Metal barricades now jut out on either side of the front door of Over-the-Rhine art-supply store Indigo Hippo, zig-zagging around trees and parking meters between East 13th and 14th streets. They’re one tactic that multiple city departments are using to try to reduce gun violence on Main Street as a direct result of the Aug. 7 shooting that left nine people injured.
In addition to erecting the sidewalk barriers, city leaders recently eliminated weekend evening parking on Main Street and promised to crack down on ordinances like open container and illegal food sales. They pointed to large crowds of people hanging out on Main Street as the root cause of issues escalating to violence.
But the blockades aren't popular with everyone.
“We kind of feel like we’re in a prison,” Emily Dake, owner of Indigo Hippo, told CityBeat.
Resident and business backlash immediately zeroed in on sidewalk accessibility for those using wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Elaine Hennessy has lived in the neighborhood for three years and sees the barriers as impediments.
"My concern is that folks with wheelchairs, using walkers, even just a stroller, they can’t get around,” Hennessy told CityBeat. "The city doesn’t take disability seriously; they don’t take disability rights seriously. It’s not something that’s ever brought up by city council candidates or anyone we hear running for officer, it’s just not considered. This is a great example of the outcome of that."
Hennessy also tweeted about her concerns.
“Love the idea of car-free Main Street but this was poorly implemented and did not consider disabled people or pedestrians in general,” Hennessy posted Aug. 16.
The Department of Transportation and Engineering’s Pedestrian and Bike program responded to Hennessy and another Twitter user by saying that someone would fix the barricades.
This is absolutely unacceptable. @AftabPureval @KearneyForCincy, the streets have now been open for three days.— Elaine Hennessy (@tehannessy) August 16, 2022
Love the idea of car free Main Street but this was poorly implemented and did not consider disabled people or pedestrians in general. pic.twitter.com/A8EpYJG080
“We will be on site within the hour to correct the [Americans with Disabilities Act] violations,” the department wrote on Twitter. “However, the overall layout of the barricades will need to be part of a broader conversation between the city and residents and merchants.”
CityBeat reviewed the barricades on Aug. 16 immediately after the the department adjusted them, measuring the distance between the barricades and the sidewalk drop-off. At its narrowest point, the space was approximately three feet (36 inches).
We will be on site within the hour to correct the ADA violations. However the overall layout of the barricades will need to be part of a broader conversation between the City and residents and merchants.— Cincy Pedestrian and Bike Program (@CincyPedsNBikes) August 16, 2022
"I just walked through with a member of DOTE," Sergeant Lesley Childress told CityBeat that day. "The vast majority of this was well within compliance. I am well aware of the ADA and that there are restrictions and so we were making sure we were doing that. There were a couple spots that were tight – still ADA compliant, but they’re tight."
According to the ADA, a minimum clear width for single wheelchair passage needs to be 32 inches. That means the sidewalk with the barricades technically is passible, but just barely – especially with many tree pits and large planters lining the sidewalk.
The correction wasn’t enough to satisfy Jill Gibboney, who had responded to a tweet from a CityBeat reporter.
"This is a joke, right?" Gibboney tweeted Aug. 16. "Do I need to come down there and take a photo of myself with my cane to show how a wheelchair isn’t going to fit? This didn’t fix anything."
This is a joke, right? Do I need to come down there and take a photo of myself with my cane to show how a wheelchair isn’t going to fit? This didn’t fix anything.— Jilly Gibboney ♿️ (@jilly_gibboney) August 16, 2022
Disagreement with city officials
During a virtual forum with city leaders on Aug. 16, Main Street residents questioned the barricades' worth.
“I don’t understand how the barriers that block sidewalks and force people to walk into the street stop shootings or reduce disturbance at night, much less at all times of the day,” Keeton Yost wrote in the meeting’s virtual chat.
“What evidence is there that the fences put up prevented gun violence?” added Willow Tuttle.
Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval emphasized that the Aug. 7 shooting demanded an immediate short-term solution for crowd control.
“The challenge we’re facing on Main Street is the large crowds that gather and essentially become large parties, particularly when the bars let out at night,” Pureval said. “The [barricades] were meant as a short-term intervention that tried to deal with those challenging crowds without increasing the police-citizen interaction.”
Michael Keith, who said he worked in a business on Main Street, said his employer took a big hit the weekend after the shooting.
“Just this past weekend, we were down about 65% in sales, and it was pretty much a ghost town,” Keith said. “I’m trying to wrap my head around what the barriers are doing for the gun violence, not allowing people to park on the street. What is that doing exactly?”
Pureval said he didn’t think the barricades were to blame for business loss.
“I think the negative impact on businesses is almost exclusively due to the mass shooting that happened just the weekend before,” he said. “We talked about the [barricades] a few times now, about the large gatherings, and that’s what they’re supposed to be helpful towards – to deter the unsanctioned block parties that many residents feel have gotten out of control.”
Casey Coston said the control some are seeking was initially lost during the pandemic lockdown.
“Basic enforcement of pretty much everything evaporated when COVID kicked in,” Coston wrote in the forum chat. “Sending the message that unfettered lawlessness will not be tolerated would be helpful.”
The rules that Coston and others in the forum said are going unchecked range from grilling to gambling.
“Clear out loitering parties,” wrote Kimberly Starbuck. “No grilling, music speakers in public right of ways. Stop open drug dealing/using, gambling, illegal activity.”
Addressing large gatherings
The city presented data from a survey conducted with some Main Street residents Aug. 11-16 showing that more than half of the respondents are concerned about large gatherings in the street’s entertainment district.
Police said the Aug. 7 shooting in Over-the-Rhine started when officers were trying to break up a large group standing outside near Mr. Pitifuls. Police said the two groups erupted into a physical fight, with two people pulling out guns and exchanging gunfire openly in front of police and bystanders.
The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office and CPD have characterized the dispute as two groups with “beef” from outside neighborhoods. Surveillance footage from the scene makes that theory hazy.
It is also not clear if the shooters or the crowd of bystanders were doing any of the illegal activity mentioned during the Aug. 16 virtual forum before shots were fired.
Resident vs. non-resident issues
Some virtual meeting participants said the issues are caused by people who don’t live in the neighborhood, but residents still feel the consequences.
“The block parties on Main are different from those elsewhere in the area because most of the people are NOT local residents,” wrote a participant identified as Abbey.
“Is there a reason people are concerned with the residency of people who sit on the sidewalk when weekends in OTR are heavily saturated with non-residents in general?” Lauren Walsh asked in the chat.
Hennessy, who had tweeted about the barricades' accessibility issues, said tamping down on loitering felt like a dog whistle that ultimately harms Black and brown people.
“There are undertones of racism in what is being done here,” Hennessy said. “It’s kind of hard to see if you haven’t lived here for a while, but I see them trying to break up a healthy community, and that really breaks my heart.”
Dake, the owner of Indigo Hippo, had no problem with people from the neighborhood hanging out outside her shop.
“We’re a community space, as well, so if our community is down here hanging out outside, we’re always fine with somebody sitting and resting on the stoop,” Dake said. “Obviously we want everyone to be safe. We also don’t want anyone to be discriminated against.”
Expanding Zeigler Park
During the online meeting, city leaders discussed interest in expanding Zeigler Park to create a space where Main Street community members can gather, moving groups in lawn chairs away from the sidewalk and into a dedicated space.
Survey respondents showed an overwhelming interest in expanding the park to Woodward Street and Yukon Street in a similar way to “Imagination Alley,” a small park nestled in the 1300 block of Vine Street. It's known for offering outdoor seating for community gatherings, movie nights and public wifi. The space was developed by 3CDC, which also hosts events for kids in the space.
“It seems like there was an unmet need being filled through these block parties, evident by the large number of participants. Giving them a designated/controlled area for their own entertainment seems like a good idea," wrote Matt Jacob in the forum’s chat.
Another possibility was changing Main Street from a one-way street to a two-way street to cut down on speeding, something participants said has worked well on Vine Street. The group also discussed closing down the street to traffic altogether.
Protesting the barricades
Kelsey Jennings lived on Main Street for about three years before moving recently; before that, she lived on Court Street. She told CityBeat she worries that surveying residents electronically has made public feedback inequitable and wants to see more efforts to include Main Street residents who have trouble accessing the internet.
“I think physically going down there and going face-to-face with people to say, ‘We’re here to help, there’s this meeting going on, if you need resources to help get on the Zoom we can set something up.’ Like a laptop where people can come into some sort of establishment and be a part of the meeting so more voices can be heard,” Jennings said.
Jennings is organizing a demonstration for Aug. 19 and 20 on Main Street. She said demonstrators plan to decorate the barricades with art and messages of support to community members.
“These restrictions are a harmful and a blatant attack against the Black people of Cincinnati who come down here to enjoy themselves,” Jennings' protest flyer said. “The City of Cincinnati and CPD are trying to frame a narrative that Main Street OTR is a dangerous place that needs more police to enforce restrictions that will harm not only businesses, but also the people of our city.”
Jennings said organizers will be on Main Street until 3 a.m. each day.