CINCINNATI — Colerain Avenue has some big changes ahead.
The city is partnering with an organization in Mt. Airy to redesign the street to make it safer for locals. The organization, Mt. Airy Community Urban Redevelopment Enterprise (Mt. Airy CURE), says the goal is to protect residents from the frequent speeding and traffic accidents the bending, hilly road has become notorious for.
The redesign will aim to make Colerain Avenue more walkable and mitigate traffic. By adding features to the street like medians, trees and bump-outs to the sidewalk, organizers of the effort hope it will save lives.
“We have accidents all the time on Colerain Avenue and that affects the whole community,” said Emma Norbut, executive director of Mt. Airy CURE. “The traffic on Colerain Avenue just moves way too quickly.”
Mike Bechtold, a Mt. Airy resident and Mt. Airy CURE board member, knows firsthand just how treacherous it is to drive down Colerain. He and his wife, Anita, have suffered from two near-fatal car crashes dating back to 2016.
The Bechtolds' experiences have impassioned them to help make Colerain Avenue a safer place to drive, leading Mike to be directly involved with the project to redesign and calm traffic on Colerain Avenue.
“It just amazes me how many people say, ‘Oh yeah, my daughter was in a bad accident on Colerain, I was in a bad accident, you know, my next-door neighbor was in a bad accident,’” Anita Bechtold said. “It just seems to be something that affects so many people that live in this area.”
Data from Cincy Insights shows that the Colerain Avenue corridor in Mt. Airy has seen almost 550 traffic accidents since 2019. Cam Hardy is a former Mt. Airy resident and a member of Vision Zero, the initiative to eliminate traffic-related deaths and severe injuries. He acknowledged the specific dangers of driving on Colerain.
“People just speed up and down Colerain Avenue all day,” Hardy said. “There’s no incentive for people to slow down…it invites you to speed. It invites you to drive recklessly.”
Hardy likened Colerain to River Road, another large street that he said has become notorious for traffic accidents. However, the number of crashes on Colerain Avenue within Mt. Airy considerably outnumber the crashes on River Road concentrated in the neighborhood of Sayler Park. Cincy Insights shows there have only been 41 crashes on that stretch of River Road in comparison to Colerain Avenue in Mt. Airy dating back to 2019.
Anita said she now avoids driving on Colerain Avenue whenever possible, despite it being a main thoroughfare only steps away from her home. A 2016 crash report from the Ohio Department Of Public Safety details how two cars crashed into one another at the intersection of Colerain and Kirby Avenue. One of those cars then hit Anita’s car as she sat at a red light, which led her to crash into a fourth car. She said her car was totaled in the incident.
Another crash report from 2020 detailed how a driver skid across Colerain’s Divider and slammed straight into Mike and Anita’s car. The impact pushed the car into a curb, with the other car jammed up beside them. Three other cars were also hit in the incident, and Hamilton County Court records say the driver responsible for the crash, Blake Luoma, 24, got 6 months behind bars for driving under the influence. His driver’s license was also suspended for three years.
Mike said he can still envision Luoma’s car coming at him as he drove him and his wife up Colerain towards North Bend Road. Anita, who believes she was looking down at her phone, says she never saw the other car coming and doesn’t remember anything from the crash. Once again, their car was totaled in the crash and Anita was knocked out in the impact.
First responders had to cut off the top of their car to pull Mike out of the vehicle that had now been crushed like a soda can. Before they arrived, Mike said he remembers three Black women coming over to their car to embrace and pray over Anita.
Mike said that as he turned to his wife, slumped over unconscious in the passenger seat, he looked on in disbelief thinking, "This is a heck of a way to lose the love of my life." The two were driving home, coming back from picking out their grave plots at a nearby cemetery just before the crash.
Although they survived, medical records reveal the couple was left with a host of severe injuries. Anita was left with serious ailments in her brain, ribs, right hip and elsewhere. Mike said he was left with a lifelong injury to his right leg and now visibly struggles to walk. He is forced to wear a brace and regularly sees a physical therapist. The couple also said that while their insurance has taken on the brunt of the costs brought on by the accidents’ damages, they have still been grappling with ongoing expenses due to the extra support they have needed from friends and loved ones. They are now down to sharing one car.
Anita notes that while Mt. Airy residents are more aware of the need to drive carefully along Colerain because of its frequent accidents, others less familiar with the area could be more likely to put themselves and others at risk. Those who do not usually use Colerain could be oblivious to the typical speeding, and to how slippery the road can become due to elements like rain, snow, and dripping gasoline.
“This needs to be safe not just for the people who live in the neighborhood. It needs to be safe for anyone who drives down Colerain Avenue,” Anita said.
In addition to making Colerain Avenue safer, organizers of the redesign project hope it will reinvigorate Mt. Airy’s sleepy business district.
“We don’t want Mt. Airy to be a drive-through business district,” Norbut said. “We want it to be a place that people stop and can enjoy for the community...”
The city has so far invested over $20,000 for KZF Designs, an architecture firm, to draft renderings for the street plan. Mt. Airy CURE says those renderings are complete and will be publicized for community input once it is safer to gather in person.
Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here.
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