Cincinnati Aims for Complete Streets

Complete Streets are regulations that allow streets to be redesigned to focus on shared use with bicycles and mass transit, as well as better conditions for pedestrians. An initiative is underway in Cincinnati to make the city’s streets reoriented toward the users for which they were originally designed.

Diversey Street in Chicago, where drivers, pedestrians and cyclists peacefully coexist. Credit: Randy A. Simes for UrbanCincy

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Some streets in Cincinnati do not feel safe to walk along. Perhaps it is the lack of space between the cars driving by or, in some instances, even the lack of a sidewalk. It’s even more precarious for cyclists, who sometimes have the benefit of designated bicycle lanes, but most of the time compete with cars to share space on the roads.

It was not always like this. When the automobiles first came around at the dawn of the 20th century, they had to compete with a lively street scene that included horse drawn buggies, pedestrians and bicyclists. Tensions came to a boiling point in Cincinnati in 1923, when citizens attempted to pass a ballot initiative limiting the speed of automobiles to 25 miles per hour. The auto industry banded together to defeat the proposition and our streets were never quite the same.

Fast forward to today where Cincinnati City Council’s Livable Communities Committee will listen to an update on the city’s ongoing Complete Streets initiative. The movement, which got its start through a motion sponsored by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in August 2009, is now an integral part of a recent five-day charrette for the city’s Plan Build Live initiative.

Complete Streets are regulations that allow streets to be redesigned to focus on shared use with bicycles and mass transit, as well as better conditions for pedestrians. The problem in Cincinnati, and throughout much of the U.S., is that people drive past what used to be viable places. The initiative, in theory, would improve conditions for many of the city’s struggling neighborhoods by reorienting them towards the users for which they were originally designed.

“We need to ensure that our neighborhood business districts are destinations and not just raceways through town for commuters,” Qualls explained in a recent press release.

The standards aim to improve walkability and slow traffic in business districts. This can be done by adding on-street parking, converting one-way roads to two-way traffic and providing connections through smaller block sizes.

Jocelyn Gibson, a resident of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood who attended last week’s brown bag lunch session on Complete Streets, thinks it’s a great idea. “It’s not just about adding bike lanes; it’s about creating a more economically viable community by restoring walkable livable streets.”

Some of the focus areas mentioned by consultants Hall Planning & Engineering included the conversion of two major thoroughfares into two-way streets and making improvements to the a commercial corridor. The standards, officials say, are part of the city’s form-based code efforts and planned to be finalized by this summer.

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Tags: public transportationbuilt environmentbikingcomplete streetscincinnati

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