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Cleveland ponders smart growth and complete streets as an antidote to abandonment

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/02/13 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transportation choices, NEO Sustainable Communities

Smart Growth America president Geoffrey Anderson assured Cleveland that it can learn from other slow market cities how to reposition itself, and compete for talent, with a focused investment on complete streets.

“Market economies will move faster, and laggards will be left behind,” he told a small crowd gathered at Levin College to hear Cuyahoga County’s plans to pursue Complete Streets.

Even unexpected places like Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City are re-investing in downtown transit and mixed-use development, he adds. “They’re making complete streets elements fundamental to their economic development plays, and that changes the politics and the pressures to bear.”

Downtown urban center<br />The centers of Cleveland, Akron and other cities are the vibrant hearts of the region.  Villa Carabelli in Little Italy<br />Infill development is restoring well-designed density to Cleveland neighborhoods. Cyclist at Market Square in Ohio City<br />Cities make low-energy, low-mileage lifestyles possible. Tremont stroll<br />Young families are choosing city life in neighborhoods like Tremont in Cleveland.Historic county seat<br />In rural areas, town centers like Chardon are locations for redevelopment. City and country<br />One of the best ways to conserve farmland and natural areas is to build great cities that attract more people.
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How does Smart Growth America help Cleveland surmount the challenge of conservative traffic engineers derailing bike and transit facilities? John Mitterholzer of Gund Foundation asked.

“There has to be some willingness to experiment,” Anderson said. “We’re too afraid to get it wrong. For example, when we put in bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the White House, mind you, we had to re-stripe it five times before we got it right. We can re-do it. It’s just paint.”

SGA staffer Roger Henderson, an engineer, lead a technical workshop with Cuyahoga County officials.

Henderson says SGA, which houses the National Complete Street Coalition, tries to drill down in to whether it’s philosophical or fiscal conservatism that makes traffic engineers reluctant to implement complete streets. He tries to assure them with data, for example, pointing to no diminution of safety on a road below 45 mph by reducing a lane from 12 to 11 feet wide so that a bike lane can be added.

Bike Cleveland director Jacob Van Sickle added that generational turnover in leadership, such as a mayoral change in Indianapolis, SGA’s top-ranked complete streets city, seems to have the most impact.

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The great Keeling Curve has served for 50 years as the Oracle of manmade climate change. Today, Keeling announced that we have pumped 400 parts of carbon dioxide per million in to the atmosphere. The last incident of 400 ppm of CO2 was in the Pliocene when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Keeling blogs in “What does 400 ppm look like?” that the epoch was marked by a lot more El Ninos and flooding. On the bright side, it helped spawning salmon. What does it will mean for human civilization? “Our grandchildren will be inheriting a radically altered earth,” Keeling says.

* * * *

It’s a beautiful day to think about the future of Northeast Ohio. At the Vibrant NEO workshop last night in Cleveland, it was amazing how the theme of compact, mixed-use development following new and expanded transit lines emerged across dozens of table exercises. Groups came up with names like Keep it Tight, Fix it First, Building on the Best, and Rework Northeast Ohio. Vibrant NEO seems conclusive that a mass influx of transit-oriented development in built-out Cuyahoga County is an answer to the rising fiscal turmoil of abandonment. Smart Growth America points out that two-thirds of Americans want transportation choice but 73% feel like they have no way out of their daily traffic jam. These trends point to the need for a new smart growth paradigm. As Sasaki staff pointed out, even if you live in a community not expecting to be rocked by abandonment —which they predict will affect every 1 in 10 home in the area, the communities we all call home will be taking on water fiscally by 2040 with more sprawl. The Vibrant NEO “Business as Usual” scenario session continues tonight at 6:30 at Tri-C Corporate College.

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Ohio’s shabby treatment of public transit—it ranks near bottom in funding among states and has stood in opposition to plans, like the Cincinnati streetcar, that place transit at the center of new economic development in metro regions—is the biggest barrier to changing the business as usual scenario. Take for example the $7.4 million that ODOT will save by cutting grass three times per year instead of four, says All Aboard Ohio director, Ken Prendergast. It equals the state's annual spending on public transit. Cutting the grass on highways one time is 370% of ODOT's annual rail budget.

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Clifton Enhancement
4 years ago

Speaking of still getting it wrong, is Cleveland still poised to approve a single-use, car-centric development at the northeast corner of Clifton Blvd. and W. 117th, right in the midst of one of the city's most walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods?

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