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Posts from the "Cleveland" Category

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3 Ways LeBron Can Help Get Cleveland Biking

Lebron James often commuted to practice and games in Miami. Photo: JackNruth on Twitter

In Miami, LeBron often rode his bike to practice and games. Photo: @JackNruth

Well, the Decision Part II is official, and northeast Ohio’s prodigal son LeBron James is heading back to Cleveland. The most immediate result is that the Cavaliers are going to get much, much better.

Aside from his phenomenal basketball skills, LeBron has moonlighted as a bit of a bike advocate. For years, he’s held a charitable bike ride in his hometown of Akron. He and teammate Dwyane Wade crashed a Critical Mass bike ride in Miami. He also took to bike commuting to AmericanAirlines Arena during his time with the Heat.

Given all that, I’m hoping, somewhat indulgently, that LeBron can help push Cleveland’s vision for a more bike-friendly city forward. Here’s an optimistic assessment of what he could do:

1. Model healthy transportation

LeBron’s primary home is in the distant suburb of Bath. But he also has a smaller condo in a lakefront building in the city. It wouldn’t hurt to have our hometown hero, perhaps the best-known athlete in the world, setting an example for the community, young and old, by using a healthy and active form of transportation to get to work.

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The Ridiculous Politics That Slow Down America’s Best BRT Route

Cleveland's Healthline BRT has been named the best in the country. But it runs slower than expected. Photo: Wikipedia

Cleveland’s Healthline BRT is viewed as the best in the country — but the city has declined to make an easy change that would speed it up. Photo: Wikipedia

Cleveland’s Healthline is widely viewed as the best bus rapid transit project in the country — and for many good reasons. Running on dedicated center lanes, the Healthline isn’t bogged down by car traffic on the most congested portions of its 7.1-mile route. With about 14,000 daily trips, the Healthline has increased ridership nearly 50 percent (though some of that is attributable to elimination of redundant routes), and local officials credit it with spurring billions of dollars of development nearby.

But it could run much faster if officials fixed one small thing that is completely within their power to address: the signal timing.

While the Healthline has many hallmarks of good BRT like the center-running lanes and off-board fare payment, it lacks transit signal priority — the technology that turns traffic lights green as buses approach. As a result, Healthline buses don’t travel nearly as fast as they should.

The Plain Dealer reported in 2010 that it takes an average of 44 minutes to travel the seven miles from downtown’s Public Square to East Cleveland. That’s only three minutes faster than the bus line it replaced, and more than ten minutes off the 33-minute pace that project planners promised. Despite some tweaking around the margins, not much has changed since 2010, according to sources familiar with the project.

The frustrating thing is that the Healthline could easily run faster. But the city of Cleveland simply hasn’t activated the transit priority technology for most of the route, according to advocates.

“We all know it takes 10 more minutes than it should because of the light issue,” said Marc Lefkowitz of GreenCityBlueLake, a Cleveland-based environmental think tank that has been active in trying to resolve the issue.

John McGovern, current chair of RTA’s Citizen’s Advisory Board, said shortly after the Healthline began operating, the city turned off the transit priority technology for most of the traffic signals.

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Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns

Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt popularized the term ”parking crater,” defined simply as “a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings.”

Various types of “meteors” left behind parking craters in the 20th century — sprawl subsidies,  highway building, the erosion of manufacturing. Whatever the cause, parking craters destroy sections of downtowns and make the environment inhospitable and unattractive. In these areas, there is virtually no street life. In warm weather the asphalt makes the air more oppressive. It’s hell on earth. It’s a parking crater.

In this Streetfilm we talk to advocates in Cleveland, Dallas, Hartford, and Houston about the parking craters in their downtowns – several of which have been contenders in Streetsblog’s annual Parking Madness tournament – and how these awful craters came to be.

A final note: If this Streetfilm is well received, we intend to do a follow-up film looking at the flip side – cities that have undone their parking craters by adopting better policies.

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How the Federal TIGER Program Revived a Cleveland Neighborhood

The "Uptown" development in Cleveland is part a way of construction that a TIGER grant helped catalyze in Cleveland. Photo: MRN

The “Uptown” development in Cleveland was catalyzed by a TIGER grant that helped relocate a rail station. Photo: MRN

Cleveland doesn’t look like a dying Rust Belt city these days in the Little Italy and University Circle neighborhoods. In fact, it looks like it’s thriving.

At the corner of Euclid and Mayfield, a new mixed-use development — MRN’s “Uptown” — is filling out, hosting a bookstore, a bakery, bars, and new apartments. Just across the street, the new home of the Museum of Contemporary Art sits gleaming, in the words of the New York Times, “like a lustrous black gem.” Another major office, retail, and residential project is planned a stone’s throw away.

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Vice President Joe Biden was in Cleveland Wednesday urging action to invest in infrastructure and preserve the TIGER program. Photo: Angie Schmitt

It’s hard to understate how remarkable this type of investment is in this area. Cleveland’s decades-long population decline has helped make it one of the weakest urban real estate markets in the country.

But this is a sweet spot in Cleveland. The Cleveland Clinic — Ohio’s largest employer — is less than a mile away. So are many of the city’s renowned cultural institutions — the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, and Case Western Reserve University. About 50,000 people work in the area.

Even so, the new developments in Little Italy might never have happened if not for the U.S. DOT’s TIGER program. Greater Cleveland’s Regional Transit Authority received a grant from the third round of TIGER funding in 2011, which provided about $12.5 million to rebuild and move a rail station from a dark, isolated location under a bridge about a third of a mile away to the middle of the neighborhood.

Local leaders in Cleveland had for years hoped to move the station to help build on the nearby assets. When the RTA applied for funding through TIGER, it was one of 828 projects seeking $517 million in funding. Just 46 of those applicants were awarded grants.

Despite the enormous demand for TIGER, it has been under the constant threat of elimination by the House GOP since the program was launched in 2009. A recent proposal put forward by House Republicans would turn TIGER from a multi-modal program that helps cities and metro areas directly access federal funds into a roads program. Meanwhile, the Senate has proposed a new transportation bill that fails to fund TIGER.

And that’s why Joe Biden was in Cleveland on Wednesday stumping for a new transportation bill that would preserve TIGER. ”This is what we should be doing all over the nation,” said Biden.

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A Crosswalk Too Far: The Hunt for America’s Least Crossable Street

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Good luck walking to church on North Military Trail in West Palm Beach, if you happen to start on the other side of the street.

Last February, Streetsblog readers determined the worst intersection in America. Then you pinpointed a suburban area with streets so windy and disconnected, it would take a seven mile trip to travel between two houses that shared a back yard. And for two years running you’ve helped shame the nation’s most parking-scarred downtowns.

But there’s a special class of shame-worthy street we have yet to fully examine — and they haunt all corners of America. We’re talking about the street with an enticing destination on the other side, but no access, no crosswalk, no safe way to get across. A street that separates more than connects.

Put in this position, a rational person would just make a dash for it rather than walk as much as half a mile out of the way. But that decision can also put you in danger. And that’s the problem.

With some help from our readers and Twitter friends, we’ve put together a little collection of these divisive streets. Please share your own examples in the comments or send them to angie [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

Cincinnati: MLK Boulevard at Vine Street

Here’s an unfortunate scenario in Cincinnati. A key stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard operates much like a moat. On one side of the street visitors to the University of Cincinnati stay at the Hampton Inn. Almost directly across the street is University Commons — a park area designed to be a “contemplative space.” Wouldn’t it be nice if visitors had access?

But to do that, they have to walk approximately a quarter mile out of the way:

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MIT Study: Benefits of Placemaking Go Deeper Than Better Places

StreetsAlive in Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, is changing attitudes about transportation beyond just two Sundays a week, organizers say. Image: FMspotlight

For two Sundays every summer, a three-mile loop between downtown Fargo, North Dakota and nearby Moorhead, Minnesota is transformed. The open streets event StreetsAlive draws between 6,000 and 8,000 people — on bikes, sneakers and rollerblades — into the space that is normally occupied by cars.

The event began as a healthy living initiative, with sponsorship from Blue Cross of Minnesota, managed by the Dakota Medical Foundation. But organizers say that as it has grown in popularity over the last three years, the event has evolved into something potentially transformative.

Local leaders are trying to use StreetsAlive to educate the public about the benefits of non-motorized transportation, and it seems to be working. Last year’s theme was “Life After Cars.” Embarking on a regional planning process, local officials reported high levels of support for amenities like bike lanes.

“People see this as a fun event, and we see it as the beginning of a conversation about better transportation,” Jill Chamberlain, a funding officer from Blue Cross Minnesota, told researchers at MIT recently.

Cleveland residents led the design of "Intersection Repair," cleaning and beautifying blighted areas. Image: Neighborhood Connections

“Placemaking” activities like this one — defined as the “deliberate shaping of an environment to facilitate social interaction and improve a community’s quality of life” – have important benefits that last far beyond when the street barriers are packed up and traffic returns, according to a new report by Susan Silberberg and her research team at MIT. According to their report — Places in the Making: How Placemaking Builds Places and Communities — the actual process of placemaking can be even more important than the physical outcome.

Open streets events, Park(ing) Day demonstrations, or a Better Block effort — these projects build social capital and empower citizens to drive change in their communities. And that can have a powerful impact long after the project’s completion.

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In Cleveland, An Old-School Planning Agency Sees the Light

Cleveland’s metropolitan planning organization was one of those transportation agencies that had never quite gotten over the Eisenhower era. Sure, it threw some money at the transit agency every year. But for the most part, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) treated its mission as a simple matter of expanding roads to reduce congestion.

Note the emptiness of the street in the background. Grace Gallucci, director of Cleveland's metropolitan planning agency, NOACA, has her work cut out for her. Photo: Cleveland.com

This is a common attitude on the part of regional and state transportation agencies, and not without some encouragement by the federal government. But this “business as usual” approach was especially damaging in a shrinking region like Cleveland, where the road network was expanded into ever-more-distant suburbs while the city and inner-ring suburbs hollowed out.

Despite the dynamic of suburban sprawl and urban abandonment that prevailed for decades, NOACA refused to consider how its decisions affected land use. Its erstwhile director, Howard Maier, simply said that the agency wasn’t empowered to do land use planning, which was technically correct, but not especially helpful.

NOACA was so notoriously averse to change and ineffectual that it acquired the nickname NO ACTION. Agency employees once even fielded a company softball team by that name. (Full disclosure: I interned there in grad school.)

But as impossible as it seemed even a year ago, things are changing at NOACA. They’re changing fast, and for the better. Last year the agency hired a new director, Grace Gallucci, who had been the head of finance for the Chicago Transit Authority. Since the Cleveland native assumed her role at the head of the NOACA, the region agency has adopted a completely different tenor.

“We’re shifting because the times are shifting,” Gallucci recently told local website Freshwater Cleveland. “We’re about thinking about transportation holistically — not auto, bike, pedestrian or transit, but all of them. How do you give people more choices to get from A to B?”

NOACA is working on a new strategic plan that appears to be premised on the concept of “fix-it-first.” The agency’s annual summit a few weeks ago was focused on the theme of “multi-modal innovation.” Gallucci told attendees that the region needs to shift toward supporting transit, walking, and biking — and not so much on expanding the road network.

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ITDP Study: “A Coming Out for Bus-Based Transit-Oriented Development”

Cleveland's HealthLine is widely considered the best bus rapid transit line in the United States, and it's busted some myths about BRT's power to stimulate transit-oriented development. Photo: ITDP

In a new report making the rounds this week, “More Development For Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors,” the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy does two things.

First, authors Walter Hook, Stephanie Lotshaw, and Annie Weinstock evaluate which factors determine the impact of urban transit on development, coming up with some extremely useful and not necessarily intuitive results.

Second, they show that BRT projects — only a few of which exist in the U.S. — can in fact spur walkable development. Then the authors go a step further, asserting in no uncertain terms that good bus projects yield more development bang for the buck than equivalent rail projects.

What Makes TOD Successful?

ITDP examined 21 light rail, streetcar, and bus routes in 13 cities across the U.S. and Canada to determine how transit lines affect development. While the report does pick a side in the BRT-vs.-rail debate, ITDP found that three factors are much more powerful determinants than transit type in the outcome of transit-oriented development.

First, what ITDP calls “government intervention” is key. There is a direct correlation between robust TOD investment and robust public policy.

Everything from assembling the needed land to offering incentives for tenants falls under the umbrella of government intervention, but perhaps the most important aspect is to make sure the zoning near transit encourages mixed-use, walkable development.

One of the best things policy makers can do, said Weinstock, is to limit parking. She said that the city of Ottawa’s downtown parking restrictions were a huge boost to transit ridership on the Transitway, a bus rapid transit line which blew every other line ITDP studied out of the water with 244,000 weekday riders (four times more than the next runner-up, Denver’s Central Corridor light rail line).

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Passing a Law Is the Easy Part: The Challenge of Building Complete Streets

If Ontario Street in Cleveland, Ohio, is any indication, a complete streets policy is no guarantee you’ll get a safe place to ride a bike, or even a comfortable place to walk.

Now that Cleveland has a complete streets policy, the city is taking this eight lane road and ... drum roll ... adding sharrows. Image: Rust Wire

Ontario is one of those roads designed to simply funnel traffic to and from a highway — and in fact there’s not much to distinguish the street from a highway. It’s eight lanes wide and devoid of landscaping, or any obstacles to fast driving, really. The most tragic part is, it’s right in front of where the Indians play, Progressive Field, which was sold to taxpayers as a way to enliven the city.

This road just came up for resurfacing, and with the city’s complete streets policy, now two years old, it seemed like an ideal time to correct this mistake. Instead, Cleveland’s traffic engineering department punted, leaving the road basically as is but adding shared lane bike stencils, or sharrows. (Actual bike lanes would compromise the street’s ability to accommodate cars during rush hour, you see.)

And there you have it. A complete streets policy should be a fabulous thing that elevates safety, the economy, and social equity in cities, but it can also amount to nothing more than a few new rules that are easily ducked if officials don’t want to follow the spirit of the law.

Some 500 communities and states across the United States now have complete streets policies, so the good work of enacting these laws is well underway. Implementation is the next frontier.

And it’s not easy, especially in communities like Cleveland where these ideas still feel new. But some cities are doing a better job than others, says Stefanie Seskin at the National Complete Streets Coalition. Charlotte, for example, developed six key steps to the project development process. Seattle passed a special tax levy to help support safe streets improvements for active transportation. San Francisco, in its “Better Streets” guide, prioritizes pedestrian concerns.

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Highway Revolts Break Out Across the Midwest

The evolution of state and regional transportation agencies is painfully slow in places like Missouri and Ohio, where officials are plowing ahead with pricey highway projects conceived of decades ago. But plenty of Midwesterners have different ideas for the future of their communities, and they aren’t shy about speaking up.

Protesters picket outside the headquarters of the Southeast Michigan Regional Council of Governments against plans to spend $4 billion on two highway widenings. Image: Transit Riders Union

One after another, residents of major Midwestern cities have challenged highway projects in recent months. People in Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Oklahoma City have reached the conclusion that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on road widenings might not be in their communities’ best interests.

And it’s not just a few activists. Challenges have come from people like Council Member Ed Shadid in Oklahoma City, institutions like the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and local governments like the city of Maplewood, just outside St. Louis.

Detroiters held signs outside a meeting of their regional planning agency earlier this month, picketing plans for $4 billion worth of highway expansion projects. Though the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments ultimately green-lighted the plans, members of the agency had to sit through two hours of negative public comments first. Not only was the public moved to speak out, so were the city of Detroit and the county of Washtenaw, which officially opposed the project.

And in Oklahoma City, the grassroots group Friends of a Better Boulevard has twice fought back state DOT plans to install a wide, highway-like boulevard in a developing area near the city’s downtown. As we reported this week, the FHWA recently intervened on the group’s behalf and forced ODOT to consider a proposal to restore the street grid instead of building a new road.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, environmental and civil rights groups may soon obtain a court injunction against a $1.7 billion interchange outside Milwaukee, on the grounds that project sponsors did not consider its potential impact on sprawl and transit-dependent communities. And in Cleveland, a few scrappy activists and the Sierra Club are opposing a $100-million-per-mile roadway that would displace 90 families on the city’s southeast side.

Now St. Louis has a highway battle on its hands. In many ways, this fight echoes the other protest movements. The South County Connector — like Cleveland’s “Opportunity Corridor” — is a “zombie” highway project. It was first conceived in 1957. The original concept was for an “inner belt expressway.” Its stated purpose is to “improve connectivity between south St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis, and central St. Louis County” and “improve access to Interstates 44, 64, 55, and 170.”

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