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Is Cleveland ready to invest in bike share?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/05/15 @ 10:00am

Last week marked an important turning point for Cleveland’s fastest growing neighborhood, downtown, when suburban grocery magnates, the Heinens opened a store at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue. The symbolism of the location and its historic place as the center of commerce—where money changed hands that built the sixth largest city in the U.S.—now exchanged for a green grocer was lost on no one. Many an onlooker could be excused for gawking at the spectacle of it all.

<br />Hundreds of cyclists take to the streets of downtown Cleveland during a 2014 Critical Mass ride.

But once the crowds thin, the Heinens will get down to business making provisions for 12,000 permanent residents of downtown. Many will walk by their store daily just like customers of every city who buy milk and stock their shelves so that they can cook a meal at the end of a shift. Grocery stores are the stock and trade of a neighborhood, and the opening of Heinen’s marked the return of a very important one to Cleveland.

A lot is made of pitting downtown against the other neighborhoods in the city. How much more should downtown get? Consider that downtown is not only growing in population, but the recent influx of residents brings a wealth of resources that is not to be ignored. In fact, it would be foolish of the city to treat downtown like it were just any other neighborhood because, far from it, the accumulated buying power that is now concentrated there needs to be cultivated for the benefit of the rest of the city.

In fact, every decision made now by the city should consider the question, how does that next investment keep as much of the trade and consumption in as close as possible to downtown? That’s what the city wants to do to protect the investment of the Heinens and the hundreds of other entrepreneurs who are investing millions downtown. Keep people and their wallets coming through the door and not taking the road out of town to do their shopping.

An example of the type of investment the city can make to keep downtown dollars flowing into local coffers is bike share. Bike share might sound like a frill to some, but not the dozens of cities today that are seeing it for what it is—an investment in keeping city, often downtown, residents happy. And happy downtown residents means tax receipts.

The leaders of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance who produced a visionary connectivity plan last year recognize as much. They see the success of Cleveland hinged on connecting people with the places that downtown has a wealth of. How to do that is taking shape with projects like the $32 million Public Square redesign. It will give residents of downtown a nice place to gather. DCA director, Joe Marinucci, was one of those breathless admirers of the Heinens last week. Marinucci recognized that the Heinen’s investment is not about good deeds; he and the media took the time to recognize that downtown is expected to double its residential population in the coming decade.

The good folks over at Fresh Water Cleveland observed that the Heinens sent a message - that we are worthy of good things like this. This, of course, didn’t happen by accident. The investments in all of the dark storefronts on Euclid in the last ten years came after the $220 million bus-rapid transit investment from the state and city.

Cleveland’s renewed interest in creating a continuous public space experience between Public Square, the Mall and the lakefront will need equal attention on how streets circulate people on foot. The transactional pace of a dense urban environment downtown will succeed when its streets are redesigned to create a slow churn. Creating a more complete network of bike lanes in and to downtown is a connected issue, Bike Cleveland wrote about the prospects of bike share.

The city and a Bikeshare Task Force consisting of groups like Bike Cleveland, RTA, University Circle, Inc. (and GreenCityBlueLake) has been analyzing the case for bike share in Cleveland for a few years now. In February, the Task Force released an RFP seeking a company that will operate a citywide bike share program. This followed a national consultant who studied the business case for bike share. They recommended that Cleveland start with 400 bikes in 40 stations strategically placed to capitalize on the growth of downtown and University Circle.

The case has been made. The due diligence done. All that’s left to do is for whomever holds the purse strings at the city to decide on one thing. Is a $2 million investment in downtown worth it? Does $2 million seem like a fair number to keep 12,000 residents and growing happy? That’s what Columbus and what Cincinnati invested in bike share. The experience has been positive in our sister cities (both are already figuring out expansion of their bike share systems).

The RFP is due back this Friday. If all goes as expected, a company with an established track record operating a citywide bike share system will be selected. Bike share typically involves the city owning the system with a non-profit organization operating it. Some current and potential sponsors of bike share in Cleveland are waiting on the sidelines hoping the city will signal either that it supports the upstart Zagster’s intention to build a citywide system using Cleveland as a test case, or put its money and imprimatur behind an established bike share operator, according to one of those potential sponsors. The city has an important decision to make.

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Matt Kuhns
2 years ago

Well, I do thank you for making the attempt.

Marc
2 years ago

I guess what I'm ready to challenge is this notion that what is good for downtown is only good for a privileged few. Downtown is a special case in that it already has because of its role as the central business district, the density of uses that the neighborhoods don't have. I'm suggesting that Cleveland leverage these assets by bringing in as many tax paying uses and permanent residents. Further, I wrote that bike share is an investment in making those residents happy and in their retention. It's not a zero sum game IMO if the strategy of the city is equitable distribution of its resources. At the moment, the city appears to be really focused on what the cameras will see in 2016 when the RNC arrives. But to say that wise investments in making downtown into a livable neighborhood are somehow not equitable...? We can question the projects, but let's not lose site of the bigger picture, I think.

Matt Kuhns
2 years ago

Could you please go into more detail about this?

"it would be foolish of the city to treat downtown like it were just any other neighborhood the accumulated buying power that is now concentrated there needs to be cultivated for the benefit of the rest of the city."

How is funneling more money into downtown Cleveland going to benefit the acres and acres of blight? And when?

So far, the "downtown renewal" seems a lot like a suburban development from the opposite direction. i.e., trendiness plus various forms of subsidy are maintaining a virtuous circle of growth, but it isn't spreading out into the old non-trendy areas, nor does a path for this to take place seem obvious.

I would love to believe that this is not simply a zero-sum game, but if it is indeed more than that, I'll need some help to understand how.

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