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Conservatives offer national plan for transit with Cleveland as the model

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/20/11 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Transit

Two Washington conservatives are advocating for Cleveland to be a national model for urban revitalization because, like many older cities, its infrastructure is renewable.

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Paul Weyrich and native Clevelander William Lind see conservative values reflected in rebuilding cities like Cleveland by focusing investment in existing public transit corridors.

Weyrich and Lind's report, "Good Urban Transit: A Conservative Model" makes the case for public transit to drive reinvestment in Cleveland and the connecting region by, for example, bringing more pedestrians, the lifeblood of social and economic activity, back to neighborhoods. The pair would like to see:

  • Investment in electrified streetcars on Madison Avenue, Clifton, Cedar Hill to Euclid Heights Boulevard to Mayfield Road-parts of the city tailor made for streetcars.
  • Extending RTA's existing Blue, Green and Red Rapid Transit lines so they intersect with highways (I-90 in Euclid and I-271 and Chagrin in Beachwood) and build large park-and-ride lots.
  • Build a new commuter rail network as both an engine for the region's economic prospects and as a national security priority on little used freight rail lines radiating from the city.

Weyrich and Lind have been strong advocates for investing in national rail and innercity trains. Lind is on the board of directors of a nonprofit group advocating for electric streetcars running through the Flats East Bank redevelopment project.

They argue that Conservative values mean addressing, for instance, carbon emissions by building on what we already have. On the ground, that means placing commuter rail along freight lines that already radiate from Cleveland to Euclid, Solon, Westlake and Strongsville-to connect city, suburb, town and city.

They also see returning electrified streetcars to dense, walkable areas of the city and inner-ring suburbs built around trolley lines as a prudent investment.

"Some people may ask, how is our vision of good public transit conservative? Our answer is, in many ways. It calls for no radical, unprecedented construction of vast new systems based on future technologies. When done right, their capital and operating costs can be modest.

In good conservative fashion, our vision builds on what already exists. Most cities have rail lines leading into them. Older, industrial cities are usually richer in this respect than are the new cities of the Sun Belt. Virtually every city has a bus system which can be restructured around timed transfer (at designated transfer points throughout the system, buses from every direction arrive and leave at the same time). Dozens of cities have plans for bringing back the streetcars, because the news from cities such as Portland, Oregon of what streetcars do for development and growth has spread fast. Any city that once had streetcars can have them again.

Conservatives believe in learning from the past, and the past tells us we can travel between and in cities speedily and comfortably without using automobiles. Trains, trolleys and electric interurbans (which we now call Light Rail), not cars, built most of our cities. Most people enjoyed riding them. A good conservative motto is, 'What worked then can work again.'"

Doing so will improve Northeast Ohio's chances to weather the effects of climate change and foreign oil shocks.

"The long-term future of an automobile-dependent society has grown dim. If we are to do our duty to future generations, we need to bequeath them living, thriving cities that do not depend on imported oil. Prudence demands energy independence, for our cities and for our nation. Building good urban transit based on electric railways promises good long-term results."

The pair also advocate for re-configuring the RTA bus routes to serve as feeders to trains (an idea already proposed by RTA). The bus schedules would be timed better to make connections from far-flung areas to the train and express buses heading downtown more seamless.

Because of Weyrich, a former Amtrak Board of Directors member who died before the publishing of the report, and Lind's conservative affiliation, the report is bound to get more notice in congressional circles usually closed to urban agendas and mass transit investments.

While electrified streetcars may be financially challenging for Cleveland and inner-ring suburbs without the federal government paying for it, many of the ideas should provide impetus to regional efforts to build on the strengths and assets of our transit agencies. Weyrich and Lind envision a truly regional transit system that attracts 'riders of choice' from the suburbs to the city and vice versa.

"Our vision of good transit and our example of Cleveland allow people to travel throughout an urban region easily, pleasantly and quickly without a car, which is our stated goal. They give any city's transit system the four qualities we identified as critical: Coverage, frequency, ease of connection, and maximum use of electrified rail. They serve a vision that reaches out into the future, far enough to stand the test of time. Such a vision can harmonize the actions of generations of city leaders, as Cleveland's famous Burnham Plan did at the beginning of the 20th century."

"Good Urban Transit: A Conservative Model" by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind (Download - 2.5mb)

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