest cultural festivals the ability to grow and prosper for generations to come. Move Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati off of Fifth Street and to the central riverfront.
On the 46th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Randy, John, and Travis take a look back at 2014. We discuss our top posts of the year, including the renaissance beginning to take place in the Northern Liberties and new transportation options including Uber, Lyft, and Red Bike. We also make some predictions about what’s the come in 2015, including the expansion of Red Bike into other Cincinnati neighborhoods and Northern Kentucky, new residential developments opening in 2015, and new potential uses for the Riverfront Transit Center. Finally, we discuss the new parking meters and expanded enforcement hours that went into effect on January 1st for the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) announced their selection for a new Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, to fill Terry Garcia Crews’ vacated position, earlier this month. Dwight Ferrell was the person tapped for the position, and will take over effective January 5, 2015.
Ferrell boasts a long a diverse career in the transit industry. He will join Metro following his service as the County Manager for Fulton County, Georgia, where he oversaw more than 5,000 employees along with the county’s state and federal legislative agenda. In addition to that, Ferrell also previously worked with Atlanta’s largest transit agency as the Deputy General Manager and Chief Operating Officer at MARTA – America’s ninth largest transit system.
Ferrell’s background extends beyond the Atlanta region and includes transportation experience in Austin, Dallas, New Orleans and Philadelphia. According to Metro officials, he is also an active member of the American Public Transportation Association, Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, and Transportation Research Board.
Prior to taking over as Metro’s new CEO, Ferrell kindly agreed to an interview with UrbanCincy. The following interview was conducted on December 22, and is included below in its entirety.
Randy Simes: Coming from Atlanta, and having worked on their streetcar project, did you and Paul Grether, Metro’s current Rail Services Manager who previously worked as MARTA’s Streetcar Development Manager, ever work together? If so, how was your experience working with him, and how might that experience be beneficial moving forward with the operations of the Cincinnati Streetcar? Dwight Ferrell:I did work with Paul and have the highest regard for his knowledge about rail transit. Paul serves as the chair of the American Public Transportation Association’s streetcar committee, which is in Cincinnati this week to see the Cincinnati Streetcar construction.
Cincinnati is fortunate to have Paul working on this project. I am confident that under his leadership all Federal requirements will be followed and we’ll be ready to operate the streetcar in 2016.
RS: If there is one thing from your experience with MARTA that you could copy and duplicate at Metro, what would it be and why? DF:I really believe in performance management. It’s important for the community to know how we’re doing and for us to be transparent.
RS: When Atlanta pursued federal funding for its streetcar, there was the idea that the city needed to choose between seeking funding for rail transit for the BeltLine or the streetcar. Ultimately Atlanta went with the streetcar. If presented with a similar dilemma in Cincinnati, about a second phase of the streetcar or the Wasson Line, which do you think you would be more inclined to support and why? DF:These are local decisions based on many factors, and it’s too early for me to evaluate the merits of projects in Cincinnati. The process of securing Federal funding for rail projects requires intensive analysis and review to determine if a project would be eligible for funding to move forward. It’s a highly competitive funding arena.
RS: MARTA was dealt a blow with the defeat of TSPLOST, but gained a big victory recently when Clayton County voters approved an expansion of MARTA to their county. With SORTA exploring potential transit tax increases and service expansions of its own, what do you think should be learned from those two very different experiences in Atlanta? DF:Each region is unique. I need to get to know what the community wants in terms of expanded transit, so any talk of funding increases is premature at this time. That said, Metro is a status quo system; if we add service somewhere, it has to be decreased somewhere else. We can’t add service to meet the community’s need for access to jobs without more funding.
RS: Metro*Plus service has seemed to be a hit since its initial launch. Metro has publicly stated its interest in establishing several more Metro*Plus corridors, but what is your take on reducing stop frequency along all routes in order to improve travel time? DF:Limited stop services like Metro*Plus are just one tool in the toolbox, and they work great in some applications. They offer a faster ride, but speed is not always the only consideration. For some neighborhoods, convenient access to a bus stop is critical, especially for older riders and riders with disabilities.
RS: How do you envision Metro’s existing and future bus service working together with not only the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar, but other potential rail transit in the region? DF:It is imperative that Metro bus service and other modes function as an integrated transit system without redundancy. The goal should be a seamless transit experience. This means easy transfers between modes, a coordinated fare structure, shared infrastructure like ticket vending machines and back-office technology related for emergency response and vehicle movement.
RS: The best-scoring bus rapid transit line in North America is Cleveland’s HealthLine, but it scores a mere 63/100 points. Do you think true BRT, as defined by what has been built in Bogotá and Curitiba, is appropriate for North American cities? Furthermore, would you support the development of such a corridor in Cincinnati? DF:BRT is appropriate in some cities and some applications depending on the objective. I need to get to know Cincinnati before judging whether BRT is right for this community. Federal funding for BRT has become more restrictive in recent years and finding exclusive right of way is sometimes difficult in older cities with high density. The decision whether or not to build BRT is really about what works for Cincinnati.
RS: How does Cincinnati’s cold weather and its hills differentiate it from your past experience? How do these conditions impact how you run a transit system? DF:I worked at SEPTA in Philadelphia, so I do have some familiarity with what winter can mean to transit in northern cities. Transit is adaptive — if a hill is impassable, we find a way around. We’re all dependent on the road conditions and we stress safety. Today we have the ability to use social media to keep customers updated on what’s happening with their service, which is a benefit.
RS: A topic UrbanCincy has continually raised up for discussion is what could/should be done with the Riverfront Transit Center. A variety of ideas have been suggested, but in your opinion what do you think is the future of that facility? DF:I visited the Riverfront Transit Center when I was in town last week, and it is an impressive facility. It’s used every weekday, about every 15 to 30 minutes, for Metro*Plus service and it’s used for Bengals and Reds games and special events. It’s my understanding that the All-Star Game coming to Cincinnati next summer will depend heavily on this facility for staging of buses and other vehicles. That’s what the Riverfront Transit Center was built to do: serve Cincinnati’s redeveloped riverfront venues and events. Long term, our goal is to maximize its use.
RS: What transit system in the world impresses you the most and why? DF:Each system has its own appeal. Of course, mega-systems like New York City and Washington D.C. are impressive because of their sheer size and the incredible number of people they move every day. I think the most impressive systems are the ones that allow people to move around without the need for a car.
RS: Finally, what first made you interested in transit and want to pursue a career in the industry? DF:I was 23 when I started as a bus driver in Dallas, and I was a bus driver for 10 years. When the merger occurred with DART, new opportunities opened up for me in management. My career progressed to the C-suite and those positions allowed me to work at the most senior levels of transit management across the country. I feel blessed to have found a career and an industry that I am passionate about. Metro recently started the John W. Blanton internship to provide an opportunity for college students to experience the transit industry as a career path, and I support that effort.
Dwight Ferrell holds a BA in Business Administration from Huston-Tillotson University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The conversations started after Megabus was forced to move its downtown Cincinnati stop this past autumn – marking latest in a series of moves forced by City officials following complaints from surrounding property and business owners.
“Local businesses, through City Hall, requested megabus.com move from 1213 W. Central Parkway to our new present location at 691 Gest Street,” Sean Hughes, Associate Director of Corporate Affairs at Coach USA North America, explained to UrbanCincy. “Megabus.com would love to be in the Riverfront Transit Center, but that was not a viable option because of Riverfront Transit Center operational concerns.”
The issue extends beyond the various intercity bus operators and City Hall. Since the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) operates the facility for the City, and collects annual revenues from it. In October, SORTA officials told UrbanCincy that expanding operations within the Riverfront Transit Center is possible, due to its large excess capacity, but would bring additional costs.
“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, said at the time. “As a tax-supported public service, Metro would need to recover the increased costs related to maintenance, utilities, security, etc. from Megabus, which is a for-profit company.”
At the same time, there appears to be growing pressures for Greyhound, which has been operating in Cincinnati since 1976, to potentially find a new location as it is crowded out by new development surrounding the Horseshoe Casino.
While Greyhound and SORTA have engaged in conversations in the past about relocating Greyhound’s operations to the Riverfront Transit Center, little progress has been made; and the two sides still appear to be at a standstill, albeit a softening one.
“No decisions on that front have been made that this time,” Lanesha Gipson, Senior Communications Specialist with Greyhound, commented with regard to relocating to the Riverfront Transit Center. “All potential relocations have to be analyzed and be in the best interest of everyone – the customers, the company and the community – before a decision is made as to whether or not we should relocate our operations.”
With both Greyhound and Megabus thriving as an increasing number of people ditch their cars and plane travel for short trips – less than 500 miles – these conversations appear to only be in the early stages.
While all parties agree that some legal, regulatory and logistical issues would need to be resolved prior to establishing the Riverfront Transit Center as Cincinnati’s intercity bus terminal, it sounds like the primary issue is the financial arrangement. Until then, intercity bus passengers will continue to be plagued by continuously moving and inconvenient stations for the region’s two largest operators; and an underutilized transit facility sitting beneath Second Street.
“Megabus.com continues to work with SORTA to find a permanent location for our stop in Cincinnati,” Hughes noted. “Megabus.com has an annual passenger spend of $8.2 million in Cincinnati and we look forward to serving the city by giving passengers a safe, environmentally friendly way to travel.”