Three recent corporate relocations call into question how public transportation can best play a role in getting Northeast Ohio workers to and from work in an environmentally preferred, economically and time efficient manner.
Eaton Corp. announced in 2008 that it planned to move its world headquarters from Downtown Cleveland to the Eastern Suburbs in the the I-271 corridor. American Greetings announced in the last few months that it would be moving its world headquarters from centrally located Brooklyn to the western suburbs of Westlake, south of I-90 on Crocker Road. Rosetta, originally located in suburban Beachwood along t he I-271 corridor, recently moved its headquarters to Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland.
Thanks to a recent post on Streetsblog, I re-visited Mapnificent, a website that uses publicly available transit schedule and route data to create heat maps of how accessible locations are via public transit. The map tool now includes data from Cleveland - thanks RTA for making schedule data publicly available in the Google Transit format. This is the type of innovation that can occur when transit (and really, many more citizen focused pieces of data) are made freely available to the public in a common format.
The online mapping tool allows a user to enter specific data about their trip and preferences – Do they have a bike? How far are they willing to walk? What is the maximum travel time? What day of the week and what time of day are they traveling? (Warning: it doesn't appear to currently work with Internet Explorer)
This tool, although not perfect, creates some interesting data that could allow a person searching for a house or apartment accessible by public transit to understand how long it might take to get to the grocery store on public transit, or how long (or if it is even possible) to reach their job via public transit.
In the images seen on this page are a few examples of before and after transit commute sheds for Eaton, American Greetings, and Rosetta. What isn't included is census tract level data – how many people live within these accessibility zones, do they have college degrees, etc.? It also doesn't speak to where current employees at these three employers live. It very well could be that the net impact on vehicle miles traveled to the new suburban main campuses in private automobiles will decrease overall for Eaton and American Greetings based on the miles it takes to drive to the campus from home - that might be a good environmental ouctome. But how would someone arrive at the new campus via the bus or train? What happens to take home pay if gas prices spike and a car becomes less affordable?
Not only are some of the only growing areas in Cuyahoga County centered at or near the city center, but many people – especially recent graduates – are choosing to live near the center city and may prefer to not own a car or use it much less frequently. Even the Harvard Business Review posits that:
"To put it simply, the suburbs have lost their sheen: Both young workers and retiring Boomers are actively seeking to live in densely packed, mixed-use communities that don't require cars."
Combined, these factors raise significant questions about not only the sustainable accessibility of corporate campuses, but future recruitment of employees to both of these locations.
It is also likely that both of these employers will ask that the RTA increase service or add new service to their new locations, something that is difficult to justify after massive service cuts and budget issues over the past few years to existing RTA routes.