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Posts from the "Cincinnati" Category

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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

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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:

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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!

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It Could Cost More to Shut Down Cincy Streetcar Than Finish It

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory is frustrated that all his work to bring the streetcar to fruition might be for naught, now that anti-streetcar John Cranley has been elected to take his place. “I’m from the tough part of town,” Mallory joked. “I will take the guy in a dark alley. I’m not afraid to use the threat of physical violence.”

Streetcar project manager John Deatrick told Cincinnati's City Council today what it will cost to abandon the project now.

Streetcar project manager John Deatrick told Cincinnati’s City Council today what it will cost to abandon the project now. Add to that the money already spent and the returned federal grant and it climbs much higher.

All jokes aside — assuming Mallory was joking — it’ll cost the city of Cincinnati up to $125 million to halt progress on its streetcar project now — but that’s just what Mayor-elect John Cranley plans to do. It was his campaign promise.

“We’re going to have to keep this fight going,” Mallory said yesterday at Transportation for America’s re-launch event. “We’re probably going to have to go to court.”

Obstacles like this are extremely frustrating to local officials trying to improve their cities. At Tuesday’s event, a celebration of local control over transportation projects, the panel on “barriers to success” became a bit of a support group for Mallory.

“At the state level, I don’t have a partner on this project,” Mallory lamented. Well before he had John Cranley to worry about, he’s had to battle the state over transportation investment, regarding the streetcar and more. “My governor gave back $400 million to the federal government for high-speed rail and took away $52 million that a previous governor put into my streetcar project and spread that around the state for other highway projects.”

The story gets even worse. “Insult to injury,” Mallory said, “the state legislature in Ohio passed legislation specific to the Cincinnati streetcar project that you can’t get any state money for this project. And that’s an assault.”

“It’s punitive,” piped in Urban League CEO Marc Morial, in solidarity.

“For me, it’s not a matter of a lack of support,” Mallory said. “I have adversaries on this project. That doesn’t bode well if talking about the advancement of our region, driven at the local level.”

That was the theme of the day: Transportation for America is trying to empower mayors and other local leaders who are trying to innovate in their cities, adding transit and infrastructure that invites people to bike and walk more.

It’s probably safe to assume John Cranley won’t be joining T4America’s new alliance of innovative mayors. But Mallory is a natural. He listened to the 14 economic development studies that all came to the same conclusion: Cincinnati needed to link downtown with uptown and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. So he went to work rebuilding the streetcar network, which existed in his city from the 1860s until 1951, running on 220 miles of track. He can’t recreate that system overnight but he’s starting in the urban core, with the hope of bringing it outward to the neighborhoods.

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Construction Continues on Cincy Streetcar, Mayor-Elect Still Wants It Stopped

Two days after Cincinnati voters elected anti-streetcar candidate John Cranley mayor, construction continues on the city’s partially-built streetcar system.

Construction continued today on the Cincinnati Streetcar, despite the mayor-elect’s promise to kill the project. Image: WLWT

Cranley called on the City Council to halt construction on the project Wednesday. A majority of the current council favors the streetcar, but that will change in a few weeks, when Cranley and the new council members are sworn in.

“They should immediately (stop it) and they should not be ordering these cars to be built three weeks before my swearing-in. I mean, seriously, look at who got elected yesterday,” he told WLWT.

“I don’t, I don’t, I don’t relish stopping the streetcar. I don’t say, ‘Yay, yay, yay, we get to stop the streetcar.’ The fact is, it’s just not worth the money,” he said.

The city has already spent $23 million on the streetcar and another $94 million is tied up in contracts on the $148 million project. Meanwhile, the federal government has indicated that its $45 million contribution cannot be used for other local projects, but Cranley plans to ask the feds to use it on an interchange anyway. If the project is canceled, there’s also the question of whether the city would face years of costly litigation from contractors, like the lawsuits Wisconsin is facing right now for abandoning its commitment to high-speed rail.

Canceling the streetcar could actually cost more than completing it. Cranley told the Enquirer if that turned out to be the case, he would reconsider his position.

“This is completely unprecedented,” John Deatrick, the city’s streetcar project executive, told the Wall Street Journal. “It doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, but we just don’t know at what cost yet.”

Members of the city’s business community complained about the abrupt change of course yesterday. Vik Silberberg, owner of Zula restaurant in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, told WLWT it’d be a shame to see the project stopped when so much energy was building around its construction.

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UPDATED: Last Night’s Quiet Transit Victories

Yesterday was a relatively quiet election day for transportation-related ballot measures, but of the six transit initiatives that came before voters yesterday, five six passed, with a sixth seventh too close to call. That’s in line with last year’s 79 percent success rate — 71 percent since 2000. When asked, voters overwhelmingly choose to raise their own taxes to improve public transportation.

Spencer Township, Ohio, appears to have voted by the narrowest of margins to leave the TARTA regional transit system. Photo: Ability Center

There were no high-profile campaigns this year in major metropolitan areas, but that doesn’t mean this year’s ballot contests aren’t worthy of note. “I see a statement about the viability of both transit and these campaigns in smaller regions and rural places,” said Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Ohio: Let’s start with the most unsettling news: Residents of Spencer Township, Ohio, were asked whether they wanted to secede from the Toledo area’s transit agency, TARTA. It’s the exact same question they were asked last year, when they voted 59 percent to 41 percent to stay in.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. With low voter participation on an off-year, the secession referendum appears to have won by the narrowest of margins — “by 16 votes out of 520 cast, according to preliminary results” reported by the Toledo Blade last night.

Spencer Township isn’t the only Toledo-area jurisdiction to question its participation in TARTA. It’s been happening in outlying areas on the fringe of the regional system, Jordan said, where residents might feel they’re not getting much service and want to start their own transit agency, focused on their community. That’s what happened in Perrysburg.

In March 2012, Perrysburg voters opted to leave TARTA in favor of starting a new local system — but then in November of that year, they voted narrowly to defeat the property tax proposal to fund that new system. Caught in a bind, they passed a funding measure earlier this year, but at about half the level originally proposed, making possible only dial-a-ride and fixed route service for people with disabilities.

Nearby Sylvania Township considered secession as well, but without a plan to create local service. That measure failed resoundingly last November, 37 to 63, and Sylvania Township remains part of TARTA.

A recount could still be necessary for Spencer Township, given the closeness of the vote.

Either way, let’s not let this blow to regional transit darken our view of what was a very successful night for transit.

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