As our cities grow, the challenge of how to comfortably and efficiently get from place to place defines the quality of our experience. So, what about transit—what part does it play for the 82 percent of Americans living in an urban place?
Northeast Ohio boasts of transit agencies that provide millions of passenger miles a year. In Cuyahoga County, RTA was (not too long ago) recognized as one of the country's top transit agencies for the reach of its service.
Why then do we have a disconnect between the way we fund transit in Ohio, and the growing number of transit users in Cuyahoga County? RTA reports a 5.7% increase in ridership so far in 2012, and the agency is considering a modest 4% expansion of service in 2013. Local revenues (mainly from the sales tax) are up at RTA, offset by the percentage of state and federal funding for transit that has generally decreased. Ohio has been skimping on public transit for years. The news isn't getting any better from Washington.
Transit, bikes, even historic preservation are not gaining ground in the new federal transportation bill: The area (called MAP-21) which covers these modes is not going to help RTA. Other regions are growing faster than Cleveland, and population change drives the formula used to divvy up the same sized pot. Which means RTA is bracing for several million dollars less from the federal government, even during this time of growth. There may not be a whole lot we can do about faster growing metro regions in places like the Sunbelt. So that leaves RTA and transit agencies in the same boat to chase after grants like TIGER (which most likely will see continuity with the Obama Administration). And hoping ridership stays on its growth curve.
Clearly, transit, like education, needs a change in the state and federal funding formula. Bolstering the case for transit is its ability to take cars off the road, which lowers spending on pavement and health care (accidents and asthma rates are still too high here). Developers reap all kinds of benefits from transit. Cities like Seattle recognize this and have updated their zoning to eliminate parking requirements for development with convenient transit nearby. When parking requirements are removed or rightsized, developers don't have to spend as much to acquire property, and their housing can be priced more affordably.
It's taking a while for this vision to catch on in the private sector in Northeast Ohio. But as more people demand 'low mileage' neighborhoods, the real estate professionals doing business here, well, they'll have to respond to a market trend toward more urban living or continue to swim upstream.
Downtown Cleveland's residential population growth led the county last year, but is that signal being heeded in Columbus? How is the local Home Builders Association responding to the sea change? Read an issue of Crain's Cleveland Business lately? Developers are chomping at the bit to pick up where they left off before the Recession with cul-de-sacked houses on corn fields.
Yet, the market grows faster for neighborhoods where walking, biking and transit are feasible. It's clear we're in the beginning stage of a generational shift. Again, we hear a lot about respecting the market, well, people are voting for urban and transit connected with their feet. When does the real estate market and the Fix it First agenda catch up with the rising demand?
RTA is tapping a transit friendly partnership in the private sector, philanthropists, and the federal government that gets its importance in the rebuilding of its rail infrastructure. In its recent newsletter, RTA reports progress on the following major building projects:
- Ground breaking on a $18.5 million iconic redesign of the Cedar-University Circle Red Line Rapid Station
- The plan to extend the Blue Line Rapid in conjunction with the New Urbanist make over of Warrensville, Van Aken and Chagrin roads and shopping centers was approved by FTA
- A $9.5 million Bus-Rapid Transit corridor—like Euclid's HealthLine—for Clifton Boulevard is back on the table, with construction planned to begin in 2013. The project is a joint effort to put Clifton on a road diet between RTA, Cleveland and Lakewood with funding provided by Federal Transit Administration, ODOT, NOACA and the cities.