City set to connect bike lanes linking Northside and Camp Washington neighborhoods

CINCINNATI -- James Heller-Jackson was on an everyday bike commute between work in Camp Washington and home in Northside when he was run off the road by a motorist on Spring Grove Avenue, he reported to police.

"I figured (the driver) would continue on his way, he wouldn't stop, any of that," Heller-Jackson said. "Well he stopped, and then he got in my face about it and proceeded to tell me that I had no right to be on that road."

In both Ohio and Kentucky, bicycles are considered road-legal vehicles, and numerous municipalities in the region actually prohibit riding on the sidewalk.

That particular stretch of Spring Grove Avenue, just north of Geringer Street near the Interstate 74 overpass is part of the major arterial roadway near Interstates 74 and 75. It connects Northside and the urban core. It's also one of the few portions of Spring Grove that doesn't accommodate bike lanes.

Heller-Jackson, who both works on the Camp Washington Community Board and handles communications for the Northside Community Council, is among a growing coalition working to change that.

He's helping lead the charge to improve the neighborhood's roadway safety -- for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists alike -- as part of a redesign plan for two segments of Spring Grove Avenue, one between Geringer Street and Elmore Avenue, and the other between Blue Rock Street and Dane Avenue.

The city's Department of Transportation and Engineering staff presented Heller-Jackson's plan to City Council's transportation committee last week, recommending the addition of bicycle lanes and lane narrowing along the two stretches. Much of Spring Grove Avenue already includes bike lanes in its configuration, but the lane flow for cyclists is interrupted along these stretches.

'Mini highways'

Northside has a history of having to cope with roadway safety issues. Last fall, well-known Northside business owner Sarah Cole was struck and killed while crossing Hamilton Avenue, which cuts through the heart of the urban neighborhood. Less than a week later, another pedestrian was struck while crossing a nearby portion of Hamilton.

The two incidents, among others, prompted community leaders to organize a "walkabout rally," meant to bring awareness to pedestrian traffic along the busy street.

"After Sarah Cole died we got a commitment from the city to help with traffic enforcement, to include additional speed limit signs. There were no speed limits signs," Heller-Jackson said. "They did come in and put new signs up. They juiced up some of our pedestrian walkways to a degree."

Heller-Jackson and other leaders attribute some of the issue to the neighborhoods' growth, not only an increase in residential population but also an influx in new businesses -- like Cole's Tickle Pickle, which opened on Hamilton Avenue in 2016. The growth has meant more auto traffic moving through the neighborhood.

For Hannah Lombardi, who manages Sidewinder Coffee, pedestrian safety has declined as the neighborhood's business district has grown.

"Safety has gotten worse," she told WCPO in a previous interview. "More people are coming in from outside Northside. We need to make sure everyone's aware of everybody."

It's a task City Council member and transportation committee Amy Murray said her committee is taking seriously.

"Predominantly, we are a car society, but in our center communities we have a big walking base," Murray told WCPO. "So we want to make sure that it's safe and that people can walk or ride their bikes there."

Murray identified Spring Grove Avenue as one of the city's major speeding-problem corridors. She said speeding became especially problematic in the area because, after a recent re-paving of the road, the temporary striping meant the lanes were wider.

Heller-Jackson also pointed to the connection between lane width and speeding following his incident on the Spring Grove Avenue.

"When street lanes increase in width, motorists go faster," he said. "By increasing the width of those lanes, it only encourages people to go faster."

Timing is everything

Spring Grove Avenue has had bike lanes for a long time. The problem in Heller-Jackson's case was that they weren't completely connected.

Speaking to the importance of bike lanes' connectivity, he said, "It's huge. There's no good way to be safe in that situation. All of a sudden, you're not safe."

The city's plan, which includes one auto traffic lane in each direction, a center turn lane and dedicated bicycle lanes in each direction, would mean connecting the already-installed existing bicycle lanes along Spring Grove Avenue.

Source: City of Cincinnati

In this case, timing is everything because of the recent re-paving. The temporary striping laid after construction is about to expire, so it's time to decide on what the permanent configuration will look like.

Murray predicts it will be about a month before the area will see the new lane configuration. She added the city has the green light to put the design into action.

"They're at the point to move forward with it," she said.

It's one of a number of measures the city has promised in terms of re-evaluating its surface street infrastructure. For the first time in more than 20 years, the city has committed to a Downtown and Over-the-Rhine traffic study that will look at traffic light and pedestrian signal patterns. That study will include the new urban core traffic element, the streetcar. The goal is to adjust to accommodate all road users.

"It's really something we should be doing frequently," Murray said.

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

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