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9 things best left behind in 2016

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-31 10:06:22-05

CINCINNATI -- As far as the internet is concerned, 2016 was just the worst -- so much so that saying it has become a cliché.

Even if you won't say it was the worst, it was definitely a weird year. Really weird.

That's probably in most part due to what could just as easily be referred to as an election circus as an election cycle, paired with an unusually long list of high-profile deaths -- a list that includes political figures, musicians, athletes, Hollywood icons and even a silverback gorilla -- throughout the last 12 months.

But it wasn't just celebrity deaths that left us feeling a little, let's say, dejected, by how 2016 left the world in its wake, and that applies right here in the Tri-State.

Here are nine things Cincinnati should leave behind in 2016:

1. Harambe memes

OK, let's get this one out of the way right now.

You basically would have needed to shut off all access to the internet after May 28 to have not heard of Harambe.

Internet and social media users' obsession with the 17-year-old silverback began back in May, when a 3-year-old boy fell into the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's gorilla enclosure. Witnesses captured smartphone video as the animal dragged the boy through the enclosure for several minutes. Zoo staff members eventually shot and killed the gorilla, they said, in order to safely retrieve the boy.

 

The incident immediately sparked grief and later outrage on multiple fronts, from those who blamed the parents for losing track of the child to those who placed blame on the zoo and animal captivity in general.

It also sparked what is arguably one of the biggest internet memes ever, beginning with a legitimate "Justice for Harambe" petition seeking to hold the boy's mother responsible.

Since, the gorilla has been used to make just about every joke imaginable, with some petitioning to rename the Cincinnati Bengals, to add his face to Mount Rushmore or the Lincoln Memorial, and to put his face on the dollar bill.

For some, it didn't take long for the memes to turn vindictive and offensive, with the zoo's executive director, Thane Maynard, calling for a stop to the trend: "We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe," Maynard said in a news release in the weeks following the incident. "Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us.

2. Pedestrian/cyclist deaths

This is something we should always be working to leave behind, but 2016 seemed especially rough when it came to pedestrians and cyclists struck and killed by vehicles on Tri-State roads.

The issue gained the attention of local leaders early on, after two high-profile fatalities occurred within a single week in late January and early February: Well-known local cyclist Michael Prater, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run while riding along Kellogg Avenue in Anderson Township. The driver, Melinda Woodall, was sentenced to 13 years in prison on vehicular manslaughter and drug charges. Less than a week earlier, 73-year-old Stephen Frank was crossing at the intersection of Edwards Road and Erie Avenue in Hyde Park when he was struck and killed by a Cincinnati Metro bus.

Sarah Cole, proprietor of Tickle Pickle, located on Hamilton Avenue in Northside, was struck by a vehicle Sept. 8, 2016. She died from her injuries the next day. (Provided)

Those crashes led Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld to file a motion requesting a report identifying the city's most dangerous crossings and intersections for pedestrians and cyclists.

Pedestrian safety was thrust back to the forefront again in September and October, when the Tri-State saw eight such deaths in four weeks -- including 12-year-old Eric Raney, who was struck and killed in a hit-and-run collision while riding his bicycle to Campbell County Middle School in Alexandria, and 77-year-old Irene Swain, who was fatally struck while crossing near her home on Central Avenue in West End. Both of those cases were hit-and-runs, police said.

It was a cause that mobilized Northside residents, who say the neighborhood's main, Hamilton Avenue corridor, is dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists. They staged a "walkabout rally" through the neighborhood after beloved and well-known Northside business owner Sarah Cole was killed crossing Hamilton near her hamburger shop, Tickle Pickle.

The surge in fatalities prompted Cincinnati's transportation department to recommend various upgrades and improvements to its pedestrian infrastructure.

3. Premature conclusions about the streetcar 

The Cincinnati Bell Connector. (Emily Maxwell/WCPO)

If 2015 was about whether or not Cincinnati's new streetcar should exist at all, 2016 was about how well -- or poorly -- it's working.

Thing is, it's only been up and running a few months.

Concern grew in November when the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority released ridership numbers for the streetcar's third month. Ridership came in about 20,000 rides "below projections" for that month, the transit authority reported. At the same time, SORTA reported that overall ridership since the streetcar's Sept. 9 launch was about 80,000 rides higher than expected.

November's shortfall in ridership came among various other persistent concerns: Traffic congestion throughout Downtown and in Over-the-Rhine has proved to be an issue for the streetcar, and software problems have caused some difficulty with ticket vending and arrival time displays. 

Most of the technical issues have been resolved, said SORTA spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers, but the issue of congestion is one the city will have to work out. City Council approved in October a motion to direct the Department of Transportation and Engineering to examine traffic signal timing to better accommodate all city street users, now including the streetcar.

It's the first study of the city's central traffic patterns in two decades.

Hilvers stressed the streetcar's infancy when releasing November's ridership data, and the long-term nature of rail projects like these.

"The system is not yet even three months old," she told WCPO. "I think seeing how the trends play out, seeing how the community is using the streetcar right now, that's really what we're doing."

4. Creepy clowns

This might be the most mind-boggling item on the list.

 

Late summer and early fall saw a spree of individuals across multiple states dressing in clown costumes and walking menacingly around neighborhoods, on some occasions attacking residents they encountered. It was a trend that grew to a magnitude that required involvement from the FBI, and the Tri-State was not immune.

One Franklin, Ohio, woman reported to police that she'd been chased by a clown.

"I just got home from work and got out of my car -- I have heard so much about this, I didn't know this was actually true -- but I just got chased by a clown up to the door of my apartment," the caller told police.

The clown made no threats -- just ran at her, the caller said.

Another woman reported being attacked by a man dressed in a striped outfit, a red wig and a white clown mask while at her home in Reading. The attack was reported just hours after Colerain Township police arrested a junior high school student on charges related to an online clown-related threat, and prompted the Reading schools to cancel classes the next day.

As many as seven teens across the Tri-State were arrested on charges related to such threats.

Stop. Just stop it, you clowns.

5. Beloved celebrity deaths

While not specific to the Tri-State -- and fully acknowledging that, yes, famous and beloved figures will continue to die in 2017 -- it's worth acknowledging two with local ties who died this past year:

John Glenn (left) and Muhammad Ali (right), both with regional ties, died in 2016.

Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who hailed from Louisville, died June 3 from septic shock following a long, public battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 74.

Local leaders remembered Ali not just as a boxing legend, but also for his influence in the civil rights movement. When recalling Ali’s open refusal to be drafted, citing his Islamic religious beliefs, former NAACP Cincinnati President Milton Hinton said he was inspired.

"He was willing to forego face, fortune and freedom -- all three were at stake," Hinton said.

Astronaut and former U.S. Senator for Ohio John Glenn also died this year at 95. After being the first American to orbit the Earth and serving as a U.S. Marine and combat pilot, Glenn represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate for more than two decades.

Upon his death, Glenn became the ninth Ohioan to lie in state in Ohio's capitol building before being laid to rest.

6. Divisive election campaigns

It's hardly a stretch to call the 2016 election cycle one of the most polarizing and divisive in modern memory, and not just on the presidential ticket. Fierce campaigns waged here locally, as well.

Going into 2017, the potential stands for another fierce fight for Cincinnati's executive office, as Mayor John Cranley will face City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a fellow Democrat. 

While the two officials have worked cooperatively on several issues during their shared tenures, particularly when it comes to neighborhood revitalization efforts, they have also proven to be sharply opposed on multiple hot-button issues, such as the streetcar, the firing of Cincinnati's former police chief, Jeffrey Blackwell, and the contentious Over-the-Rhine parking plan, among others.

It's the first time since the mayoral seat became a directly elected office in 1999 that an incumbent faced a challenge from a member of his or her own party, and both candidates boast a strong base of fiercely loyal supporters.

Read more about what local politicos are calling an "interesting race ahead" here.

7. These Reds and Bengals, though...

Another 2016 death? The Reds' and Bengals' respective seasons.

 

Following a 2015 season that included hosting the All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park, the 2016 Reds left plenty to be desired, finishing dead last in the National League Central at 68-94.

With playoff hopes dashed quickly into the season, and at 5-9-1 after the Bengals' Christmas Eve loss to the Houston Texans, the only team with a worse record in the AFC North is the Cleveland Browns, who have tallied exactly one win this season. 

8. Childhood poverty

 

This was on last year's list of things to leave in 2015, but it's included here because new census data released this month showed efforts have struggled to curb Cincinnati's high rate of children living below the poverty line.

Nearly half -- 45.1 percent -- of Cincinnati's children live in poverty, according to a new five-year census report released by the U.S. Census Bureau. While that's slightly down from the year prior, Cincinnati's childhood poverty rate still sits well above the national average and remains higher than it was here in the Tri-State six years ago.

9. Indecision about Ray Tensing

After a nearly year-long delay, the trial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing got underway in October. Tensing is charged with murder and aggravated manslaughter in the July 2015 traffic stop shooting death of unarmed, black motorist Sam DuBose.

This was a trial in which a jury failed -- not once, but twice -- to reach a verdict on Tensing's innocence or guilt, on either charge. Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan, after once instructing the jury to continue deliberating even though they said they couldn't reach a verdict, ruled the case a mistrial after the jury failed a second time to reach a consensus.

 

Jury woes weren't limited to their failure to reach a verdict: Controversy stirred after local media outlets, including WCPO, requested the surveys filled out by the jury members prior to the selection, prompting one jury member to ask to be excused from the case.

Following the mistrial, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters -- who called the Mount Auburn shooting a "chicken-crap stop" -- announced Tensing will be retried. That trial is set to begin May 25, 2017, under Judge Leslie Ghiz. Ghiz accepted the retrial after two other judges recused themselves.