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Cincinnati: Downtown: Fort Washington Way Cap Project

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^ thanks. I remember that was the original plan but for some reason I thought I heard they weren't going to do the restaurants and were just going to leave the field alone.  I was probably just imagining things.

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^^ I hope so but looking at the plans it will be tough.  Doesn't look like there will be much open area that doesn't have trees, landscapes, fountains, etc.  The only area looking big enough is to the west of the suspension bridge and it's hard to tell with the non-uniform shape of the lawn if that would be possible.

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What are the 5 gray blocks across the street from the grass lawn south of the Freedom Center?

plan_enlarged.jpg

I don't know what that is but they don't look like stairs

 

Grand Staircase?

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Just saw on Twitter that the Enquirer is suing City Council.

 

brilliant move.  good luck getting quotes and interviews from the mayor and council now.  have fun being last in line for breaking Cincinnati news.

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^Most council members are probably trying to get their quotes into the paper, rather than the paper trying to get quotes from Council members.

 

My guess is that someone at The Enquirer thinks that investigating this will get them either a Pulitzer or help sell papers in the suburbs.  Either way, this still seems like a non-issue issue.  At most they get slapped on the wrist for violating sunshine law.

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Enquirer comments on newest Banks article have many people calling for Caps on FWW.  Considering the difficulty of filling up the retail at the banks (it'll get done, but it's a slow process!) I don't think there will be much demand for developed blocks of retail above FWW.  HOWEVER.  For starters, they might as well do one-two in the next couple years (depending on Financing) and leave it temporarily as grass or something, with the ability to build upon in future phases. 

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Don't call it greenspace.  If you want a flower garden, say flower garden, if you want a city park, say city park, if you want a sculpture garden, say sculpture garden.  If you just say greenspace, then you get grassy berms that are useless and almost always a no-place that people don't want to be in. 

 

I think that any sort of park would be a pretty poor use for such a cap.  Not only for return on investment, but also because a building will better block the noise of the highway.  If it's just an open platform, it'll be doubly unpleasant because the highway noise will just transmit right over it.  Plus, if it starts out as a park of some sort, people will never want to let buildings go there, despite the fact that the central riverfront park is just another two blocks farther south.  Just look at the joke of the Big Dig in Boston.  It's legislated to remain as open space, which keeps it as a large scar through the center of town, the very thing the project was supposed to fix in the first place. 

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That space over FWW does have one advantage, it's the only space in the city that feels something like a grand boulevard, as the rest of Cincinnati feels pretty cramped due to the age of the original ROWs. Nobody wants to sit and regard a roaring freeway, but the scale of the space itself is quite a nice reprieve from the narrow streets of downtown. Even fountain square is not very grand by large urban standards.

 

Will riverfront park fulfill this role of grand urban space? Probably not in quite the same way. It won't be well activated at its edges due to grade, and it itself is separated by Mehring.

 

Perhaps something to activate the cap spaces, like one story restaurant pads or some such thing. I just really like the vista the space provides and the grand feeling.

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PS: No, I don't think Central Parkway is every going to fulfill that role. It's the back door of downtown and the bridge between a large scale urban center and a much more intimate historic neighborhood. Not the kind of grand, alpha space that I'm thinking of.

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Ok, you beat me to the Central Parkway comment, but what would it really achieve anyway?

 

The trouble with such wide-open such spaces is that they sterilize the sort of urban vitality that makes the city the city.  The grand Parisian boulevards work because of how meticulously they were designed to mitigate their size.  Also, the height limit in Paris really forces every last scrap of land to be developed to its maximum potential, so even if the wide straight boulevards aren't as appealing a place to be as the more people-oriented medieval twisty side streets, they were going to be developed anyway. 

 

Overall though, the excessively wide streets only serve to look impressive in pictures.  Because of their size they get choked by traffic and parking, and that chases away the pedestrians which would otherwise be so sorely needed to activate the space.  The fact that Central Parkway didn't become the commercial spine of the city like it was in some cases envisioned, but instead became more of a barrier between downtown and OTR, should be a red flag that such things are NOT good for urban core areas. 

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Central Parkway was actually more of a grand boulevard in the past than it is now, due to demolitions.

 

The wide combination of Third Street, FWW, and Second Street is unique the way it is because of the streetwall. The wide street allows decent viewing angles on the skyscrapers, unlike the canyons of some cities such as New York.

 

A city should have a mix of street types. Fourth Street is unique because it is so narrow, and Thrid Street / FWW / Second Street is unique because it is so wide.

 

The Thanksgiving Day Race was staged on this street. The starting line was on Second Street heading east. The course turned north up Main Street, then looped into Newport and Covington, returning on the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. It returned on Third Street, making the turn back on Second Street and passed under the same starting line, which became the finish line. Second Street was full of runners and spectators, and all of this action happened with the backdrop of the skyscrapers. 15,000 people entered the race. It was grand. Other than filling out the Banks, I wouldn't change a thing.

 

If one must develop every bit of space, I would focus on some of the parking lots to the north of downtown first. Fill them with three and four story buildings, or a little higher if it's on Central Parkway.

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@Jeffrey: Would you say there is a difference in Central Parkway versus Liberty in the design and flow? Central Parkway, post-renovation, features a nice and inviting median that people walk their dogs in (unfortunately, nothing more since it is so small) whereas Liberty features painted lines for a median and some very small median curbs with trees as a buffer.

 

I would say that an opportunity was missed with the Central Parkway work to eliminate the left most lane and add bulb-outs at the corners, which would give room for a wandering sidewalk in the median. Combine that with a low-level fence and landscaping, and it would have made for a nice park - similar to Oakley's square, or Hyde Park. Liberty could be better with more bulb-outs at corners (some were installed not too long ago at Main), more solidified medians with trees and better landscaping, and a more attractive streetscape. BURY the overhead lines and install some decent lighting and traffic signals. And at least time them properly... I'm not sure why each signal operates independently of the adjoining lights.

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I just don't care for Central Parkway at all. I probably sound like a wacko, but one can almost feel its utilitarian, canal spirit. It's got decent dimensions, but something about it just doesn't feel grand.

 

1) It doesn't have a sense of arrival or departure...you sort of veer into it from around the prison, and then it veers off again into the back of music hall. It doesn't feel like its taking you anywhere.

 

2) Its over-designed as a transportation route. In fact, I think it would be a lot cooler if they made it three simple lanes each way, blew out the median "parks" (which I think are quite pathetic even now), brought the lanes to the center, and gave the sidewalks the extra 20 feet or so on each side. Then plant a double tree row on each side, blow up that heinous utility facility at the western end and build something there that properly terminates the vista. Only then would it feel like a grand road and not a leftover canal that the city didn't really know what to do with.

 

3) 2nd/3rd and the trench just feels like a more impressive scale, the buildings on either side are more intense, the sense of arrival and departure is more meaningful, and in 15 years there will be far more pedestrian activity there than at Central. Grassy berms are the worst solution, of course. Perhaps a marquee single story building in the middle of each capped block that leave a generous area around each one for a very wide sidewalk-slash-plaza. That way you activate the cap, but leave the actual canyon-forming structures to the north and south. I dunno, just my opinion.

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There's probably a north-south bias for the lights through OTR.  Many traffic signals in the city, even if they're not set up for a green wave, are connected to one another with a timing circuit so that they can be at least somewhat coordinated. 

 

There's certainly a difference between Liberty and Central Parkway from a design and operational standpoint.  Liberty is a 1960s-1970s era mega arterial (like Linn, MLK, Dana, and Jefferson) whose only purpose is to move cars.  Central Parkway was intended to be a more "grand boulevard" along with Ezzard Charles, and they were more Haussman-like in their ideals.  Ezzard Charles plowed through the West End not unlike the interstate highways a few decades later.  The difference is that these wide boulevards and parkways were supposed to be a framework for new development along them, as much of the cruft had been cleared out around them.  Central Parkway was a little different since it didn't require demolition to carve its path, but like Ezzard Charles or Victory Parkway in Walnut Hills, the thought was that having a beautiful tree-lined boulevard would encourage new development along it, sweeping out the tenements in the West End and the factories along the old canal. 

 

Ultimately though, very little of that happened.  Much of Central Parkway is a vacuum, as is Ezzard Charles.  Victory Parkway got a few new art deco buildings, but overall these projects didn't pan out.  They destroy urbanism by trying to be country-like, but it can't compete with the country-like feeling you get in the suburbs or the real country.  This goes back to my comment about green space from earlier.  If you want a park or a plaza, build a park or a plaza.  A landscaped median surrounded by traffic on all sides isn't somewhere that people will want to go.  Places like Hyde Park Square and Piatt Park work because they're in highly pedestrian environments, they're small so that the pedestrians that are there can activate them, the roads around them are highly tamed (Piatt Park more so than Hyde Park Square), and they're very intensely landscaped to create a sense of enclosure and protection from the surrounding traffic. 

 

Could a pleasing environment for people be created between 2nd and 3rd streets when those streets are 5 lane one-way highway collectors/distributors?  Probably not.  It would take a heroic effort to design such a space to be truly great, and what would it accomplish?  3rd Street is already pretty much maxed out, and The Banks are filling out the rest of 2nd Street.  Development is already happening there without the caps. 

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I would tend to agree with you about the fact that 2nd and 3rd act as highway collectors, but after working with some really brilliant transportation planners in my old career I've taken a bit more aggressive stance. What they would say here:

 

All transportation is about two things: access and mobility. The ultimate in access is a finely grained, permeable pedestrian environment where a human being can touch, explore and access everything "within reach." The ultimate in mobility is an interstate that has no travel impediments. Usually, transportation ends up being some balance of these two.

 

We live in a culture that has more or less surrendered to pure mobility. But I don't need to rehash that story here. One of the effects, though, is that we have become hesitant to tame mobility in the name of access. We feel that urban interstates, for example, must certainly provide much more economic value in mobility than the resultant access would provide if we turned them into at-grade boulevards. But that's probably a myth. Likewise, 2nd and 3rd might be important routes for mobility, but they are at-grade and downtown, which, according to a more access-oriented paradigm, is much much more important that the fact they they feed interstates.

 

Point of this babbling: 2nd might fly out into freeway ramps at Main, but don't be afraid of that. It can be tamed by intention. There can be some kind of intensity there, just one block away.

 

I feel like we are saying similar things, with a twist. I'm just saying that of all the spots in the core, this one has the most potential to be a grand type of space, even though it sits over an interstate and the edges aren't fully activated...yet. The intensity has good potential to show up in the next 10 years, and fuck the wide roads. Those cars can slow down.

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My point is that 2nd and 3rd streets are themselves highways that are hostile to pedestrians simply because of their width, even ignoring the trench between them.  Wide roads are a pain to cross for pedestrians not only because of the length of time it takes to simply traverse that 50-60 feet of pavement, but also because wide roads encourage drivers to speed.  One-way streets are even worse, and wide lanes exacerbate the problem further.  So even if the entire length of FWW was capped and had buildings on them, 2nd and 3rd streets are still "problems" all on their own.  5th Street by P&G is almost as bad, and 6th and Central near the convention center and city hall are trouble spots too. 

 

One of the things that makes downtown Cincinnati so great is the narrowness of the streets.  It allows you, as a pedestrian, to engage both sides of the street at once visually.  It makes crossing the streets a lot easier, and you can even jaywalk without too much difficulty.  All this makes people want to be out on the street more, then stores want to engage the sidewalks, and it creates a positive feedback loop.  If every street was 6 or 7 lanes wide, like you see in places as close as Columbus and Dayton, then buildings and people tend to retreat.  You get more plazas, skywalks, and atriums, none of which enhance the urban environment, but only serve to suck it dry even more.  In that case it's a negative feedback loop. 

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5th street by P&G is WAY too large- it becomes 7 lanes wide! As it's possible/likely that the Taft Theater, now after its major renovation and that it's new manager is the Symphony's MEMI, Inc. (operator of Riverbend), will become much busier (has air conditioning now and can be used during summer, twice as many restrooms, etc) it would be great to add bump outs to 5th and Sycamore.

 

Here is my totally crappy example:

 

217pso.png

 

The now shrunken lane in front of the Taft entrance could be used for Valet to other local structures/lots since there is no onsite parking for patrons..  It does NOT cut into a lane of traffic, as the lane on the other side of the intersection (behind viewer, on right) is a right turn only lane. 

 

__________

 

And my tie in to bring this back to topic....

 

By adding the bumpouts the road becomes roughly same width as 3rd and 2nd streets, which are currently 5 lanes across (I know... lanes on 2nd and 3rd are wider than lanes on 5th).

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With 5th street in front of P&G, they really ought to reduce it to 5 lanes, make the sidewalk that much wider in front of the Taft, and implement the bump-outs and valet space you've recommended.

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For perspective, the 1925 Master Plan advocated demolition of all the building facades on one side of 5th street to widen the roadway. How they were supposed to cut the front off of all the buildings and keep them functional I don't know.

 

 

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As if Detroit's streets weren't crazy wide enough to begin with.  Woodward is 9 lanes through much of the city.  It has this completely disproportionate feel to it.  Even the streetcars looked downright miniscule in such a large sea of pavement.  Historic photos of Detroit show many magnificent buildings, but even many high rises look dwarfed by the expansive spaces around them.

 

http://www.shorpy.com/Woodward-Avenue-Detroit-1942

http://www.shorpy.com/node/197

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What's strange is how Boston's avenues are in places significantly wider than Detroit's, but they feel narrower. I think it's only natural that the narrowness of downtown Boston's streets compelled city fathers to lay out wide avenues from the Common on out, but I think those 150+ foot streets motivated places like Detroit to survey 100+ foot avenues. 

 

So in case anyone's wondering, the FWW trench is 160~ feet wide, and the total width of 2nd, 3rd, and the trench is about 360 feet.  If it was considered one street, it would be pretty much the widest in the United States. 

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My point is that 2nd and 3rd streets are themselves highways that are hostile to pedestrians simply because of their width, even ignoring the trench between them.  Wide roads are a pain to cross for pedestrians not only because of the length of time it takes to simply traverse that 50-60 feet of pavement, but also because wide roads encourage drivers to speed.  One-way streets are even worse, and wide lanes exacerbate the problem further.  So even if the entire length of FWW was capped and had buildings on them, 2nd and 3rd streets are still "problems" all on their own.  5th Street by P&G is almost as bad, and 6th and Central near the convention center and city hall are trouble spots too. 

 

One of the things that makes downtown Cincinnati so great is the narrowness of the streets.  It allows you, as a pedestrian, to engage both sides of the street at once visually.  It makes crossing the streets a lot easier, and you can even jaywalk without too much difficulty.  All this makes people want to be out on the street more, then stores want to engage the sidewalks, and it creates a positive feedback loop.  If every street was 6 or 7 lanes wide, like you see in places as close as Columbus and Dayton, then buildings and people tend to retreat.  You get more plazas, skywalks, and atriums, none of which enhance the urban environment, but only serve to suck it dry even more.  In that case it's a negative feedback loop. 

 

They shouldn't be highways, they are city streets. The tendency for the DOT to turn streets into freeways is due to mobility obsession. You get any destination large enough, and ODOT wants to "serve" it with capacity. Everyone here is aware of this tendency. The only way to "get the city back" is to manhandle these big streets back into being what they should be about: access, not mobility.

 

I do not want to believe that we have invested nearly a billion dollars just to reclaim 6 blocks that remain forever isolated from downtown by zooming traffic. The only way to address this stuff is to just decide that it has to change. Vine along Fountain Square is 5 lanes, and people seem to navigate it OK. Just because you can get off 75 onto 2nd and get right back on to 71 doesn't mean you should, or that the street should be designed that way. Clearly you can't two-way these suckers, but I think they are probably over-designed.

 

Curiously, you seem to be arguing against your assertion that filling the caps out with buildings is better than a plaza, if the streets are too big and fast to promote a proper ped environment?

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I think that there is some tendency to want to step on it while driving on 2nd after being stopped at a light.  This is a symptom of the width of the streets and the lanes, as has been stated.  But I don't think people are motivated to drive as quickly on 3rd because of the street wall to the right, the on-street parking, and the high retaining wall on the left between Broadway and Sycamore. 

 

If light rail is ever built on 2nd street in the way planned as part of Metro Moves, then traffic will slow slightly, even when there's not a train in sight.

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^^If the caps are ever built, it seems that you could fix some of that by reclaiming a lane from 2nd and from 3rd to make the new blocks larger.  That would leave them both with 4 lanes and open up more space for development.  Those caps would be pretty narrow otherwise.

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On 3rd Street maybe, but the stairs/elevators/escalators to the transit center on 2nd Street might be a bit of a problem, same with the overall structure of the transit center itself.  Of course, even if buildings can't be brought closer together, devoting more space to sidewalks instead of the roadway is better than nothing.  Especially down there with all the foot traffic from Reds games and leaving room for street vendors and such. 

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Sidewalks on the Transit Center side of 2nd Street are very narrow in some places.


"It's just fate, as usual, keeping its bargain and screwing us in the fine print..." - John Crichton

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The sidewalks flanking the trench are way too narrow. It would help immensely if a lane on each side was turned in to sidewalk and a buffer lane of street parking was allowed.

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>reclaiming a lane from 2nd and from 3rd

 

Again, light rail might take a lane from each.  The pavement on 2nd St. above the transit center is designed for the easy installation of light rail tracks (they won't have to break it up down to the rebar).  This is also the case with the Main and Walnut overpasses.

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