Uptown Cincinnati is home to many of the city's major educational, health, and cultural institutions and is the second largest employment center in the city. Although the district is bustling with activity, Martin Luther King Drive (MLK)—the spine of Uptown—is an auto-dominated strip with little street life or pedestrian amenity. A new highway interchange at Interstate 71 is underway, which will greatly improve access but also induce a one-third increase in traffic on MLK. The MLK/Reading Road Corridor Study, conducted by Sasaki in collaboration with Cincinnati architects GBBN and economists RCLCO, points toward MLK's transformation, from a functional-but-drab arterial into a great street that displays Uptown's diversity, vitality, and sophistication. Inspired urban design, practical and progressive traffic operations analysis, insightful economic research, and energetic community engagement all combine in a plan for a new MLK that enhances vehicular access while anchoring a walkable urban district. The study provides a strategy and tools to guide land use, infrastructure, and institutional investment. More than a transportation plan, the MLK/Reading Road Corridor Study voices the community's ambition to unite Uptown and give it a unique identity.
The core of the planning exercise was analysis of relationships: between institutions and their host communities; between economic growth, community vitality and the public realm; between the street as a transportation facility and as a place. In a highly collaborative and public process, Sasaki tested urban design and traffic management concepts and merged them into a multilayered plan for land use, road design, transportation demand management, community economic stabilization, and institutional growth. Sasaki built a computer animation of future traffic in the corridor and integrated it into a 3-D model of the study area, simultaneously creating a tangible vision around which the stakeholders could rally and providing a technical analysis which convinced city and state officials that MLK did not need to be widened. RCLCO's market analysis identified real-estate opportunities, validating a community preference for residential development in existing neighborhood centers.
Sasaki's study seeks to leverage social and infrastructure assets to foster not only economic growth in the corridor, but also a civic expression of community, inclusion, and pride of place. After testing a variety of street typologies for efficiency, land access, walkability, and aesthetics, Sasaki developed a plan for a grand boulevard with wide sidewalks and a median with a double row of trees. The new MLK will frame a harmonious set of land uses geared to walkable commuting and auto-independence. Mixed-use gateways will be established at key points along MLK. The land use strategy includes infill housing and knowledge clusters along MLK and Reading Road, supported by local living initiatives on the part of area employers. Public realm improvements will focus on pedestrians and placemaking. Parking and transit will be coordinated to mitigate traffic and promote sustainable transportation.