Where should I park in Downtown Cincinnati?
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Where should I park in Downtown Cincinnati?

Jul 11, 2023

This is part of The Enquirer's Future of Downtown series and part two of a three-part series on crime and safety. Check out our past coverage of violent crime in Downtown Cincinnati and how the city is tackling homelessness and panhandling.

Whenever we write about Downtown Cincinnati and its future, commenters always raise one topic: safety.

Am I going to get jumped? Can I park my car on the street? What should I do if I encounter panhandling?

As part of our Future of Downtown series, The Enquirer talked to locals, interviewed the police and analyzed crime data to answer the frequent questions and comments we get from readers about living in and visiting Downtown.

Here’s what we found out.

Forty thousand parking spaces populate Downtown Cincinnati and up to 13% of the entire district is covered in surface lots, according to the city's planning department. Thousands of people drive to the urban core from all over Greater Cincinnati for weekend sporting events, nights out and seasonal festivals. There's plenty of room for everyone's car, city officials say.

Thefts from cars are down in Cincinnati's Downtown neighborhood with 91 reported incidents so far in 2023. That's a dip compared to last year's 139 incidents, the highest in five years. Six vehicles were stolen this year versus eight in 2022.

Car thefts have been on the rise − a top concern for readers that took a Cincinnati.com poll on downtown impressions. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported that more than 1 million vehicles were stolen last year, the highest in more than 15 years. Ohio has ranked among the Insurance Information Institute’s top 10 states for the most annual auto thefts since 2008. (The only time it didn’t make the list was in 2020.)

One reason this is happening is because of a national TikTok trend sparking teens to hot-wire Kia and Hyundai vehicles. Even though the cars are often dropped off neighborhoods away, found by the police and returned to the owners, City Manager Sheryl Long said: “I’m not happy with this at all. We are seeing a decline with it right now.”

The city recently joined a municipal class action lawsuit against the manufacturers alongside the cities of Columbus, Cleveland, Seattle and New York City. Several law enforcement agencies in the Cincinnati area, including the Hamilton County Sherrif's office, are offering free steering wheel locks to Kia owners who may be afraid they're vehicle will be stolen.

Most Downtown residents interviewed so far for The Enquirer’s Future of Downtown series keep their cars in parking garages. Amy Dressman, 53, has lived with her family near Lytle Park for the past four years but is soon headed to another condo complex closer to Sawyer Point. She loves Downtown but wants the added layer of security, especially for parking, that her new residence will offer. Too many of her friends and neighbors have been victims of car-related crime, she said.

For Richard Lingo, 73, small items have been stolen out of his car, parked in a lot near Renaissance at the Power Building on East Eighth and Sycamore streets.

“But nothing has happened to me here that hasn’t also happened to me in the suburbs,” he said. “For most people, especially in the downtown area, property crime is more of a random thing. It’s not personal.”

Part of parking downtown − and walking around there in general − is being “urban aware,” Dressman said. You don’t leave your purse in the front seat of your car and you don’t leave your car unlocked.

Still, it’s not solely up to the car owner. Earlier this year, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., also known as 3CDC, switched to managing its 10 garages and seven surface lots in-house and now staffs 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to enhance safety after months of vehicle break-ins and facility vandalism.

Samantha Luna, 25, and her husband live on West Fourth Street and park in one of the 3CDC-owned garages nearby. She encourages her out-of-town visitors to park there, too. “They are very good at communicating about staffing and I'll see their attendants walking through the whole deck to make sure everyone’s car is okay.”

The financial growth generated from both monthly garage users and visitors at 3CDC’s garages marks a shift in Downtown’s resurgence since the pandemic began. So far in 2023, revenue created from both monthly and transient parkers in the central business district has gotten back to − and in some months exceeded − even the best months in 2019.

“If you look at our parking, and even our restaurant and retail numbers, that shows we do have a vibrant and active urban core on a regular basis and that there are plenty of people down here,” said 3CDC spokesperson Joe Rudemiller.More people out and about means more eyes on those cars that are parked on the street or in one of Downtown’s 148 surface lots. This is something that will naturally evolve, too, as the neighborhood grows to accommodate new residents in the next few years. These are people who will be parking, walking and living in the urban core all day every day instead of just weekdays during business hours.

“When I tell people we live Downtown, I think some people are shocked at first and almost a little worried because they think of the ‘Downtown of a few years ago,’” Luna added. “But things have really cleaned up and I feel fine not only walking to my car but parking it long term.”