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University Circle has a strategy to manage congestion: mode shift, housing

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/15/15 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transportation choices

University Circle is taking seriously the commitments that the City of Cleveland and the regional transportation agency, NOACA, have made in establishing goals to reduce carbon emissions from buildings and transportation, according to consultants helping them manage growth while introducing alternative transportation services in the quickly developing district.

<br />This typical scene happens nightly in University Circle. The north-south traffic jam stretches for miles, and indicates a gap in housing market, and a lack of transportation options. <br /><br />

The plan, known as transportation demand management (TDM), is moving into its final phase after a yearlong effort among the major institutions housed here. It will weigh how to grow and yet shrink the distances between live, work and play spaces.

One consideration is a hub that manages traffic congestion while expanding the options to access the Circle by means other than driving. Known as a TDM association, its where dues-paying members expect services like:

  • A housing plan to move people closer to work.
  • Compact design of space where buildings and streets encourage walking or biking relatively short distances.
  • More services such as bike and car share programs to sway students, residents, and workers—the fastest growing population—that living without a car is an attractive option.
  • Public transit services
  • Smart phone apps to help visitors locate and pay for parking
  • Recognition programs for biking to work, to name a few examples.

These super-organization efforts have been successful in other parts of the country in expanding the live-work scenario. The way TDMs go about this is through a rich patchwork of programs that make it self evident how cramming more cars into a limited space and potentially forfeiting in-demand land to babysit cars all day long is not in anyone’s long term interest.

There is a lot already happening in University Circle to build on. A TDM could bolster the nationally recognized, transit-oriented development at Uptown and better promote the programs that institutions already have, like University Hospitals discounted transit passes for employees. The Cleveland Clinic, while technically not part of the TDM discussion, could build more life saving research buildings than multi-thousand space parking garages. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a very cosmopolitan approach to reducing employee demand for paid parking—with a cash incentive to bike, walk, take transit or carpool (a program that has a participation rate north of 20%).

How a TDM association would be structured and paid for are questions still to be figured out. But, University Circle has 100 examples to learn from in the U.S., including Pittsburgh, Boston, and Raleigh. TDMs have helped them develop world-class urban “eds and meds” districts while also keeping tabs on how many cars can fit inside their close quarters.

In University Circle’s first phase, the nation’s leading TDM experts, NelsonNygaard conducted a parking inventory. The New York firm pounded the pavement looking at every available spot in University Circle. They found, with a few exceptions, that most areas of the Circle are sufficiently supplied for on and off-street parking. What is needed, NN said, is a comprehensive program to help visitors and residents find the spots.

The other side of the coin is managing the need for more parking. It will mean shifting a certain amount of residents and employees to live or commute by alternative modes. The Greater University Circle program, with its $10,000 downpayment assistance—which is then matched by some of the Circle employers—has existed for nearly a decade and has encouraged the growth of residential. The growth in new housing units—including the recently announced luxury residential tower to replace the Children’s Museum—says much about the strength of demand for urban living in Cleveland.

A University Circle TDM would also make a concerted effort to bolster alternative forms of transportation. The Circle recently expanded the CircleLink shuttle to pick up RTA riders at the Little Italy Rapid station, for example. A new service to Cleveland Heights, explored as part of a recent Circle-Heights Transportation Study, could come back into play. The idea of replacing the boxy, white CircleLink shuttles with a nicer trolley, like the downtown green trolley, has been floated as well.

With a considerable number of the Circle’s 10,000 employees living within 5 miles, it may be possible to sway a percentage of them—with proper incentives—to leave their car at home. That has been the case with other TDMs, NN notes, in cities with similar “mode split” numbers to Cleveland.

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