Let’s face it, this is a car town.
I mean, more than 150,000 vehicles cross the Brent Spence Bridge every day. Every day! Near my home on Cincinnati’s West Side, 35,000 vehicles traverse the Western Hills Viaduct daily.
I’m a car person. I love to bicycle, but I try to stay off the streets and stick to the bike trails. I love to walk, but I prefer a trail in the woods. So when my editor asked me to write something about non-automobile ways to get around, I was perplexed.
But then my four-year-old Ford, as cars do, broke down. A tire went flat and I drove it too far on I-75 before pulling off to take care of it. Too late, the thing was shredded.
That punctuated what I’d been thinking about for a while — driving can be a pain. Especially in the urban core — Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, Covington, Newport — the streets in those places weren’t built for the number of cars and trucks they carry every day. They’ve become a congested and slow. Our compact inner cities are better suited for walking or other alternate modes of getting around.
So I took the boss up on the idea and planned a day to explore the core — both sides of the river — without (deep breath) a car.
On a Thursday morning, I took a seven-minute walk to catch the Metro 21 on Harrison Avenue, in front of Woods Hardware. It arrived at 8:47 a.m., right on time.
The 21 rolled down Harrison, past the Victorian mansions and mid-century apartment buildings of Westwood, down the hill into South Fairmount, and across the Viaduct. By the time we got to Central parkway, the 21 was nearly full.
Metro is clearly a necessity for a lot of people who don’t have cars, don’t have enough cars, or who simply prefer taking the bus. And why not? Most of the riders were on their phones, listening to music, or getting in a few extra ZZZs before the workday started, all activities best done when not behind the wheel.
I was just enjoying the ride, watching the passing scenery and appreciating the fact that I didn’t have to navigate the rush-hour traffic. It was relaxing, meditative even.
We arrived at Fountain Square at 9:26 a.m., one minute earlier than the scheduled time. I crossed Fifth Street and climbed on the Southbank Shuttle to head into Covington.
The Shuttle is a rubber-wheeled trolley that stops every 15 minutes in front of major hotels and convention centers on both sides of the river. And it’s just $1 for a ride across the historic John J. Roebling Suspension Bridge.
On the way I chatted with the driver, Robin, about a true Cincinnati passion we share — free parking. He filled me in on a not-so-secret secret: copping free parking on the Covington riverfront and taking the Southbank across the river for Reds or Bengals games. Noted!
In fact, Robin has advised his son, who works downtown, to find that free parking and take the Southbank across the Ohio to work every day. Put the money saved into an interest-bearing account, maybe a 401(k) and watch it grow. Retire a wealthy man. I agreed wholeheartedly with his plan.
Robin dropped me off directly in front of my destination, Roebling Point Bookstore, on Greenup Street in Covington.
Roebling Point is a dream of a small, independent bookstore. Cozy, with the aroma of coffee and books filling the air. The selection is eclectic, including local, Kentucky authors, poetry, a shelf containing books of “The Earth and its People,” and one devoted to Kentucky’s literary man of the land, Wendell Berry.
There’s even a small selection of used, vinyl records for sale and special “Newsprint” latte made with white and dark chocolate. I wanted to stay all day, but there was traveling to be done. I bought a few Christmas cards made at Larkspur Press in Monterey, Ky. and started thinking about lunch.
By this time, I was experiencing a wave of nostalgia, remembering when I was 13 or 14 and a friend and I would taken the bus downtown on a Saturday just for fun. We’d take a few bucks, buy lunch somewhere, and generally just run around town for the better part of a day. It was a Great Escape from the Suburbs (and parents).
This excellent adventure was feeling like that — taking the bus from the West Side and then running around town with the only goal being to get home by dinner. Even that was flexible.
Between the OGGO electric car and the Southbank Shuttle, jumping from Cincinnati to Northern Kentucky is easy and cheap.
Before leaving the warm confines of Roebling Point, I called for the region’s latest mode of alt-transportation: OGGO. The OGGO app works a lot like Uber’s or Lyft’s — request a ride with the location setting on your smartphone; the geo-locator displays in real time where the closest OGGO is, how soon it will arrive, and the driver’s name.
Best of all, it’s free! (Tipping is encouraged.) OGGO’s revenue comes from advertising — my ride was powered by Absolut vodka.
The vehicle is electric, and they only operate in the urban core, roughly Over-the-Rhine to Covington and Newport. Which makes sense, because you really wouldn’t want a lightweight e-car slugging it out on the interstates, right?
My OGGO (pronounced OH-go) arrived in less than five minutes to take me back across the river. For my driver, Tarrance, OGGO is a second job. At night, he’s at the airport, guiding planes into and out of their gates and loading and unloading luggage.
A tablet computer is mounted in backseat (the vehicle can carry five passengers) to look up restaurants and bars — and for taking selfies. Tarrance noted that the number of selfies appears to increase the later the evening gets.
Tarrance dropped me off at Fountain Square and I walked to one of my favorite carry-outs, Caffe Barista and Deli at Fourth and Plum, where they make a delicious veggie wrap.
After lunch, it was time for the leg of the trip that I was most anxious about — the scooter.
Down Fourth Street, a couple of Bird and Lime scooters were waiting. I chose Bird. It just seemed a little sleeker and cooler. I scanned the scooter’s QR code on my phone and, having already entered my payment info and scanned the front and back of my driver’s license (OK, that seems a tad intrusive), the machine was unlocked.
I secured my helmet, pushed off a couple of times, pressed the handlebar throttle and sped off. No sweat.
It was so much fun that I tooled around a bit before heading to my destination, across the Purple People Bridge to the Barnes & Noble at Newport on the Levee. My 18-minute ride cost $3.70.
An hour later, I picked up another Bird and hit the road, sailing across the Taylor-Southgate Bridge, up Sycamore Street, west on Fourth and up Walnut to Fountain Square.
All the traveling made me thirsty, so I rented a Red Bike ($8 total) at the Square and pedaled it up Elm Street to Rhinegeist. I happened to run into my oldest son, whose office was holding its Christmas party there. It was a serendipitous moment in what was turning out to be a most serendipitous day.
I left Will to his party and sat down to begin writing, with a Rhinegeist Panther porter at hand.
When the porter was gone, and with daylight fading, it seemed time to head home. I caught the streetcar in front of the brewery (it arrived in a few minutes and cost $1) and traveled back to my home base at Fountain Square.
I joined the rush-hour commuters on the Metro 21 and rolled back to the West Side.
I hadn’t missed the car.