By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SOUTH FAIRMOUNT - A $6 million project to straighten Queen City Avenue will add four lanes of new roadway - and subtract the last of the "reversible lane" arrows that once controlled traffic on Cincinnati's major thoroughfares.
For 50 years, green arrows and red X's have been part of the daily commute for white-knuckled Cincinnati motorists.
The city of Cincinnati has announced plans to remove the reversible lane from Queen City Avenue.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
On Beechmont Avenue, Columbia Parkway, Harrison Avenue, Hopple Street and, lastly, Queen City, they allowed traffic engineers to get more rush-hour traffic on a narrow, three-lane road.
The Queen City straightening project is significant in its own right. The 3,000 feet of new roadway between White Street and Wyoming Avenue will take out 200 feet of "slack" in the road as it winds through a valley once known as Lick Run.
That has regional transportation planners excited, because that slack adds up to almost 1,200 miles driven each day by the 31,000 vehicles that travel that stretch.
The stretch has been the site of 118 accidents in a recent three-year stretch - including seven head-on collisions.
Building a new roadway to the south will allow the existing Queen City Avenue to become a quiet, residential street. It will be renamed "Old Queen City" or "Queen City Court" so that residents won't have to change their addresses.
But city traffic engineers seem most relieved by the end of the reversible lanes. Monday's groundbreaking ceremony included a mock tombstone marking the devices' imminent retirement.
George Howie, who was the city's traffic engineer a half-century ago, brought the signals to Cincinnati. He found them ideal to move traffic up and down the narrow, winding parkways along Cincinnati's hillsides.
"This was way before you had interstates and expressways, so at the time they did help increase efficiency of the roads," said Stephen Bailey, Howie's modern-day successor.
While the lanes were innovative in the 1950s, they've fallen out of favor. Today's traffic engineers find them confusing and, at best, a stopgap solution for narrow roads.
"As someone who has looked up and found himself in a lane with a red arrow above it about a dozen times in the past 30 years, it's long overdue," Mayor Charlie Luken said Monday as he helped break ground. "Every mayor since Murray Seasongood has promised this project."
It's true. Seasongood's successor, Russell Wilson, was mayor when the city first started talking about the need to straighten Queen City. The year was 1934.
Even then, traffic engineers said, Queen City Avenue should be six lanes wide. The reversible lanes came to Queen City in the mid-1970s after Luken's father, then-Mayor Thomas A. Luken, told South Fairmount residents that they would help the flow of traffic. At the same time, the city turned Queen City and Westwood avenues into one-way streets to get traffic in and out of the city faster.
James G. Bauer, a South Fairmount resident who turned 82 on Monday, remembers city promises to straighten out Queen City dating back to the 1940s.
In fact, San Antonio Church - once the spiritual home of Cincinnati's Italian community - is on the north side of Queen City for that reason. Parishioners originally planned to locate on the south side, but city engineers told them that the new roadway would run right through their church.
"It took them 65 years to build it," Bauer said.
The project should be completed in December.
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