Recently Kish and I went to a show at the Riffe Center, across the street from the Ohio Statehouse.  We noticed a new Central Ohio Transit Authority sign, for “CMAX” as well as our old favorite, the CBUS.


It’s a new concept for COTA — a rapid transit bus line.  The CMAX will make fewer stops, at major destinations on the most congested bus lines, with the goal of reducing travel time, reducing congestion, and creating better conditions for pedestrians.  And, from the COTA website linked above, it looks like the ultimate plan is for the CMAX to include improved technology — like, perhaps, wireless options on buses.  The Bus-Riding Conservative has long held that offering wireless could be the key to making riding buses really attractive to the Gen Xers, who he thinks would happily choose an option that would allow them to check out all of their social media contacts while they are commuting.

The first CMAX line will run along Cleveland Avenue, connecting downtown to Polaris Parkway — a route that COTA estimates serves more than 220,000 residents and 170,000 workers.  The sign at High and State is for one of the stops at the downtown end of the route.

I have to give COTA credit — with the CBUS, the Airconnect bus that links the airport and downtown hotels, and now CMAX, our local transit agency is making a good effort to redefine “the bus” and provide service that is more targeted to what the community really needs.  Here’s hoping that CMAX is another success story.

Cranes Over Columbus 

When you see one of those towering construction cranes, you know that some serious work is underway.  When you see a number of those cranes in the same area, you know that things are hopping.

Right now, downtown Columbus is Construction Crane Central.

These two cranes are on two adjoining blocks of High Street on the south side of downtown.  There’s another crane to the south and west, and construction projects also are in progress at the corner of Third and Rich, at the intersection of Gay and High, and in other parts of the core downtown area.  

By this time next year, downtown Columbus is going to look a lot different.  And, equally important, we’ll see a happy decline in the number of those ugly surface lots.  (As an example of the invisible hand at work, incidentally, monthly parking rates in the downtown area are going up, up, up almost as fast as the new buildings.)

It’s an exciting time to be in Columbus.

Under The Van

When we went to lunch on Tuesday, Broad Street was blocked off at the intersection of Broad and High, and we could see lots of police cars and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, gathered a block away at the intersection of Broad and Third.  As we crossed the street, I asked the friendly policeman what was going on.  He grinned, shrugged, and said that a protester had chained himself to the underside of a van.

“An anti-Trump protest?” I asked.  “Nope,” the officer said.  “The guy is protesting a pipeline.”  And as we walked in front of the Statehouse, we saw some protesters out front, handing out leaflets that read “water is life” and complaining that Ohio had sent some state troopers to help North Dakota deal with protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which native Americans and other groups contend will harm tribal lands and threaten water supplies.

When we came back from lunch an hour later, the hubbub was finally dying down.  The police had removed the protester and had the van on a flatbed truck, ready to be hauled away, as shown in the photo above.  The protester was an Athens County man who is part of an environmental group called Appalachia Resist, and he was arrested and charged with inducing panic, disorderly conduct, hindering, and failing to comply.

It seemed weird to protest the Dakota Pipeline in Columbus, Ohio, to the point where you would chain yourself to the underside of a van and block traffic for hours at one of downtown’s busiest intersections.  Even if you felt strongly about the wisdom of Ohio dispatching troopers to another state, staging a protest that just inconvenienced people and probably pissed them off doesn’t seem like an approach that is reasonably calculated to win people to your point of view.

Columbus Under Construction

Walking around downtown this week, I was glad to see another site where guys in hard hats were hard at work.  This one was at Gay and High, where construction workers are ripping up a dismal surface parking lot and getting ready to begin building another multi-story, mixed use, retail/office/residential building.

IMG_2434The Gay Street site joins a slew of other downtown Columbus building sites, which can be found on lots next to the police headquarters, at the Convention Center, and across from the Columbus Commons on High Street, and ongoing rehab work on the long-empty buildings on the other side of the intersection of  Gay and High.  All told, the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, which covers the downtown area, estimates that about $500 million of construction work is underway and another $1.2 billion is in the pipeline.

This is good news for a lot of reasons.  Downtown Columbus is in the process of reinventing itself, transitioning from a purely commercial zone of buildings and parking lots where there was no activity whatsoever after 7 p.m. to an area where people live and work and certain neighborhoods, like Gay Street, are developing their own distinctive, 24-hour-a-day vibe.  The Capital Crossroad District estimates that the number of people who live downtown has doubled since 2004 and now stands at about 8,000.  That’s not a huge number, but the trend lines are obvious and the change in atmosphere in the downtown area is obvious, too.  It’s gone from a silent, empty place in the non-business hours to a place where people walk their dogs, jog, and have a hearty brunch on Sunday morning.

The construction boom is good for downtown and for construction workers, of course, but it’s also good for the entire central Ohio area.  I’d like to see the outward suburban creep end, and the focus instead be on growth at the core.  Let’s reuse, recycle, and reorient the existing streets, bridges, and infrastructure, replace the sad surface parking lots in the downtown area with residential buildings, entice more people to live downtown — and in the process avoid grading and paving over any more of that pretty Ohio farmland.

Random Everyday Weirdness

IMG_1265Recently I was walking past one of those planters you see on the sidewalks in urban areas.  You know what I mean — the large concrete boxes where generic plants can be found that might look good for a week or so, but then wither after not being regularly watered, with the planters often ending up as repositories for cigarette butts.  They’re supposed to make the surroundings look better, but normally you pass them by without a second glance.

This planter, though, featured a naked doll figure that had been carefully buried thigh-deep in the dirt.  The doll seemed to be making an intentional, kind of stick-it gesture to the world.  As I walked by, I wondered:  is the doll in fact supposed to be conveying some kind of message?  What’s the back story here?

Such random, everyday weirdness helps to make the world a richer place.

The Coolest Street In Downtown CBus

I’ve mentioned before that Gay Street, where I’ve worked for 30 years, is the coolest street in downtown Columbus.  I’m happy to say that this Columbus Underground article agrees with me, and provides some useful information about the additional development efforts that are underway, and being planned, for our little part of the downtown area.

IMG_2356Why has Gay Street become a destination street, and home to hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and interesting retail ventures?  I think there are a lot of reasons, but two in particular stand out.

First, Gay Street managed to avoid the urban renewal meat axe that turned a lot of downtown Columbus into a kind of surface parking lot desert.  Our block of Gay Street, between High and Third, is filled with three-, four-, and five-story buildings, most of which were built in the early 1900s.  The buildings are small enough that they could be bought and rehabbed, one by one, by individuals or small firms — and that is exactly what has happened.  In short, Gay Street is an example of what small-bore capitalism can accomplish.  And the different looks and styles of the buildings also give the street a lot of charm and make eating at a sidewalk table at Due Amici or the Tip Top a fun experience.

Second, it helps when a street has a kind of reliable anchor tenant whose employees will help to fill the restaurants and coffee bars and make them successful.  The Vorys firm has been that anchor tenant.  We stuck with Gay Street in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the street hit a low point and there wasn’t much going on, and now our lawyers are regular patrons of Cafe Brioso or the Plantain Cafe — to say nothing of the guys who are known, by name and standard order, at the Subway across the street.  When you’ve got a business with hundreds of employees looking every day for a lunch spot, or a place to have a beer after work, it helps to make the capitalist engine hum.

There are other contributors, of course.  As the CU article notes, changing Gay Street from a one-way to a two-way street definitely helped to give the street a more relaxed feel, and the City of Columbus has allowed the restaurants to set up sidewalk eating areas that not only increase the numbers of tables they can serve but also add a bustling, cosmopolitan element.  And some big developers have helped, too, by filling the blocks to the east with condominiums that have brought more permanent residents to the Gay Street mix.

It’s been great to see the change on Gay Street over the past 30 years, and to watch the developments occurring to the east and now to the west of our block.  With the long-vacant Madison’s building now being redeveloped, and the surface lot at Gay and High about to be filled in with a mixed-use building, there will be more changes to come.  I can’t wait to see where Gay Street is heading.

Red, White and Fume

boom-1_db800c99-fe20-f434-9a26ba39443eae9cTonight is the annual Red, White and Boom fireworks show in Columbus.  It’s always held on the Friday before Independence Day, and it’s a great celebration of pyrotechnics and loud noises that draws hundreds of thousands of people to downtown Columbus to ooh and aah about the latest bursting shell.

It’s also kind of a pain in the ass.

The problem is that people come to downtown not just to watch the show, but to camp out and get well lubricated hours before the show even begins.  So, the green space gets occupied by blankets and people working on their 12-ounce curl techniques in the early afternoon hours.  By the time the show starts, some of the observers are so liquored up they don’t know if they’re actually seeing fireworks or seeing stars from the drunken tumble that caused them to crack their heads on their neighbor’s cooler.  Add to that the heavy traffic that comes into the downtown area, causing mass tie-ups, and the debris left by the hordes, and its not a pretty picture.

In short, in my view Red, White and Boom doesn’t exactly show Columbus off at its finest.  Because I’m a patriotic guy, I’ll accept the inconvenience and hassle once a year.  But when the Red, White and Boom comes to downtown, I go.