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

'Walkabout rally' set after two pedestrians struck
Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-05 05:47:19-04

CINCINNATI -- Northside business owner Judi LoPresti couldn't believe it happened again, and so soon.

On the day LoPresti was set to mourn the loss of her friend and fellow Northside business owner Sarah Cole -- who was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing Hamilton Avenue last month -- another pedestrian was struck and injured just outside LoPresti's shop, Spun Bicycles.

That collision marked two pedestrians struck in one week on the busy thoroughfare that cuts through the popular, historic business and entertainment district.

Now, she and a grassroots coalition of neighborhood business owners and residents are demanding action.

"We've got to do something," she said. LoPresti and others have planned a "walkabout rally" for Wednesday, Oct. 5, when participants will create a presence of pedestrians along the neighborhood's streets, holding signs urging drivers to slow down, as well as demonstrating how to legally use the street's crosswalks.

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)

It's an old problem that's gained new attention after Cole's death Sept. 9. Cole was the proprietor of Tickle Pickle, an up-and-coming restaurant known for its hamburgers that sits along the busy road.

She was walking down to nearby Sidewinder Coffee to make a pickup for her employees before leaving for the day, according to the director of communications for Northside's community council, James Heller-Jackson.

That's just the kind of person Cole was.

"She was a dynamo," Heller-Jackson told WCPO. "She created this really wonderful business and immediately injected herself into this community.

"She was a wonderful part of the neighborhood."

A 'little highway'

But she was also a casualty of what Heller-Jackson described as drivers "not paying attention" -- specifically not paying attention to the speed limit along Hamilton, which carries U.S. 127 and changes from 35 miles per hour to 25 once the road reaches the neighborhood's core.

"During rush hours especially, when the curb lanes are both open, it's really dangerous," he said. "It turns into a little highway. There are a lot of cars that fly through here."

The stretch is somewhat of a perfect storm: To start, it utilizes changing traffic and parking patterns, rotating around rush hour -- something that Heller-Jackson said creates confusion among drivers. The curb lanes switch from parking to travel during the morning and evening rushes.

"You'll see a car speeding down the curb lane and all of a sudden have to change lanes because of a car parked when it shouldn't be," he said.

Northside is also highly residential, which means a lot of people walking, and is home to the city's second-busiest transit hub (short of Downtown's Government Square), adding bus stops to the already busy traffic patterns. To add to the mix, a $15 million development, the Gantry, recently opened along Hamilton Avenue, adding more than 130 residential units to the stretch.

It's also seen a recent influx of businesses -- including Cole's -- opening along Hamilton Avenue.

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. "More people are coming in from outside Northside. We need to make sure everyone's aware of everybody."

It's something Heller-Jackson said has been an issue for the neighborhood for years, one that he boils down to enforcement, particularly when it comes to speeding.

"There's no enforcement," he said. "We could use enforcement every once in a while, just to show that it is 25 miles per hour."

Let's take a walkabout

It's for these reasons that LoPresti, Heller-Jackson and Lombardi are teaming up with neighborhood advocates to stage a "walkabout" rally, meant to raise pedestrian awareness along the stretch.

"(Drivers) need to follow the rules just as much as we do," Lombardi said. "We want to make sure we have as much of the neighborhood out walking up and down the sidewalk as much as possible."

Here's how Wednesday's rally will work: Residents and supporters will gather from 4-7 p.m. at Hoffner Park, located at the intersection of Blue Rock Road and Hamilton Avenue, and simply walk up and down the sidewalk while carrying signs with messaging that tells drivers to slow down. LoPresti also said the community has also invested in metal signs that they will affix to trees to educate drivers.

"We want people to understand that there are businesses here, pedestrians here," she said. "This is a pedestrian neighborhood.

"Drivers need to look at these signs right now, because we're mad."

It's an effort meant to complement actions also taken by the city, which last month committed to addressing issues leaders admit have been persistent for years.

"While Northside has changed, Hamilton Avenue hasn't," said City Council member Kevin Flynn at the city's Sept. 21 council meeting. "It's always been troublesome with the amount of speeding going on up and down that hill."

At that same meeting, council member Yvette Simpson reiterated what a number of residents say they've been shouting for years: "It is sad that someone died before we were able to make changes in the community. We hear you, and we expect immediate action on this issue."

The council members' most recent response can be traced back to the coalition's efforts to incite action from the city. The council issued a number of recommendations to the city regarding pedestrian safety:

  • Enforcement of traffic laws
  • Improved signage
  • Pedestrian and cycling safety study

City spokesman Rocky Merz said work is "underway" along the stretch and that a formal report is "in progress."

Heller-Jackson said he's scheduled to meet with City Manager Harry Black Tuesday to discuss options, and his expectations, despite the urgency his group is expressing, seem modest and realistic: "I hope to start a good dialogue with the city in ways that we can help our traffic to calm," he said. "It's going to be an ongoing disccusion, and it needs to happen.

"This is a great first step."

This is their home

Underlying this entire discussion is the question: Why is walkability critical to Northside?

It's a big question, that, turns out, has a simple answer: "(Walkabilty) is important because it's our home," said Heller-Jackson. "We live here. We can walk to things. It's generally very safe and clean. This is the way urban life should be, to walk throughout your community.

"We should be able to walk safely and freely."


According to LoPresti, it's what shapes the neighborhood's sense of community.

"We're like a little Mayberry here," she said, referring to the idyllic town depicted in "The Andy Griffith Show." "Everybody knows each other and everybody knows each other's business.

"There's a tighter sense of community here than you've felt in any other neighborhood," she said.

"We're going to make the drivers aware."

What: Northside Walkabout Pedestrian Awareness Rally
Where: Jacob Hoffner Park, Hamilton Avenue and Blue Rock Road
When: Wednesday, Oct. 5, 4-7 p.m.

More info here

Connect with WCPO transportation and development reporter Pat LaFleur on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).