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Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory Discusses Downtown and New Riverfront Park

Smart Growth America recently completed video interviews with several mayors and other prominent elected officials nationwide, and will be releasing them over the next several months. The first is with Mayor Mark Mallory from Cincinnati — he speaks to the need to invest in downtowns and to make the right kinds of infrastructure investments to trigger job creation and community development.

Mayor Mallory discusses how the revised downtown will benefit from the new 45-acre John G. and Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park:

“We’re doing a lot of things in Cincinnati. In addition to building the streetcar, we are developing our riverfront with a project called The Banks. This is the space between our two stadiums. It’s going to be more than 300 apartments – this is just in the first phase – retailers, there’s a giant park that will be a part of it. This project will go in to its second phase in the next couple weeks actually, and before it’s over with we’ll probably spend a billion dollars on our riverfront.

Phases one and two of the Smale Riverfront Park are slated to open on May 15. The new park will feature fountains, walkways, gardens, event lawns, playgrounds and restaurants, including the Moerlein Lager House, which officially opened last month. There will also be restrooms, a visitor’s center and bike parking, for a membership fee. In addition to connecting to the bike trail, one of the more interesting features are bike runnels along the steps to the lower level, so bicycles don’t have to be carried up and down the stairs, but can be rolled along the side. This is a unique solution to a multi-level park that points to the investment and encouragement of alternative modes of transportation to reach a destination park.

Cincinnati Parks is overseeing the planning, development and construction of the park, and funding came primarily from the city of Cincinnati and the Smale family. Read more about the new park here and watch a video clip here.

Bike Sharing Stations to Come to National Mall

The National Mall in Washington, D.C. will soon have bike sharing stations. Credit: Mr. T (Flickr Feed).

Last week, Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare celebrated its one millionth ride, just in time for its one year anniversary. The nation’s capital is the first community in North America to offer a government-sponsored bike sharing system. Capital Bikeshare is extremely popular, attracting over 18,000 members in the past year. This milestone warranted a party, so the “1st Birthday Bash,” coinciding with Car Free Day, was held in one of D.C.’s newest waterfront parks, Yards Park.

We’ve written before about bringing bike sharing programs to parks, and the success of Capital Bikeshare has led to plans of 60 additional stations in the District as well as Arlington, VA in the next six months. There are even plans to expand northwards and add stations in Rockville and Shady Grove, MD.

But even more exciting than adding stations to the suburbs, The Washington Post reports the National Park Service is allowing Capital Bikeshare to have stations on the National Mall beginning next year. Hopefully this will be the stepping-stone for opening stations in other national parks, including Anacostia Park and Rock Creek Park, increasing usership to them. The National Park Service is also considering adding bike sharing stations to the numerous other circles, squares, and triangle properties they own throughout the District.

For the 10 million annual visitors to the National Mall, these bright red bicycles cannot come soon enough. Currently the closest bike sharing stations can be up to a half-mile away from the most popular tourist and recreational attractions. Eradicating this “bike-share desert in the heart of the District” could only mean increased usership for locals and tourists alike. And because the National Park Service has goals of promoting increased and safer bicycle usage around the Mall, as indicated in the National Mall Plan, adding more bicycle lanes or trails to this area would go in tandem with bike sharing stations.

Placing bike sharing stations in parks will not only bring additional users to city parks, but help increase connectivity to parks and other recreational destinations throughout the city. Encouraging commuters to bicycle through parks as part of their daily route would increase mental as well as physical health. And with the District Department of Transportation giving away 500 helmets to frequent Capital Bikeshare riders, as well as local hotels lending helmets to tourists, safety will come first too.

Bike to the Blossoms Campaign Brings People to Parks

Credit: goDCgo.com

Every year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC.  Originally planted along the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, the cherry trees bloom each spring and can now be found throughout the entire Tidal Basin as well as East Potomac Park.  The two-week festival includes numerous concerts, food tastings, walks and races, parades, the Blossom Kite Festival and myriad other activities, and attracts over a million people to the city each year.

As the Tidal Basin turns into a cloud of pink each spring, East Potomac Park is often overrun with cars whose drivers idle about while admiring the famous cherry trees, making it difficult for those on bike or foot to enjoy the floral display.

That’s why we are excited to learn that Capital Bikeshare, in conjunction with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, is launching the Bike to the Blossoms campaign for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  This campaign allows visitors (and locals) to buy a 5-day membership to Capital Bikeshare for a special rate of $15, instead of the regular $5 daily membership rate.  In addition to the special rate, there will be extra bike docks and racks downtown as well as valet bike parking.  And for the directionally challenged, there is even a reader-friendly joint transportation map available outlining the many transportation options surrounding the festival’s events.

We’ve written before about the importance of bringing bike share programs to city parks, encouraging people to visit their local urban oases by using two wheels instead of four.  And with the super helpful transportation map, riders can easily discern how to visit multiple parks and attractions in one bike ride.

The Bike to the Blossoms campaign is a good example of how an already popular bike share program can connect residents and visitors to over a dozen parks and monuments within a five-mile radius, heralding the beginning of spring and the tourist season in Washington, D.C.  This campaign is also a great example of a successful partnership between local and federal government and the private sector to support the tourism industry.  We hope other cities will consider similar campaigns this spring and summer to encourage their residents and out-of-towners to visit their own city parks from a two-wheeled vantage point :-)

Moving Traffic to the Trail: Boulder’s Multipurpose Greenway

Can a greenway park help a city solve its transportation problems? Definitely!

Boulder Greenway. Credit: City of Boulder

That’s the finding from Boulder, Colorado (pop. 100,000), the conservation-minded home of the University of Colorado and a national leader in combating auto traffic, energy waste and sprawl.

Back in 1990 Boulder rejected the concept of widening roads and constructing interchanges in order to “build its way out of congestion.” Instead, the city’s Transportation Master Plan promoted transit, bicycles, pedestrian facilities, and a greenway park. 

Now, 20 years later, the city has released a report on its progress, which has been remarkable. Residents commute by bike at 20 times the national average, and nearly one in 10 walk to work. As for the greenway, it has grown by an average of one mile of off-street path and two underpasses a year, even while maintaining the hallmarks of both an innovative transportation solution and an excellent city park.

The genesis of the 17-mile greenway system can be traced to the words of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who in 1910 warned of the dangers of channelizing Boulder Creek. Allowing the creek to occupy its natural floodplain was a “straightforward question of hydraulics and municipal common sense,” he said. A century later, the creek has developed into a downtown centerpiece: at once a popular route for commuters, a method for preserving cultural and environmental resources, and an area for outdoor recreation.

The greenway has a clear and comprehensive set of objectives, thereby fulfilling the first measure of an Excellent City Park System. Planners carved out niches for “passive recreation” so that in addition to rollerblading, cycling, and walking, it’s easy to find a place more suited to reading, observing wildlife, or wading in the stream. There are also adjacent areas for individual and team sports, outdoor programs, and general recreation.

The city enthusiastically promotes trail use through cycling events. Every June, Boulder celebrates Walk & Bike Month, consisting of 95 events and a Bike to Work Day attended by 5,000 cyclists this year. (Even Winter Bike to Work Day attracted 1,200 cyclists.) Two bike corrals recently replaced street parking in downtown, and a bike share program is in the works for 2011. Though spearheaded by the transportation department, these events increase the exposure and use of city parks. Similarly, the statistics tracked by the transportation department justify continued investment in park amenities along the greenway.

Perhaps more impressive than any single accomplishment is the way Boulder’s transportation planners, environmentalists, and park organizations work together for everyone. The budget is composed of equal contributions from lottery, flood control, and transit funds, and maintenance is performed by staff from the Parks, Forestry, Open Space, and Flood Utility departments. The bikeway even has a dedicated winter maintenance crew that can plow the entire network in 8 hours.   

Is Boulder with its college demographics a unique case? Evidently not. The Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis is another example of a hybrid trail-park which has successfully pursued transportation, recreation, and greening objectives in a dense and diverse area. The Midtown Greenway connects to parks via the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway (see Density Zoning / Midtown Greenway) and efforts are underway to add pocket parks and public performance spaces along the trail. Numerous other urban rail-trails, such as Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail and Washington, D.C.’s Capital Crescent Trail, serve similarly varied purposes and diverse populations.

Boulder’s greenway system can serve as a guide for those who seek to integrate form and function by creating attractive public spaces and minimizing car traffic simultaneously. Boulder demonstrates that a broad set of goals can spur productive cooperation, but it is apparent that clearly defined objectives and a commitment to measuring progress are a precondition for success.

Bring Bike Share Programs to the Parks

Capital Bikeshare bicycles at Eastern Market Metro Station. Credit: Coleen Gentles

Several cities across the country rolled out bike share programs this year.  Denver’s B-cycle program (more than 400 bikes at 42 solar-powered stations) was unveiled last Earth Day as the first large-scale municipal bike sharing system in the United States.  Washington, D.C. first opened a limited network of kiosks called SmartBike in June (100 bicycles at 10 locations), then most recently instituted the new Capital Bikeshare program (1,100 bicycles at 114 solar-powered stations) in the District and Arlington, Virginia in September.  Minneapolis launched its NiceRide system of 700 bikes at 65 stations which operated April through early November.

So what are the prospects of bike sharing for city park systems?  In Minneapolis, the stations are mostly located outside of parks but users may be checking the bikes out and using city trails and parks that are nearby or on their way to destinations.  For instance, a cyclist could take a bike from the University of Minnesota and travel along the Mississippi River parks and Stone Arch Bridge.  Or, someone may check a bike out downtown and head to the Minneapolis Institute of Art or Midtown.

One of the exciting opportunities these new bike share programs present is the possibility of greater connectivity for the urban park system.  The more locations available to pick-up or return a bicycle, the more options residents will have to visit parks or use trails as part of their every day activities.  Some programs even cater to tourists by providing daily and monthly memberships in addition to the annual agreements most users are familiar with, allowing these visitors to participate in the program and possibly even advocate for one in their own city.

As more cities climb on board this trendy and convenient mode of transportation, it will be interesting to see if the park supporters and bicycle champions work in tandem to push not only for more bike lanes through the city, but trails and connections to all of the parks in the city.

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