NKY officials grapple with safety challenges for cyclists, pedestrians

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This story originally appeared in the Nov. 18 edition of the weekly LINK Reader. To see this story and others sooner, subscribe to the weekly newspaper here.

Nothing has generated a widespread call to action for safer footpaths and bike routes across Northern Kentucky like the death of multiple pedestrians in a single weekend in August. 

In the early morning on Saturday, Aug. 20, cyclist and local activist Gloria San Miguel was riding her bike along the 11th Street Bridge between Newport and Covington when she was struck by a vehicle. Police said ambulances arrived around 12:30 a.m., and the driver had fled the scene. 

Gloria San Miguel
A photo of Gloria San Miguel rests on a memorial table inside the community room of Roebling Books and Coffee in Covington. San Miguel was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Aug. 20, 2022. Photo by Kaitlin Gebby | LINK nky

In the same weekend San Miguel was struck and killed, 32-year-old Matthew-Mina Salama was hit by a pickup truck while standing near the far-eastbound lane of US 42 and Skeets Way, in Florence. Salama was pronounced dead at the scene. 

In Cincinnati, cyclist Jeffrey Robbins, age 71, was hit by a driver just before 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 21. He was also pronounced dead at the scene. 

Five days after San Miguel’s death, police reported a suspect had been arrested in the hit-and-run accident. In Campbell County Circuit Court, Mark Phipps, age 60, is now facing charges of second-degree manslaughter, tampering with physical evidence, and leaving the scene of an accident. 

The legal system may offer justice, but it does little in the eyes of local cyclists searching for safer roads.

Jody Robinson has been a Bellevue resident for 16 years and works as a senior advisor to the Devou Good Foundation, which collaborates with local nonprofits to assess the needs of communities and create projects that target their needs.

Robinson said she gave up car ownership a while ago and therefore relies on walking, biking, and public transportation.

She was once hit by a car while crossing the street at a crosswalk in Covington. 

Robinson said there is a lot of shaming for people on roads who are not in a vehicle. She described it as “odd and scary.”

“What it really comes down to is, roads are designed for a throughput of cars and not about all users of the road, and it’s just a United States mentality,” Robinson said. “And then we (Devou Good Foundation)  train drivers because our roads are designed to be faster than the speed limit, and it’s really just a very aggressive mentality.”

A woman stops on the Roebling Bridge to check out a map of the Cincinnati riverfront. Photo by Alecia Ricker | LINK nky

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) data shows the majority of pedestrian deaths occur after dark. Of 75 pedestrian deaths in Kentucky last year, 60 occurred after dark. So far this year, there have been 62 pedestrian deaths, 39 of which occurred after dark, according to October data. 

In Bellevue, KY Route 8, better known as Fairfield Avenue, has seen growth in businesses and activities over the years, drawing in more people and more traffic.

Per data shared by Bellevue Police Chief Jon McClain, more than 25% of collisions in the city occurred on Fairfield Avenue in the last three years. McClain’s report shows there were 139 collisions on Fairfield Avenue out of 495 crashes in Bellevue in the last three years. Out of the 24 accidents with injuries across Bellevue, nine injuries happened on Fairfield Avenue. 

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As a Bellevue resident, Robinson said she crosses Fairfield Avenue daily.

“Watching for cars crossing, you’ll have cars that actually speed up,” Robinson said. “It always crosses my mind like, ‘What if I trip?’ So, a very frightening thing. I don’t think people realize that when doing something like that, it’s weaponizing your car.”

Bellevue Mayor Charlie Cleves said the city is putting a pedestrian crossing island in the middle turn lane near McDonald’s on Donnermeyer Drive. The island will allow people to walk out to the middle of the street and wait for traffic to stop and finish crossing. Cleveas also said the city wants to install lit crosswalk signs where Fairfield Avenue intersects with Lafayette and Washington avenues. 

Robinson added that some of Kentucky’s road laws that allow drivers to make right turns on red, or left turns around other cars, lower visibility for pedestrians and cyclists. 

“There are certain things that make it more dangerous for pedestrians; there is a right turn on red,” Robinson said. “Cars aren’t necessarily looking for pedestrians, or they’re looking like, ‘Can I sneak out or just kind of slow down and keep going?’ And if a car is turning left, I was actually surprised to find out it’s legal in Kentucky to go around that car, and so pedestrians in the crosswalk can’t be seen.”

She said the crosswalks along the avenue do not always activate when you push the button, which creates car favor over pedestrian favor.

“I honestly think if people felt safer, they may be more likely to walk and bike,” Robinson said.

After living in the city for 16 years, Robinson credited changes that have been made to Fairfield Avenue for pedestrian safety.

“We got zebra striped crosswalks that took years and years and years to convince Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) to allow those, so the crosswalks stand out a little bit better,” Robinson said.  

Robinson is also spearheading an effort with the Devou Good Foundation, Tri-State Trails, and Newport to establish a two-way protected bike lane on the 11th Street Bridge, where San Miguel was hit. 

She added that narrow lanes naturally force drivers to go slower, and the reverse of that is seen on the bridge. In a Newport city meeting in September, she said cars are regularly clocked going 60 and 70 mph on the bridge. 

“What we see is the bridge is built like a highway, so people drive on it like a highway,” Robinson said. 

A duo jogs in bridal attire during the Great Bridal Chase 5K event in November. Photo by Alecia Ricker | LINK nky

A 2018 study conducted by the city of Covington found an increasing demand for walking or biking around the city. Covington has since installed more bike racks around the city and updated citywide trails that can be used for cycling. There are also a series of bikeshare stations across Covington, but there is still limited protection for cyclists downtown. 

Covington business owner Julia Keister, a fellow cyclist and friend of San Miguel, has been struck twice while riding her bike: once in Madison, Wisconsin, in a hit-and-run where she broke her collarbone, and a second time in New York City. In both instances, there was no bike lane. 

“I moved here from New York, where I biked all the time,” Keister said. “But I found it to be too dangerous of a place to bike in Covington. There are really few bike lanes anywhere in Cincinnati, but especially in Covington.”

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She added that many cyclists like to ride with their children in-tow, but she would never take that chance on Northern Kentucky roads. 

Covington’s research concluded that safety improvements for cyclists are hindered by the city’s limited ability to widen streets to make room for bike lanes. 

They determined wider streets would decrease the amount of parking within Covington, taking away an already-scarce resource from homeowners who rely on street parking.

This comes at a time when the city is preparing for the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project, which will be the largest and most expensive infrastructure project in the history of the Greater Cincinnati area.

KYTC has voiced it wants to support the expansion of bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The 2022-2045 Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan seeks to expand transportation options for all forms of transportation over the next 25 years. 

Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said the state is working on investment planning, they identified four investment decision themes: moderate increase in system preservation; restrained investment in the capacity of the highway system; expectation of improved safety due to technology; and growing investment in active transportation facilities, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit stops. 

“Transportation is about more than cars and roads,” Gray said, elaborating that the state wants to support Kentuckians who also travel by bicycle, boat, or other types of multi-modal transportation. 

“Our mission is to provide the people of Kentucky and those that travel through our state with an efficient, environmentally sound, and Safe Transportation Network,” Gray said. 

As part of the Better Kentucky Plan, Governor Andy Beshear emphasized the safety of pedestrians. The Better plan seeks to improve infrastructure through roads and bridges. 

“We’re asking every driver to watch for pedestrians as you would if it was one of your friends or family members, and we’re asking every pedestrian to be fully aware of your surroundings,” Beshear said. 

While its neighbors in Kenton and Campbell counties work to flesh out bike infrastructure in population-dense areas, Boone County is trying to build bike and walking trails into its growing neighborhoods. 

Beyond the trees, a couple is seen walking their dog along the Covington riverfront. Photo by Alecia Ricker | LINK nky

Chris Courtney, communication and community affairs officer, said the county is focusing on areas that will improve quality of life and increase access to daily destinations, like parks and grocery stores. 

“The fiscal court has been and continues to make investments to making Boone County more walkable, connecting residents to other assets,” he said. “These new sidewalks are connecting to schools, to the library, and to other assets in the county … probably the signature piece is the CVG Trail.”

Earlier this year, the Boone County Fiscal Court approved plans for a 4.6-mile pedestrian path near the northern portion of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). 

The 10-foot-wide, 4.6-mile path, currently referred to as the CVG trail, will stretch from Conner Road in Hebron, along KY 20, to Mineola Pike in Erlanger. The trail will be for pedestrians and bikes only, creating a path near the airport’s northern property. 

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The county has budgeted $5 million for the project, noting that Boone County funds make up 50% of the cost and the remainder is coming from federal funding.

Director of Public Works Rob Franxman said the money comes from a grant approved by the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) in 2021. He said the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is releasing $310,000 of federal funds for the project’s design. Franxman said the project’s design will be bid out in November, and construction costs are expected to be on the budget for Fiscal Year 2025. 

The path will be similar in design and purpose to the 5.2-mile loop trail near Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport, county officials said. 

But the CVG trail isn’t the only multi-use path in the works. Across the board, Boone County is planning to construct 10-foot-wide paths from Stephens Elementary to KY 20, covering 2.9 miles; a 1.2-mile stretch from KY 237 to Aero Parkway; a 1.4-mile multi-use path from KY 237 to KY 20; another multi-use path from KY 20 to Medical Arts Drive; and the CVG Trail that will stretch from Conner Road to Mineola Pike. 

In total, that’s 10.9 miles of 10-foot-wide paths for bikes and pedestrians, adding up to more than $7.56 million. 

According to information submitted by Courtney, construction on many sections of the multi-use paths will begin in 2023. Part of the 10-foot-wide multi-use path from Stephens Elementary to KY 20 is currently under construction, which makes up than $2 million of the total investment. 

Courtney also shared plans for nine sidewalk projects across the county, the longest of which includes a 1.7-mile sidewalk from U.S. 25 to Industrial Road and Weaver Road, and a 1.2-mile sidewalk that connects Frogtown Road and Richwood Road. In total, the county is overseeing the construction of 6.4 miles of new sidewalks between now and 2025. 

Overall, Boone County is planning to invest more than $10.4 million in bike and pedestrian-friendly pathways in the next three years. 

But those are just county-led projects. Meanwhile, the city of Union is seeing the fruit of its labor after the completion of the Mt. Zion Road project, which widened and relocated the road as part of the proposed 2012-2018 Kentucky 6-year Road Plan. 

With a total investment of $59 million, key elements of the new road include two roundabouts with landscaped features at Old Union Road and Brilliance Avenue, and 10-foot-wide multi-use paths on both sides of Mt. Zion Road. 

Now, the city is looking ahead to its biggest developments yet in the Union Promenade and the Union Town Centre.

The two projects make up more than 80 acres of land that will be transformed into mixed-use developments, where retail and residential spaces exist side-by-side within walking distance of one another. 

Communications Director Amy Safran said the city’s plans for these projects “include a focus on walkability.” 

Union Mayor Larry Solomon said “maintaining a safe community with increased walkability and the highest quality of living” are focal points as Union continues to grow in population. 

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