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Posts from the "Cincinnati" Category

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How the Lure of Spending Keeps Dumb Highway Projects Alive

Decades ago, Ohio officials drew a line on a map — the Eastern Corridor, a highway for commuters living in Cincinnati’s eastern suburbs. No matter how much time has passed and how little sense it makes to build that highway today, that line can still seem like destiny.

An image used by the village of Newton to oppose the Ohio Department of Transportation's $1.4 billion Eastern Corridor highway plan. Image: Village of Newton

This is the message from the village of Newtown about the Ohio Department of Transportation’s $1.4 billion Eastern Corridor highway plan. Image: Village of Newtown

The Eastern Corridor began as a 1960s vision for a highway connecting bedroom communities in mostly rural Clermont County to downtown Cincinnati, roughly 17 miles away. There is not much appetite for it: As soon as Ohio DOT dusted off its plans and started laying the groundwork to build this $1.4 billion project in 2011, communities along the corridor revolted.

The project lives on anyway. Last week, it seemed like state legislators were poised to reject the highway, but the thought of turning down a big construction project — no matter how wasteful and unwanted — was too much for some lawmakers to bear. The Eastern Corridor remains a looming possibility, a case study in how highway projects can develop a nearly unstoppable political momentum.

The outcry against the Easter Corridor has been growing since the moment ODOT told the public what it wanted to build. Along almost every section of the planned road, residents, neighborhoods, and whole towns tried to stop the project.

The most fiercely opposed sections involve rerouting State Route 32 through Newtown and Mariemont — two small, relatively affluent inner-ring suburbs. The road would cut through the heart of tiny Newtown, where the leadership is adamantly opposed, saying it will destroy the town’s business center. In Mariemont, it would ruin a park referred to as the South 80.

The Eastern Corridor also calls for a poorly-conceived rail line, expected to cost as much as $600 million and draw as few as 3,000 daily riders. The region’s rail advocates oppose it, calling it a waste of money.

Even farther away suburbs are not exactly thrilled about the highway. Andersen Township Trustee Russell Jackson told the Cincinnati Enquirer that “nobody in the local communities really sees this incredible benefit to building this thing.”

There are pockets of support for the project, including rural Clermont County, but overall, public opinion against the Eastern Corridor appears to be strong enough to sink it. Jason Williams at the Enquirer wondered last week if it was “on life support.”

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Cincinnati’s Highway Revolt on the Verge of Victory

Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia

Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia

Could the end be near for the $1.4 billion Eastern Corridor highway project proposed for eastern Cincinnati? Language added to Ohio’s transportation budget, which is being debated right now, would specifically “prohibit [Ohio DOT] from funding the Eastern Corridor Project in Hamilton County.”

The amendment was introduced by Republican state lawmaker Tom Brinkman, who represents an eastern portion of Cincinnati. Brinkman told the Cincinnati Enquirer, ”I am representing constituents who say, ‘We don’t want to tear down our communities.’” The boondoggle highway project is opposed by residents in Newton, Mariemont, Madisonville, and other towns east of Cincinnati.

The highway does have its defenders in the legislature. At a House Finance Committee meeting Monday, Democrat Denise Driehaus, who represents Cincinnati, signaled her concerns about Brinkman’s amendment.

“It’s been going on for about a decade and so there has been significant investment at both the state and local level,” she said. “It seems to me this sets a precedent that the legislature prohibits ODOT from spending on a local project that has been vetted locally.”

Ryan Smith, a Republican from southeastern Ohio, countered: “This project has gone on for a decade but I think everyone can agree that heading down the wrong path and continuing down the wrong path may be problematic.” As to whether it would represent some kind of dangerous precedent for elected leaders to direct state transportation officials not to fund specific projects, he said, “This is the first time I can remember somebody asking not to be funded on a project.” (For what it’s worth, Governor Kasich added legislation to a previous budget that forbid state money from being spent on the Cincinnati Streetcar.)

You can watch the exchange between Driehaus and Smith here at about the 8:30 mark.

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Cincinnati’s Eastern Corridor: The $1.4 Billion Road No One Seems to Want

The Eastern Corridor is an expensive state DOT highway project searching for a reason to exist.

The highway plan would relocate SR 32 through Mariemont's South 80 Park. Image: Village of Mariemont

The highway plan would reroute SR 32 through Mariemont’s South 80 Park, named for its 80-acre size. Image: Village of Mariemont

The $1.4 billion proposal from Ohio DOT is ostensibly intended to reduce commute times from Cincinnati’s far eastern bedroom communities to downtown. The project, a remnant of 1960s-era road planning, would create a commuter highway through the eastern Cincinnati region by widening and partially rerouting State Route 32, as well as widening Red Bank Road. The plan also contains commuter rail and bike infrastructure elements. Proponents, like the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, say it will shorten car commutes and promote job development in the eastern suburbs [PDF].

But even with those multi-modal goodies, nobody seems to like this highway — not even the towns it is designed to serve, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Newtown (population 2,600) opposes it. The village of Mariemont (population 3,400) opposes it. Madisonville, an eastern Cincinnati neighborhood that would be served by the road, opposes it.  “We don’t need it,” Newtown Mayor Curt Cosby told the Enquirer.

“The state keeps saying, ‘Well, we hear you and we’re taking that into account.’ But they continue to move forward and spend money. They don’t really hear us.”

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Who Will Preserve Our Nation’s Urban Parking Lots?


A historic preservation group in Cincinnati put together the above video, meant to make us think critically about some of the most fiercely guarded yet least loved places in our cities: parking lots.

Kudos to the Cincinnati Preservation Collective for bravely defending the spaces that help make Cincinnati much like every other mid-sized city in the country.

Parking lot humor: So sad it’s funny.

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A Crosswalk Too Far: The Hunt for America’s Least Crossable Street

n_military

Good luck walking to church on North Military Trail in West Palm Beach, if you happen to start on the other side of the street.

Last February, Streetsblog readers determined the worst intersection in America. Then you pinpointed a suburban area with streets so windy and disconnected, it would take a seven mile trip to travel between two houses that shared a back yard. And for two years running you’ve helped shame the nation’s most parking-scarred downtowns.

But there’s a special class of shame-worthy street we have yet to fully examine — and they haunt all corners of America. We’re talking about the street with an enticing destination on the other side, but no access, no crosswalk, no safe way to get across. A street that separates more than connects.

Put in this position, a rational person would just make a dash for it rather than walk as much as half a mile out of the way. But that decision can also put you in danger. And that’s the problem.

With some help from our readers and Twitter friends, we’ve put together a little collection of these divisive streets. Please share your own examples in the comments or send them to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

Cincinnati: MLK Boulevard at Vine Street

Here’s an unfortunate scenario in Cincinnati. A key stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard operates much like a moat. On one side of the street visitors to the University of Cincinnati stay at the Hampton Inn. Almost directly across the street is University Commons — a park area designed to be a “contemplative space.” Wouldn’t it be nice if visitors had access?

But to do that, they have to walk approximately a quarter mile out of the way:

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 2.53.23 PM

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Cincinnati Streetcar Foes Have New Target: Bike Lanes

Here is a drawing of the bike lane's design. Image: City of Cincinnati

The bike lane that Mayor John Cranley wants to “pause.” Image: City of Cincinnati

Another big transportation showdown is brewing in Cincinnati. This time the fight isn’t over a streetcar — it’s about a protected bike lane.

The Cincinnati Business Courier announced earlier this week that Mayor John Cranley had ordered city officials not to award a contract on the Central Parkway protected bike lane project, which was set to begin this spring. The project — the city’s first protected bike lane — was approved unanimously by City Council last fall.

But now that the funding has been awarded and the political process has wrapped up, the mayor and new City Council members Kevin Flynn and David Mann apparently want the project reevaluated, as a result of complaints from one business owner along the corridor. Tim Haines, who runs Relocation Strategies, said he is afraid of his employees losing free public parking. The plans calls for eliminating parking during rush hour.

City Councilman Chris Seelbach told the Business Courier that the mayor doesn’t have the authority to interfere with the awarding of contracts for a project that has already been approved by council. Proponents of the bike lane, many of the same people who successfully fought for the streetcar, are swinging into action, as well. Groups like We Believe in Cincinnati, Queen City Bikes and Cincinnatians for Progress are planning to pack a committee hearing where the project will be under discussion Monday.

“The group that worked to promote and save the streetcar — we’re still organized,” said Randy Simes, founder of the blog Urban Cincy.

Simes says council members Flynn and Mann are using the same rhetoric they used in the streetcar controversy — claiming the project was passed by a “lame duck” council, and smearing the previous administration.

“It’s almost identical [to the streetcar controversy]. It’s funded. It’s funded with outside money. If they change that dramatically they jeopardize the funding,” Simes said. “If they decide to pause too long, they really just kill the project.”

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Talking Headways Podcast: Hug This Streetcar

Jeff Wood of the Overhead Wire (now working with NRDC’s crack transportation team) and I talk to Randy Simes in this week’s podcast about the streetcar movement in Cincinnati — and how they finally grabbed the long-elusive gold ring.

Then Randy stayed with us to discuss the false choice between transit that’s useful and transit that’s fun and beautiful. And we analyze an architect’s proposal to expand BART’s capacity by building a second tube under the San Francisco Bay.

Image: ##http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/2nd-BART-tube-under-the-bay-would-serve-region-5236682.php##SF Gate##

This fantasy map is only tepidly endorsed by Jeff Wood, fantasy mapper extraordinaire. Image: SF Chronicle

You can subscribe to this podcast’s RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it.

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Cincinnati Will Complete Its Streetcar

“We’re gonna have a streetcar.”

That was the announcement, met with cheers, from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley this afternoon.

Streetcar supporters rallying last month. Photo: UrbanCincy

With an active proposal in the City Council to resume construction on the streetcar, Cranley said he “would not sign the legislation because” he “thinks it’s wrong.” But he was flanked by Council Member Kevin Flynn, the crucial vote on the City Council needed to override a mayoral veto.

Major institutions like the regional transit authority SORTA and the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation had been working behind the scenes to convince Flynn — formerly a streetcar opponent — that the streetcar’s operating costs would not hurt city services. Five other members of Cincinnati’s City Council voted in committee this morning to put forward a recommendation for legislation that the project be resumed. A City Council vote will take place at a meeting beginning at 2 p.m.

The system is expected to cost about $2.5 million annually to operate, which could be defrayed through private donations, advertising, sponsorship, and potentially other sources. Nine million dollars for operations was committed by the Haile Foundation, a champion of the project.

“I can’t thank them enough along with other people who worked long and hard to make this a reality,” said Flynn. “We have no choice but to make this a successful project.”

Streetcar supporters are elated.

“I’m crying in public,” said Jenny Kessler, an organizer of Cincinnatians for Progress, supporters of the streetcar. “Thank you, Cincinnati!”

“A streetcar named progress. Hooray!,” wrote Cincinnati resident Genevieve Holt on Twitter.

The area’s regional transit agency, SORTA, has agreed to assume responsibility for operating the four-mile starter loop. It will be the first time Cincinnati has had rail transit in more than 60 years. The project was hard-fought right until the bitter end. The Federal Transit Administration has indicated it would pull $45 million in funding for the project at midnight tonight unless the city agreed to resume construction.

An independent audit ordered by Cranley found earlier this week that the cost for abandoning the project would be comparable to completing it, even without considering possible litigation related to violating construction contracts.

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Cincinnati Mayor Offers Last-Minute Plan to Save the Streetcar

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who campaigned on the idea of killing the city’s under-construction streetcar, announced today he will allow the project to continue if operating costs can be funded through fares, advertising and private donations for the first 30 years.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said he would allow the city's streetcar project to continue, if private funds to operate it could be found. Image: ##http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20131212/NEWS/312120035/Cranley-making-major-streetcar-announcement-today&nocache=1## Cincinnati Enquirer##

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said this morning he would allow the city’s streetcar project to continue, if private funds to operate it could be guaranteed. Image: Cincinnati Enquirer

That’s the report from the Cincinnati Business Courier following the mayor’s big announcement this morning. Cranley told local press that some major city institutions, including corporations and foundations, had expressed a willingness to raise the amount needed to operate the four-mile streetcar — whatever portion of the estimated $4.5 million in annual costs are left uncovered by the farebox and ads.

The city of Cincinnati is under a deadline from the federal government to restart construction or lose $45 million in federal funding. Construction, which is well underway, was “paused” last week by the City Council, following the swearing in of a roster of new members.

The Federal Transit Administration had given the city until next Thursday to provide assurances the project would continue, or else the agency would revoke the $40 million in unspent money from the federal grant — and pursue collections on the millions already spent.

The deal would allow Cranley to save face while continuing a project he vowed to kill over fiscal concerns. And it would allow the city to avoid the embarrassment and waste of abandoning yet another rail project before completion.

Cranley said he wants streetcar supporters to produce a legally binding agreement pledging that the operating costs would be provided by private sources. That agreement would need to be approved by the City Council before the federal deadline next week to avoid a breach of contract.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Get Off My Lawn

Jeff Wood and I talk about the news of the week that most tickled us or burned us — the BBC’s exposé of anti-social urban design features intended to repel people, San Francisco’s social tensions over the Google bus, and the decision by Cincinnati’s new mayor and City Council to “pause” construction of the streetcar. (Update: The streetcar might be salvaged!)

Meanwhile, I wax nostalgic for public space in Havana and Jeff laments slow progress on San Francisco’s Geary Boulevard BRT.

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes. And participate in the conversation by commenting here.

This will be our last podcast of 2013. Have a Happy New Year and we’ll see you in January!