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Posts from the "Ohio" Category

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Akron Sets Out to Dismantle a Giant Road

Akron's Innerbelt Freeway carries about a quarter of the traffic it was built to accommodate. The city wants to convert it into a local road. Image: Alps Roads

Akron’s Innerbelt Freeway carries about a quarter of the traffic it was built to accommodate. The city wants to decommission the road and build on the land. Image: Alps Roads

Some places just talk about prioritizing transit and walking over highway construction. But Akron, Ohio, is putting its money where its mouth is.

The Akron region will spend more money this year to reduce road capacity than to add it, according to Jason Segedy, head of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, the regional planning organization. Of the 39 projects approved for funding this year, the largest is $5 million to decommission a portion of State Route 59, the Akron Innerbelt Freeway.

That project will account for 17 percent of AMATS’s 2014 budget. That is a portion of the 74 percent of AMATS’s budget is being spent on maintaining existing roads, while 14 percent will go toward adding bike and pedestrian infrastructure. And 12 percent will go to projects that add road capacity.

Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown -- all bright red -- have shed population in recent decades as the region has sprawled. Image: NEOSCC (Click to enlarge.)

Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown — all bright red — have shed population in recent decades as the region has sprawled. Image: NEOSCC (Click to enlarge.)

That’s not an accident. Leaders at AMATS are deliberately attempting to control the size of the region’s road infrastructure — and for good reason. At the height of Akron’s reign as the center of the American rubber industry, the city had almost 300,000 residents. Today, the home of Goodyear Tires is down to less than 200,000.

Although many Akronites have moved to the suburbs, the whole of northeast Ohio is losing population as well. The area, which includes Akron, Cleveland, and Youngstown, peaked in the 1970s, and has declined 7 percent since, according to recent research from the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, the region’s sustainable communities planning effort.

But even as the region bled population, it continued to expand its highways. Northeast Ohio has added 323 highway lane miles since 1990, even though the regional population continually declined, according to NEOSCC.

Most shrinking regions haven’t yet come to the same realization Akron has — that continuing to expand its infrastructure in the face of declining population and revenues is a recipe for disaster.

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Warning Signs From Columbus About America’s Big Suburban Housing Glut

The Columbus, Ohio region could support the construction of more than 1 billion square feet of commercial development on existing parking lots alone, a recent study found. Image: Richard Webner via Streetsblog

The Columbus, Ohio, region could support the construction of more than a billion square feet of mixed-use development on existing parking lots and commercial sites — but only if planners get their act together, says researcher Arthur C. Nelson. Photo: Richard Webner

Columbus, Ohio, is a convenient microcosm of the United States as a whole.

Demographically, Columbus closely resembles America. That’s one reason the city ends up being a battleground for presidential candidates every four years, and why fast food chains like to test new menu items there.

Because Columbus is so, well, typical, the city also has a lot to teach us about where the average American city is headed. Esteemed urban affairs researcher Arthur C. Nelson recently took a look at Columbus as part of a report for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and he found that the city is on course for “sweeping demographic changes” that could transform the local housing market.

The demand for single-family housing on large lots is expected to plummet, leaving the region with an oversupply. Image: NRDC

The demand for single-family housing on large lots is expected to plummet in the Columbus region, while demand for more compact dwellings is expected to swell. Image: NRDC

Columbus is growing at nearly the same rate as America as a whole. By 2040, the region will have added roughly half a million people, bringing its population to about 2.2 million.

But those new households will look a lot different than today’s, and that will have huge implications for the local housing market. New households will be older and much more likely to be childless than current households.

Between 1990 and 2012, for example, about 78 percent of population growth in the Columbus area was among households headed by people between 35 and 64 years old. That stage of life is the period of “peak housing demand,” when homeowners favor detached houses on large lots. But by 2030, that age group will make up just 22 percent of population growth — while homeowners over 65 will make up 56 percent of new households. Many of these older homeowners will want multi-family housing or single-family homes on small lots, according to Nelson.

It turns out that Columbus’s current housing stock is woefully mismatched to future needs. By 2040, as much as 40 percent of the demand for housing could be for attached, multi-family units, and another 30 percent will be for single-family homes on small lots, Nelson estimates.

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The Suburb Where Everybody Can Walk to School

Lakewood, Ohio, a city of 51,000, makes due with no school buses, thanks to thoughtful planning. Image: Lakewood City School District

In Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, thoughtful planning means kids can get to school in a healthy way and the city can save money. Photo: Lakewood City School District

Lakewood, Ohio, population 51,000, doesn’t have any school buses. It never has.

Because of the way its schools were designed and sited, this inner-ring Cleveland suburb doesn’t need buses — every child in the district lives less than two miles from their classroom, and most are within one mile.

Lakewood calls itself a “walking school district.” It’s one of just a small handful in the state of Ohio. ”Our community likes the walking,” said Lakewood City School District spokesperson Christine Gordillo. “That’s kind of one of our brands.”

The school system runs a small transportation program for students with special needs — about 100 students use it, out of 5,800. The rest of the students are on their own, whether they walk, bike, or get a ride (Lakewood doesn’t track how students travel). To transport students to sporting events, the district contracts with another school system.

Gordilla estimates the policy saves the district about $1 million a year, and that allows it to devote more resources to the classroom.

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UPDATED: Last Night’s Quiet Transit Victories

Yesterday was a relatively quiet election day for transportation-related ballot measures, but of the six transit initiatives that came before voters yesterday, five six passed, with a sixth seventh too close to call. That’s in line with last year’s 79 percent success rate — 71 percent since 2000. When asked, voters overwhelmingly choose to raise their own taxes to improve public transportation.

Spencer Township, Ohio, appears to have voted by the narrowest of margins to leave the TARTA regional transit system. Photo: Ability Center

There were no high-profile campaigns this year in major metropolitan areas, but that doesn’t mean this year’s ballot contests aren’t worthy of note. “I see a statement about the viability of both transit and these campaigns in smaller regions and rural places,” said Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Ohio: Let’s start with the most unsettling news: Residents of Spencer Township, Ohio, were asked whether they wanted to secede from the Toledo area’s transit agency, TARTA. It’s the exact same question they were asked last year, when they voted 59 percent to 41 percent to stay in.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. With low voter participation on an off-year, the secession referendum appears to have won by the narrowest of margins — “by 16 votes out of 520 cast, according to preliminary results” reported by the Toledo Blade last night.

Spencer Township isn’t the only Toledo-area jurisdiction to question its participation in TARTA. It’s been happening in outlying areas on the fringe of the regional system, Jordan said, where residents might feel they’re not getting much service and want to start their own transit agency, focused on their community. That’s what happened in Perrysburg.

In March 2012, Perrysburg voters opted to leave TARTA in favor of starting a new local system — but then in November of that year, they voted narrowly to defeat the property tax proposal to fund that new system. Caught in a bind, they passed a funding measure earlier this year, but at about half the level originally proposed, making possible only dial-a-ride and fixed route service for people with disabilities.

Nearby Sylvania Township considered secession as well, but without a plan to create local service. That measure failed resoundingly last November, 37 to 63, and Sylvania Township remains part of TARTA.

A recount could still be necessary for Spencer Township, given the closeness of the vote.

Either way, let’s not let this blow to regional transit darken our view of what was a very successful night for transit.

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Ohio College Gives Bikes to Students Who Agree to Leave Cars at Home

The University of Dayton used this image in a flyer to applicants to recruit students to leave their cars at home. Image: University of Dayton

Here’s a college that takes sustainable transportation seriously: The University of Dayton gave away 100 bikes to incoming freshman this year in exchange for an agreement that they would leave their cars at home.

The bikes, which retail for more than $650, were awarded by lottery to 100 students out of a pool of 293 who had agreed not to bring a car to campus for the first two years. Male students will receive a Linus Roadster Sport and female students will be given the Linus Dutchi 3, the university reports.

An outgrowth of a successful bike-share program launched two years ago that has recorded 3,000 trips in the last year, the program is part of a larger initiative to create a bike-friendly campus and reduce the carbon footprint of the university.

“We become ambassadors of what we value,” UD’s vice president for enrollment management, Sundar Kumarasamy, told WDNT. “We are a green campus.”

The campaign cost $90,000, according to the New York Times. That’s a bargain.

According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute [PDF], the annualized cost of each parking space can range from about $650 for surface spots in suburban locations to over $4,000 for structured spaces in cities. For every bike purchased, the university eliminated the need for three parking spaces for two years. Even better, these bikes retail for more than $600, but the university was able to buy them for $400 a piece. This is another great example how smart transportation demand management strategies are boosting the bottom line at colleges around the country.

But this program had value for the university over and above basic cost savings, according to the New York Times. The free bike program was conceived by a Philadelphia-based advertising agency the university employs to help differentiate UD in the increasingly competitive field of higher education. The program has clearly resulted in some powerful marketing opportunities, like being featured in the New York Times, Forbes, and the Huffington Post.

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Columbus, Ohio, Wants In on the Midwest Rail Renaissance

Columbus, Ohio, population 800,000, is among the biggest U.S. cities without passenger rail. But its time may have finally come.

A new plan for passenger rail would link Columbus to Chicago. Image: All Aboard Ohio

A college town and state capital, Columbus has bucked the trend of urban decline in Ohio and built a strong economy on insurance and retail. The culture here has been famously resistant to rail plans, but it’s a young city that’s becoming more and more progressive. Columbus has seen major growth in its core urban neighborhoods in recent years.

Now city leaders are throwing their support behind a new plan to create a rail link from Columbus to Chicago via Fort Wayne, Indiana. A study by the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association [PDF] makes it seem like a pretty sweet deal. The group estimates that the cost of linking the three cities on existing freight rail lines would be about $1.3 billion — about one-tenth the price of connecting the two cities by highway. The group estimates the trains could travel between 110 and 130 miles per hour, completing the 355 mile trip in under four hours, making it competitive with flying and driving. The project, they estimate, would generate $1.70 for every $1 invested and would create up to 26,800 permanent jobs.

As for where the money would come from, that’s an open question. But some rail advocates are optimistic that the proposal has strong enough market potential that at least part of it could be privately funded. NIPRA estimates the system could draw $116 million in fares in the year 2020. And if population growth continues as projected, annual fare revenue could rise to $190 million by 2040.

Vince Papsidero, Columbus’s planning administrator, told the Columbus Dispatch: “This actually could be profitable.”

That said, this is still a far-away dream. The city of Columbus backed the initial study with $20,000. Proponents are trying to raise $2 million for an engineering study. After that, they’d need $10 million from the feds for an environmental impact study.

Plus, the state of Ohio is broke, and the governor hates trains.

Ken Prendergast at All Aboard Ohio points out that other states that rejected federal rail money — Florida and Wisconsin — are now pursuing expansion of their systems. Will Columbus’s interest in passenger rail be enough to bring new rail service to Ohio too?

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U.S. DOT Rules Ohio Burb Can’t Keep Out Transit, Local Officials Balk

It’s always sad when attacks on transit are poorly disguised attempts at keeping “those folks” out. Such is the case with this story of transit obstructionism in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio.

A Dayton, Ohio, suburb is in hot water with U.S. DOT for refusing to allow three new bus stops in the city. Image: Dayton Daily News

Beavercreek, an affluent suburb by Dayton standards, set out to establish special rules for the local transit authority, otherwise it wouldn’t allow three new bus stops near a major employment center in the city. The town wanted to mandate a laundry list of special provisions, including heating and air conditioning in the bus stops and surveillance cameras. When the transit authority didn’t comply, the City Council denied an application to install the stops.

Media Matters points out that transit riders in greater Dayton happen to look a little different than the folks who live in Beavercreek:

According to the 2010 census, 9 in 10 Beavercreek residents are white, but 73 percent of those who ride the Dayton RTA buses are minorities. “I can’t see anything else but it being a racial thing,” Sam Gresham, state chair of Common Cause Ohio, a public interest advocacy group, told ThinkProgress. “They don’t want African Americans going on a consistent basis to Beavercreek.”

Well, they didn’t get away with it. A civil rights group called LEAD — Leaders for Equality and Action in Dayton — slapped Beavercreek with a civil rights complaint through the U.S. DOT. The group argued that the decision would have a disproportionate impact on African Americans.

U.S. DOT returned last month with a decision in LEAD’s favor. Now the Federal Highway Administration is withholding all transportation funding from the suburb until it complies with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which states that federally funded agencies can’t discriminate against minority groups.

You’d think that would be the end of it. But Media Matters reports that Beavercreek is balking and has yet to comply with U.S. DOT’s orders:

The city council voted most recently on Friday to put off consideration of the matter until later this month. They are weighing whether to appeal the federal ruling, or perhaps whether to just defy it altogether. Appealing the ruling could cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, according to a Washington D.C. lawyer the council hired.

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Akron’s Jason Segedy: Shrinking Cities Need a New Approach to Mobility

There are people like Jason Segedy in every region — people who are trying to move the region forward on a more sustainable and competitive path. But Segedy is a little different: He actually has some power.

Jason Segedy of Akron's MPO is trying to change the way people think about transportation in the heartland. Image: Amatsplanning.org

Segedy is 40 years old and a lifelong resident of Akron, Ohio. He’s also the head of AMATS, Akron’s metropolitan planning organization. Through his leadership there, as well as his work with the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, Segedy has been  advancing a new approach to transportation in a region that has experienced population loss and stagnation.

We caught Jason on the phone recently to hear more about his efforts to take transportation in a different direction in northeast Ohio. Here’s what he had to say:

Angie Schmitt: You’ve made the point before that northeast Ohio should not be focused on expanding highway capacity and instead should be focused on maintenance and transit. Why?

Jason Segedy: I started working at an MPO in 1997. At that time, in the 1990s — and the late ’90s especially — there was a lot more optimism about economic growth and population growth. Actually if you look back at it, in retrospect, we weren’t experiencing that much growth. But that is what we were expecting.

At that time, there was a backlog of projects to fix congestion that did have some utility and usefulness. You could argue about induced demand and whether they were really necessary. But we took care of a lot of congestion problems that were going on back then.

If you go back to 2007 and 2008, we had the financial crisis. If you look back to the 2000s, we didn’t grow. All of northeast Ohio lost 100,000 people. When you look at our demographics, the population growth isn’t there at all. Instead we have this pattern of shifting people around.

The fiscal issue is also a big one for me, if you look at the highway trust fund constantly being shored up with general fund revenues. ODOT, by it’s own admission, doesn’t have a lot of funds, that’s why we’re borrowing money from the turnpike.

AS: What kind of projects should regions like Akron — slow-growth places — be focused on?

JS: Fix it first. The idea is definitely to focus resources and a lot of our mental energy making sure the existing highway system is in a state of good repair. We’re really trying to promote having better pavements and better bridge conditions. There’s a lot of concern in our region that roads are not being maintained the way they should be. That’s what we’ve been promoting.

Equally important is creating alternatives to driving. I think there are a lot of false dichotomies that people put out in front of us: Either everyone has to drive everywhere and live in big houses with big yards or everyone has to be herded into high-rises and use public transit for everything.

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Ohio Puts the Squeeze on People’s Right to Walk


As this video from Transit Miami shows, crossing the street on foot can be hazardous. A new law in Ohio is a step in the wrong direction.

The country’s seventh most populous state is rolling back pedestrians’ right-of-way within crosswalks when they have a walk signal. The state of Ohio recently updated its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, putting in place new limits on people’s legal rights to walk without risk of being at fault in the event of a collision.

The new rules require pedestrians to yield to cars turning right or left on red at the beginning of the green signal. Columbus-area cycling advocate Patricia Kovacs, in a petition she is circulating, said the state of Ohio allows for walk signals as short as four seconds. Surrendering right of way at the beginning of the walk cycle might mean missing out on a chance for pedestrians to cross the street safely and legally.

“When is it okay for the pedestrian to start to walk?” said Portland-based attorney Ray Thomas, who specializes in bike and pedestrian law. “The law doesn’t say.”

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Midwest Govs Go All Out to Raise More Money for Highways

We’ve been watching how governors around the country are getting extra “creative” as they try to keep their transportation budgets solvent. Yesterday we witnessed an excise tax on bicycles floated in Washington State.

Scott Walker has plans to spend more than $6 billion on highways in Wisconsin in the next two years, and he's going to get the state's utility customers to help foot the bill. Image: NYPost

But the award for the wildest funding scheme may go to renowned highway spender Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, who wants to raise $6 billion for the state’s roads by selling 37 publicly owned power plants. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported this week on Walker’s bizarre plan keep the highway money flowing, and send the bill to utility customers:

The move could also have the unexpected effect of linking the prices paid by some utility customers to the financing of the state’s road system. Bonds for the road work would go through even if the state property was not ultimately sold.

What are these projects that are so tremendously important the state’s assets must be sold to pay for them?

Well, Wisconsin is going to blow a considerable chunk of that change on a project called the Zoo Interchange, outside of Milwaukee. This $1.7 billion — yes, billion with a “b” — project would be one of the most expensive interchanges ever built. Walker specifically mentioned that it was one of his two top priorities in an interview with the Journal Sentinel.

Last year a coalition of nonprofit groups in Milwaukee filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state, charging that the project was discriminatory because it does nothing for transit-dependent Milwaukee residents. Dennis Grzezinski, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the Zoo Interchange is “just about the most expensive approach they could have taken.”

This from the same guy who couldn’t stomach passenger rail in his state because it would require a subsidy of a few million dollars a year.

Sad to say, Wisconsin’s plan is not much worse than the ones being promoted in other parts of the Midwest.

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