Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dohoney updates council on Montana improvements

Cincinnati city manager Milton Dohoney Jr. recently updated city council on the status of the Montana Avenue improvement project, which has been in the planning and design phase for more than three years.

The report is based on a September city council motion asking the City to provide Westwood with a new plan for improvements to the 1.8-mile section of roadway between Boudinot Avenue and Farrell Drive.

With nine-foot-wide lanes and traffic of 12,000-20,000 vehicles per day, the road is both congested and unsafe.

"Montana Avenue is below City standards for safety and comfort," Dohoney says.

The roadway also carries the Western Hills-Uptown and Montana Express bus routes, whose frequent stops can cause backups and whose large size is hard to keep within the lanes.

SORTA reports that they lose one mirror every month on those routes.

Additionally, the road has seen 624 crashes for four-year period preceding 2008, several of which were fatal.

"Most crashes result from the narrow traffic lanes and a lack of left turn lanes at signalized intersections," Dohoney says. "These factors also increase congestion, leading to additional incidents."

The City does have some leeway on the design - while Montana Avenue is classified as a principal arterial, it's not the only one.

"A good network of principal arterials with redundancy exists on the west side of Cincinnati," Dohoney says. "This means that no one or two streets have to accommodate an excessively high volume of traffic."

Planned in 2005

In April 2005, council authorized an agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation, bringing in $6.1 million for the anticipated $9.1 million project that was scheduled to begin in 2010.

Since early 2006, the City's Department of Transportation and Engineering has been working with the Westwood community to resolve safety issues, preserve the residents' needs, and to provide for the efficient movement of traffic.

Six additional public meetings have been held, as well as smaller group meetings and walking tours.

As a result of these meetings, the community has supported the following additions to the project design:

  • Installing pavers in the business district
  • Installing decorative signage in the business district
  • Installing trees in the business district
  • Adding pedestrian-scaled lighting to the business district
  • Reducing tree lawns to three feet
  • Offering canopy trees and yard treatments to property owners
The community did not support widening to provide left-turn lanes at Anaconda Drive and at Wunder, Harrison, Epworth and Boudinot avenues, which were eliminated from design consideration.

Recent refinements

In September 2007, council asked City staff to look at reducing the number of lanes along Montana Avenue, a traffic-calming concept known as a "road diet".

Jennifer Rosales, author of Road Diet Handbook: Setting Trends for Livable Streets and senior engineer for Parsons Brinckerhoff in Portland, Oregon, was brought on to prepare a study of the corridor.

In August 2008, Rosales presented several of the alternatives that were developed.

Among the alternatives presented:
  • A no build option
  • Four lanes, adding six feet to the total width
  • Three lanes, including a center turn lane
  • Three lanes, adding six feet to the total width and providing one lane of on-street parking
  • A hybrid of four lanes from Farrell Drive to Westwood Northern Boulevard and three lanes – plus one lane of on-street parking – from Westwood Northern Boulevard to Boudinot Avenue
Rosales found that a hybrid alternative could work on the portion of Montana Avenue from Westwood Northern Boulevard to Boudinot Avenue, but would result in the loss of on-street parking.

Between Westwood Northern Boulevard and Farrell Avenue, the road could be widened by six feet, maintaining the four lanes and retaining on-street parking during off-peak hours.

No consensus

Many citizens of Westwood still aren't sold on the project, fearing property impacts, heightened speeding, and a potential decrease in property values.

Still others realize that something must be done to improve safety, reduce congestion, and keep their on-street parking.

The community support has been highest for the three-lane option, but that support has been lukewarm at best.

"At this point, we do not feel there is a plan that has the support of the community that also meets the needs of the larger public," Dohoney says. "Administration is concerned for the safety and traffic efficiency of a three lane cross section especially if it is for the entire length of Montana from Boudinot to Farrell. Additionally, there has not been input from the residents who will be directly impacted from the removal of on-street parking."

Funding an issue

Dohoney says that City administration recommends the selection of the four-lane alternative, with further design tweaks.

This is because the $6.1 million in federal funding that the City has received must be used to reduce congestion and improve safety for any portion of Montana Avenue where the number of lanes is reduced, or the City will have to return the money to the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.

"A Road Diet project will also not be competitive for the other funding sources we had planned on using for this project," Dohoney says.

The four-lane alternative, which could break ground in 2011, would retain the federal funding and would make it easier for the City to fill the funding gap through other grant sources.

"This will have the most significant impact on safety and traffic efficiency," Dohoney says. "The widening of the roadway is minimal, approximately three feet on each side. There will be a completely new road, curbs, and driveway aprons. The project also includes a major improvement to the pedestrian environment of Montana Avenue with newly planted three-foot tree lawns and new, wider sidewalks. Trees will be installed behind the sidewalks in residents’ front yards. On-street parking will continue to be available for residents and guests except during rush hour, providing convenience and a buffer from traffic, in keeping with the residential character of the street."