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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Taking the Stage kicks off second season at Cincinnati's SCPA

The second season of Taking the Stage kicked off this past Thursday on MTV. The reality show takes place at Cincinnati's famous School for Creative & Performing Arts and follows around a select group of students looking to make it big. Produced by Cincinnatian and former 98 Degrees front man, Nick Lachey, Taking the Stage airs each Thursday at 11pm and is primarily set in historic Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.


Friday, January 29, 2010

2nd Forgotten Cincinnati exhibition tonight

While you're out and about for Final Friday this evening be sure to swing on by Park+Vine, Joseph Williams Home and Atomic #10 for the second Forgotten Cincinnati photograph exhibition. There will be abandoned photography from around Cincinnati by Ronny Salerno, Zach Fein and Sherman Cahal.


The Forgotten Cincinnati exhibition will start at 6pm and run through 9pm at the aforementioned Over-the-Rhine locations. The exhibition will actually run through Sunday, February 21 so that those interested will have plenty of time to make their purchases - but don't wait long because these powerful photographs will sell quickly.


This morning Ronny Salerno and Zach Fein were on Fox 19's morning show to discuss their work.

Mercantile Library Renovations

The Mercantile Library is one of those easily overlooked gems, and is located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. Housed on the 11th and 12th floors at 414 Walnut Street, this quiet oasis in the middle of the city is one of the best kept secrets around town. Few folks have heard of it, and even fewer would be able to tell you where it is, but hopefully that is about to change.


Executive Director Albert Pyle states that “there are about 2,000 members currently and we could easily welcome in 2,000 more.” This year marks the library’s 175th anniversary making it one of the three oldest cultural organizations in the city, and they have been in the same location since 1903. Recently, the Mercantile went through its first major renovation since moving into the space over one hundred years ago and UrbanCincy got to take a peek.

Mercantile Library restoration photograph by Scott Beseler.

“This library deserves it” said Mr. Pyle, as it relates to the renovations made, at a recent preview event. This massive undertaking led by local architecture firm Brashear-Bolton and local construction firm HGC Construction. The main goal was to add modern touches while trying to maintain the Machine Age feel, and based off what we saw, they did a wonderful job.


Some of the changes are more cosmetic than anything, such as the movement of the 16 portrait busts featuring presidents and authors, among others, to eye level mounts throughout the room. This was done so that members could appreciate the art and “hold better conversations with them” joked Mr. Pyle.


Other changes were made to help accommodate a more modern era such as the replacement of an old and noisy air conditioning on the south side of the reading room which will allow the library to comfortably host events during the summer. In the same part of the room, two story stacks were built out of steel beams which were actually hoisted up from Walnut Street and through the windows so that they could be installed.


Two final updates move the library firmly into the 21st century modernization as the card catalog has been made electronic and moved online. Not only is it now accessible through the Mercantile’s website but it actually forced the library to make its first official count of its collection. Totaling over 78,000 books, many first editions, the Merc provides a unique collections as about 2/3 of it cannot be found elsewhere in the city. Additionally, the walls that used to separate The Ladies Reading Room from the rest of the library have been removed to allow for a more open and bright space in the northeast corner of the room.


The Mercantile is a membership library, one of only about twenty in the United States, and dues start at $45 for an individual membership. Mr. Doyle stated that many members like to visit on their lunch hour during the week and will actually bring their lunch along with them. Others come to find peace and quiet and have been known to doze off during their visit. Aside from their traditional website, the good folks at the Mercantile also maintain the blog Stacked.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New street wear boutique to open in OTR

Cincinnati's freshest business and Over-the-Rhine's newest neighbor, Original Thought Required (OTR), will open this Friday, January 29 on Main Street for Final Friday. The street wear boutique will be one of the first of its kind for Cincinnati and has an owner that is very excited to be a part of the renaissance taking place in the historic neighborhood.


"I really believe in what 3CDC is doing and I'm really excited to be able to make my dream a reality," said Original Thought Required owner James Marable.


On Friday, the store will be open for Final Friday from 5pm to 10pm, and Marable encourages people to just come and check out the store even if they are not intending on buying anything. "I wanted to create a space where people come in with an open mind and where people can just be themselves."


Original Thought Required (map) will be much more than just a street wear boutique, and will eventually include regular events and be representative of the larger street wear culture where people focus on individuality, personal style, and music. Visitors on Friday can expect a small mixer atmosphere where they can get a peek of the new place and hang out.

Ohio receives $400M for high-speed rail

The winners have been chosen, and Ohio's efforts to land money for rail service along the Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland (3-C) Corridor have been successful. Today it has been announced that Ohio will receive $400 million for track upgrades, grade crossings, new stations, and maintenance facilities.


Meanwhile the larger Midwest region pulled in a collective $2.6 billion which was second only to the West Coast region which nabbed an impressive $2.942 billion of the total $8 billion available. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, views this as an investment that will make passenger rail more efficient while also providing better service in travel markets across the nation.

  • High-speed rail travel offers competitive door-to-door trip times
  • It reduces congestion on key routes between cities
  • It reduces transportation emissions
  • And, most of all, it creates the jobs of the future, the jobs America needs right now

For Cincinnati there are still questions though about a station location. The $400 million is a significant investment, but will still not enough to cover the $517.6 million needed to extend the line through one of the nation's most heavily congested rail yards to Union Terminal. Additional track to run the line all the way to Lunken Airport might also prove be to costly according to project officials.


Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, responded to those questions by saying, "The state could trim costs by using rebuilt, rather than new, passenger cars and by ending the route in Sharonville rather than at Lunken Field, and when there is enough money run trains to Union Terminal."


The 250-mile 3-C Corridor has long been seen as one of the nation's most promising rail corridors with projections estimating that 478,000 passengers will use the rail service annually. The new service will operate three daily round trips with top speeds of 79mph and serve a population of more than 6.8 million people, close to 40 colleges and universities, and 22 Fortune 500 companies.

Phase 1a of The Banks to rise quickly

This past Tuesday, January 27th, Cincinnati City Council's Strategic Growth Committee gathered at City Hall to listen to and review construction updates on the long-awaited Banks development project. David L. Holmes, Assistant City Manager and John F. Deatrick, Banks Project Executive were both on hand to explain the project's progress in further detail.


The update focused on Phase 1a of the construction plan, which includes 300 apartments and nearly 80,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space with parking garages below street level. As of this January, Phase 1a is 65% constructed and staying well within the budget previously set for the development.

Construction of Phase 1a of The Banks is 65% complete as of January 2010 - Photo Provided

Both the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have pledged monies towards The Banks. The City has pledged $20 million and has so far paid $7.5 million, while the county has committed some $5 million. After both the city and the county have paid their committed shares, they will split the remaining cost 50/50.


Phase 1a of The Banks is projected to open by Opening Day 2011. According to the presenters, apartment leasing will begin in fall of 2010, though the projected price points of said apartments are still up in the air. As soon as the exterior facades on the buildings are finished, the streets that are currently closed off due to construction will reopen.


Construction has begun on 300 apartments and 80,000 square feet of retail at Phase 1a of The Banks - Images Provided

The scope of construction that has been most recently completed is mostly structure for parking and mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure. They are currently laying shear walls and columns in the south site by the bridge. The workers are waiting for warmer weather to come back in order to pour more concrete.


One of the financial directors gave an update on the amount of local, small business, minority and women employees and businesses currently engaged in the Banks project. She emphasized that 74% of construction workers for the project currently live in the Cincinnati metropolitan area, 20% are minorities, and 2.5% are female. Council members Charlie Winburn, Laure Quinlivan and committee chair Chris Bortz expressed concern for making sure that "as many Cincinnatians as possibly are involved in the construction and in the business of the Banks." Winburn stressed making sure that "this project has the utmost integrity" when it comes to keeping money local, (despite hiring out of Birmingham for the general contractors).

Phase 1a site plan for The Banks - Image Provided

After Phase 1a is complete in early 2011, work will begin on reconstructing Mehring Way to cut a wider arc above the river, bordering the new Central Riverfront Park. As a result, project managers are currently in the process of appropriating stimulus funds for this development.


While retailers for the Phase 1a portion of the project are not yet set in stone, much has been speculated about a potential grocery store, entertainment venues like an ESPN Zone, and other restaurants, bars and entertainment venues to compliment the evolving riverfront district. Connectivity to the existing Riverfront Transit Center, and proposed Cincinnati Streetcar, will help connect The Banks to the rest of Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and Uptown neighborhoods resulting in a live/play/work situation that will be attractive to all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Emancipator Doppelbock keg tapping at Arnold's - 1/28

Christian Moerlein will be tapping the first keg of their Emancipator Doppelbock this Thursday, January 28 at Arnold's Bar & Grill. Lasting from 4pm to 7pm, the event has no cover charge and will feature $4 Emancipators in a Moerlein Lagers & Ales pint glass (that you get to keep) with just $3 refills.


Arnold's is located in downtown Cincinnati (map) and should get quite crowded for this event. When Christian Moerlein last hosted an event at Arnold's on January 16 they sold out of all Moerlein Lagers & Ales and packed Arnold's to the gills. So be sure to get there early so you don't miss out on the great pint glass special and keg tapping.


According to Christian Moerlein:
Moerlein's Emancipator Doppelbock is a German-style Doppelbock featuring six varieties of uniquely blended malts creating a robust dark lager with a toasted character and complex hints of caramel and toffee. Brewed in celebration of the repeal of prohibition in Ohio, Moerlein Emancipator continues to be a celebrated seasonal brew leading in to Bockfest in Cincinnati.


Arnold's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

It Takes An Army

If you follow any of the UrbanCincy crew on Twitter you probably are aware of a hot debate going on over the last few weeks as it relates to the opening of a new establishment downtown. While the debate itself is interesting, I am going to avoid the details of it, it has also served as the inspiration for this post.


There has been a lot of discussion over the types of people that some of the newer places in the urban core attract and there was some backlash against these places on Twitter from folks that clearly support the urban core of Cincinnati in many ways. I for one always try to visit new places and draw my own conclusions about whether or not I like it, and if I don’t then the new place does not become one that I frequent on a regular basis.


The main realization I have come to during these discussions is that we need everyone involved with the urban core in some form or fashion so that there is long term success. There has to be a places for scenesters, places for hipsters, places for frat guys, and places for suburbanites so that we get the most people we can involved with the success of our city. Does this mean that I need to approve of or like every single new place that opens? Of course not, but when a new place opens and is successful, that is good news for the city that I love.


So, downtown Cincinnati needs institutions like Arnold’s and Grammer’s just as much as it needs new places like Mynt Martini and (the soon to be open) Passage Lounge. We need national chains like Palomino and McCormick & Schmick's just as much as we need local favorites like Mayberry and Via Vite. By having a diverse offering, downtown Cincinnati is quickly becoming a place that appeals to all kinds of people.


Why is that important? Think back to the heydays of the Main Street scene. It was one stretch of one area of the city and most of the establishments catered to one type of crowd. When that crowd moved on to somewhere else, the Main Street Entertainment District quickly became a part of Cincinnati history.


Mynt Martini photos taken and provided by Thadd Fiala

These days though, there is wonderful diversity in the offerings downtown and it is only bound to get more varied. Throngs of people with varying taste should be able to help make the revitalization that is occurring a long term solution, and not a fly by night sensation. It is already helping to reestablish pride for our city and with the additions of The Banks, the casino, and hopefully the Cincinnati Streetcar. The future is very bright for our fair city that is nestled up against the banks of the Ohio.


Back to the social media power that is Twitter. As folks have followers that number into the hundreds and sometimes thousands, any opinion shared is one that can be viewed and interpreted in different ways by many folks as they form their own opinions about what is happening in the world. If we are going to all work towards a better, more prosperous, and more fun Cincinnati, then we should all be thoughtful about the power our opinions hold.


Mynt Martini on Urbanspoon
Follow the UrbanCincy staff on Twitter:
Randy A. Simes – @UrbanCincy
Dave Rolfes – @CinNewTon
Jenny Kessler – @recycleDbin
David Ben – @DavidCBen
Travis Estell - @taestell

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Dynamic Relationship Between Art & Life

European-American YP happy hour at The Celestial - 1/28

Each year the European-American Chamber of Commerce (EACC) hosts happy hour events throughout the year where 20-35 year-olds come together and connect with European culture in a social atmosphere. The first of these happy hours in 2010 will take place Thursday, January 28 at The Celestial restaurant in Mt. Adams.


The social event will take place from 5:30pm to 7:30pm and feature drink specials on beer, wine, and cocktails between $2.75 and $4. Discounted appetizer specials will range from $4.50 to $9 and include Rock Shrimp Gnocchi, Perigord Foie Gras, Krabby Patties, Duck and Sweet Corn Relleno, Sauté of Bay Scallops, Celestial Baked Virginia Oysters, and Mushroom Napoleon.


In the past the happy hours have drawn around 100 people from all different walks of life. Organization leaders say that it is a great opportunity to meet international people including lots of Europeans as you might expect.


"There is no formal expectation and people are really friendly," says Brian Meyers with the EACC. "Both Americans and Europeans are equally welcome, and both represent something exotic and new for the other group."


There is no cover charge for this event and those interested in attending do not need to RSVP. The Celestial (map) is located in Cincinnati's famous Mt. Adams neighborhood and offers free parking.


EACC YP Happy Hour at Nada photo provided.

Cincinnati City Council approves $775k to move streetcar project along

Cincinnati City Council approved $775,000 for environmental studies and preliminary engineering work on the Cincinnati Streetcar project that will run from the riverfront, through Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, and go up the hill to the Uptown neighborhoods surrounding the University of Cincinnati.


The approval of the $775,000 allows for the City to move forward with the proposed Cincinnati Streetcar and maintain its spot in the contest for state and federal transportation dollars that are necessary in order to make the project happen.


The first of such money comes from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants and will be announced in February. The Federal Government's Grants for Urban Circulator projects will be announced sometime after TIGER, and then money from Ohio's Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC) should be announced this Spring.


More money is needed in order to complete the preliminary engineering work and can be approved at a later date - a move that put some on council at ease about earmarking too much money for the project before we know the outcome of said grants. Should all go according to plan, Cincinnati could open the nation's next modern streetcar system in 2012.


Chris Monzel (R), Leslie Ghiz (R), and Charlie Winburn (R) were the three opposition votes. Interestingly enough, all three of City Council's Republicans have already announced that they will be running for the open Hamilton County Commissioner seat this Fall. Monzel has gone as far to say that he is a "son of the suburbs" and will probably be moving out of the City once he is no longer on City Council.

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Cincinnati Streetcar Development Map

The CincyStreetcar Blog has produced a new map of all the development that is taking place, being planned, or under construction along the proposed route of the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Click map image on right to open up large HQ version in new window.


My first two thoughts are: 1) there is a lot happening in our center city, and 2) much of what is happening is along the proposed Cincinnati Streetcar route and would more than likely be aided by high-quality transit service that connects the developments with additional residents, visitors, attractions, businesses and more.

Cincinnati's I-75 is worst commute in Ohio; one of worst in Midwest

Cincinnatians traveling along the Interstate 75 corridor can now go to bed at night knowing that they drive the worst stretch of interstate in Ohio, and one of the worst in the entire Midwest according to a recent analysis by The Daily Beast.


The Daily Beast ranked the nation's metropolitan areas with the worst rush-hour congestion based on peak hour Travel Time Index (TTI) for each particular highway segment. Once the 75 worst metropolitan areas were determined, the worst highway in each area was defined according to the most hours of bottleneck congestion. For Cincinnati, I-75 racked up 86 hours of weekly congestion with the worst bottleneck occurring at Exit 10 (map) for southbound traffic. The worst bottleneck stretches on average some .46 miles, with speeds of approximately 21mph, and adding up to 16 hours of bottleneck time each week.


Worst Commutes in the Midwest:
#9 - Kennedy Expressway, Chicago (712 hrs)
#17 - I-494, Minneapolis-St. Paul (184 hrs)
#34 - I-94, Milwaukee (50 hrs)
#36 - I-75, Cincinnati (86 hrs)
#39 - Edsel Ford Freeway, Detroit (174 hrs)
#42 - I-90, Cleveland (59 hrs)
#45 - I-270, St. Louis (89 hrs)
#52 - North Freeway, Columbus (14 hrs)
#56 - I-65, Indianapolis (19 hrs)
#58 - I-70, Kansas City (47 hrs)
#67 - I-271, Akron (4 hrs)
#69 - I-75, Dayton (46 hrs)


What becomes particularly problematic for Cincinnati is ODOT's approach to handling congestion. This past fall ODOT spokesperson Liz Lyons told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "the main gist is widening, adding more lanes for traffic to flow easier," when it comes to handling the congestion and daily gridlock on Ohio's worst stretch of interstate.



Cincinnati's stretch of Interstate 75 is the most congested in Ohio, and one of the worst commutes in the Midwest. Interstate 75 congestion photos from Scott Beseler, Nick Daggy, and Jake Mecklenborg respectively.

The reality is that ODOT's plan to add, at most, one lane of traffic to this section of I-75 will do nothing more than cause tremendous headaches over the course of its construction and not achieve any congestion savings. The direction of transportation planning in the 21st Century is all about mobility options. Our aging population and the new workforce both desire increased mobility options more so than the immediate convenience of an automobile.


European cities are far ahead when it comes to creating mobility options, but in America there are a few examples where mobility has been placed as the top priority when it comes to transportation planning. Interestingly enough, the cities that have done this are among those trying to make up the most ground on cities like older built cities like Cincinnati that have inherent mobility advantages.


Cincinnati's extensive street grid and compact neighborhoods that were built prior to the Eisenhower Interstate System offer lots of positives upon which to build. Additionally, Cincinnati's aging demographics and 21st Century employment sectors represent a real opportunity to not only reduce congestion, but remove the need for automobiles altogether. Multi-modal transportation options like the Cincinnati Streetcar will promote neighborhoods in which people can live closer to their jobs and be only a short train ride away from their job, shopping, or entertainment destination.


So the question is whether Midwestern cities like Cincinnati will continue to try to solve 21st Century problems with 20th Century solutions, or will policy makers here finally have that "ah-ha" moment and start planning our transportation networks around options?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Taco Azul to bring third taco truck to Cincinnati's streets

Cincinnati will soon have yet another food truck operation when Taco Azul hits the streets of downtown Cincinnati, Northside, Uptown and more. Azul will be open wherever the nightlife is happening and will stay open until 3am serving Mexican food in a similar fashion to Los Angeles' famous taco truck scene.


The news comes shortly after Polly Campbell wrote about Habanero Burrito Wagon (mobile catering truck) and Senor Roy's Taco Patrol from the owners of Hyde Park Tavern. This announcement also comes just after UrbanCincy looked into the untapped nightlife street food market. During that same time Cafe de Wheels has taken to the streets and introduced some of the best burgers around town.


This now brings Cincinnati's tally to three taco trucks, one taco cart, and a burger/cafe truck. Stay tuned to UrbanCincy for full details about Taco Azul in the coming days.

UrbanCincy honored in 2010 Best of Cincinnati Awards

In 2008 UrbanCincy was honored to not only be considered for the best blog in Cincinnati, but actually finish in the Top 5. The blog was nominated by CityBeat's staff in 2009, and is again in 2010.


It's a great honor to even be considered and I'm truly thankful to all of the readers out there who enjoy the hard work and hours put in by myself and UrbanCincy's dedicated team of writers: Dave Rolfes, Jenny Kessler, David Ben, and Travis Estell. It is you, the reader, that keeps us going and keeps us motivated to do the work we do.


UrbanCincy has been nominated for best Blog and Website, and I have personally been nominated for best Local Activist and Journalist in the 2010 Best of Cincinnati Awards. I would like to encourage you to go out and vote for all those great businesses, places and people that make Cincinnati's urban core great. Thanks, and here's to a great year ahead.

Friday, January 22, 2010

SORTA re-elects board members

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has named the 2010 board members that will oversee the operations and direction of Metro - Cincinnati's primary bus operator. Both Chair, Melody Sawyer Richardson, and Vice Chair, William Mallory Sr., have been re-elected to their positions.


Richardson has served on the board since 2003 and has acted as SORTA chair since 2007 while Mallory Sr. has served as Vice Chair since 2008. During Richardson's tenure as Chair, she has helped advance several initiatives including:

  • grow*Metro community involvement process to refine Metro's capital plan
  • A new federal lobbying effort to secure funds for replacement of buses past their useful life
  • SORTA Board strategic planning process
  • Inclusive SORTA budget process that sought input from elected leaders and community partners
  • Diversification of Metro services through the addition of articulated (accordion) and hybrid buses
  • Expansion of the Everybody Rides Metro foundation


Also during that time Metro has faced extraordinarily difficult budget shortfalls due to what local leaders call a "failed" funding source and a difficult economy. As a result fares have been increased, service reduced, and ridership has even declined during this tumultuous time for transit agencies across the nation.


“Most people recognize the bus funding model is a failure," said Cincinnati City Council member Chris Bortz in a recent interview with the Cincinnati Business Courier. "There are going to be those that are resistant to any new tax structure. But we’ve got to think through it.”


The solution, seen by many, is a county-wide funding structure instead of one that only focuses on Cincinnati's Earnings Tax. As SORTA's re-elected Chair and Vice Chair focus on long-term plans for the transit authority there needs to be serious discussions about how to permanently right this ship and make Metro a financially stable transit operator.


You can stay connected with the latest news and updates from Metro on Twitter @CincinnatiMetro.

The failure of asphalt only congestion solutions

First instinct may tell us that widening a congested highway will help reduce traffic congestion, but the reality is quite different. Highway widening projects not only create additional congestion during the construction work, but also increase the highways usage once work is complete thus contributing to the cycle of congestion.


Cincinnatians are soon to experience what may be the most tumultuous highway construction period ever. Interstate 75 will be reconstructed and widened roughly from the Norwood Lateral to the Ohio River including the Brent Spence Bridge and its approaches. This construction work will cost billions of dollars and create a decade-long nightmare for Cincinnatians with no other commuting options than their automobile.

Brent Spence Bridge approach photo by 5chw4r7z.

Unfortunately the "no pain, no gain" saying doesn't fit here, as the OKI Regional Council of Governments has previously studied and determined that the reconstruction effort will bring I-75 from a Class D level highway to a, wait for it, Class D level highway once it is complete.


There are two primary reasons for this: 1) the work being planned now will take more than a decade to complete and by that point traffic demands will increase and call for additional capacity not being anticipated now, and 2) the completed improvements will encourage additional drivers to take the heavily traveled corridor instead of taking what may be less direct side routes. The second factor is often experienced in its inverse when people take less direct routes to avoid what may be perceived as a more cumbersome route due to congestion or tolling for example.


In 1942 Robert Moses noticed that the highways he had built around New York City in 1939 were somehow generating greater traffic problems than had existed previously. Since then, the phenomenon has been well documented, most notably in 1989, when the Southern California Association of Governments concluded that traffic-assistance measures, be they adding lanes, or even double-decking the roadways, would have no more than a cosmetic effect on Los Angeles' traffic problems. -Andres Duany in Suburban Nation


Cincinnatians should learn from Atlanta where they have mastered the art of expanding highways to unbelievable measures. The infamous "Connector" running through Midtown and Downtown Atlanta carries both I-75 and I-85 traffic and currently has 14 lanes of moving traffic which is being widened to include an intricate system of parallel roadways and ramps that bloat the stretch of highway to some 20 or so lanes.

The "Connector" through Midtown Atlanta as it approaches Downtown on a typical evening commute.

But even with the large vehicle capacity, through truck ban, HOV lanes, and parallel roads the highway is still a congested mess each rush hour and often throughout much of the day (including weekends). The problem in Atlanta is that their rail system, MARTA, does not run along either the I-75 or I-85 densely populated and traveled corridors.


When planning for the reconstruction of I-75 through Cincinnati, community leaders need to think beyond the asphalt and realize that additional transportation modes are what will ultimately reduce congestion along the I-75 corridor. Light rail right-of-way is reportedly being planned for in the redesigns and needs to be a serious priority of the effort. It would be short-sighted and misguided to attempt to ease congestion by only addressing one mode of transportation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A sneak peek inside Senate

Cincinnati newest restaurant is slated to open next month in the heart of Over-the-Rhine's Gateway Quarter. I was able to sit down recently and chat with Senate's chef/co-owner, Daniel Wright, about the restaurant. Before I left the new space I was able to grab a few photos. Enjoy!


Madison Road getting $5.76M makeover through Oakley

The City of Cincinnati will begin work on Madison Road from Ridge Avenue to Oakley Square's eastern edge at Allston Street (map) this February. The work, valued at $5.76 million, will be performed by Adleta Construction and last through November 2010.


Just over $4 million will come from Cincinnati Water Works for the installation of new water mains according to Cincinnati Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) officials. Concurrently, another $1.54 million will be invested by the City for additional infrastructure improvements to the stretch of roadway.


"The project improves the geometrics of the intersection of Madison Road and Ridge Avenue to allow all vehicular turning movements to maneuver safely and decrease accidents," said DOTE Senior Engineer Danny Jones who also stated that the project is in coordination with the Kennedy Connector plan.


The City will also make streetscaping improvements in the Oakley Business District that will include the following in addition to new sidewalks, walls and steps under the railroad overpass on Madison Road.

  • Sidewalk & Curb Replacements
  • New Street Trees
  • Installation of Decorative Signs & Meter Posts
  • Pedestrian Level Lighting

During construction City officials state that one lane of traffic will remain open in each direction along Madison Road, but encourage drivers to use extra caution and reduced speeds through the area.


Oakley Business District photo by reyerd on Flickr.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Super OTR Bowl Party at Venue 222 - 2/7

If you're still looking to make plans for the big game, look no more. Venue 222 and the Over-the-Rhine Foundation are co-hosting the first annual Super OTR Bowl Party from 5pm to 10pm on Sunday, February 7 at Venue 222's urban event space on 14th Street.


The cover charge for the event is $20 and will not only get you in the door, but also get you all the Moerlein Lager & Ales, Little Kings, Hudy Delight, Hudy 14-K, and Burger Classic you care to enjoy. Event organizers also say that there will be wine, soda and water also available. Food will be available for purchase (menu below) from Cincinnati's latest and greatest food mavens - Cafe de Wheels.


The best part about the event, besides the terrific food and drink available, is that all of the proceeds will go to support the Over-the-Rhine Foundation and their efforts to make the historic neighborhood the centerpiece of a revitalized Cincinnati. Organizers also state that there will be several large televisions and projection screens for game/commercial viewing.


Venue 222 (map) is located in the heart of the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and is well-served by Metro bus routes (plan your trip now). Reservations are required due to the limited seating available, and can be made online.


Cafe de Wheels Super OTR Bowl Menu
(beef provided by Avril-Bleh, rolls by Giminetti, and veggies from Daisy Mae's):

  • Burger /Sandwich Combo PICK TWO include Regular or Sweet potato fries $8.00 with 3 minis $10.00
  • Mini Wheels Burger; American cheese, lettuce, tomato, balsamic onion marmalade + Mike’s mayo
  • Mini Wheels Veggie Burger; Beets, brown rice, lentils, onions, carrots, mushrooms, eggs and more…
  • Mini Cincinnati Cuban; Sliced ham, Roasted Cuban pork, Baby Swiss, Grilled onions, Dill Pickle, Butter, Mustard
  • Mini Wheels Crispy Chicken, seasoned flour/buttermilk, with lettuce and tomato
  • Mett Grilled! Served with mustard, sauerkraut, onions, jalapeño peppers, relish.
  • Chili Fries de Mike; A basket of crinkle cuts topped with Mike’s Chili & Cheddar

Venue 222 photo crudely taken from Venue 222's website.

SCPA to feature young talent tomorrow at the Carnegie

The Carnegie Visual & Performing Arts Center hosts an evening to showcase budding local talent tomorrow, Thursday, January 21 at 7:30pm in the acoustically superb Otto M. Budig Theatre. The event will feature Cincinnati’s School of Creative & Performing Arts (SCPA) instrumental Jazz Combo, Meridian 8 vocal ensemble, and young composer and pianist Jonathan Carlisle. The event is the third in a series of six performances as part of the 2009-10 Carnegie in Concert series.


Meridian 8 is a vocal jazz octet featuring students in grades 9-12. Directed by SCPA music department chair Rick Hand, the ensemble features arrangements written for groups including Manhattan Transfer, and allows students opportunities to learn and practice improvisation and scat singing. The Jazz Combo is a similarly select ensemble of the school’s top instrumentalists, who cut their teeth on the masterpieces of the repertoire under director and respected local musician Erwin Stuckey.


SCPA pianist and composer Jonathan Carlisle will perform a number of original compositions. “It’s the type of music you hear in movies,” said Carlisle. “Strong melodies that you can really latch onto.” One piece Carlisle is particularly excited to perform at The Carnegie is entitled Metamorphosis. “It’s a dramatic piece about one thing evolving into another.”


Tickets to Carnegie in Concert performances are available for $18 at The Carnegie Box Office (Tuesday through Friday 12pm to 5pm), online, or by phone at (859) 957-1940. Students, holders of the Cincinnati Public Ratio Perks Card, members of the Carnegie, and members of Enjoy the Arts each receive a $3 discount.


Carnegie photo from CityBeat.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Week In Soapbox - 1/19

This Week in Soapbox UrbanCincy has the following seven stories that you must check out. Read about OTR's newest restaurant, the Merc's renovated Downtown digs, Metro's new articulated buses, a possible new entertainment venue Downtown, and $24M for neighborhood stabilization efforts. Also be sure to check out Sean Rhiney's 10 things to look for in 2010 feature story, and Virginia Baker's Cincinnati tour guide.


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 1/19/10:
  • Senate to open in Over-the-Rhine's Gateway Quarter this February - full article
  • Historic Mercantile Library reopens after refreshing restoration - full article
  • Metro adds capacity to heaviest traveled corridors with new articulated buses - full article
  • Lawyers Title Building looking to sing a new tune - full article
  • Regional consortium lands $24M to clean up neighborhoods - full article
  • 10 Things to Watch in 2010 (feature story) - full article
  • My Ten Year Old Tour Guide (feature story) - full article

Zipcars don't live here

As Cincinnati painstakingly works its way towards a more comprehensive transit network we must not forget that American cities are largely built around the automobile and sometimes having access to an automobile makes life easier. This does not mean that you must own and maintain a personal automobile though.


The option for those looking to live car-free or at least car-light is urban car sharing which has taken off in several American cities. In a nutshell urban car sharing compliments lifestyles that use public transit, walking and/or cycling as a primary means of transportation. In these cases the car sharing then acts as an option for trips otherwise not possible through the aforementioned means of transportation.


Out-of-town trips, special occasions (i.e. moving, joy ride, date), or trips to locations accessible only by automobiles are then made easily accessible for those not interesting in owning and maintaining a costly automobile. Users of car sharing programs like Zipcars have been found to reduce the number of automobiles per household and increase their usage of transit, bicycling and walking.


Programs such as these are often popular in high density urban locations well-served by public transit or near places with low car ownership rates like college campuses. In Midtown Atlanta alone there are 21 Zipcar locations that serve the high density urban community which is also home to the Georgia Institute of Technology and its 20,000 students. Comparatively, Uptown Cincinnati has zero Zipcar locations to serve its high density urban community and the University of Cincinnati's roughly 40,000 students.


If you look further to downtown Atlanta you can add in another seven Zipcar locations with two more in the Inman Park/Little Five Points area just a stones throw away. In downtown Cincinnati and historic Over-the-Rhine the trend continues with zero Zipcar locations serving a higher density urban community than its Atlanta counterpart.


In the rest of Atlanta another 14 Zipcar locations can be found bringing the total to 44 Zipcar locations in Metro Atlanta with one to two cars per location while Cincinnati has none. Meanwhile in Cincinnati car-free individuals struggle to make things work in a limited-bus and car only city with many more looking to have the option of living car-free or car-light.


The number of American cities that boast public transit systems comprehensive enough to allow for mainstream car-free lifestyles can be counted on one hand. As a result car sharing programs like Zipcars play an instrumental role in the process of creating a lesser demand for personal automobiles. And it seems to me like Cincinnati is a perfect urban region for such a program, and regional leaders in Cincinnati should examine establishing a local carsharing program as has been done in cities like Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Friday, January 15, 2010

'Spring Awakening' Not Your Average High School Musical

Failure, young love, parental pressure, abortion, homosexuality, suicide, sex, abuse, repressed hormones, and getting kicked out of school. It's not the description of the next hot reality show, it's the plot line to an out of this world musical.


If overbearing divas with vibrato and too many jazz hands come to mind when you think of "musical theater," the newest show of the Broadway Series at the Aronoff Center may cause you to reconsider your definition. Spring Awakening: A New Musical is actually a very old play and has won eight Tony Awards. Author and playwright Frank Wedekind wrote Spring Awakening in 1891, and the translated version serves as the basis for this emotion-charged musical that is more rock concert than Rogers and Hammerstein.


Spring Awakening follows the lives of teenagers in 19th Century Germany as they struggle with teenage angst and blossoming sexual desires in an intensely repressed society. Though the source material is over 100 years old, the feelings and emotions that are represented are universal and carry through to today.


Andy Mientus (Hanschen) explores his body [LEFT]. The girls sing about their repressed feelings surrounding their sexuality [RIGHT]. Photos provided.

Tony and Grammy award winner Duncan Sheik composed the music to accompany the storyline. His songs range from alterna-folk ballads to upbeat rockin' numbers, all with lyrics that truly speak to the raw emotions experienced by the kids on stage. Instead of headset or lapel mikes, the actors whip out hand held microphones or belt the tunes from on stage. This unique choice makes for a great sound experience, since the soloists are well heard, and the group numbers blend together beautifully.


The set design by Christine Jones and lighting by Kevin Adams make for amazing visuals. The stage is set in a bare bones style that evokes an old German brick school, with actors rarely leaving the stage. Props on the wall and a dazzling array of lighting styles juxtapose the stark reality of the storyline with the neon emotions of the teenage mind. Some of the audience members actually sit on the stage, with cast members sitting next to them between songs... unless they're running, jumping, rolling around on the floor, doing crazy hand motions, having sex, or flipping you off.


The majority of the cast is young - either just out of undergrad or even high school. Look out for Christy Altomare, who plays the female lead of Wendla. She is a graduate of University of Cincinnati's CCM as of 2008, and brings a sense of innocence and a crystal clear singing voice to her role. Honestly, the entire cast is superb - their energy keeps the show flowing smoothly and they blend together as a group better than the kids on Glee. Other notable roles include Taylor Trensch as the uniquely coiffed Moritz, and Angela Reed and John Wojda who play all the adults in the show.


The adult themes within the show may not be appropriate for young children. So leave the eight year old at home, but if you've seen a Judd Apatow film (especially an unrated one), you've seen more risque material.


Spring Awakening is playing at the Aronoff Center for the Arts (map) now through Sunday, January 24. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased online, by phone at (513) 621-2787, or in person at the Aronoff Center box office at 650 Walnut Street in downtown Cincinnati. Off-street automobile and bicycle parking is available and the Aronoff Center is well-serviced by Metro’s Government Square bus hub. To see which route is most convenient for you, and to plan your trip now, use Metro’s Trip Planner.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Metro adds five new articulated buses to its fleet

Articulated buses have arrived in Cincinnati and will be used along Metro's highest capacity corridors to add capacity and improve productivity. Each of the five new articulated buses has a capacity in excess of 100 people (62 seated, 50+ standing) which represents a 50 percent increase over normal bus capacity.


“The articulated buses are workhorses. They will allow us to carry more customers per bus and increase the efficiency on routes that are frequently crowded,” said Marilyn Shazor, Metro’s CEO. “This is especially important now as we try to stretch every dollar to serve as many customers as possible with a smaller budget.”


New articulated bus images provided by Metro.

Each of the new buses cost just over $611,000 and were paid for primarily with federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) funds that were made available through the Ohio Department of Transportation and the OKI Regional Council of Governments.


The new 24-ton articulated buses are being deployed along Metro's heavily used 43, 45, and 47 bus routes along the Reading Road corridor, and are replacing existing buses that were beyond their useful life according to Metro officials.


Financially these buses represent a potential gain for Metro through the additional capacity added while maintaining the same labor costs with only one bus driver. Future articulated buses are being investigated and might even be hybrid like many of Metro's newer buses.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Clifton Heights traffic signals improve pedestrian safety

The City of Cincinnati has installed two new stoplights in the Clifton Heights neighborhood directly adjacent to the University of Cincinnati. These lights are located at the intersections of Calhoun & Ohio streets as well as Clifton & College Court (the drive at which the college of DAAP is located).


For now the light at Ohio and Calhoun only blinks yellow and red, but will be changed to a full functioning stop light in the future. The DAAP light is fully functioning and allows for drivers turning left out of College Court onto Clifton to have a safe right-of-way.


The new light on Calhoun (map) comes at a particularly troubling spot for pedestrians. The flat straight-a-way had often encouraged drivers to speed down the street just feet away from pedestrians and bicyclists, many of whom cross back and forth across the street.


As a student attending the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning I have experienced the perils of attempting to cross Clifton Street during rush hour. It is a busy, four lane road where drivers often drive over the speed limit. Drivers had a tendency to ignore the small yellow pedestrian crosswalk sign swinging high above the street, and more than once I jumped out of the way to avoid a collision. One memorable morning a van screeched to a halt approximately 6 inches from smashing me into pulpy art student pieces. I gave him a piece of my mind, for sure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This Week In Soapbox 1/12

This Week in Soapbox UrbanCincy has the following eight stories that you must check out. You can read about the Model Group's Forest Square development in Avondale, Revive I-75's Charrette Week, CPA's program on sustainability, the city's ongoing efforts to develop a form-based code, B-Books relocating to expanding digs in Covington's arts district, and CNATI's influence on the local sports reporting scene. Plus there are two tremendous feature articles this week - one on Downtown's historic Court Street district and another on the up-and-coming Brighton area of town.


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 1/12/10:
  • Charrette Weeks kicks off for Revive I-75 - full article
  • Model Group breaks ground on $4.2M Forest Square development - full article
  • Cincinnati Preservation Association to host first-ever sustainability program - full article
  • Cincinnati's form-based code effort to take city leaders back to Nashville - full article
  • B-Books to open up expanded operations in Covington's arts district - full article
  • CNATI website adds independent, local sports reporting voice to city - full article
  • The Bright Side (feature story) - full article
  • Courting a Vision (feature story) - full article

Finance Committee to decide on critical $3.5M for Cincinnati Streetcar

Today at 3pm, Cincinnati City Council's Finance Committee will debate whether to set aside $3.5 million, from the sale of city streetlights to Duke Energy last year, for the Cincinnati Streetcar. When the sale initially took place, the $3.5 million commitment seemed like a sure allocation for the Cincinnati Streetcar, but with a new City Council in place the issue is being debated once again.


Supporters of the Cincinnati Streetcar are encouraging the public to come and speak at the meeting, or at the very least show up in support of the Cincinnati Streetcar. Within the next month or so Cincinnati should find out if it will receive the necessary federal and state funds to make the project a reality, and allocating this $3.5 million is a clear indication of the local support for the project.


Local support is critical when applying for federal and state funding, and the lack of clear local support can often cost projects valuable dollars. So while the previous City Council indicated its support and committed the $3.5 million for the Cincinnati Streetcar, the same does not hold true for the new City Council elected this past November and it could spell serious trouble for the transportation project.


The Finance Committee will meet in the City Council Chambers located at Cincinnati City Hall (map). City Hall is well-served by Queen City Metro routes 1, 6, 10, 32, 33, 40X, 49, and 50. To see which route is most convenient for you, and to plan your trip now, use Metro's Trip Planner.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Jake Speed and the Freddies at Arnold's 1/16

This Saturday, January 16 Cincinnati's oldest bar, Arnold's Bar & Grill, will welcome Jake Speed and the Freddies for a live performance brought to you by Christian Moerlein.


There will be beer specials on Christian Moerlein/Hudepohl Schoenling's wide variety of Cincinnati beers, and Moerlein representatives will even be there all night handing out free Christian Moerlein gear. Arnold's will be serving a special menu that night as consisting of different foods made with each of the Moerlein beers.


Jake Speed and the Freddies will start at 8pm and play throughout the night. Arnold's Bar & Grill offers one of Cincinnati's most unique and comfortable bar scenes, and is easily accessible located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati (map). There is no cover charge for this event.


Arnold's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

The Urban Parking Paradox and the Need for Regulation

As previously discussed, providing the necessary parking to meet local government regulations can be both costly in terms of finances and social impacts to the immediate neighborhood in which the parking is built. The question should be asked about whether parking should be regulated at all in terms of how much should be provided.


In the Central Business District and historic neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine there is roughly 92 acres of surface parking lots. To put this into real terms, the amount of surface parking lots present in our urban core is nearly equal to the entire size of Burnet Woods (89 acres).


The Gateway Quarter parking garage sits empty on a typical Saturday afternoon (left), while much of the on-street parking remains readily available (right) for those looking to shop in the rejuvenated district of Over-the-Rhine.

Many of the commonly used calculations for parking requirements have been seen as arbitrarily derived. One reason this is thought to be the case is because of the limitless variables presented in each particular situation. In an area with high transit ridership and lots of pedestrian activity there should be a lesser requirement for parking than an area that is solely dependent on the automobile. This is reflected in the zoning code to a certain extent, but what would happen if the regulation disappeared completely?


No Regulation:
Parking is an amenity, not infrastructure, and should be treated as such. Government should not be regulating how many square feet of closet space there should be in each dwelling unit, nor should it be regulating how many parking spaces need to be provided for retail and office development. This is something a private developer should know based on their client demands.


If a developer feels that they can successfully renovate a handful of historic rowhouses along Race Street in Over-the-Rhine and provide zero parking spaces, then that should be their risk (or reward). Similarly, if a developer feels that they need X number of parking spaces for their new office tower in the Central Business District, then that too should be up to them. The potential problem with this approach is not providing too little parking, but rather too much.


The areas in black indicate the 92 acres of surface parking located throughout Cincinnati's Central Business District (left) and the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood (right).

Parking Maximums:
Since some might say that no parking regulation whatsoever might allow the market to run wild and produce unsustainable results. In that case the lack of any regulation could be replaced by a parking maximum, or a cap. For Cincinnati this would make most sense in places already developed and built in a way not suitable for parking facilities. This would allow for developers to create the parking they feel is needed up to a certain extent deemed appropriate by the local government.


From there policy makers could decide whether it is in their best interests to allow flexibility with contingencies, or not. For example, a developer could exceed the parking cap if the overage was built with pervious paving, that the additional parking be shared, or if the developer paid into a fund that would then help offset the costs of other infrastructure improvements needed in the affected area.


In a nutshell though this would allow for developers, no matter how big or small, to make the decision of how much parking they actually need with regulation limiting their actions. This would prevent big box retailers from over-parking their sites and thus reduce the amount of impervious surfaces, loss of urban fabric, and other negative externalities.


Both scenarios presented above could be addressed by removing minimum parking requirements. This would enable small businesses and investors to succeed without the costly parking mandates while also not adding additional regulations through maximum parking specifications that would experience similar issues as minimum parking requirement regulations.


But in either case, the above scenarios seem to be better than the current urban parking policies currently used in Cincinnati and widespread across the United States. Both scenarios would empower small businesses and investors while also maintaining a free market system. Both situations would demand less staff time to oversee and thus reduce costs and/or improve service levels at the local government level.

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