Bike Month highlights Cincy's burgeoning bike culture

Nern Ostendorf has been riding bikes her entire life. As a kid growing up in Cincinnati, Ostendorf would frequently ride her bike around Spring Grove Cemetery with her sister and grandpa. And as a young adult, she would bike with her dad to Findlay Market.
 
At age 18, she moved to Chicago—bike in tow, sans car—where she learned about biking as a form of transportation, and ultimately became a bike commuter.
 
For the next six years, Ostendorf’s involvement with bicycling—and biking advocacy—grew, as did her desire to return to her hometown.
 
So, in 2011, she moved back to Cincinnati and became executive director of Queen City Bike, an organization dedicated to biking advocacy.
 
In all that time, Ostendorf has seen Cincinnati’s bike culture and infrastructure, not to mention the public’s perception of biking, improve exponentially.
 
“I think that bike culture [in Cincinnati] is doing really well,” Ostendorf says. “As someone who has grown up here and left, and then come back, I kind of have three levels of perception: the atmosphere when I was here coming into my adulthood, and then between the time when I started my work with Queen City Bike and now the present.
 
“It had already improved by a huge amount by the time I returned to Cincinnati three years ago. And it’s at least doubled since I’ve started in my role at Queen City Bike.”
 
Bike month getting bigger

Perhaps nowhere is Cincinnati’s blossoming bike culture more evident than in the growth of the city’s celebration of National Bike Month, which runs throughout the month of May each year.
 
Ostendorf estimates there will be more than 100 Bike Month events in Cincinnati this May—so many, in fact, that there have been discussions about the city having its own “Bike Month 2” this September.
 
“Bike Month didn’t exist when I grew up here,” Ostendorf says. “Queen City Bike has been organizing Bike Month for the past several years. And every year, it gets bigger and we get more people out, and we get more exposure.”
 
Each event is geared toward promoting biking in some way, and there are opportunities for people at all levels of experience to participate.
 
For those who would like to start biking more, but need a boost of confidence to feel safe riding on the road, the MoBo Bicycle Cooperative will be hosting its fourth annual MoBo Super Slow Ride Workshop every Thursday in May at 6:30 pm.
 
People who feel comfortable riding on the road but still like to take things a little slower can participate in Thursday Night Slow and Steady Rides, which take place every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Hoffner Park in Northside.
 
And for people don’t have a bike, aren’t ready to ride yet or just need some biking inspiration, Coffee Emporium in Over-the-Rhine will be hosting the Crank Up Cincy Poster Show from May 1-31. All posters on display will feature bike-themed work from artists in the Cincinnati area.
 
Other notable Bike Month events include the Ride for Reading bike delivery parade, in which riders start at Coffee Emporium and deliver donated books to a school in Northside (May 7 at 11 a.m.); Bike Prom, which includes a bike ride from Hoffner Park to downtown and back, ending at Hoffner Lodge with music and dancing (May 24 at 8 p.m.); and the Bike Parade +  Picnic Ride, which will consist of a short ride around OTR and Cincinnati’s Central Business District before returning to Washington Park for a picnic (May 17 at 4 p.m.).
 
Bike Month festivities will conclude with Queen City Bike + Dine 9 on June 1 at 9:30 a.m. Riders will meet at Collective Espresso in OTR and take a bike tour of local restaurants, eating a progressive brunch at each stop.
 
Investing In biking infrastructure

While the increasing participation in Bike Month is a step in the right direction, it’s just one piece of a larger puzzle, as the city works toward becoming more bike-friendly by improving its biking infrastructure.
 
To help achieve that goal, the city implemented a comprehensive bike plan in 2010, much of which was focused on the addition of bike lanes, shared lane markings and bike trails throughout Cincinnati.
 
Although progress has been made—most recently, the city finished adding two miles of bike lanes to Riverside Drive in late 2013, and a project to restripe Delta Avenue between Columbia Parkway and Erie Avenue to add bike lines is already underway—there have been challenges along the way.
 
“We are an older central city, so almost any street we want to put bike infrastructure on requires some type of major trade-off,” says Melissa McVay, a senior city planner in the Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE). “Whether it’s removing a lane of traffic, consolidating parking on one side of the street, or adding peak-hour parking restrictions, there’s always a trade-off.”
 
One major project that required such trade-offs is the Central Parkway bikeway, which called for a cycle track—essentially a bike lane protected by plastic poles—to be implemented on Central Parkway from Elm Street to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. The project made headlines recently when it was paused—and almost killed altogether—by City Council just weeks before construction was expected to begin over concerns that some of the trade-offs were too great.
 
In this case, implementing two new protected bike lanes on Central Parkway—one on each side of the street—meant losing one lane of traffic in each direction in certain segments of the road, and adding various parking restrictions during peak hours.
 
Although the original plan was unanimously approved by the previous City Council last year, some business owners along the proposed route expressed concerns that the loss of parking would negatively impact their businesses and deter new businesses from moving to the area.
 
So, in an effort to reach some sort of compromise, DOTE developed an alternative plan, which addressed the business owners’ concerns and was still viewed positively enough by a majority of council members to move forward.
 
Bike Month comes early

Actually, one might say Bike Month started a day early this year, because at the same April 30 council meeting that saw the approval of the Central Parkway bikeway, City Council also signed off on $1.9 million in funding for five other bike projects.
 
The bulk of that funding—$1.1 million—will go to Cincy Bike Share, a service that will offer people the opportunity to rent bicycles and return them at various stations throughout the city. Additionally, four different bike trails each will receive $200,000 in funding: Wasson Way, the Oasis Corridor, Mill Creek and the Ohio River Trail West.
 
It’s likely that no program will have as great an immediate impact on the city’s bike culture as Cincy Bike Share, which could be implemented as early as this summer. Initial plans call for 300 bikes to be available among 35 stations throughout the city.
 
“I think it’s going to be catalytic for our bike community to have bike share,” McVay says. “I think it’s going to completely change the general public’s attitude toward bicycling when you start to see so many different people on these bicycles everywhere around the city. I really think it will be a game changer for Cincinnati.”
 
But as powerful as the immediate benefits of a bike share might be, the potential for long-term benefits might be even more substantial, in the form of a new generation of bikers.
 
“There are more dollars on the table than we’ve had in the past being put toward bicycling improvements, which is great news,” Ostendorf says. “By investing in trails and bike shares, what we’re going to see happen is a whole new population of riders hopefully getting out and wanting to bike even more. Hopefully, that will turn into more people who want more biking facilities everywhere.”
 
A complete list of events and more information on Bike Month can be found here.
 
 
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