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Complete Streets gets sidelined in Cleveland

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/31/11 @ 3:51pm

Sustainable transportation advocates were excited when they caught wind of a Complete Streets ordinance that Cleveland City Council was going to introduce at the top of the year. So it was with heavy heart that complete streets is apparently not ready for prime time in Cleveland.

A Complete Streets ordinance for Cleveland was recently run into the ditch by concerns that if the city requires all road building projects to include facilities that encourage cycling and walking, it will put them at a competitive disadvantage. The city fears that when ODOT compares Cleveland projects to others in Ohio that don't require bike lanes and sidewalks they won't score as high because they may cost more or it will require more in local match dollars.

Interestingly, the Columbus region was immune to this argument when the city passed its Complete Streets ordinance last year. Is the culture at MORPC (Columbus' metropolitan transportation planning organization), their ODOT district office and their mayor's office more "can do" than here? Are there tangible leadership qualities that we can hope to locate that inoculate Central Ohio from these sorts of poison pill arguments and which keep Northeast Ohio stuck with second-rate transportation options?

A complete streets ordinance was an outgrowth of an effort from 2006 when a complete streets resolution was drafted. In the five years since complete streets entered the lexicon in Cleveland, 140 cities around the U.S. have adopted Complete Streets ordinances or resolutions, including Columbus and Dayton. It looks like Cleveland, for the time being, won't be joining their ranks.

We thought the argument that Complete Streets aren't possible became less plausible when the Euclid Corridor-with its bike lanes, better crosswalks, new sidewalks, pedestrian lighting and the BRT line-showed Cleveland what a complete street looks like (pictured above). The expectation that the Euclid Corridor would spur more complete streets in Cleveland has gone largely unfulfilled. Partly to blame is the acceptance that we've checked off a box-here's your complete street, now we don't have to think about it again. By contrast, cities such as Columbus are thinking bigger picture, adopting an attitude that designing safer streets with access for all is going to keep its citizens fit and keep some of those young knowledge workers around after they graduate.

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Here's an arrow Cleveland should add to its quiver when it responds to how Complete Streets makes economic sense: The Political Economy Research Institute's new report, "Estimating The Employment Impacts Of Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Road Infrastructure," examines job data from 2008 in Baltimore, MD. Specifically, the report shows that there are 11 to 14 jobs per $1 million of spending on bike and pedestrian projects, as opposed to about seven jobs created through the same rates of spending on road infrastructure.

The good news-even in the face of another set-back for sustainable transportation-the report includes simple upgrades, such as a system of Sharrows on road resurfacing (which Cleveland Heights proved doesn't require complete streets), in the jobs creation boon.

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If cities are always going to be too 'cash strapped' to improve cycling and walking on existing roads, ThisBigCity.net post offers a number of ways cities like Cleveland can rethink the equation-including building new bike paths on under utilized rights of way.

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