Plan imagines 42-mile 'off-road super highway'

Posted at 2:35 PM, Dec 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-16 14:35:42-05

CINCINNATI — Leaders with four major trail projects throughout the city announced Wednesday a plan to connect those trails and create what they called a 42-mile, continuous “off-road super highway” for non-motorists.

Leaders unveiled the Cincinnati Connects Plan Wednesday morning. The plan was underwritten by Interact for Health. The Cincinnati Connects coalition includes leaders from the Mill Creek Greenway Trail, Ohio River West Trail, Oasis and Wasson Way projects, and the plan would connect all four of trails for bicyclists, pedestrians and people using wheelchairs, among other modes of transportation.

“For Cincinnati Connects, the sum is greater than the parts,” said Cincinnati Connects project manager and Groundwork Cincinnati/Mill Creek Executive Director Robin Corathers. “The urban loop trail is a big idea that could make Cincinnati one of the top pedestrian and bicycle communities in the country.”

Corathers called the trail system “a people-friendly transportation alternative,” meant to provide safe and accessible routes “for people of all ages, incomes and abilities” to jobs, schools, parks, and medical facilities, among other destinations across the city.

In its initial phase, the trail system would connect 32 of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods, and extend from Mill Creek on the city’s West Side to Lunken Airport and Armleder Park on the east side. The urban loop would initially consist of the four major trails connected by six connector trails.

Proposed network of connected mixed-use trails throughout Cincinnati. (For enlarged image, click or tap here, or see viewer above.)

Eventually, Corathers said, she hopes the urban loop will connect with other trail systems across Hamilton County and the Tri-State region.

Wednesday's unveiling was the product of 15 months of technical work and planning, Corathers said, looping representatives from the city administration, Queen City Bike, Great Parks of Hamilton County, the Cincinnati Park Board, the Cincinnati Health Department, OKI Regional Council of Governments and Interact for Health, among others.

"We had four major groups working independently on their own trails, but there was no collaboration," she said. "We have now formed a coalition."

The six connector trails would cost roughly $21 million to construct, Corathers said, with a estimated $43.5 million return, according to the University of Cincinnati Economics Center. The group commissioned the center to conduct a benefits-cost analysis. 

"The benefits aren't just monetary," she said, "but are also things like improvement to air quality, air emissions, reduction in traffic congestion, and (reduced) demand for parking spaces as more and more people bike commute.

"Public support for trails has never been higher," she said, a claim corroborated in part by recent Census data, which placed Cincinnati among the top cities in the U.S. for growth in bike commuting.

The coalition's next step is to develop a detailed implementation strategy, one Corathers said will need to involve collaboration with city leaders as well as other community stakeholders, including foundations, corporations and individual donors.

"The funding has got to be community-wide," she told WCPO. "We're not going to say to City Council, 'You must fund 100 percent of this.' We need to collaborate and be strategic."

The coalition unveiled its plan little more than a month after voters defeated a proposed city-wide parks levy, which would have generated an estimated $5.5 million a year for projects like the urban loop and the other trails currently in development.

But Corathers said the levy's defeat wasn't a major road-block. "If the parks levy had passed, this would be a lot easier to do, yes, but we started working on this well before we knew about the levy," she said. "We continued to work on it because we didn't want to pin our hopes on one specific thing."

Other funding possibilities include state and federal grants. One possible source of funding Corathers mentioned was the Clean Ohio Trail Fund program, which just awarded $500,000 to the Wasson Way project last month. The Ohio River Trail West and Northern Kentucky's Riverfront Commons trail project both received federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality grants in 2015.

But the urban loop's biggest potential, Corathers said, is in the various trails it would connect that are already paved and ready, such as the east side's Lunken Airport Loop and Armleder trails or the shared-use path along The Banks.

The coalition plans to commission the Economics Center for another analysis, one that will calculate the benefit-cost ratio for the entire loop, including these various smaller trails.

"Then I think we'll see a knock-out benefit-cost comparison," she said.

Follow Pat LaFleur on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) for the latest on all things bicycling and living car-free in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.