Community advocates, business leaders and city leadership are at a crossroads when it comes to managing traffic on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine.
The potential for Main Street to be switched from a one-way street to a two-way street was discussed during Cincinnati City Council's public safety and governance committee meeting on Nov. 1.
John Brazina, director of the Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE), told the committee that discussions about the change are still in the very early stages.
“This was just something that DOTE had heard about and just wanted to actually give a presentation to council to give them a little bit more information,” Brazina said.
The current one-way traffic on Main Street flows north towards Liberty Street. The potential conversion to a two-way flow would only apply to the stretch of Main between Liberty and 12th streets, where the streetcar enters the road.
Pedestrian safety on Main StreetBrazina’s presentation suggested that the change to a two-way Main Street would slow down traffic and promote “pedestrian dominance,” but other slides in the presentation said the idea could “[diminish] recent pedestrian safety improvements,” like the raised crosswalks that were created to slow traffic.
"In May of this year, we did a little traffic study out there. There were about 5,000 vehicles that went through Main Street on an average day, and the speed was actually 13 miles per hour. So the raised crosswalks have significantly reduced any speeding on Main Street," Brazina said.
But Matt Butler of the Devou Good Foundation – a nonprofit that supports active transportation in Greater Cincinnati – said his organization’s data shows that converting Main Street to a two-way to reduce speed wouldn't be a proven solution for the neighborhood.
“People are going 50 miles per hour on Vine, and it’s two-way,” Butler told CityBeat.
Brazina's presentation highlighted what intersections would look like on a two-way Main Street. Rather than a traditional “plus” or “T” intersection, pedestrians would need to navigate the more difficult offset intersections, Brazina said. In an offset intersection, drivers and pedestrians would need to make additional turns to pass through Main Street.
“With having offset intersections and the different type of turning movements, that’s actually going to have a consideration, as well, whether it gets converted from a one-way to two-way,” Brazina said.
Bobby Maly is CEO of The Model Group, a real estate development firm with properties in OTR and beyond. He also chairs the Over-The-Rhine Special Improvement District. He addressed the committee on Nov. 1 alongside representatives from Urban Sites and the OTR Chamber of Commerce to ask for collaboration from Cincinnati City Council on improving safety along Main Street. He said converting the street to a two-way is one piece of the puzzle.
“What happens when we have one way-traffic with multiple lanes, it becomes very car-friendly first and pedestrian friendly second,” Maly told CityBeat. “The more people we have on our street engaging with businesses, engaging with neighbors, the more safety is increased.”
Gun violence on Main Street
“There were some issues over the summer – overall safety issues I’ll say, not specifically street-related issues – and there was some suggestion and talk from community members and other residents that possibly converting Main Street from one-way to two-way would help with those safety issues,” Brazina said.
A slew of controversial changes, some temporary, hit Main Street in recent months after multiple dangerous and deadly shootings that happened in and around the street’s entertainment district, including a shooting that left nine people injured.
The Cincinnati Police Department attributed the instances of violence to large groups gathering, cars cruising and lax open container enforcement. The department and the city erected barriers, eliminated parking and cracked down on rule-breaking among pedestrians in an attempt to quell gun violence. A teenager was killed on Orchard Street off of Main just one month after changes went into effect.
Butler disputed the idea that changing the traffic direction would reduce violence on Main Street. He said cars make the problem worse.
"The direction doesn't impact gun violence, per se; it's vehicles being allowed in the area and the speeds that the vehicles are going as well," Butler said. "A lot of the gun violence is from people who are driving vehicles, passengers of vehicles, or they use vehicles as a getaway. We know based on data from other cities that if we remove vehicles, restrict them on Main Street, that that's going to cut down on gun violence significantly."
A pedestrian-only Main StreetButler wanted to divert the conversation away from the one-way or two-way dichotomy and eliminate cars from Main Street altogether.
“We've put together several renderings to show to people what a pedestrianized Main Street would look like,” Butler said. “The concept would make this area a lot safer for people that are walking around.”
Maly, of The Model Group, told CityBeat that he wanted to prioritize pedestrians, but closing Main Street to cars would hurt local businesses.
“I personally do not believe that a pedestrian-only conversion is the right approach," Maly said. "The life and activity on our street comes from those first-floor spaces [...]. They need cars to be able to come visit, pick things up, stop and get a sandwich, stop and get a coffee, pick up the pottery that they made. Supporting the first-floor mom-and-pop businesses is the most important thing we can do to have safety, create the most inclusive place that we can and a place where people really want to live."
Paul Harrison is the area director for Aladdin’s Eatery on Main Street. He said that he depends on street parking and vehicle access to make to-go ordering work for his business.
“I think it would be very inconvenient for people. I think it would be a hindrance to business here, particularly to people who pick up online orders, DoorDash, UberEats, things of that nature,” Harrison told CityBeat.
But Butler said there could still be designated zones for delivery drivers, ride-share pickups and commercial loading on a pedestrian-only Main Street.
"We think that we can accommodate through a modal filter that would allow commercial vehicles to go through," Butler said.
Community engagementData collected by the Devou Good Foundation shows that residents and business owners overwhelmingly like the idea of closing Main Street to traffic to create a pedestrian corridor.
Based on survey results of 700+ residents:— Matt Butler (@Matt_C_Butler) October 31, 2022
84% of residents and business owners favored closing Main St to Drivers
70 respondents used the word "love" to describe their feelings about pedestrianizing Main St
Most pop. amenities: social seating, interactive art, games, stage
“We’ve heard about some of those ideas,” Brazina said. “We’re in the process of working with the community and listening to what they have to say.”
But Lindsey Swadner, owner of The Hub, a bar on Main Street, said that public engagement is not extended equally to all residents and business owners on Main Street.
“They know how to contact us, they simply aren’t,” Swadner told CityBeat. “There are small business owners such as myself who haven’t been talked to at all […]. We love feedback, we love having a say in our community. That’s certainly not what’s happening with the two-way [street idea]. They want to create a small, very dedicated group, and they don’t want a lot of opinion [...]. The bar for community engagement is below the floor of City Hall.”
Follow Madeline Fening on Twitter: @Madeline_Fening