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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Media Bridges to launch FM station, Radio Free Queen City

One of Cincinnati’s great unique assets is Media Bridges, our community media center. The non-profit organization operates four of the city’s public access television channels and broadcasts an Internet radio station, The Bridge.

Beginning August 1, Media Bridges will be adding yet another outlet as they launch Radio Free Queen City. This new low-power station, officially known as WVQC-LP, will broadcast on 95.7 FM. It will feature content produced by volunteers, focusing on issues, arts, and culture relevant to the community. The station will air city council meetings, some alternative national programming, and Spanish-language news. Media Bridges says WVQC will not duplicate the programming of other Cincinnati-area stations.

Media Bridges first applied for a license to operate an FM station in 2001, and the FCC granted the license last year. A campaign has been launched to raise the $127,000 needed to purchase the transmitter, build a new radio studio at Media Bridges’ Over-the-Rhine location, and fund the station’s first year of operation. Once operational, the FM signal will cover a 3-5 mile radius, and will presumably be streamed online for those outside the core of the city.

Cincinnati is currently served by another non-profit volunteer radio station, the East Walnut Hills-based WAIF, which has been surrounded by controversy in recent years.

Additional reading:
Radio tower photo courtesy of Flickr user maliciousmonkey.

Back soon...

Sorry about the lack of articles lately. I have been traveling all over Greece and haven't had the time or internet connection to write new content. I'll be back in Cincinnati April 6th with lots of new stuff then, but in the mean time just bear with me.

Just to make you jealous. Here was the view from my front porch in Oia for the past week on the Greek island of Santorini.

Breakfast spot for the past week outside of my room in Oia...the island of Thirisia is seen in this photo.

Looking from my room out over the rest of Oia

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dog parks improve livability of urban neighborhoods

The Trust for Public Land recently ranked the nation’s largest cities based on the number of dog parks available to their residents. Cincinnati fared well, coming in at #15 with 1.2 dog parks per 100,000 residents (73kb PDF) out of the 75 total cities examined.

Dog parks provide dog owners living in the city a spot where they can bring their canine friend to do their “business.” A secondary, and equally important, role to dog parks is the social component. Dogs and their owners alike often use their trips to the dog park as a way to socialize and interact with other dogs and owners.

This social component provides that always desired community feel as people become bonded to their neighbors through shared experiences. In the city, it also puts more “eyes on the street,” and creates a sense of vibrancy that might not be there if the owners kept themselves and their dogs cooped up inside their urban dwelling unit.

A rather large example of a good urban dog park in NYC - Source

So while Cincinnati fares well with the overall dog parks per 100,000 residents analysis, it fails in the very neighborhoods that dog parks would provide this dual benefit. Aside from the Pet Athletic Club, there is no dedicated spot for residents of Downtown, Over-the-Rhine or the Westend to take their dogs. These neighborhoods are the most lacking in private yard space and need these kinds of parks to make urban living possible for the slews of dog owners out there.

There is hope though as a dog park is planned for the northern portion of Washington Park as part of its ensuing renovation/expansion. This will be a great asset for the residents of Over-the-Rhine and even those living in the northern parts of Downtown, but how about the many people living in the “Soapbox District” or over near Lytle Park?

Well there was a movement that surfaced about as quickly as it went away for a Downtown dog park. City Manager Dohoney got a group of stakeholders together to study the issue with pledged support from the Downtown Residents Council. The effort, however, has been stalled indefinitely as the associated construction and maintenance costs appeared to be too cumbersome.

Please share any thoughts or ideas you may have about how to go about implementing a small dog park in Downtown Cincinnati. A donated piece of land, volunteer service and ideas about how to set up some sort of dog park endowment would be especially helpful in developing a dog park.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Vote now for HYPE Up Cincinnati competition

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce has opened up voting for their HYPE Up Cincinnati online video competition. The winners will be announced March 26th at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s annual young professional summit, Bold Fusion, being held at the Aronoff Center.

In addition to a bunch of great prizes, the top videos will have their videos played on the video board overlooking Fountain Square during the Taste of Cincinnati and Oktoberfest. Voting is open until Tuesday, March 24th.

The video competition is meant to give Cincinnatians an avenue to create a video that highlights the things they love about Cincinnati.

Be sure to check out the entry from Brianne Fahey (Live Green Cincinnati) - "Ode to Oktoberfest - I Drink Beer"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Swoon performing at Below Zero

Swoon will be performing at Below Zero Lounge on Saturday, March 28th from 7pm-10pm as part of a fundraiser for the Cincinnati Chapter of PFLAG.

PFLAG is “the nation’s foremost family-based organization committed to the civil rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons.” Boasting over 200,000 members and supporters in more than 500 chapters, PFLAG also offers scholarships for gay and straight-ally students who strive to make the world a better place for gay and lesbian people through support, education and advocacy.

The performance at Below Zero (GoogleMap) is meant to raise money for this scholarship program. Swoon is a local band that got their start in the U.K. They are a blend of pop, folk and punk style music. Tickets are $25 per person or $45 for couples. Light refreshments and a cash bar will be available in addition to several prizes for attendees.

If you wish to purchase tickets you can do so by sending a check payable to PFLAG Cincinnati, P.O. Box 19634, Cincinnati, OH 45219-0634. You can contact Suzanne at (513) 240-1193 or info[at]pflagcinci[dot]org with any questions.

If you're on Facebook, RSVP on the event page.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cincinnati launches Sharrow Pilot Project

In addition to the new dedicated bike lane on Spring Grove Avenue that will provide a critical north/south travel corridor for bicyclists through the heart of the city, the City has also announced a new pilot project for shared lane markings (sharrows).

Sharrows are widely used but have yet to be embraced in the 32nd ranked state for bicyclists that has no cities included on the bicycle friendly list. They improve the safety for bicyclists on streets that lack dedicate bike lanes. With sharrows, motorists are made more aware of their surroundings making it more difficult to ignore a bicyclist that is properly sharing the road with motorists.

The Cincinnati Sharrow Pilot Project has identified a few corridors that the City believes are good candidates for sharrows and is planned to start this spring. The City is currently asking for input and have put a survey up for people to vote on the top 2 corridors for potential sharrows. You can also email them with additional ideas and other corridor suggestions at sharrows[at]cincinnati-oh[dot]gov.

The City of Cincinnati currently boasts 55 miles of streets designated as bike routes (24 of which include signage), over 200 bicycle racks citywide, with an estimated 63 miles of bike/hike trails in the planning stages all as part of the City's Bicycle Transportation Program. To request bike rack installation, report potholes, missing signs or any other bicycling related issue you can contact the City by calling (513) 591-6000.

Click to view larger version of flyer

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bike lanes coming to Spring Grove Avenue

In a press conference yesterday at Cincinnati City Hall, Council Member Greg Harris announced that Spring Grove Avenue would receive two miles of dedicated bike lanes as part of a planned roadway repaving effort set for the spring. The bike lane would connect downtown and the western fringe of the core to Clifton and Northside.

Those who spoke at the press conference included Kathy Holwadel, Chair of Cincinnati's Bike/PAC, who voiced strong support for the measure. As a regular commuter that takes her along Spring Grove Avenue, she noted that while the road is relatively safe, a dedicated lane would let drivers know that cyclists are part of the road much like an automobile.

Gary Wright, a spokesman for Queen City Bike, stated that the inclusion of the bike lane would be a step in the right direction in making Cincinnati's neighborhoods and streets livable and green, environmentally friendly and safe. He continued by stating that the bike lanes is a direction that the city and neighborhoods must exploit for the future as a healthy, environmentally friendly transportation alternative to the automobile, confirmed in countless surveys that clearly show that citizens desire methods of transport that do not include a car.

Reactions, to the announcement, have been generally positive. Local transit enthusiast and avid bicyclist Jake Mecklenborg is pleased with the announcement but says the best solution would ultimately be a completely separate bike path divided by a barrier for safety purposes.

Lauren Sullivan, who has spearheaded the nationally acclaimed New Orleans cycling map project (NolaCycle), told UrbanCincy that she supports the lanes because they add visibility to the cyclist, although she noted that dedicated bike lanes were not entirely necessary due to the excessive width and lack of traffic of Spring Grove Avenue. Lauren went on to say that bike lanes should be appropriated on hills where bike and automobile conflicts are more likely, following with cross-town routes. In addition, she voiced comment for the installation of "Share the Road" and other associated bike signage and shared lane striping along Central Parkway, a popular cycling route.

Finally, John Hoebbel, an architecture student at DAAP, said that the inclusion of the bike lane would "enhance the natural connection between downtown and Northside," adding that the lane is ideal due to Spring Grove Avenue's relative flatness.

Personally, I am in full support of the bike lane measure, and of similar attempts elsewhere. After having biked Spring Grove Avenue yesterday as part my usual training route, I find that the route is underutilized for both automobiles and cyclists, passing only a handful of trucks and cars and four cyclists. It is also overly wide, and I had no trouble staying within my lane as there is a wide shoulder and parking lane for most of the route. That said, the benefit of physical striping to denote a bike lane and the inclusion of additional lanes in the future, will only benefit cyclists while encouraging more to get out on the bike and enjoy the inherent benefits of cycling.

See below for the press conference:

Book signing series at Findlay Market

Starting this Sunday, March 22nd, Cincinnati’s Edgecliff Press will be holding a weekly book signings at Findlay Market between 1pm and 3pm.

The seven-week long series will give Cincinnatians the opportunity to come to Findlay Market (GoogleMap), purchase and browse interesting books, have them signed and speak with the authors about those books.

Edgecliff Press is a local publishing company that strives to create conversational, casual and thought provoking imagery that evokes emotion, cause one to pause and think. Their mission is to bring affordable books to market that tip the meter between niches of locations, themes and thoughts.

The selected books are artistic in nature with many focusing in on architectural subjects. The series schedule is listed below. All signings are free and open to the public.

The book signing series is part of a larger effort by Findlay Market to become an even greater cultural hub for Cincinnatians. The historic open-air market that opened in 1855 is the oldest surviving municipal market in Ohio and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2009 Next Leaders Summit coming to Cincinnati

Mayor Mallory has scheduled a 2pm press conference where he will announce that Cincinnati has landed the 6th Annual Next Leaders Summit (formerly called the YP Summit). The convention will be held at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown and take place during Oktoberfest week – September 17th – 19th.

The Next Leaders Summit is “dedicated to dialogue, experimentation and best practice sharing from within and outside the Young Professionals movement.” The Summit will bring in Young Professionals, and leaders in the YP community, from all over the nation.

The two-day plus conference will provide the next wave of leaders a chance to learn, engage and interact with national and local leaders, and socialize at after hours events throughout Cincinnati. The Summit is sponsored by Next Generation Consulting and hosted by Mayor Mallory’s Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet (YPKC), who had the honor of being awarded the YPO “Best Practices” Award at last year’s Summit in Florida.

In addition to the "Best Practices" Award, Cincinnati also made the list of Best Cities in the U.S. for Next Gen Workers coming in at #7 for cities with populations between 200,000 - 500,000. Columbus, Ohio took the #10 spot for cities with more than 500,000 people.

Partial agenda items for 6th Annual Next Leaders Summit:

  • Learn about their individual leadership strengths, and how to leverage them at work and with their Young Professionals Organization (YPO);
  • Have an immersion course in online and offline community organizing. (How did Obama do it? You'll learn the techniques and technologies here.)
  • Meet with YPO leaders from similarly sized cities to talk about issues relevant to small, medium and large cities.

Image from YPKC

Monday, March 16, 2009

Does casino fit for prominent Broadway Commons site?

It was announced last week that there is yet another movement to legalize casino gaming in Ohio. The difference with this proposal is its scope. Instead of a single casino for the entire state, casinos would instead be placed in each of the state’s largest cities (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo).

The intent is to reach a larger market and have broader voter appeal come November. In Cincinnati the proposal has already picked up some high-profile support in Mayor Mark Mallory, City Councilman Jeff Berding and former Mayor Charlie Luken.

The site for the proposed casino is the pipe-dream location that is Broadway Commons (GoogleMap). The site is located in the Pendleton sub-neighborhood of historic Over-the-Rhine. Its close proximity to Downtown, the convention center, several museums, gobs of hotel rooms and major tourism draws like the Reds and Bengals have long made the site a prime spot for redevelopment speculation (streetcar connectivity).

The question is what is right for such a prime location? Seems like a pretty subjective question, and it is. In the 90’s many people (including myself) thought the site would have been a perfect location for the new Reds ballpark. Other ideas have ranged from urban big-box stores, a mega park, rail transit hub and of course the mixed use urban infill that we would all love to see.

Plans for the once proposed ballpark at Broadway Commons

The problem of course has been market reality. With a slew of new condos and apartments constantly coming on the market in Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Newport, Covington and the Westend – can we really absorb more residential units, hotels, office and retail space, if so at what cost? Does it jeopardize the future success in OTR, Downtown and The Banks? Will Cincinnati ever push the rail transit agenda and make light rail, streetcars and high-speed rail reality here, if so can we afford to wait that long to redevelop this major site sitting unproductive?

The owners (Chavez Properties), of Broadway Commons, seem to be ready and willing to sell and they are on board with this casino plan. A casino would turn the giant surface lot into a tax productive use, create hundreds of permanent jobs, significantly boost tax revenues for Cincinnati and Hamilton County and potentially create some spinoff investment in the surrounding community.

At the same time the casino would seemingly prey on those with less, create a handful of social problems for a city that already has its fair share, possibly create an island development that encourages its patrons not to leave the confines and potentially insert an out-of-place building and design into one of the nation’s largest and most important historical districts.

Mixed Use redevelopment plan for Broadway Commons that competed with the ballpark proposal - Source

My preference would be for a rail transit hub with mixed use development. Another ideal scenario would be to develop the site as a high-tech business hub that would capitalize off of the proximity to both Downtown and Uptown with its hospitals and universities. At the same time I do realize the need to develop this site into something productive. So I’m decidedly undecided on the issue. Can anyone sway me one way or another?

If you’re in favor of this proposal feel free to sign the online petition.

'Rock' the vote for Ohio's Music Video Challenge

A month ago the Ohio Film Office was accepting entries into their music video challenge. The music videos have been submitted and are now awaiting your votes.

There are 23 original music videos that have been submitted promoting Ohio and its attractions. From now until Wednesday, March 18th (sorry for the short notice) you can select your Top 10 contest finalists on the official YouTube page.

From there the ultimate winner will be decided by a panel of celebrity judges (listed below). The winners will receive a prize package that includes a trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cleveland on Saturday, April 4th.

  • Chad Lowe: “Unfaithful” (actor); “Beautiful Ohio” (producer)
  • Joe Russo and Anthony Russo: “You, Me, & Dupree” (directors); “Welcome to Collinwood” (directors, producers and writers)
  • Brad Petrigala: Brillstein Entertainment Partners (manager)
  • Bob Hoch: Sony Music (senior director of digital marketing)
  • Don Scott: "Barbershop" (writer); "Barbershop 2: Back in Business" (writer)
  • Mark Johnson: "The Chronicles of Narnia" (writer)
  • Michael Peyser: "U2 3D" (producer)
  • Todd Longwell: The Hollywood Reporter (writer)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Taking the Stage

The Nick Lachey pitched reality show about life as a student at Cincinnati's nationally known School of Creative & Performing Arts (part of Cincinnati Public Schools) with be premiering on MTV Thursday, March 19th.

I actually got to be in a scene with Mia at Baba Budan's in Clifton Heights. I was there hanging out in between classes with a couple friends and in came MTV with their cameras. I signed a release and was then part of the crowd in the shot. Pretty keep a look out for the back of my head.

The ten episode series, Taking The Stage, will air weekly on MTV at 10pm. You will be able to watch the show on Fountain Square's video board live each week. In the mean time check out the trailer here!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Scramble Crossings for Cincinnati

Those who frequent Downtown know how crowded some intersections get with pedestrians throughout the day. There are 23 intersections that see more than 1,000 pedestrians during peak hours. Of those 23, five see more than 2,000 and one (4th & Walnut) sees over 3,000 pedestrians per hour.

That's a lot of people walking around and trying to navigate the roadways filled with delivery trucks, taxis, buses, bicyclists and the hurried drivers. In addition to it being frustrating, it can also be dangerous to attempt multiple crossings of the same congested intersection.

2008 Downtown Pedestrian Count Map

If pedestrians were able to cross diagonally across intersections with traffic stopped in all directions, it would improve both vehicular and pedestrian flow, but also improve safety across the board.

"Scramble crossings" essentially are intersections that do just that. In Cincinnati's case, intersections with high volumes of pedestrian traffic could implement these during their peak volume hours of the day. The "scramble crossings" or "diagonal crossings" could first be implemented at the five intersections that see volume in excess of 2,000 pedestrians per hour, and could be expanded as needed.

When intersections no longer have pedestrian volumes to warrant the "scramble crossings" they could revert back to normal crossing operations. The associated costs would be reprogramming of the lights, painting of the diagonal crossings and possibly some minimal signage/education. Be sure to share any other intersections you feel are qualified for such programming in the comment section.

Watch this brief 3 minute video about how Los Angeles is implementing these crossings today, and how they are functioning for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Pedestrian count data from 2008 Pedestrian Count Summary (1mb PDF)

Uptown Commons update and breakdown

Towne Properties has released more details and more renderings for their Uptown Commons project on the southern edge of the University of Cincinnati located in between Calhoun and McMillan streets. The renderings themselves are high-quality, but I'm going to take this chance to share some of my thoughts and concerns on this developing project plan.

Office building located at Vine, Calhoun, and McMillan streets looking west

The design for the office building is solid and I think will work well for this site both aesthetically and functionally. The scale of the building seems right and I really appreciate the use of glass to give it a more contemporary feel in the contemporary feeling Uptown area.

The park space seen in the above image seems to illustrate the incorporation for any future streetcar that might run up Vine and cut over to run west along Calhoun. This is a forward-thinking approach that will pay off big time for both the community and Towne Properties when the streetcar system is built.

Office building looking west from Old St. George church

On the site plan this area behind the office building is labeled as a plaza. From this view though it just has me confused what it would ever be used for especially with the apparent wall along Calhoun Street. There is the potential for a highly used plaza here with the new office building and other nearby commercial uses, but the spot will surely have to be better thought out than what this rendering indicates for it to really work.

Overall view of project site

If a new traffic signal is installed at Ohio Avenue per this plan, then the traffic signal at Scioto should be removed. Ohio and Calhoun is often congested and could probably use the signal for improved vehicular and pedestrian safety. Scioto and Calhoun doesn't really need the signal as the southern portion of Scioto is rarely used due to its steep incline and the northern portion isn't really used at all as service to the university is now routed through Dennis Street adjacent to Panera Bread.

The whole project could use more residential units if you ask me. Office space and the hotel will be great additions to this area of Uptown and will help to diversify the mixture of uses, and also spur more activity during non peak school times. McMillan Street also seems to get ignored to a certain extent. The previous idea of townhouses here seemed to work well, but probably not any more with this terrible housing market.

Renderings provided by Cole + Russel Architects

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Give Back Cincinnati back at the Emery

Give Back Cincinnati went back to the Emery Theatre for their second visit where volunteers donated their time and energy to help clean up the OTR gem.

The fun started just around the corner at the Know Theatre for registration and mingling. Volunteers then began the clean up work to help keep the Emery Theatre in the minds of Cincinnatians. Following the clean up, members of Give Back Cincinnati hit up the Bockfest celebrations.

Below is a slideshow with event photos from inside the Emery Theatre. There are 39 photos in the slideshow that were provided by Give Back Cincinnati and taken by Jackie Anderson.

Play it Forward concert at the Madison Theater

Musical performances by Sonny Moorman, Tracy Walker, The Bluebirds, Ricky Nye, Keith Little, Noah Hunt and Gary Burbank with Blue Run will fill the Madison Theater on Thursday, March 12th for a concert benefiting Play it Forward.

Play it Forward is a local non-profit started by Gary Burbank in 2007. The organization works to support local musicians whose hard work and dedication often comes at a high financial cost for them individually. Play it Forward seeks to, “educate the public about those cases and to create and manage an investment fund whose annual profits will be used to assist Greater Cincinnati musicians and their families in times of catastrophic need.”

The Play it Forward All-Star Concert for a Cause will not only bring together a host of musical talents, but it will also have a two-disk, thirty-track compilation CD from local artists. The CD made up of original tracks, will be sold to help raise funds for Play it Forward. Some of these local artists are also on the schedule to perform.

The concert will start at 8pm at the Madison Theater (GoogleMap) in Covington. Doors will open at 7pm, and tickets are $12 in advance or $15 day of the show. Tickets can be purchased through the Madison Theater Box Office, Shake It Records, Clifton Natural Foods, Buddy Rogers Music in Anderson, Susan’s Natural World, Burbank’s Real BBQ, and Everybody’s Records.

The concert is sponsored by Hudy Delight Beer - part of the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company family of beers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A long way to go...

Special thanks to CityKin and Somewhere Over-the-Rhine for drawing my attention to this great video from Streetfilms (see below). The video is great but it really depresses me for a couple of reasons.

1) Articulated buses, light rail, monorail, streetcars, and real-time arrival - boy are we faaaaaaaar behind Seattle and other like cities on the transit front. We have a bus system and nothing else, and our bus system lacks real-time arrival and articulated buses for increased capacity on highly used routes.

2) Whole Foods Market - we have some convenience stores, a farmer's market with limited hours, and a deli on steroids. At the same time Seattle is rolling out a brand new Whole Foods Market in what was previously considered an iffy area (Over-the-Rhine anyone?).

3) - the new economy is going to be shaped by companies of innovation. The United States doesn't produce material goods anymore, we produce innovation and creativity. This innovation and creativity is best facilitated in cities, and the cities that are winning out are the ones who can attract the talent and jobs for these industries. Seattle has technology, information, and the internet...Cincinnati has bananas, clothes, and household items. You tell me who wins out in this new economy?

I'm more optimistic about Cincinnati than just about anyone, but I do see the need for us to make bold and dramatic changes in the way we operate. We are waaaaaaay behind these other cities when it comes to positioning our city/region for the new economy. We not only need to catch up, but we have to get ahead.

I wish I were smart enough to know how to address some of these issues, because I would weigh in with my solutions if I had them. I do know they need to be answered. Part of that solution is transit. Seattle gets it, so does Portland, San Francisco, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, D.C. New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia, and Boston.

So how and when are we going to step it up and take action? It needs to be soon, and it needs to be swift. I fear that if Cincinnati misses out on this economic shift, as we have in the past, then we may be writing our future for the worse.

Mynt Martini coming to Fountain Square?

Fountain Square has been transformed over recent years into a vibrant hotspot of activity and it maintains the status of being the spot where people meet and socialize when hitting up Downtown.

The new commercial spaces, fronting on the Square, have injected new life from the outdoor dining, mixture of retail uses, and programmed activities. But there has been something missing – that nightlife component that puts a constant stream of activity right on the Square after hours.

There is one commercial space left on Fountain Square and its tenant may fill that missing void both physically and socially. The space is 17 Fountain Square Plaza which is adjacent to the 5/3 Banking Center and across the walkway from Rock Bottom Brewery.

Manga, 1, Inc. registered the restaurant/bar business in May of 2008 with the State of Ohio. This was followed up by an application to transfer a liquor license from “Coach & Four at the Edgecliff Inc.” to their new business registered through “Manga, 1, Inc.”

The transfer request includes the ability to sell liquor, wine, beer, and the ability to stay open late (until 2:30am). Individuals associated with the Fountain Square Management Group stated that 5/3 tenants their building and declined to comment further. No response has been received from 5/3’s leasing agent Chris Hodge from CB Richard Ellis.

Follow ups have been made and UrbanCincy will update this story as it develops.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lessons from Charlotte - Rail Transit

Rail transit is in its infancy stages in Charlotte, but it is coming on strong. A starter light rail line with dual functioning streetcar service is leading the charge for a northern light rail extension and a new east/west streetcar line that will connect their two largest employment centers (sound familiar).

In the previous Charlotte discussion I covered their attempts at 'new urbanism' and how those efforts are impacting the form of suburban Charlotte. Rail transit is having an even more profound effect on how urban Charlotte is built and how it functions. How can Cincinnati learn from these practices, and what can we take out of Charlotte's efforts to make our own better?

South End:

Completed in 2007, the nearly 10-mile light rail LYNX Blue Line has had a major impact on Uptown and South End Charlotte. All along the line you see new infill projects making Uptown a more vibrant and functional place. In the South End, a densely built residential neighborhood is forming in a complimentary way to the historic roots of the neighborhood.

The South End was built around the service of the Charlotte Trolley which operate from 1891 to 1938. A heritage trolley service is once again running today on the same tracks as the heavier-grade light rail. It is amazing to see the corridor of investment along the new LYNX Blue Line through the neighborhood.

TOD Along Blue Line, new 11-story apartment building, Blue Line looking Uptown from South End
(Click thumbnails for larger version)

Three to eleven story buildings are popping up all over the South End. There are lots of restaurants, clubs, bars, and shopping. Some (including me and my tour guide) go bar hopping along the light rail line. This was not only very fun, but safe and responsible as well.

It's not just the scope and amount of development that's impressive, but it is the quality. An urban Lowe's has opened along the line with several other more typically suburban stores now taking to a more urban footprint. The residential buildings have street-level retail and are built to the street in a way that is transforming the neighborhood into a walkable, vibrant urban space.


Charlotte's city center known as Uptown is a financial juggernaut with institutions like Wachovia, and Bank of America calling it their home. While the recent financial meltdown has hurt Charlotte, Uptown is still moving along at breakneck speeds.

The former convention center has been turned into a mixed use commercial entertainment complex (EpiCentre) that draws hoards of crowds on weekend nights. The arena is conveniently located along the light rail line that connects its patrons with Charlotte's hotels and other attractions.

EpiCentre, Nix Burger & Brew, Harris Teeter grocery in 4th Ward Sub-Neighborhood
(Click thumbnails for larger version)

Uptown boasts two full-service grocery stores, a couple residential sub-neighborhoods, Charlotte's largest employment center, and is the hub of the future Charlotte rail transit network. And like the South End, you can see the clustering of new investment along the light rail line. The existing success of Uptown is being leveraged by this new rail investment and you can see the spread outward from the core.


The reach of the existing light rail line isn't that great. As a result the functionality often mimics that of a streetcar through the center city area. The travel speeds are low and stations are frequent. This should be resolved with the opening of the new streetcar line that is being constructed as long-term light rail success depends upon car-competitive travel times and costs for its riders.

This will allow the circulator behaviors to occur on the streetcar, and free up the light rail line for faster more commuter-style transport. The eventual scope, of this streetcar line, is to connect the University Park area of west Charlotte with Eastland Mall in east Charlotte via Uptown. This won't be completed for some time, but the initial phase will connect Uptown Charlotte with the medical district east of center city.

The current streetcar construction is being combined with an overall streetscape project that is completely redoing the street, its sidewalks and implementing the new tracks. Normal streetcar construction is much less intrusive as it only requires an 12-14 inch cut where the tracks are laid.


During both of my trips to Charlotte I have experienced high ridership levels on the Blue Line. Both trips did occur on weekends and were often filled with families and tourists, although daily travelers were present and made up about half of the total riders.

7th Street Station, Train approaching South End station, 7th Street Station with Reid's Fine Foods
(Click thumbnails for larger version)

Some families were riding just to ride. Others were taking the light rail to events going on in Uptown and riding back south to their neighborhood. The trains were crowded and were standing room only which had me thinking they could probably add another car onto the train for increased capacity.

As of September 2008, the Blue Line was averaging 16,936 weekday trips. The number has the possibility of reaching an average of 18,000+ weekday trips for 2009. If this ridership average is met, the Blue Line will have reached its projected 2025 ridership levels an astounding 16 years ahead of schedule.


Overall the impacts of rail transit in this Queen City were profound. The light rail line was not only generating a new wave of investment, but it was remaking Charlotte in a way many Midwestern cities could only dream.

The investments are bold and long-term. They are dense and are injecting tons of street life into a city and its neighborhoods once devastated by the same policies and programs that blasted through virtually every city.

I wonder how a city like Cincinnati plans to compete without also investing in rail transit? In this new age of social capital and human innovation, we must compete for the best talent and create a dynamic city environment that keeps them coming back. Cincinnati's peer cities like Pittsburgh and St. Louis already have rail transit. Smaller, more rapidly growing cities, like Indianapolis and Charlotte are building rail transit. So where do we stand, where will we stand, or will we decide to accept the status quo and bet on the current economic trends reverting to the olden days when Cincinnati boomed?

Friday, March 6, 2009

St. Patrick's Day in Downtown Cincinnati

You can celebrate St. Patrick's Day over two days this year in the heart of Downtown Cincinnati with music, food, drinks, and the annual parade.

Starting a day early on Friday, March 13th you can enjoy live Irish music starting at 5pm, and Guinness drinks all night on Fountain Square. The activities will start at 10am on Saturday with the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade that runs through the streets (view parade route) of Downtown Cincinnati.

The parade will end around 1pm and will be immediately followed by day-long schedule of live music on Fountain Square. At 1pm the Unlucky Charms will take the stage, followed by the Pub Uglies at 2:30pm, The Seedy Seeds (my favorite - listen to them here) at 4pm, Joshua's Tree at 5:30pm, and ending with The Serfs (irish punk) at 7:30pm.

Food and beer will be available on the Square courtesy of McCormick & Schmick's. There will also be Irish merchandise for sale courtesy of Celtic Corner. The event is free and open to the public. Food and beverages are available for purchase.

If you would like to help with the event, or other events on Fountain Square, be sure to go sign up to be included on the volunteer opportunities email list. For more information check out the Fountain Square Volunteer Page.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Absinthe, The Green Hour

Morton's The Steakhouse (GoogleMap) will be the host of "Absinthe, The Green Hour" tomorrow night (3/5) starting at 6pm. The event will allow guests to enjoy Pernod Absinthe in traditional style with the assistance of expert tasters of the high proof distilled spirit.

Absinthe (aka the "Green Fairy") is a distilled, highly alcoholic that has a naturally green color. The drink became quite popular with Parisian writers and artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time the drink also came to be considered a "dangerously addictive psychoactive drug" and was banned in most European nations and the United States by 1915. This was later found out to be a great exaggeration and has since seen its revival in Europe beginning in the 1990's and 2007 in the United States.

Pernod was the most popular brand of absinthe prior to 1915 and first came to France in 1805. Today, Pernod Absinthe is "based on the original recipe and returns to restore its reputation for quality and handcrafted excellence."

Reservations are required and cost $45 per person (includes tax and gratuity). Guests will be treated to Morton's private boardroom, three Pernod Absinthe cocktails and a Pernod Absinthe served in the traditional ritual which involves dripping ice water very slowly over a sugar cube that is placed on a slotted spoon over a glass of absinthe. The water passes through the spoon slots into the drink resulting in a green and flavorful drink. Guests will also enjoy oysters rockefeller made with absinthe, crab-stuffed mushrooms, sliced tenderloin on crostini and Morton's famous miniature prime cheeseburgers.

Morton's is located on the second floor of Cincinnati's historic Carew Tower overlooking Fountain Square. Valet parking is available for $7. You can reserve your spot by calling (513) 621-3111.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cincinnati Bockfest 2009

In case you haven't heard already, the annual Bockfest celebrations are taking place this weekend (3/6 - 3/8) starting with the opening of Bockfest Hall (formerly Jefferson Hall) at 4pm on Friday, followed by the Bockfest Parade at 6pm.

Bockfest started in Cincinnati in the 1800s and is the world's oldest Bock festival. The celebrations stem from the glory days of Cincinnati's many brewers (at one time producing more beer per capita than any other city in the U.S.). During that time a tradition developed amongst the brewers to release all of their bock beer on the same day - marking the end of the winter brewing season and the beginning of the spring.

This year's celebration will include sub-subterranean tours of Cincinnati's prohibition past (all 13 sold out), subway tours (all 3 sold out), the parade, glass blowing, Sausage Queen competition, book signing, live music, and of course lots of beer drinking at some of the best German bars in the city.

Click image for larger version - Parade Route = Green, Public Parking = Blue, Participating Venues = Red, Free Shuttle Route = Orange

Monday, March 2, 2009

NolaCycle Bike Map Project

New Orleans, and its residents, are working to make the city a better place post-Katrina. One of those efforts is the creation of a "high-quality cycling map of New Orleans" that has engaged the community in a way that is truly special.

Lauren Sullivan, a soon to be School of Planning graduate, has been working closely members of the community, fellow bicyclists and Planners from the New Orleans area and started the whole project. Much work has already been completed and before the end of this year free maps will be available in print and online to help cyclists navigate New Orleans.

The final maps will include information about pavement quality, car travel speeds, lane widths, and other special caution areas for cyclists. This comprehensive data collection process was made possible through the help of volunteers that primarily participated in mapping events that made the whole process more of a social gathering. Volunteers also participated in the innovative NolaCycle DIY mapping (think wiki-style involvement in the real world) - see video below for more details.

The grassroots project has already garnered national attention and is currently in the process of applying for grants to help fund the remaining work. At this stage the group could use your help in receiving a $500 micro-credit loan through New Orleans' Crescent City Farmers Market. The Farmers Market has opened the process up to voting, and you can help the NolaCycle cause by voting for the project.

The process is fascinating as it employs an innovative way to gather and engage community support. In the end, the community will have complete ownership, of the project, and will have also poured in tons of hours to help make it reality. This engagement organizes a group of people to create a new community asset for no cost at all to the taxpayers of New Orleans. For more on the project check out this brief video from The Times-Picayune.

UPDATE: NolaCycle was one of three winners of the $500 micro-credit loan

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