Friday, June 28, 2013

South Cumminsville walkability audit and workshop highlights challenges, opportunities

On Tuesday, 60 residents and stakeholders from South Cumminsville and Millvale worked with national walkability experts to develop ideas for improving pedestrian safety and land use along the Beekman Street and Elmore Street corridors.

Held at Working In Neighborhoods (WIN), the walking tour and workshop was led by Dan Burden and Samantha Thomas of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC). Based in Washington state, the nonprofit seeks to create healthy, connected communities through walkable streets and better built environments.

"The health of our people is dependent upon it," said Burden, co-founder and director of innovation and inspiration of WALC. "The health of our economy is fully dependent on it."

The audit will guide future transportation and development decisions with the goal of improving the quality of life and economic opportunity in South Cumminsville, which has been identified as a growth and opportunity area in the 2008 GO Cincinnati report.

The assistance is much needed, as 40 percent of residents in the neighborhood don't own a car. And with a "Walk Score" of 43, the neighborhood is largely auto-dependent.

The neighborhood also will see major changes to its traffic patterns due to the future reconfiguration of the Colerain/Beekman exit off of I-74 and the closure of several interstate exits, all part of the I-75 Mill Creek Expressway project.

During the walking tour, Burden suggested several street calming efforts that could tame traffic through the neighborhood, such as additional on-street parking, bump-outs, and the elimination of double yellow lines.

These changes could be implemented at minimal cost, without affecting the drainage or curbs, he said.

He also suggested better signalization and crossings for pedestrians, noting that the intersection of Beekman and Elmore streets is "one of the worst I've ever seen".

"Beekman and Elmore can be made pedestrian friendly again," Burden said. "And then we can put these [murals on the pedestrian bridge crossing Beekman Street] in a museum."

Following the walking tour, small groups assembled to brainstorm changes they'd like to see implemented within the next 100 days, as well as mid-term and long-term recommendations.

Topping the list of suggestions were extensive sidewalk repairs and weed and tree trimming; streetscaping, including more trash cans; a farmer's market on the site of the recently demolished Duke Energy substation next to Wayne Playground; and more businesses that serve the needs of local residents, such as a pharmacy.

WALC will assemble all of the input from the workshop and will compile a report, which will be distributed to WIN and shared with the community. That report will then be shared with City departments, funders, and interested businesses to put the recommendations into action.

Burden believes that the project could become a model for the City, region, and state, but it's up to the community to make it work.

"You have to succeed," he said. "You cannot let this opportunity slide. You cannot let transportation people, engineers, or planners say, 'We need to study this more.' One thing that I've learned is that you can kill anything through paralysis."

"We hope residents, government officials and businesses will participate so we can explore opportunities for residents and businesses alike," said Marilyn Evans, president of the South Cumminsville Community Council. "We know that by working together, we can create a bright future for our community."

The project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Sustainable Communities through its Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program, which is administered by the Project for Public Spaces.

WIN was one of only 12 organizations selected nationally for the technical assistance grant, which was announced in April.

Previous reading on BC:
South Cumminsville park could be lost to business expansion (5/20/13)
WIN study: 45.2% rise in completed sheriff's sales in 2012 (5/20/13)
Planning Commission Friday: dunnhumbyUSA, Fire Station No. 35, land sales and rezoning (5/2/13)
Halfway through program, CUFA wants foreclosure pilot for 52 neighborhoods (1/30/13)
Sale of vacant land to aid in Borden Street revitalization (7/9/12)