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Monday, November 30, 2009

I-74 Ramp Meters are exactly what Cincinnatians asked for

It took less than one hour for the complaints to start rolling in about the new ramp meters along Cincinnati’s Interstate 74. Morning commuters complained that the meters were actually making congestion worse and that the slow downs were pushed onto the ramps and surrounding neighborhood streets leading to the interstate.

What many of these commuters probably do not realize is that ramp meters actually do not reduce congestion directly. Instead they diffuse congestion and reduce conflict points for drivers by eliminating much of the lane-to-lane merging that occurs around heavy on-ramp points.

The idea is simple, instead of having a slew of cars come rushing onto the interstate all at once, the ramp meters spread that surge out with a managed traffic flow. But what this does do is push congestion back off of the interstate onto the ramps and surrounding streets. That is unless other indirect things take place.

Ramp meters at Colerain Avenue along I-74 - photos taken by Jake Mecklenborg.

Improved traffic flow can improve capacity issues on interstates and thus reduce congestion. Well-timed and managed traffic systems surrounding interstate on-ramps that include these meters can also help avoid bottlenecks on neighborhood streets. But ultimately ramp meters do not reduce congestion for the simple reason that they do not add capacity or reduce volume.

The best way to reduce congestion along I-74, or any interstate, is to build additional capacity that does not strain the existing system. What this means is that simply adding a lane or two won’t do the trick, but adding a commuter light rail line will.

In Atlanta, the infamous “Downtown Connector” includes both I-75 and I-85 traffic and is currently in the process of being widened AGAIN. It too includes these ramp meters to manage traffic flow. Once the widening project is completed the stretch of interstate, appropriately compared to the Ohio River of Atlanta by the Carter/Dawson development team of The Banks, will boast some 24 lanes of automobile traffic including the intricate system of parallel ramps. The interstate still suffers from daily gridlock every day even with this monstrous automobile capacity because the same system is being strained to handle additional capacity while no new capacity is added to the overall transport network.

Ramp meters at North Bend Road along I-74 - photos taken by Jake Mecklenborg.

In Cincinnati, I-75 is being widened in most places throughout Hamilton County to 4 or 5 driving lanes not including ramps, and will also include these ramp meters at virtually every on-ramp location. With these improvements it has been identified that this stretch of interstate through Hamilton County will go from a “D” rated highway to a, wait for it, “D” rated highway once complete.

We are pouring billions of dollars into these interstate improvements and seeing little to no improvements in safety or congestion. A well-integrated commuter rail system that compliments our existing interstate and road networks is a much more effective way to manage traffic congestion. Such a system would provide additional capacity and options for commuters as they move from our region’s residential sectors to our region’s job centers.

So when you are enjoying that rush hour commute next time try to avoid letting the stress build up inside as you sit in the frustrating stop-and-go traffic. Instead be thinking about how the Cincinnati region could have been opening the first of 7 commuter light rail lines, two streetcar networks, and a completely revamped bus system had the 2002 Metro Moves plan passed. But instead of a long-term investment and solution we are stuck with temporary fixes that are wasting our tax dollars.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Building Holidays" trolley tours Downtown

ARCHITREKS will be taking their popular architectural tours to the trolley this holiday season as they present the “Building Holidays” trolley tour that will take guests along for a ride through Downtown and Over-the-Rhine to see architectural sites and learn about important Cincinnati traditions and history as it pertains to the holiday season.

“The tour will highlight both Jewish and Christian holiday customs, and the contributions of the ethnic groups that built America,” according to tour organizers. “German immigrants brought many of their traditions to the New World, including the Christmas tree and Christmas card. The tour will also examine the influence of African-Americans on the holiday celebrations.”

The two-hour long tour will start at Fountain Square and make stops in historic Over-the-Rhine’s Gateway Quarter and the Mercantile Library downtown. Along the way tour goers will also share in the memories of the Ruth Lyons Children’s Christmas Fund and the Western & Southern Financial Group Crib of the Nativity at Krohn Conservatory.

There will be two Building Holidays tours, lasting approximately two-hours each, on Saturday, December 5. The first tour will take off at 11am and the second at 1pm. Both tours will depart from the Vine Street side of Fountain Square and are limited in space to 30 people per tour.

Tickets can be reserved through the Cincinnati Preservation Association at or by calling (513) 721-4506, and can be purchased at $15 for adults and $5 for children. Those participating in the tour will also receive a complimentary souvenir of the tour according to organizers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

2nd Annual 'Holidays in the Bag' takes place on Black Friday - 11/27

Ready?! Set?! Shop!! Yes, Friday marks the “official” start to the holiday shopping season. After food and family on Thursday, many folks like to get out and shop on Friday, and you can count on the UrbanCincy staff to be a part of that crowd. But, we won't be shopping just anywhere, and don’t think you should be either.

The businesses in historic Over-the-Rhine's Gateway Quarter are hosting their second annual Holidays in the Bag event on Friday from 9am to 9pm. The shopping event not only supports a local charity, The Emmanuel Community Center, but it also supports the merchants and their stores in Gateway Quarter, and it supports YOU the shopper! Talk about a win for everyone involved! And if that weren't enough, Santa himself will be riding through the streets on a Segway thanks to the neighborhood Segway Store.

Top, left to right: A Lucky Step, Park+Vine, Outside, Joseph Williams Home. All photos taken by Randy Simes.

Here’s how the whole thing works: first, stop by the corner of 12th and Vine streets to purchase your special Gateway Quarter Shopping Bag for a small donation. Then take your bag and go shopping! Try out some independent stores in The Q such as Park + Vine, Metronation, or Outside (see the full list below). Each and every shop will be offering a special discount for whatever you can fit into your special shopping bag, with most offering a 20% discount. You should definitely make plans to get out and get some unique gifts for the people in your life while saving a few bucks!

If you read UrbanCincy regularly you know we support the 3/50 Project because of what it does for the community around us. When you support a locally owned shop, nearly 70% of the money stays inside the community, whereas if you buy from a chain it’s more like 40%. So you can take your money to the mall and see over half of it leave our area, or you can come to The Q and keep most of it in Cincinnati.

Come anytime during the day, and stop by a local establishment for a snack or beverage. Shopping early? There is Coffee Emporium on Central Parkway. Planning on coming around midday? Stop into Venice on Vine for some lunch. Have to work on Friday and planning on coming later on? Below Zero is there so that you can reward yourself with a Friday afternoon cocktail. After all, shopping is hard work!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

World Food Bar serves up monthly mystery dinners

Local chef Josh Campbell (shown right) and his team at the World Food Bar Restaurant Group have been working their tails off this year. Not only has the group successfully been running the World Food Bar in historic Findlay Market since this June, but they also recently opened the restaurant Mayberry in downtown Cincinnati to much acclaim across the board. Juggling two businesses would be enough to keep anyone's plate full, but the World Food Bar team has one more item on their menu.

Every month since August, Chef Josh has hosted a special dinner, complete with a theme and each time held in a different location . The location is kept a secret until the day of the event, but the upcoming menu isn't. Previous events have included "Pinot and Pig" and a tribute to the late chef James Beard. Their most recent event, entitled "Thanksbrewing" - included custom-brewed beers by local brewer Greg Wilson that stood out on their own, yet matched the courses perfectly.

Thanksbrewing was held in the former Kaldi's coffee shop space on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. One long table set with sparkling dishes echoed the communal, family-dinner style feel that surrounded this experience. 33 people from all over Cincinnati came together to enjoy Chef Josh's creations, try exciting dishes, and meet new people. The dishes did not disappoint, and it was nice to have delicious and interesting plates for both the meat eaters and vegetarians in the group.

Pictured below was course #3, Grilled venison with maple bacon pumpkin crumble, roasted fennel and chocolate cherry stout demi-glaze served with a 4 oz pour of a brown porter brewed with sweet potato and Ghiradelli chocolate.

I am by no means a food critic, but this meal was fantastic. However, my favorite part of dinner was being surrounded by 32 incredibly interesting and entertaining people. I not only ate with old friends, but met new acquaintances and had fantastic conversation over a shared meal. The feeling of a full belly combined with newly forged friendships was pretty hard to beat.

Thanksbrewing Dinner pictures taken by Jenny Kessler

If you're feeling bummed that you missed out on Duck Confit Nachos or a Lambic Raspberry Beer "float" (with chocolate ice cream and peanut butter cupcake!), don't fret. The dinners will keep rolling on into the new year, with new places, menu items and themes. Micah Paldino, a public relations manager for World Food Bar, states that February's dinner is looking to be a "White Trash" Valentine's Day, with prices around $30 a person.

If you're looking for a completely unique eating experience with amazing food and fantastic people, start following World Food Bar on Twitter or check out their Facebook Fan Page to keep up on all the upcoming details. And if you can't wait until February, be sure and stop by World Food Bar at Findlay Market or Mayberry in downtown Cincinnati.

Disclaimer: I'm not a food blogger, and certainly am not a professional critic, but the folks at World Food Bar were kind enough to allow me to come to Thanksbrewing for free. However, UrbanCincy writer Dave Rolfes was also in attendance, and he paid his way fair and square. No biased opinions here.

Mayberry on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Quickest Way to a Misleading Generalization is Always Through COAST

Over the course of the past two years I have been privileged to debate the merits of rail transportation with COAST’s Mark Miller on several occasions. These conversations often lasted extended periods of time and often included a statement from Miller that went something like this: “I’m not opposed to rail, I just want the voters to have a say on the matter…I actually think a better transportation system would be a good thing for Cincinnati.”

The problem is that these words are not followed up by actions that support them. COAST decided to draft an all-encompassing charter amendment that would have forced all passenger rail investments to go before a public vote no matter how big or small. Since COAST’s special interest agenda against passenger rail options for Cincinnatians failed miserably at the polls November 3rd, the group has continued to hammer away at the merits of all passenger rail transportation.

COAST's most recent press conference held outside of City Hall quickly turned into a "chaos filled with lies" and even a minor shoving match according to reports (here & here).

In COAST’s most recent blog post entitled “The Most Expensive Distance Between Two Points is Always a Rail Line,” they cite a recent story from the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail Reporter that identified a recent decision by a Network Rail manager to send their employees to a conference by bus instead of by rail due to costs. The sweeping claim, made by COAST, didn’t take long to garner a response on their very own blog:

“Go to National Express, they have both bus and train fares on their website for the UK. A same-day, one-way ticket from Coventry to Reading by rail in 37 pounds and takes 1 hour 15 minutes. A same-day, one-way ticket from Coventry to Reading by bus is 18 pounds 60 cents, and takes 4 hours 55 minutes. If three hours and forty minutes is worth less than $30.49, take the bus. Otherwise the train is a better idea.”

Time valuation aside, there is still that sweeping claim that a rail line is always the most expensive distance between two points. What about air travel? If you were making late Thanksgiving travel plans from Cincinnati to Chicago a roundtrip air ticket would cost you around $473 on Delta, while a roundtrip train ticket would cost you around $105 on Amtrak.

Even with that said, I wonder how much a last minute trip from Cincinnati to Chicago would cost on a helicopter, taxi cab, luxury ocean liner (if possible), a jet pack, or limousine. Don’t be fooled by COAST’s deceiving tactics that are geared to do nothing more than promote their own special interest agenda and muddy the debate surrounding public transportation. But perhaps urban strategist Aaron Renn summed it up best when he discussed COAST's agenda earlier this year:

"Organizations that exist simply to oppose things without any positive vision of what they want to achieve deserve a skeptical eye."

Support Cincinnati and its transportation choices.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cincinnati wins $5,000 first-place prize in national recycling contest

Cincinnati has won the American Recycler Video Award and the $5,000 first-place prize that goes along with it for the City’s recycling efforts. The contest was sponsored by the National Mayoral Congress, Keep America Beautiful, and The Novelis Corp., and asked participating cities to create a short, web-based film promoting aluminum can recycling while also incorporating the 2009 theme of “Recycling starts with I CAN.”

The finalists from California, Minnesota, Alabama, Florida and Ohio were selected by the sponsors, and then voted on by the general public. Cincinnati’s entry was produced by Cincinnati-based Get Sick Productions, in association with the Office of Environmental Quality, and will be used as the 2010 commercial for the Cans for Cash initiative.

“The videos showcased the diversity of communities and their unique approaches to recycling and again proved that cities are leading the charge towards a greener tomorrow,” said Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Congratulations to the City of Cincinnati on their impressive win and all the cities on their commitment to recycling programs.”

Cincinnati will be honored at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 78th Winter Meeting in Washington D.C. this January along with a host of other cities for their innovative recycling programs and impressive recycling rates.

Findlay Market awarded $219k for local foods project

Cincinnati’s historic Findlay Market was awarded $218,890 last week through the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative that was launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in September to increase access to healthy, affordable local foods.

“We know that access to fresh, healthy food is good for our families and our communities,” said U.S. Representative Steve Driehaus about the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” funding. “For years, people from across greater Cincinnati have found nutritious, local food at Findlay Market, and this smart investment will help ensure that the market continues to be a great resource for our area.”

The announcement comes on the heels of Findlay Market’s new Cultivating Healthy Environments for Farmers (CHEF) project that was launched in July 2009. CHEF is seen as an opportunity to recruit and train new urban growers, and compliment the City’s successful Urban Gardening Program.

Findlay Market was one of 16 organizations nationwide to receive funding through the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative. This funding will help fund food policy council training, urban agriculture, help promote native food sovereignty, food production projects, and community food assessments according to the USDA.

Findlay Market (map) is open year-round Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 6pm, Saturday 8am to 6pm, and Sunday 10am to 4pm. Free off-street automobile and bicycle parking is available and the market is well-serviced by Metro’s #21, 46, 64, and 78 bus routes. To see which route is most convenient for you, and to play your trip now, use Metro’s Trip Planner.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's time to make rail transit reality in Cincinnati

With the resounding defeat of the terribly crafted Anti-Passenger Rail Amendment, the City may now move forward with its plans for developing a high quality transit network that includes rail transit in addition to buses, bicycles, pedestrians, and autos.

The Cincinnati Streetcar is one of those items, and within the project's first phase will connect the two largest employment centers (Downtown & Uptown) for the Cincinnati-Middletown Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with one another and with one of the largest potential housing reservoirs in the region (Over-the-Rhine).

The first phase of the system will start at the northern banks of the Ohio River at the multi-billion dollar development known as The Banks, run through the Central Business District and historic Over-the-Rhine, up the hill into Uptown and connect with the 40,000 student University of Cincinnati and nearby medical block.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Smarter Living tips from Metro

Metro produced a five-part "Smarter Living" series for Star64 (fka My64). Two of the videos can be viewed below.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Redsland Forever

In an event that was most definitely uniquely Cincinnati, the illustration by CF Payne entitled Redsland Forever was unveiled at the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) last Thursday evening. Any time there are cocktails, mascots, and art involved you know you’d be hard pressed to find it anywhere else besides Cincinnati, and you know someone from the UrbanCincy team would have to go see what it was all about. The event was extraordinarily well attended even in the midst of one of the best autumns of football our fair town has ever seen.

When one walks into an event that is focused on things happening in our city and one of the first people you see is Jim Tarbell, one knows that this is the place the be that evening. There was a well stocked bar and patrons mingling in under the gigantic blue Chihuly prior to the formal presentation of the evening. Passing through the entrance and towards The Great Hall, which was where the main event was going to happen, it was easy to see the Reds influences. Look, Chris Sabo. Then Mr. Redlegs. Then Rosie. As folks gathered into The Great Hall for the presentation it was standing room only and it was tightly packed, more so than when The Reds Community Fund & CAM joined up for their first venture which showcased the Andy Warhol print of Pete Rose.

The original illustration by CF Payne, which was purchased by Reds owner Bob Castellini, was stage left and covered by a black cloth as we heard all about the efforts of the Reds Community Fund as well as the Art Museum. The two folks that stole the show though were former Red Chris Sabo and the artist himself, CF Payne.

Redsland Forever from Reds Internal Affairs

In the everyman style that made him popular in his heyday, Sabo got up for a few minutes and chatted up the room, even joking that he was not expecting to speak this evening. The most recent Red elected to the team’s Hall of Fame did point out one thing that has caused some discussion about the illustration, which is that among the fourteen Reds featured, number fourteen, Pete Rose, is conspicuously absent which brought some applause from the room. Promising to be more prepared at his induction, Sabo quickly yielded to the artist himself.

The unveiling was anti-climactic considering the print had been published in the paper and on the web leading but to the evening, but it was great to hear from local and relatively unknown treasure, CF Payne. whose work has been featured on magazine covers ranging from Mad Magazine to Time and many others in between. As he walked us through his process from idea to finished product one thing became incredibly evident: CF Payne is a huge baseball fan. He talked about the fact that Davey Concepcion belongs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He talked about listening to Reds games growing up. He talked about why Pete Rose was not included in the illustration. (It had a bit to do with Pete being the focus of the Warhol exhibit and not any other factors) But the most fascinating part was to hear how he balanced art ("I need Big Klu in the corner as my anchor") with passion ("I took my favorite Red, Vada Pinson, out so that I could make room for Barry Larkin.")

You can, and should, check out the print itself either at the Art Museum (which of course features free admission) as part of a CF Payne exhibit that runs through January 10, 2010. In the spring, the print moves over to the Reds Hall Fame & Museum alongside an exhibit that will be paying tribute to the 1990 World Series Championship team.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Secret Artworks Show - Friday Nov 20

Do you like art but aren’t sophisticated enough to tell one artist from the next? Do you like what you see, but don’t understand all why all those stuffy critics fawn over a certain piece? Well, you are in luck! The fourth annual Secret Artworks Show takes place this Friday, November 20 in the grand ballroom at the Westin Hotel starting at 5pm and it’s made for people just like you!

The fundraiser benefits ArtWorks programming and features approximately 1,500 5x7 pieces of art from all walks of the art world. There will be some pieces from well known professionals, some from students, and some from everywhere in between. But how do you know which is which? Well, you don’t, and that is the fun of it.

Secret ArtWorks Show pieces - images provided.

You see, the ‘secret’ behind the show is in the fact that the artist’s identity is kept secret until the piece has been purchased. The group is expecting about 1,000 folks to show up and race through the show while enjoying cocktails, hors d’oeuvers and live music starting at 5pm this Friday. While admission is fairly steep at $100 per entry ($125 per couple), each entry purchased guarantees that you walk away with one of the pieces of art on display.

Is the cost a little prohibitive for your pocketbook? Is your social agenda a little too busy for a Friday night art show? Well, at the very least you can browse the entries virtually by heading here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Balluminaria 2009 - 11/21

One of the best, and lesser-known, events in Cincinnati is Balluminaria. The annual event helps kick off the holiday season festivities at Eden Park, and will take place this year on Saturday, November 21 from 4pm to 6pm. The "balloon glow" event has grown in popularity over the years according to park officials, and now coincides with the opening of the Holiday Flower Show - a must see for any family - at Krohn Conservatory.

In addition to the balloon glow there will be costumed carolers, clowns, and concessions all around Mirror Lake for Balluminaria 2009. Those attending are encouraged to bring their cameras along to capture the incredibly beautiful scene of the hot-air balloons surrounding Mirror Lake.

Balluminaria photography by Jayson Gomes

Cincinnati plans multi-million dollar surveillance camera system

The City of Cincinnati, in combination with the Uptown Consortium, has announced that 14 new high-tech surveillance cameras will be installed in various locations throughout Downtown (8) and Uptown (6). The cameras are being touted by local officials and community leaders as being a 21st Century crime fighting tool that should make Cincinnati a safer place.

The $19,000/piece cameras are not going to stop at this initial installation, that is expected to be fully operational within the coming months, as officials will have another dozen installed throughout East Price Hill and Westwood along Glenway Avenue by summer. An additional 12 to 15 cameras will be installed to monitor bridges, piers and waterways. Two years from now, officials hope to have 50 to 60 cameras installed across the city in other neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, Avondale, College Hill and Northside in addition to those in Downtown, Westwood, East Price Hill, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Corryville, and Clifton.

View Cincinnati surveillance cameras in a larger map

Public safety officials often proclaim that these types of cameras have the ability to deter crime and make neighborhoods safer, when in fact they don't. Cameras simply move criminal activity around much like citronella candles keep bugs away from your backyard barbecue.

The cameras were paid for by a $2 million federal grant, but what about the ongoing maintenance? Who is going to watch the live video stream, or will someone? Who is going to review the tapes? What will be reviewed? What about long, how much, where, and who manages it? What is the City going to actually do with all this information?

It would seem to be logical to assume that the primary use, for the cameras, will be for building cases against those who have already committed crimes. So, once again, how is this making the city safer? Instead it would seem that the cameras would just make prosecution more effective in some cases. But at the same time, I would imagine the criminals will be smart enough to see the bright white and prominently branded cameras (image) and move their operations just outside the cone of view.

So then what, do we install more cameras...cameras on every street corner? Who will pay for that kind of an operation, and are Cincinnatians accepting of this Big Brother kind of a move? In New York they are in the process of installing some 3,000 cameras that will be fully operational by 2010. The costs of New York's system is pegged at $90 million with a $25 million surveillance center in the project's first phase in lower Manhattan.

The London Evening Standard just reported that even with London's impressive array of more than 10,000 CCTV cameras, the most expansive system of its kind anywhere, that roughly 80 percent of crimes go unsolved. The $334+ million system not only is not solving the core issues surrounding the need for individuals to result to criminal behavior, but the system is not even showing effectiveness in the one area it is suppose to shine.

This approach to crime fighting seems to be a reactionary way to manage complex criminal behavior. More money should be spent on identifying the causes behind individuals resulting to criminal behavior, and how to address that. Instead what we're doing is spending $2 million on a project that at best will put more non-violent criminals behind bars or at least through our legal system, and at worst, become cumbersome to manage and prove ineffective much like London's advanced Big Brother system.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This Week In Soapbox 11/17

This Week in Soapbox UrbanCincy has the following seven stories that you must check out. You can read about Rookwood Pottery's new role with the Cincinnati Gallery Auctions (originally published here), the progression of the $115 million Hoff Academic Quad project at Xavier University, a new salon in OTR, Building Value's new home in Northside, the grand opening of DeSales Flats in East Walnut Hills, Tazza Mia's aggressive growth strategy, and a new way to look at Cincinnati's suburbs.

If you're interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week's stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

TWIS 11/17:
  • Rookwood Pottery assumes famous Cincinnati Art Galleries Auction - full article
  • $115M Hoff Academic Quad to transform Xavier University's campus - full article
  • Salon Central opens in Over-the-Rhine with a 'modern sensibility' - full article
  • Building materials re-use company Building Value opens up shop in Northside - full article
  • DeSales Flats celebrates grand opening in East Walnut Hills - full article
  • Tazza Mia finds its coffee niche - full article
  • Recycling Cincinnati's Suburbs - full article

Designing the way to a pedestrian success story

In a recent study conducted by Transportation for America, Cincinnati was ranked as the seventh safest city out of the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas. Cincinnati was the highest ranking Ohio city (Cleveland #10), and was the third highest ranking city in the Midwest behind Minneapolis (#1) and Pittsburgh (#4).

The study ranked cities based on a Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) developed by Transportation for America. The PDI was formulated by dividing the average annual pedestrian fatality rate per 100,000 residents by the percentage of residents commuting to work on foot. The lower the PDI, the safer the city is for pedestrians.

The study showed a clear geographic divide between the safe and unsafe cities for pedestrians as the safest cities were located primarily in the northeast and Midwest, while the most dangerous cities were located in the southeast. Florida alone had the four most dangerous cities for pedestrians, with the rest of the top ten most dangerous cities all located in the south.

LEFT: Piatt Park in downtown Cincinnati. RIGHT: Calhoun Street in Clifton Heights.

This divide seems to indicate something many of us probably already knew – the fact that new growth areas are less hospitable to pedestrians due to their large urban scales that seem to be out of touch with the human scale. Northern cities that were largely built in the 18th and 19th Centuries feature smaller block sizes, narrower streets, and more compact developed when compared with their southern counterparts.

These design differences create a built in advantage for northern cities as they are much more capable of satisfying pedestrian commuters. But while northern cities boast nominally better rates of those commuting by foot, the real difference is in safety. For example, the second most dangerous city, Tampa, FL, has 3.52 deaths per 100,000 residents on average each year, whereas Cincinnati has a rate of just 0.77.

But what does all of this mean for Cincinnati? For a metropolitan area of 2,133,678 people that means about 21 pedestrians die each year. This number seems low, but it could still be improved upon, but the real area for improvement is the total percentage of people commuting to work by foot.

According to U.S. Census data, only 2.3 percent of the Cincinnati-Middletown Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) commutes to work by foot. New York City and Boston scored highest in this regard with 6 and 4.6 percent of commuters there walking to work respectively. But even in a more similarly built and sized city as Cincinnati, Pittsburgh boasts the third highest rate overall with 3.6 percent of their commuters making the daily grind by foot.

So if safety isn’t the issue in Cincinnati, then what is it? The region as a whole does not boast very dense development patterns outside of Cincinnati city limits and a few other pockets like Hamilton, Middletown, northern Kentucky’s river cities, and Norwood. Furthermore, the areas that are appropriately designed lack any clear amenities for pedestrians like crosswalk counters, scramble crossings at high pedestrian volume intersections, or curb bump outs. Another major detractor is the lack of barriers between pedestrians and motorists like bollards, trees/landscaping, or on-street parking.

LEFT: Purple People Bridge connecting Newport with Cincinnati. RIGHT: Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine.

I would also contend that the physical condition of our pedestrian surfaces is also a major factor. Fully taking advantage of the Federal Government’s Safe Routes to School program is a critical piece of the puzzle, but so is the ongoing maintenance of our pedestrian surfaces. This may be tricky in the low-growth Midwest and northeast, but solutions like rubber sidewalks provide long-term maintenance savings in addition to the overall improvement in surface quality for pedestrians.

It seems like a reasonable goal for the Cincinnati-Middletown MSA to strive for a 1 to 1.5 percent increase in the number of individuals commuting to work by foot. Old growth cities have been blessed by their design so far to have a natural advantage over new growth southern cities, but much more could be done to improve the designs of our modern transportation networks and our communities to make things even better for people in the nation’s 7th safest city for pedestrians.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cincinnati Unchained takes place this weekend - 11/21

This Saturday, November 21 is the second annual Cincinnati Unchained shopping event. Brought to you by BuyCincy and CityBeat, Cincinnati Unchained is the premier local shopping event of the year.

Cincinnati Unchained won the Best of Cincinnati 2008 “Best Retail Promotion” award, and will take place this year the Saturday before Thanksgiving. It is a chance for Cincinnatians to go out and support their local businesses and maybe find some new places they haven’t yet been. This year there are sponsoring businesses from all over the city and tons more just looking to earn your business during the Holiday Season.

According to BuyCincy, “every dollar you spend at a locally-owned business generates approximately three times more economic activity than a dollar spent at the typical big-box chain; and by choosing to shop locally-owned for even just one day, we can help improve Cincinnati’s economy.”

There are dozens of participating businesses this year that are offering special discounts and offers for Cincinnati Unchained. To find the full list of businesses, and to find out what they’re offering, visit BuyCincy’s featured page.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Maximizing Cincinnati's after-hours street vending community

In an earlier writing I generally discussed street vendors in Cincinnati – the role they play in the social life of urban spaces, how Cincinnati’s street vendor scene compares with other cities around the country, and how the city might work to increase the number and diversity of street vendors.

Since that time the very exciting announcement has been made that two new taco trucks will be joining Cincinnati’s street vendor scene, and Taste of Belgium owner Jean-Francois Flechet has indicated an interest in creating a waffle cart to be used around town.

Kogi Korean BBQ Truck (by Kineda) & a Koreatown Taco Truck (by Gourmet Magazine) - both in Los Angeles

At the same time I noticed the revolving door of late-night food establishments has continued on its 360 degree angle as Balboa’s near 7th & Vine streets has closed down. It would seem that these late night establishments would thrive with the lower overhead costs of street vending operations whether they be trucks, carts or stands along side the road.

No longer would these businesses have to shoulder the burden of a 24 hour lease for a three to four hour operation. The new business model would also allow the vendors to travel about following the fickle nightlife crowd across the city. Heck, the reduced overhead may even enable the entrepreneurs to open up secondary operations in other popular night life destinations across the city.

From the city’s end it would seem to ease the tension of businesses opening and closing as frequently as they struggle to make ends meet in a low-margin operation, while at the same time providing the same services and social life that comes along with these businesses.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rookwood Pottery Assumes Auction

The internationally recognized Cincinnati establishment Rookwood Pottery announced today that it will take on the biannual Cincinnati Art Galleries Auction. These sales are the largest Rookwood Pottery auctions in the world, and curators, designers and collectors come in from around the country in their search for the perfect pottery piece.

Cincinnati Art Galleries has hosted this auction for many years, but has decided to streamline their product offerings by focusing more exclusively on 19th and 20th century European and American paintings. According to the press release, Riley Humler, currently the Gallery Director of Cincinnati Art Galleries, will assume the position of Director of Auctions at Rookwood Pottery, bringing with him his team of art pottery and art glass experts.

"We have always had a great working relationship with Rookwood Pottery and applaud Christopher Rose and his vision for Rookwood," said Humler. "It is incredible that I can say that I now work there, having been an enthusiastic Rookwood fan all of my adult life."

Cincinnati Art Galleries Auction photos provided

Christopher Rose and his team have been working hard since 2005 to bring back the amazing legacy of Rookwood back to Cincinnati. The company recently relocated to a 100,000 square-foot facility in the heart of Over-the-Rhine earlier this year. They have plans to turn the auction into a three day art pottery conference-style event, complete with receptions, speakers and studio tours.

"Moving this (event) to Over-the-Rhine and expanding it to be more of a conference will only further the Over-the-Rhine's reputation as a vital center for the arts - something that means a great deal to us at Rookwood," said Suzanne Blackburn, Marketing Manager for Rookwood Pottery.

It means a lot to Rookwood, but it means even more to the community of Over-the-Rhine. It is absolutely energizing to see dedicated business members establishing themselves in the heart of the City. Rookwood is another step forward into revitalizing our city center, and it adds another dimension to the company that they have committed to producing their work in the center of Cincinnati, rather than fleeing to the wide expanse of the suburbs.

Stay tuned for a future opportunity to get an exclusive tour of Rookwood's new digs in OTR, and get a behind-the-scenes look at their famous operations. If a tour/history lesson/social outing at Rookwood Pottery interests you please leave a comment below and let us know what you would like to experience.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moerlein to tap Christkindl Winter Warmer Ale - 11/13

Christian Moerlein in combination with the German-American Citizens League of Greater Cincinnati will be celebrating the coming of the winter season with the annual keg tapping of Christian Moerlein's Christkindl Winter Warmer Ale (my favorite of the Moerlein bunch). Christian Moerlein owner Greg Hardman says that the Christkindl Winter Warmer Ale is inspired by the German spirit of holiday gift-giving.

The German connections of this event are strong as the Cincinnati Central Turnverein is Cincinnati's oldest German-American society and was originally founded back in 1848 in historic Over-the-Rhine where Christian Moerlein once called home.

"What better place to enjoy Moerlein's Christkindl Ale then at the Cincinnati Central Turnverein," said Don Heinrich Tolzmann, president, German-American Citizens League.

As for the beer, Christian Moerlein describes Christkindl as a large malt-bodied, Winter Warmer Ale with the essence of chocolate sweetness, subtle spice flavors, and a balanced hop finish. I personally love the spice flavors that come through and make for a perfect winter ale. The beer will be available all over town in six packs, draft, and in Moerlein's Discovery Pack.

The ceremony will be held this Friday, November 13 at the Cincinnati Central Turners Club House (map) from 4pm to 12am with the first tapping at 7pm. All proceeds will go to benefit the German-American Citizens League and the Cincinnati Central Turners. Admission is free and open to the public; free parking is available.

First public Revive I-75 meeting this Thursday

Once in a generation does a city get an opportunity as great as what Cincinnati has before it right now with the redesign of Intestate 75. In the mid-Twentieth Century the interstate ripped through some of Cincinnati’s most densely populated neighborhoods and has permanently cut those urban communities off from one another. When I-75 was built it even destroyed the character of the famous Crosley Field when it ripped through the West End beyond the outfield walls and quickly turned the urban neighborhood into an auto-dependent no-man’s land that left the ballpark isolated.

Cincinnati's once remarkable West End neighborhood prior to its demolition for I-75

Today, city leaders and urban designers have a chance to finally heal those 50-year-old wounds that are still evident throughout Cincinnati’s West End, Camp Washington, Northside, Queensgate, and western Central Business District. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, Cincinnati City Councilmember Roxanne Qualls has pushed for a comprehensive look at the corridor which has led to the selection of Urban Design Associates (UDA) to develop a plan that will energize and improve the quality of life in the study areas.

“It is important to recognize the opportunity to connect and reconnect the neighborhoods and their assets relative to Interstate 75,” said Charles Graves, Director, Department of City Planning. “By linking the neighborhoods to the interstate, the City of Cincinnati will be able to capitalize on new opportunities and strengthen existing assets.”

The Revive I-75 Cincinnati Focus Area Plans will look to do just this by working with neighborhood leaders on urban design plans that will focus on New Urbanist techniques and attempt to return the neighborhoods to the form they were originally built. In order to accomplish this Pittsburgh-based UDA will rely on heavy public involvement, through a series of public meetings, to get the best understanding for the urban spaces and neighborhoods they are dealing with.

The first of such meetings will take place on Thursday, November 12 from 6pm to 8pm at Cincinnati State (map) in the Advanced Technology & Learning Center Auditorium on the second floor. Parking will be available in the Central Parkway Garage on campus, and Metro bus service is also available. Plan your trip now using Metro’s Trip Planner.

If you're unable to attend the meeting, and would still like to share your thoughts, then please call the Department of City Planning at (513) 352-4845 or email

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Week In Soapbox 11/10

This Week in Soapbox (TWIS) you can read about big time money rolling in for two local development agencies, a new vendor at Findlay Market, Cincinnati's groundbreaking Environmental Justice Ordinance, the $30 million Sharonville Convention Center expansion, a new Thai restaurant in Bellevue, Kroger's new food tracking service, and the super cool co-working concept that has come to Over-the-Rhine.

If you're interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week's stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati. Also be sure to become a fan of Soapbox on Facebook!

There is also a really tremendous feature story this week from Casey Coston discussing Cincinnati's growing center city population that is likewise bringing more dogs. Read all about the growing dog population and the opportunities and challenges that it is presenting our center city.

TWIS 11/10:
  • Cincinnati development agencies secure $75M in New Markets Tax Credits - full article
  • Daisy Mae's Market opens produce business at historic Findlay Market - full article
  • Cincinnati takes lead, creates nation's first Environmental Justice Ordinance - full article
  • Sharonville breaks ground on $30M convention center expansion - full article
  • Siam Orchid brings Thai flavor to Bellevue - full article
  • Group brings co-working concept to Over-the-Rhine - full article
  • Kroger launching program allowing customers to track food's origins - full article

What happened to the locavore movement?

The news is out that the Atlanta-based Carter/Dawson development team has selected Birmingham-based Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC as the general contractor for the private development portions of The Banks. The Carter/Dawson team stated in a press release that Brasfield & Gorrie is "one of the largest privately-held contracting firms in the nation, and brings their extensive successful experience in building complex, mixed-use, vertically integrated developments in dense urban areas."

This may be all well and good but the issue I have is that they're based out of Birmingham. It's not that there is anything wrong with Birmingham, or Atlanta for that matter, but there are huge sums of public money going into The Banks development. These tax dollars should be spent in the taxpayer's best interest, and with unemployment hovering around 10 percent, we should be demanding that these contracts be awarded to local companies who will be employing Cincinnatians.

The Banks development plan - rendering provided.

It's much like the rationale behind shopping local. When you award contracts to local companies they'll hire people in the region, those people will take that money and upkeep their homes, go shopping, eat out, and support the local economy. When we give these contracts away to someone else there goes much of that money.

I can't say for sure whether Brasfield & Gorrie is the best firm for the job, because they very well might be, but I do know that there are qualified companies here locally that would have loved the opportunity to not only get this contract, but also make a lasting impact on the city they call home. The one bright spot is that Brasfield & Gorrie has committed to achieving the development team's goal of at least 30 percent SBE participation, and committed to utilizing a "significant amount of local talent to get the job done efficiently and effectively."

Phase 1A of The Banks development - rendering provided.

Brasfield & Gorrie is expected to start assembling their team on site almost immediately and will begin construction on the overbuild of Phase 1A in December with a set completion date of Spring 2011. Once complete, The Banks will represent a total private investment around $600 million. Paul Brown Stadium, Great American Ball Park, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Riverfront Transit Center are all complete and part of Cincinnati's Riverfront Master Plan developed by Urban Design Associates. The Central Riverfront Park is under construction now and will compliment the entire development.

Monday, November 9, 2009

City of Cincinnati wins OEC's coveted Public Servant award

Each year the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) recognizes individuals, groups, and businesses that have made significant contributions to improving Ohio's environment at their annual Environmental Achievement Awards ceremony.

At this year's Environmental Achievement Awards, the City of Cincinnati will receive the "Public Servant" award for the implementation of several environmental initiatives in Cincinnati, which includes re-establishing the Office of Environmental Quality. At the same time, Communities United For Action (CUFA) will receive the "Environmental Watchdog" award for their work on spearheading the passage of the first environmental justice ordinance in the country.

The 40th Anniversary Green Gala dinner and awards ceremony will be held on Saturday, November 14 at the Columbus Athenaeum (map). Tickets can be purchased from $30 to $40 with group discounts available. To purchase your tickets today call the OEC at (614) 487-7506, or place your order online.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

New UC President Dr. Gregory Williams to keynote Triumph Awards

The Emanuel Community Center is hosting their annual Triumph Awards on Thursday, November 12 at 6pm. The Triumph Awards ceremony is one of Emanuel's primary fund-raiser events throughout the year, and take time to honor the hard work people have put into the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

The University of Cincinnati's new president, Dr. Gregory Williams, will serve as the keynote speaker while Joe Pichler, William Mallory Sr., and Kathy Wade serve as the 2009 Triumph Honorees. Tickets are $50 and can be reserved by calling Jenny Mendelson at (513) 241-2563, ext. 20, by emailing, or by purchasing your tickets online.

The Emanuel Community Center was founded in 1871 to help serve the expanding German immigrant population in the neighborhood. Today Emanuel is well-known for their childcare and youth programs serving neighborhood residents. And as the neighborhood continues to change, so does Emanuel, as they now act as a complete "center for the community" and are working hard to create programming and shared experiences in the neighborhood to ensure that capital investments evolve into a diverse and eclectic community.

"My time as an Over-the-Rhine resident has convinced me of the importance of this fantastic neighborhood in the future growth of our region," said Emaneul Board Member Colin Groth. "At the start of this year I joined the board of the Emanuel Center after recognizing the critical role that community cohesion will play in the long-term sustainability of OTR."

The Emanuel Community Center will host the Triumph Awards at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza's famous Hall of Mirrors (map). The Hilton is within a block and a half of Metro's Government Square bus hub. Plan your trip now using Metro's Trip Planner to find out which route and time works best for you.

Hall of Mirrors photograph by Daniel Michael.

Friday, November 6, 2009

New Orleans Jazz & Food festival at Washington Platform - 11/8

Washington Platform is hosting the Second Sunday New Orleans Jazz & Food Festival this Sunday, November 8. There will be live jazz music by the Mike Sharfe Trio in addition to the authentic Louisiana buffet. Washington Platform owner, Jon Diebold says that the event will run from 2pm to 5pm and that he encourages reservations to ensure space for your group.

Washington Platform Saloon & Restaurant (map) has been in operation since 1875 and is famous for their oysters and annual oyster festival. Reservations can be made by calling (513) 421-0110. Also be sure to visit the restaurant during their newly expanded hours: Monday from 11am to 3pm, Tuesday through Thursday from 11am to 9pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am to 10pm, and Sunday from 4pm to 9pm.

There is plenty of free on-street parking nearby. Washington Platform is also well-served by more than a dozen Metro bus routes within one block of the restaurant. To see which route is most convenient for you, and to plan your trip now, use Metro's Trip Planner.

Photo from Rrrrrd's photostream on Flickr.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Art showing at Bromwell's new gallery space - 11/6

Cincinnati’s famed Bromwell’s is hosting an art showing, in their new second floor art gallery space, from 20 area artists including internationally known artist Tom Shaw. Bromwell’s new resident artist and gallery director, Even Hildebrandt will be on-hand along with many of the other featured artists to discuss their work.

The showing is free and open to the public and will take place from 6pm to 9pm at Bromwell’s (map) located in the historic West Fourth Street district in downtown Cincinnati. Bromwell’s beautiful fireplace showrooms will also be open and serve as overflow space for displayed art work. The showing will also feature a DJ and refreshments.

Bromwell’s is open Monday through Saturday 9am to 5pm. Free on-street parking and garage parking (for payment) is available nearby. Bromwell’s is also within a two block walk of Metro’s Government Square bus hub. Plan your trip now using Metro’s Trip Planner to find out which route is best for you. Please call (513) 621-0620 with any additional questions.

Bromwell's photograph by Scott Beseler.

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