Business Development Transportation

Metro to debut real-time arrival screens at transit centers

Metro will debut real-time arrival screens at its Government Square transit center on Friday. The announcement is part of a recent series of moves by the transit agency to modernize its operations.

Since 2010, Metro has implemented a new electronic fare payment system, GPS tracking, GoogleTransit interface, articulated buses, and a new westside commuter hub.

“We’re collecting more feedback from our riders with our Way To Go initiative,” explained Metro’s Public Affairs Manager, Jill Dunne. “We have already received close to 2,000 surveys online and in person at various events this summer, and these changes are adding the types of improvements that our riders want.”

The new real-time arrival screens at Government Square cost $11,200 each and will be positioned at each of the transit center’s eight shelters, with a master information board at the front of the Government Square booth at Fifth Street and Walnut Street.

According to Metro officials, bus departure times will appear on the boards 45 minutes before a bus is scheduled to depart from Government Square. The boards will then begin a real-time countdown once the bus is within 20 minutes of its scheduled departure time.

The real-time arrival upgrades were made possible thanks to an $8.2 million American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant that funded Metro’s computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location (CAD/AVL) technology in 2011, in addition to the new video boards.

The implementation of the real-time arrival boards at Government Square is just the beginning. Metro officials say that they will soon install the same technology at the new Glenway Crossing Transit Center and the Uptown Transit Hub which is scheduled to begin construction later this year.

In addition to the physical upgrades, transit officials say they plan to leverage the GPS tracking data to add real-time arrival information to its website, and debut a smartphone application within the next year.

The system updates do not, however, include open-source GPS data which is increasingly being more closely studied throughout the United States. Dunne says that Metro is working with their data vendor, and is working on developing these types of interfaces in 2013 through Google Transit Real Time Feed.

Real-time arrival board photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Business Development News Transportation

New commuter bus hub opens in place of long-planned west side transit center

The brief tenure of Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) has been marked by repeated attacks on public transportation. Shortly after his inauguration, he returned a $400 million federal grant to begin passenger rail service between Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. In April he corrupted ODOT’s Transit Review Advisory Committee, redirecting over $50 million allocated for the Cincinnati Streetcar to road projects in northern Ohio.

Lost amid these higher profile events was his rescinding of $150 million promised to the state’s transit agencies by former governor Ted Strickland (D). With its share, Queen City Metro planned to begin two new express services to Uptown. A direct service from West Chester fell victim to Kasich’s cuts, but with the help of a direct federal grant that Kasich could not block, Metro launched route 38X on December 5.

Each morning six buses now travel between Western Hills and all of Uptown’s major destinations including the University of Cincinnati, Good Samaritan Hospital, University Hospital, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Veteran’s Hospital and Christ Hospital. The only major employment centers not directly served are the various Children’s hospital offices housed in the old Bethesda Hospital and Vernon Manor Hotel.

Cincinnati officials celebrate the opening of the new Glenway Crossing Transit Center on December 9, 2011.

The 38X buses begin and end each day at the Glenway Crossing Transit Center, a new bus transfer station in the Glenway Crossing Shopping Center that also serves the #39, #64 and #77X Delhi Express. It features shelters, several dozen park & ride parking spots for commuters, and restrooms for bus drivers.

In concept the transit center resembles the dozen ‘transit hubs’ that were planned as part of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) 2002 Metro Moves plan. Although that plan was best known for its five light rail lines, a half-cent sales tax would have also funded a dramatic expansion of bus service throughout Hamilton County.

Glenway Crossing was built in the late 1980s in place of the Chesapeake & Ohio’s (C&O) disused Cheviot Yard. In 1981, shortly before the railroad’s abandonment, the yard and the line it served were the subject of the Westside Transit Study, produced by the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), which examined construction of a light rail line from downtown Cincinnati, via the unused subway beneath Central Parkway, to an ambitious transit oriented development (TOD) in Western Hills.

The line would have emerged from the old subway just north of Brighton, crossed I-75 and the Queensgate railroad yard on a new viaduct parallel to the Western Hills Viaduct, then climbed to Glenway Avenue on the C&O tracks. Midrise office buildings were to have been the focus of the Cheviot Yard TOD. The unused subway under Central Parkway was to have been extended south under Walnut Street or Vine Street to a station at Fountain Square.

SORTA planned to fund construction of this line, as well as a network of other light rail lines, with a countywide transit sales tax that failed at the polls in 1979 and 1980. Without funds available to purchase the C&O railroad when it was abandoned, SORTA was helpless to stop the railroad from being sold to dozens of different buyers. The expense necessary to purchase the right-of-way by power of eminent domain precluded this line from being part of SORTA’s failed 2002 Metro Moves network.


Dead retail space becoming more prevalent, but we’re still building

Let me stand on my soapbox and loudly proclaim what millions have done before me over the past year and say, “It’s a sign of the times”. Sure, it might not be the most original statement you’ve heard in awhile, but perhaps it truly does apply.

Western Hamilton county is seeing an increase in the reduction of commercial real estate, and yes that’s a borderline double-negative. It seems like everywhere you look, in addition to the depressing little white or yellow slips posted on the front doors or windows of vacant homes, you’re seeing more and more empty retail space.

No, it’s not just the little guy, it’s the big guys too. From the K-Mart in Forest Park, to the Dillard’s in Colerain, and finally to the most peculiar little area, Glenway Crossing in my neck of the woods over here in Western Hills. This once thriving area, while still bustling with activity from the remaining businesses, is starting to become a little, shall we say, ghostly?

Circuit City, CostPlus WorldMarket, and Steve & Barry’s have all gone the way of businesses past. It is understandable that in this and any economy businesses will fold. Circuit City succumbed to the national rivalry with BestBuy, and ironically, the “thrifty” stores like Steve & Barry’s and CostPlus WorldMarket found it difficult to stay financially afloat. Yeah, I’ll give you that WorldMarket was more of a niche store, but they still had everyday items which I only recently discovered before their demise, such as coffee and olive oil which was amazingly priced considering the quality. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Target took their operations up the road, which seems to be another interesting trend. Despite the vacancies, the real estate in Glenway Crossing doesn’t seem too bad. Businesses like BestBuy, Chipotle, and Panera, as well as WalMart nearby, still draw a lot of people (i.e. money) to the area. Yet new development, including the construction of new buildings, is going on just a few miles up Glenway, where the demographics are really no different.

Western Hills Plaza is seeing new life at Glenway Crossing’s expense

Am I missing something here? No, we’re not building “Legacy Places”, but why build new structures when existing real estate sits not too far away? At least these are being built over the sites of older business and parking lots, etc., but c’mon, would it kill to put something, anything, other than more retail along Glenway?

At any rate, instead of whining about something I really have no control over, I’ve decided that it’s my duty, as a resident of the west side of Cincinnati, to at least contribute ideas of how to utilize this space at Glenway Crossing.

I’ll be honest, the plazas are fairly drab, mostly concrete and mortar, and not overly attractive. So, I’ve come up with the following…

Low Security Jail Space: We keep on hearing about talk about a new jail, why not offer up this space as a small jail facility for the low risk criminals, such as petty thieves, peeping toms, and the Madoff family. I mean, who wouldn’t want a jail in their neighborhood when it’s for the good of the community, right?

Small College Campus: Why between the empty plaza space and the two standalone buildings, formerly known as Target and Circuit City, you could have another concrete University and call it NKU North, or “Northerner Kentucky University”, as some of our friends across the river might say.

Black Friday Training Facility: The FBI has had Hogan’s Alley for years, and the military uses fake cities to teach urban warfare tactics. Why not turn it into a site that department stores can rent for day after thanksgiving training? It would also boost the local economy, as a local “mob” would have to be hired to storm the doors of the trainees. Yep. That’s called thinking outside the box folks.

Before I get hate mail about poking fun at Kentuckians, I should point out that I grew up in Kentucky and spent the majority of my life there. By default, that means I’m privileged to perpetuate the stereotype of the Kentucky hillbilly. I should also point out that I know several people from the west side of Cincinnati who pronounce “wolf” as “woof”.

As stated earlier, this is all a sign of the times. Businesses are bound to fail, while others rebuild. Citizens such as myself will find something else to complain about during the Bengals off season, and satirical posts will rise hand in hand with the unemployment rate.