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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Regional SORTA agreement reached

At at 10am meeting this morning City and County leaders announced an agreement over an expanded transit authority. Currently the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which operates Metro, is bounded by Hamilton County's boundaries.

This agreement will for the first time extend their jurisdiction beyond Hamilton County and into Butler, Warren and Clermont Counties. This sets the course for expanded transit service into those surrounding areas underneath one unified authority.

This reorganization, of SORTA, has long been an issue with City Council member John Cranley, County Commissioner Todd Portune and has been championed by Mayor Mark Mallory. These three along with SORTA Board president Melody Sawyer Richardson addressed the media at this morning session.

The reorganized SORTA will now be known as the Greater Cincinnati Regional Transit Authority, and will have a 13 member board made up of 7 members appointed by the City of Cincinnati and the remaining six from Hamilton County. As of yet, the Business Courier has reported that no other elected officials from surrounding counties have committed to participate in the new regional system.

Of those 6 County appointees, three will be selected "with input" from Butler, Warren and Clermont Counties. If those counties decide to formally join the new authority they would then be able to directly appoint board members. The majority control is up for grabs with the City of Cincinnati maintaining that majority for now. If another county or city decides to contribute more than 50% of the authority's budget then they will gain majority control.

The catch here is that those contributions can be measured either through the entities direct contribution or by measuring the total fare revenues paid by that entities constituents. It could also be determined on a per-capita basis of the entities share of their state and federal transit dollars allocated to the Greater Cincinnati Regional Transit Authority.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Looking the Queen Up & Down

I was so lucky to be extended the offer to go up on the Atrium II tower's top level terraces. There were some terrific views that I had not seen before. I was able to get some great aerial shots of construction progress at The Banks and Queen City Square.

The day was somewhat gray, but the photos turned out pretty well considering the conditions. I especially found the views of the Licking River to be most enjoyable, as it is not often that you can get an overview of all its twists and turns through the hills and valleys of Northern Kentucky. Feel free to view the slideshow below, go to the Photobucket gallery, or read through the annotated photo thread I've posted on UrbanOhio.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Two-Wheeled Goodness

For the past month, the City conducted an online poll, gathering input from drivers of scooters and motorcycles regarding where they would like to park in the downtown. Given the rise in gasoline prices and environmental concerns, and the fact that many scooters can achieve over 100 miles-per-gallon, the uptick in demand should be followed up with additional services and facilities for this mode of transport.

The benefits are immediate: scooters and other lightweight two-wheeled vehicles take up far less room than an automobile. They cause far less wear and tear to roads as they are vastly lighter -- in fact, many can be picked up with two bare hands. They require less fuel, and four-cycle motors pollute far less than automobiles.

As a result of public input, the city unveiled its first dedicated, public scooter and motorcycle parking in the city on October 23 at the corner of 8th and Vine (GoogleMap) streets in downtown. Noted as the first of its kind in Cincinnati, it will certainly not be the last; four other such locations will soon grace our downtown streets with the hope that the low-cost initiative is expanded elsewhere.

Unfortunately, many of these parking spaces look temporary. Painted stripes on the ground and signage on poles may allocate room for parking, but it does little when you pass by it and note a sport-utility vehicle or commercial van occupying the entire strip. Installing low-cost curbs or barriers along the street can solve this issue, and will not only increase safety, but institute a psychological barrier that these parking areas are permanent, and are dedicated solely to the two-wheeled variant.

Now only if the city was more proactive in applying the same enthusiasm to bicycles, we would have a much more intermodal city.

If you would like to see this program extended to your neighborhood, or somewhere near your business/residence, then please email the City at twowheeler@cincinnati-oh.gov.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Future of the City - Monocle

The Future of the City was the theme of the inaugural Monocle + Killik debate held in London. The goal was to look at how to make a city truly livable. The session offers unique perspectives, thoughts, and views from a global perspective. Monocle is a magazine and website founded by Tyler Brûlé, a Canadian journalist and entrepreneur.

You can watch the debate/webprogram here:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fountain Square Broomball League Returns

The popular Fountain Square Broomball League (FSBL) is returning this year. This will be the third season for the league and it will include a total of 32 teams with up to 12 players per team. The 32 teams will be broken down equally into an Advanced and Beginners leagues.

The 32 teams will be selected by lottery and announced before Thanksgiving. The broomball teams are coed and are required to have three women on the ice out of the six total players.

One of the coolest things about the league is that the you're playing on Fountain Square. Your games are broadcast on the video board, which doubles as the scoreboard for the game, and their is the usual crowd hanging around the Square.

The season is six weeks long starting on January 5th, with games being played on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. The championship games, for both levels, will be held on Wednesday, February 18th. Sign-ups for the 2009 FSBL begin Monday, October 27th and will go until Friday, November 14th at 5pm.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

'Bite Me' Ball at the CAC

If you're looking for something fun and interesting to do this Halloween night then check out the CAC's 'Bite Me' Ball. The after(life) costume party at the CAC will immediately follow the Cincinnati Ballet's performance of DRACULA at the Aronoff Center across the street.

It is a costume event so come in your most outrageous, horrifying, or funny outfit. There will be costume judging at the door and prizes will be given out later in the evening courtesy of The Container Store.

The event will start at 9pm and last until around 1am. There will be food and drinks, at the event, from places like A La Carte Catering, BlackFinn, Jeff Ruby's, Oceanaire, Palomino, RebBull, and Peroni. The cost is $20 for CAC and ballet ticket holders, and $25 for general admittance. You should most certainly get your tickets ahead of time and can do so by ordering them through the CAC's website.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Speak up for bicyclists in Cincinnati

Do you use a bicycle to get to work? To go to school? To go shop and dine? Or for pure recreation?

Would you start riding or ride more if our streets were improved for bicyclists? If there were more dedicated bicycle lanes and storage facilities?

Speak up for bicyclists in Cincinnati on Wednesday, October 22. Let City Council know how improved bicycling conditions will benefit all cyclists of all ages and types at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Hearing at City Hall (801 Plum Street) that will be held from 6 to 9 P.M. in Council Chambers, Room 300.

Let Queen City Bike know that you are coming by RSVPing. Click here for more information »

Friday, October 17, 2008

Big city, small town

Cincinnati is an amazing place. You get all the benefits and features of a big city, while also being able to take advantage of the small town charm.

Last night Fountain Square was packed for a political rally encouraging voters to get out there and vote early. The night featured Natalie Portman and music by prominent Indie bands like The Breeders and The National.

The music was awesome, the crowd was big and the weather was perfect. Unfortunately we were a little late arriving and missed The Breeders performance and only caught about 3/4 of The National. But while we were there the night was amazing, and we couldn't help but think where else could this happen than Cincinnati.

We lucked out and a tabled opened on Via Vite's rooftop terrace. From there we were able to not only take in the amazing music from The National, but also enjoy some of the area's best Italian food in comfort and style. We didn't have to wait, pay top dollar, or even know somebody. We just had to show up and take advantage of the awesome night ready to be had.

We were there with local celebrity/politician Jim Tarbell and nationally known pop star turned Green Party politician Justin Jeffre. In NYC you would have had to been a high roller in order to get that kind of experience, but here some average twenty somethings were able to roll with the big dogs. Only in Cincinnati.

Photo from Jeff Swinger/Cincinnati Enquirer -- MORE PHOTOS HERE

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Giving the 'Soapbox District' some teeth

W. 4th Street has seen a buzz of activity in recent months. New stores have opened, new buildings have gone up, and new residents move in. In addition to this the area has also attempted to be rebranded as the 'Soapbox District.'

A soapbox is a raised platform on which one stands to make an impromptu speech, often about a political subject. This is one of the angle that the branders were getting at. The other was to pay tribute to Cincinnati's soap making history and the shape of many of the buildings in the W. 4th Street area.

I find the angle of public speech and discussion to be most interesting. Fountain Square was seemingly that spot, but that public space has been converted into a hybrid public/private space where I doubt this kind of thing would be tolerated any longer. The branders also mentioned how this could be the spot, in Cincinnati, where young people make their voices heard. Great, many of the new residents in that area are indeed young so this seems to possibly have some traction.

The problem is that there seems to be no concerted effort to make this into reality. I look to London's Hyde Park. In the park's NE corner (aka Speaker's Corner) people come to speak publicly about what they wish. They are allowed to continue as long as it is considered lawful. I look at this example and see a huge opportunity at 4th & Plum (GoogleMap) in Cincinnati.

That location is right in the heart of the 'Soapbox District' and is currently occupied by a surface parking lot. An ideal scenario would be to acquire this lot and turn it into a park. Create a much needed dog park area within it, sitting places, and lots of trees. In addition to this, make the park the epicenter for public/free speech in the newly dubbed 'Soapbox District.' The idea is great, now let's give it some teeth.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The great turnaround

Unlike many Cincinnatians I grew up a Bearcat fan. I remember going to football games and what occupied most of the south endzone was impromptu games up catch by kids my age, the north endzone had some bleachers set up for opposing teams bands, but were rarely filled. A smokestack cast its shadow over those bleachers and parking lots surrounded the stadium making for plenty of tailgating opportunities for the handful of people that actually showed up - most of whom were forced into buying season tickets so that they could get basketball season tickets.

A lot has changed since then. The Bearcats are now a BCS school, the stadium has been expanded slightly and cleaned up, that north endzone is now occupied by a student section at capacity, and the south endzone has a filled fan section with a eatery and massive new scoreboard atop the large rec center.

We play teams like Oklahoma, South Florida, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and other top-notch BCS schools regularly...and we're competitive. We also have the oldest stadiums in college football with one of the most unique settings anywhere. UC Athletic Director, Mike Thomas, aptly described Nippert Stadium as the Wrigley Field of college football, but it is also one of the smallest stadiums for a BCS school.
So with all this positive change, big time opponents, and a winning team you would expect a region of over 2 million people to be able to fill a 35,000 seat stadium for 6 home games a year. This past Saturday was Homecoming. It was a beautiful Saturday with not much else going on in the region and the announced crowd was something like 32,000 and change. It was announced, on the scoreboard, as "the sixth largest crowd in Nippert history." Embarrassing.

It was a perfect day, Homecoming, Big East conference opener, the Buckeyes didn't play until after the Bearcats finished, and the Bengals were scheduled for a road game on Sunday (and they suck). At the same time CBS is predicting that the Bearcats will win the Big East and head to Miami to play Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

The team is 5-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference. Let's start supporting them before it's too late. Cincinnati has been waiting for a winner for many years now. Well we have one, and there are good tickets still available. Single game tickets can be purchased for as little as $35, and the Bearcats will be playing host to South Florida, Pittsburgh and Syracuse to finish out their home schedule.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cincinnati's Cycling Scene

It's no secret. Cincinnati's cycling scene is a little lacking, and the effort put forth by the city to cater to this mode of transport is paltry at best. The City of Cincinnati states that there are 55 miles of bike routes, although 24 miles are signed. A bike route does not necessarily mean that it features a dedicated lane for cyclists or improved bicycle storage facilities, just that it is a city-preferred route. There are also only 200 bicycle racks in the city that boasts a population of over 300,000.

The city boasts that it has added six sets of bicycle lanes over the "past few years," although if it is anything like what was added to Victory Parkway, in which the lanes only extend for 1/2 mile and connect to no other facilities or bike lanes and are entirely isolated, then this boasting may be a bit premature.

The city, though, is looking to create designated two-wheeled, motorized vehicle parking areas, and it would be nice if the city could extend that to implenting more bicycle racks throughout the study area.

For the month of September, UrbanCincy asked its readers what the city should do to cater to cyclists, and the response was pretty overwhelming:

  • 38% would like to see additional bike lanes and trails;
  • 16% wanted more bicycle facilities that include dedicated parking areas, lockers and showers;
  • 1% requested additional bike signage and striping on roadways;
  • 1% would like to see more bicycle co-ops;
  • and less than 1% wanted more driver and cyclist education programs.
Interesting enough, 50% wanted to see all five options implemented.

The demand is there for these facilities, and every day that I am out on the bike or walking the streets, I spot countless cyclists interacting in various ways with traffic. Some are commuters, others are racers, but many just don't fall under any identifiable category. And the number of cyclists continue to increase, especially with weekly rides such as Cincinnati Mayhem and various rides from the local bicycle shops, and with the ever-popular end-of-the-month Critical Mass.

Finding information about these, though, is a bit cumbersome. Queen City Bike is a great resource and blog, where you can find up-to-date information. Although it is a new forum, CincyRides attempts to combine many of the divergent resources together into one convenient and accessible web-site.

Even though winter is fast approaching, it is still a great time to get out on the bike and become one of the many commuters who take to the streets every morning, or one of the many who bike for pleasure and health. An ever-greater bike presence will only result in ever-greater attention by the city, after all.

The Seafarer at the ETC

The second show of Ensemble Theatre's 08-09 Season is upon us. The critically acclaimed production of Connor McPherson's The Seafarer, will kick off next Wednesday, October 15th. The production stars Dennis Parlato, Adrian Sparks, Joneal Joplin, Brian Isaac Phillips and John Librizzi, and is nominated for 4 Tony Awards including 'Best Play'.

The Seafarer is a chilling new play about the sea, Ireland, and the power of myth. It's Christmas Eve and Sharky has returned to Dublin to look after his irascible, aging brother who's recently gone blind. Old drinking buddies Ivan and Nicky are holes up at the house too, hoping to play some cards. But with the arrival of an oddly familiar stranger, the stakes are raised even higher. Sharky may be playing for his very soul.

The show runs 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Tickets can be purchased by calling the ETC box office at 513.421.3555 or via the internet. Ticket prices vary based on the day of the week and other possible discounts. You can also enter to win 2 FREE tickets as part of the ETC's monthly drawing.

Read the NYTimes review of The Seafarer.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

UC Metro riders now need special card

If you're one of the many people out there who have been taking advantage of UC/Metro fare deal that allows University of Cincinnati students, faculty and staff to ride Metro for free then you will find this of interest. The program has been so successful that they are making some changes to better track usage and prevent abuse.

All you have to do currently is flash your valid UC ID to ride. This will only work until October 19th; at that point you will have to use the special card to continue riding for free. You can get the special card by logging in to your UC account and providing some basic information (name, address, etc). Metro will then mail you your fare card within three business days and you'll be all set to continue riding Metro for free.

The cards will function on a quarterly basis that corresponds with the UC quarter system. That means those who get their cards for this Fall Quarter will be able to use them until January 10, 2009 and then have to reapply for a Winter Quarter card. You can learn more about the program and its changes on Metro's website.

Metro is currently working on a new fare system that will replace the 12-16 year old fare system that is currently used. Colin Groth, Community/Government Relations Manager at Metro, said the new system is still under development and will hopefully be running with the next year or so, but cautioned that funding is an issue.

The new system will feature 'smart cards' that will allow users to deposit funds and will automatically deduct those funds when the card is scanned for use. It is something that could be purchased at local stores and possibly linked with user's banking accounts. It will be a proxy card system that will only require users to wave their card as they get on the bus.

Also new, Metro will be linked into GoogleTransit by the end of the year. This will allow users to go onto GoogleMaps and get directions the same way they always do. What this means is that users will have an option in addition to the walk or car options currently available on GoogleMaps for Cincinnati. Watch a quick YouTube video on how to use the map feature here.

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