By Pat Lafleur, FortThomasMatters.com City Beat
It's no secret that Greater Cincinnati/Northern KY is a region driven almost exclusively by the automobile. But, there is another way! Many other ways! Alt. Rte. is a new, recurring feature on FTM that will explore what it means to live in and commute through Northern Kentucky car-free. What are the best ways to explore NKY by foot, by pedal, or by public transit? What do you find along the way? What do you see that you might not have seen if you'd been driving instead? Pat LaFleur, FTM contributor and author of Alt. Rte., has now logged 4 car-free months living and commuting in NKY. He may never go back to owning a car again. This column aims to chronicle this on-going journey, and the hidden commutes throughout NKY.
I began commuting primarily by pedal almost two years ago, when I moved from Ft. Thomas to Newport, down into the cradle of the river valley. Terrain is much flatter there than in Ft. Thomas, and this was especially important to me given that my bicycle runs on a single-gear and a coaster-brake (that is, you push back on the pedal to engage the braking mechanism).
The climb back into Ft. Thomas after work (at the time, in Newport) was always exhausting, if not impossible with one speed. I'm sad to say that, while a Ft. Thomas resident, I ended up driving more than I care to admit: the ride to work was always a breeze, but the ride back…
Once I moved to Newport, my bike was easily my primary means of transportation. I worked in Newport, my social circles were based in Newport or Covington. Biking down by the river is fairly straightforward. Now I live in Covington (Mainstrasse Village) -- also quite bike-friendly, relative to other areas in the city.
So, I thought it only appropriate to begin this series with some riding instructions for a route I now take very much on the regular:
BIKE* ROUTE: From Ft. Thomas to Mainstrasse Village
*These instructions are only meant for those who feel comfortable riding a bike on the road with auto traffic (as the law requires), and who take proper safety precautions (including helmet, and lights if at night). The notes and ratings for the route are intended for those with little in the way of gear or gadgets.
FROM CENTRAL/SOUTH FT. THOMAS
1. Take Highland Ave. west toward Grand.
2. Make a right onto Grand Ave., heading north toward Newport.
3. Pass under I-471 overpass.
4. Make right into Newport Pavilion. Take the roadway (or CAREFULLY ride through the shopping center parking lots) toward the 10th St. exit.
5. Make left onto 10th St.
6. From 10th St., make right onto Washington Ave.
7. Make left onto 4th St.
8. Follow 4th St. to the 4th St. Bridge, crossing the Licking River.
9. Cross over the 4th St. Bridge.
10. Continue onto 4th St. in Covington.
11. Make left onto Main St. in Covington.
(ALT. Start: FROM NORTH FT. THOMAS
1a. Take Memorial Pkwy. north toward Newport.
2a. Cross over I-471 overpass.
3a. Continue onto 10th St. in Newport.
4a. Skip to Step 6.)
• The ride down Highland Ave. to Grand is simple. Watch for cars parked along the curbs, but don't worry about traffic (except around PM rush hour). Cars hold around 25-30 mph, and are usually light in density. Tolerance of bicyclists on the road is high, although Highland does collect a bit of debris and is in need of repaving.
• The same is true in the Newport Pavilion, although beware of parking lot (i.e. erratic) driving patterns. Take the road for a more straight-forward, better paved, and finished thoroughfare.
• Riding through Newport is easy-going, especially on Washington Ave. until the 4th St. bridge. The gridded layout of one-ways allows for predictable traffic patterns, and traffic on Washington is usually light. You will also probably see fellow bikers through Newport.
• This goes for the whole of the ride through Covington, although Covington's 4th street has an extra lane. On both of these stretches, watch the road in front of you for potholes and large cracks.
• The ride down Grand Ave. into Newport can feel more intimidating than necessary because of its downhill angle. You'll want to finesse your brakes down this hill, while still being mindful not to obstruct traffic. Cars will be moving between 40-50 mph here, especially north of the I-471 overpass. Debris density and pavement roughness are more intense here. Keep a balanced watch on traffic and road hazards.
• Much the same for Memorial Pkwy. There is a sidewalk, but remember: bicycles are legally classified as street vehicles. Speeds are higher, and there are a number of bends and turns, with blind corners. The final stretch of Memorial Pkwy into Newport can be especially treacherous for your average bike commuter (detailed below, under RED). I recommend taking Grand Ave. into Newport whenever possible.
• Up 10th St. from Newport Pavilion to Washington Ave. is deceptively steep, so shift accordingly (as your bike will allow) right out of the shopping center. There is also very little shoulder.
• Crossing the 4th St. Bridge isn't the most treacherous but it is the most exhausting part of the ride. By this point you've had some moderate inclines, and this bridge is a bit longer than it looks from afar. Do yourself a favor, and coast down 4th St. to the bridge. Downshift if possible, and just be patient. Cars will pass, and some will honk (mistakenly thinking that riding your bike on the bridge is illegal). Just keep pedaling.
• The only red-rated stretch is part of the alternate starting route, via Memorial Pkwy. As you approach the I-471 underpass, street parking appears on Memorial, and the density of debris skyrockets. Not to mention the underpass: if you have anything closely resembling vertigo, take the primary route, down Grand Ave.