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Akron region maps out sustainable land use and transportation

Marc Lefkowitz  |  06/15/11 @ 10:19am

Connecting Communities: A Guide to Integrating Land Use and Transportation is a good read on the Akron/Summit region's development patterns with an eye toward "increasing transportation choices, improving connectivity and reducing environmental impact." The approach from the regional planning agency, AMATS, was to first map what exists-inventorying sidewalks, parking, bikeways, transit stops and land uses. Second, they mapped where are the gaps between these elements-the goal was to understand how historically a region makes investments that may take it out of balance and make it hard to respond to what is wanted now-an exciting vibrant urban environment. AMATs also looked at current land use and zoning-again to look for patterns.

The zoning inventory (pictured below - click on image to enlarge) suggests that Summit can expect more of the same-rapid sprawl-once the building industry recovers, unless the region follows through with a plan to "connect and capitalize" on current assets. The report recommends investments that make the urban core (Akron) and town centers like Kent and Ravenna more walkable, bikable and close-knit.

Interesting trends emerged: 1.) Only 1 percent of Summit and Portage counties are zoned for mixed use (80% is zoned residential-61% of that is acre lots, which promotes large homes) and 2.) both county's transit systems earned failing grades for their 'level of service', partly because the predominant low-density development pattern of big homes on cul-de-sac roads didn't include sidewalks to support walking to transit stops, (even when the stops were supplied in the more rural corners of the county). The Gap Analysis highlights the priority areas for non-automotive investments, stating:

Creating a multi-modal network between transit, pedestrian, and bicycle infrastructure is a critical part of the transportation system. Since most transit trips include a pedestrian trip at one or both ends, it is important to create good walking conditions near transit routes.

Priority areas are primarily in suburban and exurban areas, like the City of Green and Franklin Township. These areas were largely developed as automobile-oriented communities and many are missing links in transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Many are centered along transit routes without sidewalks near job and retail centers

Can you think of similar cases in Cuyahoga County? How about our auto-dominated environments, like Rockside Road in Independence, Chagrin Boulevard and I-271 corridor or Crocker Park/Westlake. Mapping where the sidewalks end or the Rapid transit service is abruptly truncated helps us understand that a short distance of multi-modal transportation investment can go a long way to promote connectivity (between job centers and a pool of employees) and livability (more traditional communities where its nice to walk or bike instead of only being able to drive).

Improve bicycle planning and facilities through targeted investments is Recommendation #2 from the AMATs report. And that's what the University Park Alliance and U of Akron want the city focus on. "For bicycling to be a viable alternative?infrastructure must be in areas with higher densities and activity centers which include downtown Akron," the report adds.

Indeed, the UP bike plan calls for investment in destination areas like the Aero's ballpark district along E. Market Street. Making it a more complete street could be as easy as converting a parking lane into a bike lane-the main street would link the Towpath Trail on one end and a tight network of streets that can serve a population that likes to walk or bike near the campus. The report recommends AMATs start a grant program like Cleveland area's Transportation for Livable Communities (which NOACA has) awarded for recreational trails like the converted rail line, Morgana Run, in Slavic Village. Or for a traffic calming project in downtown Euclid. See the UP bike plan on the non-profit community group's redesigned web site.

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