Liberty Street Conversion

Here’s my feedback to the city on the upcoming Liberty Street conversion:

Liberty Street is not a pleasant place.  Cars in four lanes of traffic weave and exhibit race car behavior as they speed forward only to screech to a halt at the next red light.  Noisy trucks billow out smoke.  It’s very uncomfortable for a pedestrian to walk beside.  As a result it is shunned by the joggers, dog walkers, and people going about their everyday business, and the vacuum is filled by loiterers that drink malt liquor starting early in the morning.  The street is also filthy, inundated with litter and trash of every sort.

When Liberty Street was widened in the 1950’s, many buildings were torn down and Over-the-Rhine was divided into two halves.  This action served automobile pass-through traffic counts and not the residents of the neighborhood.  As a result the street has remained blighted ever since.  Fortunately the cure is obvious: turn the street back into a walkable place that will attract people and economic activity.  As a nearby example, Vine Street through Over the Rhine underwent traffic calming when it was converted into a two way street from a one way street.  It has since won national acclaim and is turning into one of the economic engines of our region, a place where small businesses start before spreading to other neighborhoods, cities, and states.  While the dedicated efforts of 3CDC fuel this success, it could not happen if Vine Street was not an eminently walkable place.  We need to do the same to Liberty Street.

I understand there is concern by the traffic engineers in reducing the capacity of Liberty Street given that 18,000 vehicles a day use it.  I think those concerns are overblown.  First, just as “induced demand” is a real phenomenon where additional cars start using a street when additional lanes are added, “reduced demand” is a real phenomenon as well for streets that undergo capacity reductions.  Secondly, there are plenty of nearby streets that can absorb rerouted traffic from Liberty. Our freely flowing north-south streets can easily direct traffic to Central Parkway for example.  Finally, the street is oversized for the number of cars a day that use it currently.   According to the Urban Street Design Guide, “streets carrying up to 25,000 vehicles per day function effectively with 3 lanes, depending on the traffic volumes of nearby adjacent streets.”  (National Association of City Transportation Officials, Urban Street Design Guide,  Island Press, 2013,  pg. 14.)

This is why I am for turning Liberty into three lane street (one travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane.)

However, the only way to have this street find its full economic and aesthetic potential is to have new development facing it, especially on the south side of the street.  In my opinion the existing lots on the south side are so small and odd shaped that a normal new development will require at least an extra 20′.  Thus, the three lane option as presented by the city’s Department of Transportation and Engineering should remove either the bike lanes or the permanent parking lanes, to regain space for development on the south side of the street. This would potentially return 24′ ft. for development (8′ per lane plus the 8′ already in plan.)

The five lane option as presented by the City would have roughly the same footprint as the three lane street described above, and also allow roughly the same footprint for new development.  Thus, I would consider the five lane option as an acceptable intermediary step in Liberty’s eventual conversion into a three lane street. However, I would view such an intermediary step as an unnecessary half-measure and overly cautious of offending drivers’ sensibilities.

Liberty St. could be the centerpiece of a burgeoning neighborhood, a beautiful boulevard with sidewalk cafes, etc.  Let’s work to make this project a nationwide model for what can happen when we build places for people instead of accommodating auto traffic.