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Ten things the next mayor can do to advance sustainability in Cleveland

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/10/13 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Transform

What are the big investments or policy changes that will make the next mayor of Cleveland a sustainability leader? Here are ten recommendations that will make Cleveland a great place for living a healthy, low-carbon life.

Pay it back<br />Would investing in E. 55th Street in Slavic Village and Woodland Avenue create more benefit than the proposed Opportunity Corridor? Image: Laura McShane.Pop up shop<br />The reuse economy is starting to take form in Cleveland.Upcycle economics<br />Cleveland's St. Clair-Superior neighborhood is pursuing upcycling (like this re-claimed plastic flowers).Eat your greens<br />Rid All Green Partnership is turning vacancy in to urban farms along Kinsman and E. 81st Street in Cleveland.Bikes belong<br />Cleveland painted a bike lane on Edgehill Road in 2013. What would it take to stripe 100 miles of bike lanes in 2014?Good form<br />Cincinnati is adopting form-based code to spur sustainable development. Image: Form Based Codes Institute.Moving ahead<br />What is the next step for connecting Cleveland to the lakefront?
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Implement the Cleveland Climate Action Plan

It’s urgent for cities to act on climate change, and now Cleveland has a plan that lists the most effective moves to make. The Cleveland Climate Action Plan provides a detailed inventory of where and how much carbon is being emitted from both city operations and the community.

The next step will be to create an action agenda with priorities on where to start reducing the city’s carbon footprint and saving money. Since industry is far and away the biggest source of emissions, perhaps the mayor can convene a “green” industry council that will help companies like ArcelorMittal accelerate emissions reductions while reducing waste. Or perhaps the city can scale up programs, such as Cleveland Energy Savers, that improve the energy efficiency of the city’s stock of older homes.

Paint 100 miles of bike lanes

One of the fastest and cheapest ways to change the look and feel of a city is to stripe lots of bike lanes on the streets. Studies show that bike lanes or curb-separated bikeways are needed to give the majority of people confidence to ride bikes as serious transportation. And they are also one of the best ways to serve the many Cleveland residents who don’t have a car (25% to 60% of households, depending on the neighborhood).

Struggling Detroit has set a goal of painting 80 miles of bike lanes in 2014. Can Cleveland do 100 miles? The mayor can do it by setting the goal, increasing the striping budget, and enabling city traffic engineers to put streets on “road diets,” as Columbus and Cincinnati are doing to trim traffic lanes and make room for bikes.

Build up historic places, not an urban highway

As the city allows construction of the first phase of the $325-million I-490 highway extension (aka “Opportunity Corridor”), project critics, including citizen groups and Crain’s Cleveland Business, are openly questioning its equity and fiscal propriety. Could the goal of improving access to jobs in University Circle be accomplished with much less expense — such as with a targeted investment in E. 55th Street and Woodland Avenue — and in ways that do more to improve living conditions in one of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods? Programs to reduce driving around University Circle (better transit, bike facilities, carpooling, telecommuting, four-day work weeks, etc.) would be a more sustainable way to alleviate congestion.

To answer these and other questions, the mayor could insist that ODOT conduct a thorough and public process of alternate routes, modes of transportation, and community benefits. For a $325 million investment, the city ought to reap broad community reinvestment.

Remove zoning obstacles to sustainable development

Zoning and building codes often don’t allow developers to create the kind of walkable places that people increasingly want. In response, cities like Cincinnati are replacing traditional zoning with “form-based codes” that set standards for buildings (type, height, distance from the street, etc.) but leave the building use up to the developer. This helps to create the desired physical relationships between buildings and streets while allowing buildings to be used in flexible ways to meet changing needs.

The Queen City also made headlines recently when its city council threw out parking minimums for developments of less than 20,000 square feet. This will reduce the “suburbanization” of the city and allow developers to spend less on parking and more on buildings and greenspace. It’s another way that progressive cities are attracting transit-oriented and pedestrian developments.

Link to the lake

Most people agree, it’s a shame that Cleveland is not better connected to Lake Erie. Many mayors have thought about improving lakefront access and the next mayor should focus on making them happen. The recent takeover of the lakefront parks by the Cleveland Metroparks gives the city a strong partner to get the job done.

The focus should be on public spaces that connect people to the water — a open and attractive pedestrian bridge from the Mall to North Coast Harbor, boardwalks for strolling, an intimate waterfront neighborhood, greenspace, a completed Towpath Trail, a continuous Lakefront Bikeway, and even a new Amtrack station to replace the current eyesore.

Support policies for redevelopment around the region

If trends don’t change, Northeast Ohio will see 150,000 units of housing built as sprawl development in the next 30 years, according to projections by the regional planning initiative VibrantNEO. This will put every county into fiscal distress because of the costs of new infrastructure in growth areas and abandoned properties in older cities.

To shift these housing units from sprawl to redevelopment in existing cities and town, the region will need to reorient policies and investments at the local and state levels — so that it becomes easier for developers to meet the growing market demand for walkable, urban communities. For example, ensuring that we build only the infrastructure that future generations can afford to maintain. The next mayor of Cleveland will need to join mayors from Lorain to Youngstown to advocate for these reforms.

Close the loop on waste

Now that Cleveland has pulled the plug on a big ticket, waste-to-energy plant, perhaps its finally time to shift priorities to reduce, reuse, and recycle? It makes perfect sense in a Rust Belt city that has a scrap and recycle economy. How will Cleveland start to improve recycling from the paltry 9.72% of residents? There’s treasure in the trash, but residents and business need a market place and a convenient curbside recycling option. The mayor can finally deconstruct, instead of landfilling, 100 homes it committed to. It can help Detroit-Shoreway pursue its district compost operation, and support the re-use economy sprouting up in places like the Cleveland Flea and St. Clair-Superior neighborhood.

Devote more land, water and soil to urban farming

Cleveland has 20,000 vacant properties, and a volume of abandonment that isn’t expected to slow down. How can the city get out in front of the problems associated with vacancy — crime, loss of tax base, destruction of whole neighborhoods? It can start by implementing the recommendations from its internationally-recognized Reimagine a More Sustainable Cleveland vacant land strategy. The mayor can take a page from Youngstown which targeted vacant land in one neighborhood and turned all 120 vacant lots back into productive use. The city can also support urban farming by structuring a basic package of what it takes to set up a farm as a for-profit operation— streamlining access to water (making sure the water is turned back on in a timely fashion), figuring out longer term land rights, and ensuring that partners like OSU Extension put their BEAN project to effective use helping new farmers with technical issues.

Capitalize on the Sewer District’s green infrastructure projects

As part of a $3 billion construction program to control combined sewer overflows, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has the opportunity to use green infrastructure (wetlands, rain gardens, and other landscape improvements) to capture stormwater. How can Cleveland leverage such investments as a catalyst for redevelopment? It could help the Sewer District expand its vision of green infrastructure projects and identify how to align them with a large-scale, greenway development, such as Cincinnati is doing with its Lick Run project. While the Sewer District’s first priority is protecting Lake Erie, the mayor can help elevate green infrastructure as a design principle for a redeveloping city.

Build a second line in a BRT system

These days, it seems like every city is connecting transit with development in order to attract companies and a pool of young talent. Cleveland was an early adopter with the Health Line in 2008, but is Cleveland thinking about how to build off that investment? Can it expand its one bus-rapid-transit line into a system? Where would the city like the next Euclid Corridor to happen? Where does the city have good urban form that needs a catalyst for redevelopment? Transit-oriented development promises multiple benefits, such as reduced air pollution, and has already proven to be an economic powerhouse, pumping billions into the city's Midtown area.

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David Beach
4 years ago

One important thing to add to the list: Making Cleveland Public Power a leader in the transition to a more sustainable energy system. CPP could be doing a lot more to help residents and businesses reduce energy consumption and shift to renewable energy sources.

East Side Cycle Track
4 years ago

Now that GCBL has proposed a downtown cycle track, how about one for the east side? Here's my vote: an east side cycle track in the far lefthand lane of Stokes Blvd. heading east from Euclid (or, at least, Carnegie) to the point across the rail bridge, where it can connect to the Lakes to Lake Trail and where Stokes reduces to three lanes. I know that Stokes is a busy highway-like road, but why does it need the additional lane between Euclid and the rail bridge, when very little of the traffic peals off at Carnegie or Euclid? In other words, three lanes from Euclid all of the way up the hill should be sufficient to handle current motor vehicle capacity. This would be a great an improvement for the many bike commuters coming down Stokes from the Heights - on the sidewalk.

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