A round up of news and views on sustainability in Northeast Ohio for Tuesday, January 21, 2014.
Essential reading for the skeptics of bike lanes is “Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business.” It shares stories from the frontlines—showing the real people they attract to cycling, and the wealth, health and local economies they’ve grown.
The report from Seattle-based group, People for Bikes, is an excellent collection of 15 stories from businesses who are gaining from being in the first five cities to win a coveted Project Green Lane, a multi-year effort to install barrier-separated bike lanes.
Its aim is to dispel notions that bike lanes only serve the privileged few. For instance, Credo Mobile sees San Francisco’s new protected bike lane as its gym membership for its employees. Kaiser in Portland researched and found that a bike trail network supplies $155 million in obesity-related health care costs. Austin, Texas is attracting tech firms and micro-breweries downtown where the city painted a protected ‘green lane.’
It also has really nice infographics on the bennies of bike lanes—that we plan to pilfer (with credit!)—like the bump up in retail sales receipts and eye-popping ridership increases for stores and corridors in the green lane zone. The “Better bike lanes attract new riders” slide has before-and-after results (266% growth in new riders in Philly from the buffered bike lane on Spruce and Pine!) that leave little ambiguity about cities who go the extra few feet to paint in bike lanes fulfilling their promises (like Cleveland’s promise to attract new riders with its 70 miles of bikeway plan).
–Greater University Circle Initiative, a concerted effort by the city’s large cultural and health centers to bring more connectivity and jobs into their backyard (from a moral but also self-survival POV) has reached its half-way point. A look back from the Cleveland Foundation reveals the thinking that led to major investments like the Evergreen Cooperative laundry and solar power businesses. In 2012, only 5% of University Circle’s 60,000 employees lived in the district. Case, UH and the Clinic were having a tough time recruiting students and workers who “often expressed surprise at the district’s eerily empty streets.” The city’s second largest work center was an island—Glenville and Hough area residents couldn’t find work there, and had to try to commute to the suburbs. Suburbanites drove in, reported for work and left. They needed a new playbook and found it in places like OSU and its anchor development strategy. The Cleveland Foundation calls itself an anchor institution in the report, and its that thinking that drove private investment for the first time. Uptown was the first infill development of retail and upscale living space in a generation. Anchored by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Uptown Phase II is underway, and so are a handful of smaller residential projects.
Now that community-scale development is rolling in the core, the Initiative can think about tackling the much more challenging neighborhood redevelopment issues still haunting economically distressed areas like E. 105th Street (from Glenville to Fairfax). The path to improving University Circle can be found in greater connectivity. Will the Initiative fund an improved transportation system that recognizes the Circle’s growth as a neighborhood? We feel that making University Circle world class will be aided with more walking and biking paths—from Euclid to East Boulevard to the residential side streets—a visible reminder that the District serves many residents who don’t own cars. Incentives for biking and walking also cut down on the grinding car traffic that, left unabated, will devalue the investments on campus and around the Oval.
For its next act, GUCI could take on the task of funding a Transportation Management Association—an effort to think and act strategically on the question of how do you grow sustainably, improve public space, reduce air pollution and free up capital by reducing the need for widening roads and building parking garages? How do you create a district that promotes mobility for all socio-economic sectors, and for the new residents who are now commuting a few hundred feet?
The answer may be found by again looking outside the area to how other university district transportation plans introduce greener forms of mobility—from bike share to car share to a single, predictable and free district shuttle service. It will not require reinventing the wheel, just managing how many wheels can fit in a small space.
–VibrantNEO’s major study of Northeast Ohio offers a ‘fix-it-first’ policy for the region’s roads among the most important ways to improve its sustainability. As the level of congestion on our highways (at less than 10% of capacity) can attest, road building is justified for reasons other than congestion relief. Building roads is so ingrained in our economy that one policy, as well meaning as it is, cannot stop the concrete spreading willy nilly over green fields and farms. Road building is a trillion dollar industry supported by almost every politician and chamber of commerce in the state of Ohio. There are the ever evolving reasons for road building — and the myths that anywhere roads go is just plain good for the economy. The Opportunity Corridor, a $331 million road connecting suburbs to University Circle, is a particularly vexing example. Seen as a hand out to poor Cleveland, its proponents readily admit it’s not about the road but promises of a silver bullet for a struggling economy. Opportunity Corridor came from a state that has had a ‘fix-it-first’ policy dating back to former Governor Ted Strickland. There's been a lot of talk about a federal fix-it-first policy. But the Recession did more to eviscerate highway and interchange building.
A well-meaning policy like fix-it-first might stick if the rural, suburban and urban constituents of Cleveland and Akron’s transportation agencies were convinced that we value sustainability performance metrics that serve the greater good like reducing carbon emissions, reducing wear and tear on roads by reducing vehicle miles traveled and reducing obesity-related health care costs by $150 million in the next five years.
–Why is coverage of climate change in the mainstream media slipping at a time when the science is even more certain (95% in the latest IPCC report) that we are the cause of it and that we’ve reached a tipping point (meaning, we cannot reverse the damage with existing technology unless we act now)? Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times wonders if the disconnect comes from the polarization of climate change—“When Democrats, led by Al Gore, championed climate change, Republicans instinctively grew suspicious.” As a result, fewer Americans believe that climate change is real today then in 2007. Times readers apparently aren’t in that group—they selected climate change as the top issue they want to see more coverage of. Scientists like Michael Mann are certainly not, too. After Mann spoke in Cleveland last week, he penned an Op-Ed in the Sunday Times where he tells fellow scientists to speak up in the climate policy arena or “abrogate our responsibility to society if we remain quiet in the face of such a grave threat.” A glimmer of good news: the largest companies in the U.S. are speaking through their actions. The Times reported last month that oil giants like Exxon see the writing on the wall and are planning on paying a carbon tax.