With streetcar launch looming, city continues to add new on-street safety measures

Posted at 3:11 PM, Aug 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-25 20:40:52-04

CINCINNATI -- Add on-street bollards, painted lane arrows and additional signage to the increasing streetcar safety efforts the city has installed, as the launch of passenger service fast approaches.

The Cincinnati Bell Connector -- the streetcar's newly-minted moniker -- is a 3.6-mile loop connecting Over-the-Rhine to The Banks, via downtown Cincinnati. These additional safety measures were added specifically to the track areas near The Banks, along Walnut, Main and Second streets.

"These additions make the changes in traffic movement more easily understood in this very busy area that connects Downtown and The Banks," said Michael Moore, the city's director of transportation and engineering, in a statement Thursday, adding that the additional signage will also help with parking garage access in the area.

What makes this portion of the streetcar unique along the loop is its distinct U-shape, which creates the need for lane changes that have proven tricky for some drivers in recent weeks, as the streetcar began running its pre-revenue, full service schedule. The intersections along this portion all contain extra traffic signals specifically for the streetcar to follow, in order to allow the lane change without impeding auto traffic.

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While no collisions between a streetcar and an automobile had yet been reported at one of these lane-change points near The Banks, a car did collide with a streetcar vehicle at the nearby intersection of Third and Main streets. Police said the motorist made an illegal right turn on a red light as the streetcar was moving through the intersection along the right-hand lane.

A second collision happened just a few days later, this time on Walnut Street near the Fountain Square parking garage. Police did not immediately release a cause for that collision, which involved the streetcar vehicle and a pickup truck turning into or out of the garage.

Crews last week also installed through and right-turn arrows on Main Street north of Fourth Street, in order to assist motorists in navigating past or into the parking garage on Main between Fourth and Fifth.

"This is a good opportunity to help motorists who are still getting used to sharing the road with our newest transportation infrastructure," Moore said.

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In a memo issued Thursday to city council and the mayor, City Manager Harry Black said, "As revenue service commences, a significant part of the challenge continues to be public education about streetcar safety. To that end, the city released a number of safety videos, for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike, over recent weeks.

Also in that memo, Blakc said that, as passenger service draws closer, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, in partnership with rail service management firm Transdev, will handle day-to-day operations of the streetcar, which includes public education and safety outreach, as well as response to emergency situations.

SORTA's director of rail services, Paul Grether, also told WCPO that streetcar operators are required to undergo 150 hours of on-track training, with additional classroom training, before carrying passengers.

The Cincinnati Bell Connector is scheduled to open to passenger service Friday, Sept. 9.

For the latest streetcar updates, follow WCPO transportation and development reporter, Pat LaFleur on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).