OTR residents give mixed reviews to a car-free Main Street

Street parties and parking issues took center stage Tuesday night.
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 8:27 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Parking problems prevailed in an anticipated public meeting about Over-the-Rhine Tuesday night, where residents described a neighborhood “in flux” thanks to continued development.

They also cited safety concerns as people from outside the neighborhood descend upon it on over the weekends, eating up a diminishing supply of parking spaces and sometimes adding to unsanctioned street parties that have caused safety concerns.

Cincinnati City Council’s Healthy Neighborhoods Committee hosted the meeting at the Over-the-Rhine Recreation Center.

The meeting came more than a month after nine people were shot on Main Street overnight. None were seriously injured, but the spectacle drew significant attention and swift action, including the installation of makeshift sidewalk barricades to address conditions authorities said gave rise to the shooting.

Those conditions included party-like gatherings complete with snack vendors, lawn chairs, grills, parked cars blaring loud music and large groups of people. Officials argued the barricades—as well as parking restrictions, heightened police presence to keep foot traffic moving and health department permit enforcement—would keep the neighborhood safe.

The barricades were always intended as temporary, and on Tuesday the full pedestrianization of Main Street was unveiled as a possible permanent solution. (See renderings below.)

A Car-Free Main Street

Devou Good Foundation Board member Matt Butler introduced the designs, calling them “high-level conceptual renderings” that resulted from a data-driven look at cities across the country.

“It turns out one thing you can do to reduce gun violence is to reduce automobiles,” Butler said. “And it also can be used as an economic development tool. We’ve seen the success with the streateries. This is taking it to the next level.”

The plans are not final, and the community will have another opportunity to offer feedback next week.

Butler also showed designs of pedestrian and cyclist safety improvements at Findlay Market, which are already approved by DOTE and are on track to be implemented.

Many spoke in favor of the Main Street designs citing concerns for pedestrian safety. One resident described cars zooming through Main Street and elsewhere in the neighborhood at 100 mph, blowing through stop signs and creating safety hazards.

But not everyone at the meeting bought into the alleged nexus between car traffic and gun violence. “Cars don’t have nothing to do with crime,” said OTR resident Stephon Pryor.

Even those who did not question it had misgivings about the proposal.

OTR resident Julie Fey spoke to the street parties at Green and Republic streets as well as those on Main Street, saying officials should enforce rules already on the books rather than “jeopardize” Main Street’s small businesses.

“If you want to have retail and shops, you have to have customers feel comfortable accessing them,” she said. “[...]We don’t necessarily need bocce ball courts on Main Street.”

OTR resident Jared Bradford is of two minds about the idea.

“I love the idea of getting rid of the cars, because frankly the noise... Main Street has turned into party central, especially on Friday and Saturday nights,” he said. “[...]I don’t know how I feel about my street turned into an adult recreation center where people are getting drunk until two or three in the morning. The city has to find a way of balancing what the residents need and what the community needs from a business standpoint.”

Parties, Parking and Crime

Deadly violence is down this year in OTR, and overall reported crime is consistent with previous years, according to City data. But it’s the street parties that are causing the most angst.

OTR residents described parties that go into the early morning with hundreds of attendees spewing loud noise into the fabric of a neighborhood that remains primarily residential. At least three residents, two with young children, described sleep deprivation. Another resident referred to it as a mental health issue.

The comments, however, kept coming back to parking—sometimes as the systemic root of violence, other times as a problem in its own right.

Said OTR resident Jackie Dean, “This parking situation is terrible. All these people is parking, they don’t live down here. We can’t get any sleep. They have parties, food and liquor, and they don’t have to come clean it up. Someone needs to come and check these cars and make them move on, because we pay for our parking.”

OTR resident Matt Anthony described parking as a quality-of-life issue in the neighborhood due to “a lot of pressures coming together that are just ratcheting up the tension.” He continued: “It has become difficult having a young family, having to figure out where to park, where to unload.”

The issue, according to residents and Cincinnati Vice Mayor Jan-Michelle Kearney, stems in part from a 2018 City Council decision to eliminate minimum parking requirements for OTR developers. The move made it more affordable to build dense housing in line with the community’s dense historic character—but at the stated expense of car space.

A new garage at Findlay Market figures to help, but those residents who mentioned the garage largely dismissed it as inadequate to the larger problem.

“It seems like development has caught up and infrastructure has not,” said Alexis Marsh of OTR’s revitalization. “So we don’t have the infrastructure to handle high-density infill without the amenities like parking or green space.”

Said Matt Anthony, “It’s developing so fast that it’s causing whiplash, and the nearest solutions people can point to are a long way off.”

OTR resident Matt Jacob agreed in part, though he noted parking issues in OTR are a “first-world problem” and a “luxury” to have.

“On density, if you live in this neighborhood, you’re sort of buying into that,” he said. “If you want a garden and a garage, there are 51 other neighborhoods for that.”

Jacob also resisted the notion that the street party participants can or should be brushed away.

“Ask them what is the unserved need that this is fulling,” he said, “and create a safe space for that so we have control, so this can be a part of the growth of our city and not keep getting pushed under the drug and getting stomped on.”

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