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Posts from the "Cleveland" Category

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

biden_train

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

n_military

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:

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 2.53.23 PM

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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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