Northside pedestrian study underway amidst continued demands for safer streets

CINCINNATI -- When well-known Northside business owner Sarah Cole died after being struck by a car while crossing Hamilton Avenue in September 2016, neighbors were fed up.

Then it happened again, within a week's time.

Thankfully the second incident wasn't fatal, but fellow Northside business owner and friend of Cole's, Judi LoPresti, couldn't believe what she was seeing.

"We've got to do something," LoPresti told WCPO shortly after the incidents occurred.

That they did. Now -- nearly a year after Cole's death and after painstaking communication efforts -- the city is working on a plan to make the busy corridor through Northside's business district safer.

BACKGROUND: Northside pedestrians are fed up, and now they're taking action

Cole owned burger joint Tickle Pickle right on Hamilton Avenue, and it was just outside her shop when a driver fatally struck her as she was crossing the street.

Not long after her death pedestrians took to the streets in what organizers called a "walkabout rally." The idea was to flood the Hamilton Avenue sidewalks with pedestrians holding up signs instructing rush-hour drivers to slow down and notice them.

Then the Northside Community Council submitted a list of requests to the city's Neighborhoods Committee, chaired by Vice Mayor David Mann.

Mann took the requests to heart.

"I was there last month," he said shortly after hearing about Cole's death. "And there were concerns expressed about speed on Hamilton, and somebody said, 'What's it going to take? Somebody being killed?'" 

Fast forward about six months, as City Council was finalizing the 2018-19 budget, when Council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld successfully pushed to include $500,000 for pedestrian safety improvements.

Part of those improvements is a study now underway in which Department of Transportation and Engineering officials gather speed data and crowd-sourced locations of problematic spots throughout the neighborhood such as:

  • walk signal is too short
  • long wait for walk signal
  • frequent jaywalking
  • vehicles running stops
  • speeding
  • double parking
  • parking too close to an intersection
  • vehicles not yielding at crosswalks
  • lack of visibility
  • no sidewalks
  • no bike facilities
  • parking on the sidewalk
  • crosswalk needed
  • accessibility issue 

Screen shot of the Department of Transportation and Engineering's survey, gathering feedback on Hamilton Avenue in Northside's business district. Click the image to access the survey. (City of Cincinnati)

Residents can contribute to the problem spot survey here.

The survey is a small part of the city's attempts to jump start improvements along Hamilton Avenue -- improvements originally requested roughly a year ago.

"We meet monthly with the Northside Pedestrian, Bicycle and Transit Safety Committee, and plan to vet all of the data with them once the web survey closes next month," said DOTE Director Michael Moore, in an email to WCPO. "Then that group will make recommendations to the Community Council in terms of locations where we hope to prioritize safety improvements."

Hannah Gedeon, who sits on the safety committee, said residents are starting to grow tired of waiting.

"We're fed up," she told WCPO. "We were supposed to be given a traffic study last October. Then we were promised we'd have it in June. Two months later, we still don't have it."

Moore said the city is still collecting the data that will inform the traffic study, and added that the city has re-painted multiple crosswalks on Hamilton Avenue already, including at its intersections with Blue Rock Road, Knowlton Street, Lingo Street and Chase Avenue. His department also added a crosswalk and accessible curb ramp at Hamilton and Palm avenues.

In addition to a traffic study to assess road use and speeding along the stretch, the community council also requested speed control and visibility measures, such as blinking "Your Speed Is" speed-monitoring display signs and pavement painting to alert drivers of the speed limit.

The city installed two speed monitors, which measured that the average speed along the corridor was actually below 20 miles per hour, according to city data collected last fall. There were, however, a few instances when the speed was measured as 35 miles per hour or higher.

Gedeon said there was some doubt among community members as to the positioning of the sensors, but Moore said his team didn't identify any malfunction in the machines as a result of their placement.

"If that were the case, the summary report would have shown a large number of 0 miles per hour cars, which was not the case," Moore said.

Gedeon's bigger concern beyond obtaining the traffic study, though, is what she called "small fixes."

"That seems like the biggest battlefield," she said. "Why can't we start doing smaller projects and not just wait around?"

"We're still in the process of collecting data and input from residents," Moore said. "We will consider pavement markings, as well as changes in striping, signing, signal timing, et cetera, once we've analyzed all of the data."

Ultimately for Gedeon, it comes down to making her neighborhood's voices heard, and the survey is a big part of that, she said.

"We want to show how many of us are thinking about this," she said. "As opposed to having three angry voices, we want to show strength in numbers and unite everybody."

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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