by Nick Swartsell 01.13.2015
Posted In: News at 11:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Questions over new OTR parking plan; Kasich gets a little teary-eyed; the Internet is faster than the earth's rotation, and that's a problem

Morning y’all. I know, I know. I skipped our news rundown yesterday, but I had a good excuse: I spent some time at City Hall finding out about poverty-related challenges facing Cincinnati in the new year and efforts to address those issues, which I’ll be reporting on in-depth soon. In the meantime, let’s play catch up. There’s a new parking plan for Over-the-Rhine floating around, and while it will cost less than Mayor John Cranley’s initial proposal to enact the highest residential parking fees in the country, some folks still aren’t happy about the impact it could have on low-income residents in the neighborhood. The earlier plan, which floated a yearly $300 fee to park in OTR, was aimed at funding streetcar operating costs. Now those costs have been accounted for, but parking in the neighborhood is still kind of a mess. So the city’s transportation department has a new plan: a $108 yearly permit for residents, who will be limited to one car per person and two permits per household. Residents living in low-cost subsidized housing would pay $16 a year for their permits. Four-hundred-two spaces would be made available to permit holders in the neighborhood. Another 646 would have parking meters and the remaining 199 would be up for grabs by anyone at any time, completely unregulated. Those spots are aimed at OTR workers who commute in every morning. Vice Mayor David Mann questioned whether those spaces would really go to workers in the neighborhood. Others, including OTR Community Council President Ryan Messer, raised concerns about low-income residents in the neighborhood. Messer pointed out that not all of the neighborhood’s residents who are low-income live in subsidized housing. The city is hoping to get the permitting program running by spring.• Staying in Over-the-Rhine for a moment, let's talk about an international game design competition coming to the neighborhood later this month. Local startup ChoreMonster will host the Global Game Jam Jan. 23-25 at The Brandery headquarters in OTR. Past events have attracted game designers from 485 cities and 73 countries. Competitors are given 48 hours to design a game around a prompt given the opening day of the event. That game can run on any platform — mobile app, Mac, PC, or even the oldest-fashioned game platform of all — a kitchen table or dorm room floor. Yes, board and card games are allowed.  • Well, it happened, you already know about it, it was huge, etc., but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Ohio State University’s college football national title win last night. They upset Oregon, everyone in the state is wearing red and gray and so forth. And oh yeah, predictably, a bunch of people in Columbus set fire to a bunch of couches and stuff, knocked down goal posts at the OSU stadium, got arrested, etc. Here’s a handy AP style/word-usage note I’ve picked up from journalists covering the unrest: Apparently these kinds of things aren’t riots if they’re over football games. Instead, they’re “revelry.” Noted. Meanwhile, a furniture store that ran a promotion promising free furniture for customers if OSU won by more than seven points will pay more than $1.5 million in rebates after yesterday’s win, which maybe explains why people were burning all those old couches. • So, will Ohio’s conservative Gov. John Kasich back a plan put forward by President Barack Obama to provide two years of free community college education for Americans? It’s too soon to say for sure, but the governor’s office released some cautiously almost-supportive language in response to the idea and said the gov is interested in the details. States will be footing a quarter of the bill for the plan and must opt-in for residents to be eligible for the proposed program. If conservative governors like Kasich were to support the plan, it would be a major bipartisan moment, since anything Obama does usually causes howls of socialism from the Republican party. • Speaking of Kasich, he was sworn in yesterday for his second term as governor of Ohio. His 45-minute speech had few surprises, though he did kind of tear up a couple times (Ohio Republicans are an emotional lot, if Kasich and Rep. John Boehner are any indications) and took what seemed to be a passive-aggressive jab at the state’s legislature. He thanked the body, which is dominated by his fellow Republicans, for helping him expand Medicaid back in 2013. The joke is that the state legislature fought Kasich all the way to the end on the expansion. Perhaps it’s a sharp elbow from the governor as Ohio considers this year whether it will renew its acceptance of federal funds for the expansion.• Finally, I’ve noted on this blog before that 90s throwback steez (my use of the word “steez” is proof of my late 90s slang savvy) is at an all-time high. We’re even going to have a repeat of that whole Y2K panic. It seems we’re all too fast for the planet and we’ve gotten ahead of the earth’s inconsistent rotation by about a second. That means we’ll need a so-called “leap second” this year. OK, no big deal, just count down to zero on New Year’s Eve 2015, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Turns out computer software hates it when you just go tacking extra seconds onto reality. The last leap second in 2012 crashed Yelp, Reddit, Gawker and other big websites. That actually sounds like a wonderful way to start a new year. Software engineers have worked out a fix to the problem, but the question is whether that fix will be implemented across all the various programs that like, run the Internet. I just hope Tumblr is OK and Buzzfeed is not. Hit me up with news tips, frostbite prevention tips or just tips (paypal accepted): nswartsell@citybeat.com or via Twitter before it crashes: @nswartsell.
by Nick Swartsell 10.30.2014
Posted In: News at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City Passes Ride Sharing Regulations

Insurance minimums, trip logs and driver background checks among requirements

City Council yesterday voted to approve rules governing ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, the first time since the companies came here in March that they’ve been regulated by the city.“I don’t know if it will ever be perfect, but in other cities, they’ve outright banned Uber and Lyft,” said Councilwoman Amy Murray, the transportation committee chair. “I think we’ve put together a perfect plan for this point in time, where we’re managing safety in Cincinnati without over-regulation. If we don’t have anything, there’s nothing on the books.”The new regulations classify the ridesharing companies as “transportation network companies” and require them to carry a license with the city costing $10,000 a year. License requirements include $100,000 in liability insurance, keeping trip records for six months, as cab companies must do, requirements for background checks on drivers and minimum requirements for vehicles. When rideshare companies first came to town, cab companies in the city cried foul at the lack of regulation the tech-savvy newcomers enjoyed. Representatives from cab companies protested outside City Hall and lobbied for rule changes. Some rules placed on cab companies, like regulations when drivers can wear shorts, are arcane and burdensome, companies say. Murray said the rules are due for an adjustment.“Certainly this brought out some things in our taxi regulations right now that have not been updated in a while,” she said. “We need to look at that, and our committee will be doing that.”Uber and Lyft have said they’re fundamentally different from taxi companies and shouldn’t be regulated the same way.Uber Ohio General Manager James Ondrey told CityBeat in July that Uber doesn’t oppose all regulations, since the company does some of the things required of cab companies anyway. But he also said the company isn’t the same as a taxi company.“Uber is a technology company,” Ondrey said. “We’ve built a mobile platform that connects users with drivers giving rides. They’re not employees. They’re independent contractors who pay a small fee to us to use our platform.”Many of the regulations Council passed yesterday are things the companies already do voluntarily. Vice Mayor David Mann had some reservations about the regulations and voted against them, saying they didn’t go far enough in terms of insurance and holding ride sharing companies accountable for the fares they’re charging.He said the $25,000 in insurance the companies will be required to carry for accidents where they’re not at fault is too low and could leave citizens under-covered if an uninsured driver hits a ride share car. He also said the companies aren’t transparent enough with the city about their rates.“We are letting them operate on our streets under the license we issue,” Mann said, “and we have no way to direct, easy way to make sure we’re comfortable with what they’re charging.”The companies generally show the rates on their apps, but the rates are variable due to peak pricing schemes, which some have found confusing.Overall, however, Council was supportive of the regulations, which have been in the works for five months and have gone through six versions in Council’s transportation committee. Mann was the only dissenting vote.“This is as close as we were going to get to perfect,” Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said. “I think it’s a show that Cincinnati is open to business and that we’re working to be the big, great city we already are.” Simpson pointed out that cabs still have cabstands and can be hailed. “Uber and Lyft don’t have that,” she said.

Streetcar Advocates Expand Focus to Uptown and Beyond

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots group that played a big role advocating for the Cincinnati streetcar during and since the infamous City Hall pause, is expanding its focus beyond Over-the-Rhine.  

Pushing Pause

Vice Mayor Mann set to propose altered bike project to save on-street parking

4 Comments · Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The city’s cost of a long-planned piece of cycling infrastructure could more than double if City Council approves a motion Vice Mayor David Mann planned to introduce on April 23.    
by Anthony Skeens 04.22.2014
Posted In: Mayor, News at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

New Bikeway Proposal Could Cost Additional $110,000

Vice Mayor Mann set to introduce motion to save parking spaces

The city’s cost of a long-planned piece of cycling infrastructure could more than double if City Council approves a motion Vice Mayor David Mann planned to introduce on April 23.  Mayor John Cranley successfully paused the Central Parkway Bikeway Project for public discourse in response to a handful of business owners and residents taking exception to it, and a spokesman for Mann shared his suggested compromise with CityBeat today. In response to an April 21 special Neighborhoods Committee meeting, Mann seeks to alter the bike route to appease people who don’t want to see parking spaces removed, but the updated plan will cost an additional $110,00 on top of the $82,600 the city would pay under the original plan, which would create the beginning of a cycling corridor running from Elm Street downtown to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. The project was supposed to break ground next month and could lose $330,400 in federal money if the contract isn’t awarded by May 1.  “We routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as a city to create new jobs in our community,” Mann said in a statement. “We should not approve a new project that places 60 newly created jobs in jeopardy when such a sensible accommodation is available.” The planned bikeway is an innovative piece of cycling infrastructure meant to better protect cyclists along a critical thoroughfare that would connect a number of inner-city neighborhoods and business districts. The lane will be protected, meaning cyclists will have their own lane with a buffer separating them from traffic; in some areas plastic bollards will separate the bike and automobile lanes. The street will not be widened, so traffic lanes will be impacted through restriping, and parking will be restricted during peak traffic hours in the morning and evening.  Opponents of the project are concerned about losing public, on-street parking for parts of the day as well as potentially encountering traffic issues from shaving lanes from Brighton Place to Liberty Street. They also worry the bollards will become a blight issue and emergency vehicles will be impeded during one-lane hours. Mann’s motion supports an alternative plan for a section running from Ravine Street to Brighton Place that would preserve 23 parking spaces full-time, alter 4,300 square feet of greenspace and remove 15 trees at an estimated cost of $110,000. The parking spaces would benefit a building owner and his tenants at 2145 Central Parkway.  City Councilman Chris Seelbach and others demonstrated frustration with the administration’s interest in stepping in at the 11th hour.  “I think we have reached a new era in Cincinnati: two steps forward, pause, lots of long meetings, two steps forward, and I’m convinced after the pause and lots of long meetings, we will continue to go two steps forward today,” Seelbach said at the April 21 meeting.  Mayor Cranley requested City Manager Scott Stiles delay awarding a contract after meeting with local business owner Tim Haines, who purchased a vacant building located at 2145 Central Parkway in 2012 for $230,000. His building now houses 65 employees from 12 different businesses including his own, Relocation Strategies. Haines has become a mouthpiece for the opposition to the bikeway — though he adamantly states he is not against the lane; he is just against the project’s current incarnation as it affects Central Parkway near his business, which utilizes 500 feet of on-street, unmetered parking, which translates to 30 parking spaces. “If parking wasn’t an issue, I would open up my arms and welcome the bike path,” Haines says. “Parking for my 65 tenants is in jeopardy. As a business owner I have to fight for my tenants. … Could they park and walk a quarter of a mile? They could, but that’s not what they signed up for when they moved in.” Haines has a 16-space parking lot adjacent to his building that some of his tenants use and also owns a parking lot across the street that is in disrepair. Haines says he already cleared it of underbrush to cut down criminal activity and disposed of dozens of tires and beer bottles. He says it would cost up to $300,000 to upgrade the lot.  During the April 21 presentation, Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) Director Michael Moore presented the committee with an alternative recently developed with Cranley’s office that he said would appease Haines and his tenants but would cost more money. Moore pushed the notion that the alternative creates a more balanced bikeway plan. The original plan, passed by council last year, restricts parking in front of Haines’ building from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Moore’s alternative, which Mann is on board with, is to ramp the bike lane over the curb adjacent to a sidewalk where there is currently a tree-lined area in front of Haines’ building and another business in order to preserve public parking full-time.  At the meeting, council member Young took exception to the suggestion of changing the project at this point.   “For the life of me, I don’t see where the reasonableness and the balance is with people who come so far after the fact that want us to make these changes and the dollar amount it’s going to cost the taxpayers to get it done,” Young said. “I am appalled that people can come after the fact and tie up all these people down here to simply want accommodations for them.” Mann shared another perspective. “There’s a gentleman who has brought 60 jobs to the city, including some folks who have Parkinson’s and use the building, and the proposal that’s being made seems to me to represent balance,” Mann said. “We spend millions of dollars, typically, to support development, to support jobs, and you’re saying that the proposal that was originally approved by this council without a hearing like this is so pristine that it cant be adjusted in any way, and if it’s adjusted that is a statement of imbalance? I just don’t follow that.” For the past year and a half, DOTE conducted surveys, sought public input and developed plans for the bikeway. After a strong consensus, the department chose the protected bikeway plan. The bikeway is estimated to add just three seconds of motorist commute time by 2030, though some naysayers suggest that delivery trucks will clog the lanes and the turn left from Ravine Street will create an even longer lag.  Community outreach for the design began in March of last year with eight community council meetings. Letters were mailed to residents, businesses and property owners, but Haines and several other business owners stated they didn’t receive any and weren’t aware of the project until late last year.  A website designed for public feedback also garnered about 600 messages mainly supporting the bikeway project. DOTE held an open house last September and the Over-The-Rhine and Northside community councils, Findlay Market and Northside Business Association endorsed the project.  Simpson expressed frustration with halting progress for a last-minute meeting. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate process,” she said. “Really, technically you can go over everything over the past two years. The reality is we need to look forward. If we want to be less auto-focused and more focused on other types of transit, we’re going to have to ruffle a couple of feathers.” Supporters — some who biked to the April 21 meeting and utilized a bike valet setup in front of City Hall — represented various groups of the community from health and community councils to business owners and cyclists. Their number doubled opponents — mainly business owners along Central Parkway in the West End and the West End Community Council, though some West End residents and business owners supported the original bikeway plan.

Easier Said Than Done

Balanced budget, pension reform among tough tasks facing incoming council members hoping not to raise taxes

1 Comment · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
 A majority of newly elected council members say they’re committed to structurally balancing Cincinnati’s operating budget — a promise repeated by Mayor-elect John Cranley on the campaign trail and following the Nov. 5 election.    

Swinging Support

Two of nine council members could decide the streetcar project’s fate on Dec. 19

0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Two council members could decide the $132.8 million streetcar project's fate on Dec. 18, just two weeks after they voted to pause.  
by German Lopez 12.19.2013
Posted In: Mayor, Streetcar at 02:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Cincinnati Streetcar Saved

Council gets six votes to override mayor's veto and continue project

After nearly two months of ups and downs, city leaders on Thursday announced Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all. Speaking prior to a council vote, Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Kevin Flynn announced City Council has the six votes to overcome the mayor's veto and restart construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project.Flynn was the final holdout in what some council members now call the "streetcar six." He was asking for a commitment from private contributors to cover the annual operating costs for the streetcar, which consulting firm KPMG estimated at $1.88-$2.44 million a year after fares and sponsorships.The philanthropic Haile Foundation lived up to part of the commitment by signing onto $900,000 a year for 10 years, Flynn announced. That was enough of a commitment to move forward as the city makes a broader effort to get all the operating costs off the city's books, he said. "That is a huge commitment, folks," Flynn added. Flynn also acknowledged that the streetcar could foster new revenues in the city's operating budget and actually allow the city to take on bigger responsibilities.Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the streetcar project will generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. Flynn, a Charterite, joined Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young in support of restarting the project. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted against it. Still, Cranley said he will continue opposing the streetcar project. He repeatedly stated council is making the wrong decision. "I'm disappointed in the outcome," said Cranley, who ran in opposition to the streetcar.Flynn reiterated his respect for Cranley, despite effectively dealing a major blow to Cranley's agenda. Cranley "helped me get elected to this position, and I take that trust seriously," Flynn said.Others were glad the city can now take on different issues without getting mired down in a contentious streetcar debate."I am so glad that this issue is done and over with," said Vice Mayor Mann, who voted in favor of the project. Mann officially changed his stance on the project after KPMG's audit found canceling the project could cost nearly as much as completing it. The final decision came at a cost to Cincinnati: The two-week pause of the project, which allowed KPMG to conduct its review, added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to KPMG's audit. The city also allocated $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.Once it's completed, the streetcar line will run as a 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.Updated with results of City Council's vote and additional information.
by German Lopez 12.19.2013
Posted In: Streetcar, City Council, Charter Committee, Mayor at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Decision Day for Streetcar

Councilman Kevin Flynn still undecided on whether to cast deciding vote to restart project

It's decision day for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project. But hours before City Council expects to make a decision, it's unclear whether the legislative body has the six votes necessary to overcome Mayor John Cranley's veto and restart construction for the streetcar project. The deciding vote will most likely come from Charterite Kevin Flynn, who says he's working behind the scenes with undisclosed private entities to get the streetcar's operating costs off the city's books. If that deal pulls through, Flynn would provide the sixth vote to keep going. The project already has five votes in favor: Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young.  Three council members have long opposed the project: Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman. It's a big financial decision for the city. If the city goes forward with the project, it would cost $53.9-$68.9 million, depending on whether the city convinces courts Duke Energy should pay for $15 million in utility costs, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG. If the city cancels, it will incur $16.3-$46.1 million in additional close-out costs, the same audit found. But it will get nothing for those tens of millions spent and could face costly litigation in the future.  Council expects to make a final decision at Thursday's 2 p.m. meeting. Follow @germanrlopez on Twitter for live updates. 
by German Lopez 12.16.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor, Homelessness at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Feds won't extend streetcar deadline, streetcar closer to ballot, study backs housing projects

The Federal Transit Administration told Mayor John Cranley and streetcar supporters that it won’t extend its Dec. 20 deadline for federal grants funding roughly one-third of the $132.8 million street project. Without the federal grants, the project would likely die because local officials say they are not willing to make up the loss with local funds. That means the city has until Friday to decide whether to continue the project — a decision that could come down to City Council’s swing votes, Kevin Flynn and David Mann, and whether private contributors agree to pay for the streetcar’s annual operating costs over the next three decades.Meanwhile, streetcar supporters say they have enough signatures to get the streetcar on the ballot. But without the federal funds, a public vote might not be enough to save the project since the charter amendment only calls for using funds allocated as of Nov. 30, 2013. While some City Council members might vote to rescind support for state tax credits going to a supportive housing project in Avondale, a study commissioned by the group in charge of the project found similar facilities in Columbus don’t harm neighborhoods in which they’re located. The study, conducted by two independent groups, found crime continued to increase in most areas surrounding five supportive housing facilities, but the increases were roughly the same as or less than demographically similar areas in Columbus. Researchers were also told in numerous interviews with Columbus residents that the facilities had a positive effect or no impact on the area. CityBeat covered the controversy surrounding the Avondale facility in greater detail here.Hamilton County’s shrinking government might sell off several downtown buildings to accommodate the size reduction. The buildings could be converted to condominiums or hotels to appease high demand for downtown residential space. Despite previously criticizing tax breaks for Cincinnati businesses, Chris Finney of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) will receive tax credits to open his own law firm in Clermont County on Jan. 1. Addressing the so-called heroin epidemic is a top priority for Ky. officials in 2014. Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky have quadrupled since 1999, putting Kentucky’s numbers above every state except West Virginia and New Mexico, according to a study released in November.Some Ohio wildlife officers wrongfully hunted deer while on the job, according to the state’s inspector general.Ohio gas prices dropped in the last work week before Christmas.The Mega Millions jackpot could break last year’s record $656 million prize.A video game might help diabetics control their blood sugar by putting them through a genuine workout.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez