Skip to content

Posts from the Cleveland Category

55 Comments

Reminder: Just Laying Track Is No Guarantee Riders Will Come

Atlanta's streetcar route is still surrounded by parking lots. Photo: Streetcarviews/Tumblr

Atlanta’s streetcar route is still surrounded by parking lots. Photo: Streetcarviews/Tumblr

Laying track isn’t enough to build a successful transit system — as some cities are learning the hard way.

A slate of new rail projects — mostly mixed-traffic streetcars, but that’s not the only way to mess up — are attracting embarrassingly few passengers. Some of these projects may be salvageable to some extent, but for now, they don’t provide the speed, frequency, and access to walkable destinations that make transit useful for people. Here are four cautionary tales about the inadequacy of just putting down rails and praying things work out.

Dallas

Dallas’s streetcar line opened last April and is attracting just 150 to 300 riders a day, Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning News reports. The 1.6-mile streetcar connects downtown Dallas to the neighborhood of Oak Cliff. It cost $50 million, and the city hopes to expand it.

Before it opened, Peter Simak, writing for D Magazine, said the line was simply too short, and Dallas simply not walkable enough, for it to have much of an impact. The entire line covers ground formerly served by four bus stops. Still, some advocates maintain that ridership will climb once new development fills in and planned expansions are built.

Atlanta

Ridership on Atlanta’s 2.7-mile streetcar has been underwhelming as well. The project has been roundly panned by the local media, who have pointed out it’s barely faster than walking.

Read more…

16 Comments

Highway Propaganda Vids Sell City Residents on the Wonders of Wider Roads

It’s not enough for highway builders to carve out land at great public expense so they can jam more cars into cities. Now they want you to believe their projects are great for the neighborhoods that bear the brunt of the added traffic and pollution.

Up top is a video produced by the Colorado Department of Transportation to sell the public on its massive I-70 expansion project. Streetsblog Denver reports that the agency spent $88,000 in public funds to make this 30-minute epic.

The I-70 project will replace 12 miles of aging highway with a new highway, adding four lanes in the process. Because 900 feet of the new highway trench will be covered with a park, the CDOT video helpfully explains that the widening is really all about doing right by immigrant neighborhoods — not moving traffic. Many residents affected by the project beg to differ.

As a tool to sway public opinion, the CDOT video probably won’t make much of an impact. At the time we published this post it only had 135 views after a month on Vimeo. But the propaganda technique is something to keep an eye on. Colorado DOT isn’t the only road builder trying out the same message.

To promote the “Opportunity Corridor,” a road expansion project through low-income Cleveland neighborhoods, the local chamber of commerce commissioned the video below. The angle is very similar to CDOT’s video: This highway isn’t like the bad highways of the past — a new breed of road builder has figured out how to make asphalt and traffic lanes work wonders for struggling neighborhoods.

Read more…

2 Comments

Will Cleveland Finally Get Serious About Confronting Sprawl?

Northeast Ohio has been sprawling outward without adding overall population. The result is vacancy in urban areas. Map: NEOSCC

Northeast Ohio has been sprawling outward without adding population. The result is vacancy in urban areas. Map: NEOSCC (Click to enlarge.)

The Cleveland region has been struggling with sprawl for a long time.

Since the 1970s, the regional population has shrunk while housing and jobs have spread outward — a combination that has devastated urban areas in particular.

Transportation policy is a big part of the problem. Northeast Ohio keeps widening highways, facilitating quick suburban commutes and fueling sprawl. This weakens the places that are already the most vulnerable. Cleveland recently topped a national list of “most distressed cities,” and its neighbor East Cleveland is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Most Ohio governors and state transportation chiefs are oblivious or worse, pursuing policies that promote job sprawl, undermine transit, and lavish resources on highways.

One agency that could change this dynamic is the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), the regional planning agency charged with dispensing federal transportation funds. Until very recently, however, NOACA was not up to the task.

Sparsely populated rural counties have disproportionate influence at NOACA compared to dense urban areas, and rivalries within the agency often pitted low-income urban communities against newer, wealthy suburbs. In lieu of actual economic growth, many of the outlying suburbs were happy to simply siphon off businesses and houses from close-in communities.

Rather than confront this dysfunction, for years NOACA’s leadership mostly shied away from it. Funding was awarded project-by-project to satisfy political demands, rather than to achieve specific policy goals like broad-based economic growth, better access to jobs, or environmental sustainability. In essence, the regional planning agency didn’t do any planning, local environmental leader David Beach has said.

But now NOACA is trying to correct that, says the agency’s new director, Grace Gallucci, who took the job in 2012 after working at Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority.

Read more…

44 Comments

What Other Cities Say About Cleveland’s Unusual Bike Lane Buffer

Cleveland’s seemingly backward buffered bike lane on Lorain Avenue. Photo: Satinder Puri.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

For all their benefits, protected bike lanes can be complicated. Between maintaining barriers, keeping them clear of snow and preserving intersection visibility, it’s understandable that cities opt not to include them on every street project.

Buffered bike lanes, though, are pretty simple: if you’ve got at least two feet of roadway to spare, you lay down some hash marks between car and bike lanes and double the comfort of biking on a street.

Except in Cleveland, apparently.

When the above image started circulating online this summer, many people assumed some sort of miscommunication was afoot in Cleveland. The main point of a buffered bike lane, as made clear by everyone from AASHTO to NACTO, is to separate bikes from moving cars and/or the doors of parked cars, not to protect bikes from curbs.

But as more information emerged and it began to seem as if Cleveland was not only doing this intentionally but might be planning to repeat the design elsewhere in town, we wondered whether this might be a new trend in street design.

So we emailed cities around the country and asked their bikeway designers to say whether they’d ever want to use this setup. Here’s what they said.

Read more…

213 Comments

Cleveland Traffic Engineer Puts Buffer on the Wrong Side of the Bike Lane

This Cleveland cyclist hasn't gotten the memo about how biking in traffic is

At the behest of a not-very-forward-thinking traffic engineer, Cleveland has been installing buffered bike lanes backwards.

Cleveland is finally installing buffered bike lanes along some major streets, but with the buffer between the bike lane and the curb, not between the bike lane and traffic.

At first, many people thought this design was a mistake. But it has now been painted on two streets at the behest of Cleveland’s traffic engineer, Andy Cross. Local blog GreenCityBlueLake reports that Cross told advocacy group Bike Cleveland (disclosure: my husband sits on the board and I did for several years as well) the design was a “best practice” to prevent right hook collisions, in which a turning driver strikes a cyclist proceeding straight.

In an email to Bike Cleveland, Cross haughtily slammed the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ designs for buffered and protected bike lanes — which are endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration.

“The terms ‘best practices’ and ‘protected’ are often used with what is shown in the NACTO guide,” Cross wrote. “A design that encourages or requires hook turns across the path of through cyclists is neither a ‘best practice’ nor ‘protected.'”

The decision to put the buffer next to the curb is so unconventional that advocates think it was lifted not from a design manual but from Iamtraffic.org, a website that espouses vehicular cycling.

While Cleveland is accelerating its rate of bike lane installation, Cross’s penchant for ineffective design threatens to sabotage the usefulness of the new infrastructure.

No Comments

HUD Tells Cleveland: Don’t Let Opportunity Corridor Go “Horribly Wrong”

It was a sad day in Washington, DC, last year when Harriet Tregoning left the DC Office of Planning. But it’s becoming clear that she’s a great addition at HUD.

In her capacity as the agency’s principal deputy assistant secretary for community development, Tregoning issued a stern warning to the city of Cleveland and Ohio DOT last week not to mess up the road project known as the “Opportunity Corridor.” Clearly she fears they will do just that.

“You could either get it gloriously right or horribly wrong,” Tregoning said during a visit to Cleveland, according to the Plain Dealer.

In its quest to cut a faster path for drivers from the freeway to University Circle, a major employment center, Ohio DOT plans to spend more than $100 million a mile and destroy 76 homes to build a five-lane, 35-mph road. If you want to build a project like that in 2015, it clearly helps to cloak it under the guise of “opportunity.”

But Tregoning recognizes the project for what it is: suburban-style road-building in an already-depressed area of a city that desperately needs a different kind of growth. Talking to the City Club, a civic engagement organization, she urged local leaders to see the corridor as an opportunity for development and employment, not just a road for commuters to get to work fast. And that would require changes to the road design itself.

“I love my friends at the state DOTs, but they often overbuild things,” she said. “They build for a traffic projection that is very unlikely to happen.” Indeed, traffic in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County rose just 0.02 percent a year between 2000 and 2013. There’s no justification for building such a wide and fast road inside the city limits where walkable development is called for.

Tregoning warned that building a five-lane, high-speed road through the city’s most depressed neighborhoods flies in the face of a regional plan, funded by HUD through its Partnership for Sustainable Communities with U.S. DOT and the EPA. The plan, called Vibrant NEO, seeks to make Northeast Ohio greener and more economically competitive by reversing the cycle of sprawl and investing in established communities.

Construction is already underway on the Opportunity Corridor, and ODOT says it’s too late to make any changes. The project is scheduled for completion in 2019. Something drastic will have to change for Cleveland to heed Tregoning’s words and get it “gloriously right” after all. Otherwise, she said, it would be “as if Vibrant NEO never existed.”

24 Comments

Ohio Cities to State DOT: No More New Roads, Just Fix What We Have

A potholed street in Boardman, Ohio, a middle-class suburb of Youngstown. The Youngstown area has a Facebook group with 800 members devoted to mocking these potholes. Photo: Potholes of Youngstown and Surrounding Areas

A potholed street in Boardman, Ohio, a middle-class suburb of Youngstown. The Youngstown area has a Facebook group with almost 800 members devoted to mocking these potholes. Photo: Potholes of Youngstown and Surrounding Areas

Given that the federal Highway Trust Fund is broke and the Interstate Highway System is more or less complete, maybe — just maybe! — it doesn’t make sense to keep expanding highways. And if there’s one place in the country where it’s especially urgent to stop building more highways, it’s northeast Ohio.

The combined metro areas of Akron, Cleveland, and Youngstown are shrinking at an alarming rate. Unlike some Rust Belt regions, it’s not just their core cities hemorrhaging population: The whole region has shrunk 7 percent since the 1970s. The three cities have lost more population combined since the 1950s than they have now.

That kind of decline exerts intense fiscal pressures. Central cities and even many suburbs in these regions can’t afford to maintain their roads. Cleveland recently borrowed $100 million, with about a quarter of that for road repairs. Even though that will roughly double the annual road repair budget, it’s still just a small fraction of what’s needed to catch up on the city’s $300 million resurfacing backlog.

State transportation policy has not responded to these mounting pressures. The Ohio Department of Transportation has continued to add highways as if the region were booming. Since the 1990s alone, northeast Ohio has added more than 300 highway lane-miles. Rather than stimulate growth, it has mostly served to facilitate sprawl and hollow out city centers. Cleveland ranked dead last among 96 metro areas in a recent Brookings study on growth in job access.

Local leaders are finally speaking up, with Akron and Cleveland making it clear they want the state to start emphasizing maintenance. Grace Gallucci, head of Cleveland’s metropolitan planning organization, NOACA, appealed to ODOT in September to use part of its “major projects” funding on a package of road repairs in the Cleveland region. The state refused.

Read more…

28 Comments

Cleveland’s Opportunity Corridor: An Opportunity to Destroy a Community

Residents of this depressed Cleveland neighborhood don't see much opportunity in the new Opportunity Corridor that's going to destroy 76 homes.  Photo: Bob Perkoski

Residents of this depressed Cleveland neighborhood don’t see much opportunity in the new Opportunity Corridor that’s going to destroy 76 homes. Photo: Bob Perkoski

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is promoting a $331 million, three-mile, five-lane road construction project starting at I-490’s terminus south of the city’s downtown and running northeast to the University Circle neighborhood. But it’s hard to see what need it would be meeting.

The number of miles driven in and around Cleveland has been stagnant for more than a decade. And though project proponents have tried to package the project as an “opportunity corridor” that would help the disadvantaged neighborhoods the road would traverse, the communities that would supposedly benefit have other priorities. Part of the neighborhood would also have to be destroyed to make room for the road.

Expanding road capacity is a questionable investment given recent travel trends in the Cleveland area. While ridership on the regional transit authority has been increasing, vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) in Cuyahoga County rose an anemic 0.3 percent from 2000 to 2013, an annual average of 0.02 percent. In the five counties making up the Cleveland-Elyria Metropolitan Statistical Area, VMT climbed just 1.9 percent from 2000 to 2013, an annual average increase of 0.14 percent.

Vehicle-miles traveled is flat in the Cleveland area. So why the push to build a new $100 million-a-mile highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Vehicle-miles traveled is flat in the Cleveland area. So why the push to build a new $100 million-a-mile highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Read more…

7 Comments

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Sprawl, and Car Culture

Atlantic Senior Editor Ta-Nehisi Coates was in Cleveland last week talking about his acclaimed long-form article, “The Case for Reparations,” which reviews the history of economic and social oppression of African Americans.

I got to attend the talk, and late in his speech Coates made a few points that touch on the subjects we cover at Streetsblog, drawing a direct connection between racism, sprawl, global warming, and the array of social problems faced by cities like Cleveland. You can watch that part in the clip above, and here’s the whole speech.

Below is a look at how wealth is dispersed in the Cleveland area — essentially the farther from the central city you go, the richer residents are. Why does that pattern persist, even as other cities have seen a reversal? What are the outcomes for Cleveland’s large African American population, concentrated in the central and east-central parts of the region? Why isn’t the relationship between sprawl and segregation discussed more often, with more frankness?

The light portion in the center of this map is Cleveland. Image: census.gov

The light portion in the center of this map is Cleveland. Image: census.gov

23 Comments

The Plan to Build Bicycle Highways Where Cleveland’s Streetcars Once Ran

A local group is proposing repurposing old streetcar rights of way into protected bike lanes. Image: Bialosky & Partners

A local group has proposed repurposing old streetcar rights of way as protected bike lanes. Image: Bialosky & Partners

Like many cities in America, Cleveland grew into its own as a streetcar city. In the early part of the last century, hundreds of miles of streetcars connected all corners of the city as well as its inner suburbs. The streets where tracks carried passengers — Lorain, Superior, Euclid — were the circulatory system of the city, around which neighborhood life was organized.

St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland was once bustling with activity, when it was a streetcar route. A group of Clevelandites wants to make it active again with bike infrastructure. Image: Google Maps

St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland bustled with activity when it was a streetcar route. A group of Clevelanders want to make it active again with bike infrastructure. Image: Google Maps

But around the middle of the 20th century, streetcars gave way to private cars — upending this way of life. Many Clevelanders got in their cars and abandoned historic urban neighborhoods at disastrous rates, moving to former farmlands where they could shop in big box stores. Streetcar tracks were mostly paved over and forgotten, leaving extra-wide streets behind. The retail spaces that lined those routes are now pocked with vacancies.

But some local residents see an opportunity to transform these historically significant corridors back into something vital and attractive. They call their plan the Midway — a proposal to transform former streetcar rights-of-way with landscaped, center-running bike lanes.

“It seems so obvious to me,” said Barb Clint, director of community health and advocacy at the YMCA of Greater Cleveland. Clint is also a board member at Bike Cleveland, the city’s bike advocacy group. (Disclosure: I’m also on the board of Bike Cleveland and have helped promote the Midway in Cleveland.)

Clint is a veteran of the Cleveland public sector and non-profit scene, and she knows the problems with the city’s streets well. “We have these massive streets, with severely low volumes of traffic. They’re not comfortable to walk along, they’re not comfortable to bike along because people are driving so fast,” she said. “We can’t preach at people and tell them they should be more physically active if we’re not providing them safe places to do so.”

Two years ago, Clint and another Bike Cleveland board member, John McGovern, came up with the first iteration of the Midway plan. The beauty of the streetcar routes is that they’re nicely dispersed throughout the city. And in almost all cases, the space is ripe for reuse: Cleveland’s streets lack the traffic congestion of larger, growing cities.

Read more…