Marc Lefkowitz | 09/26/16 @ 11:00am
“Thank you for dreaming with us about the future of the city,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told hundreds of people attending the 8th annual Sustainable Cleveland Summit last week.
Jackson’s remarks came after we talked at round tables under the gilded hall of Public Auditorium for the day about the city’s ability to shape (this year’s theme) Sustainable Transportation.
The Summits are “a community of people,” said Cleveland Sustainability Office Director, Matt Grey, who spoke of the force behind the progress.
Grey provided a State of Sustainability report, the milestones and projects some of which were hatched at previous Summits. Like CiCLEvia, an open streets event that was dreamed up last year and came to fruition this summer (with the last one coming up on October 8).
Cleveland has even inspired other cities, from Cincinnati to Denver, to assemble their own communities. In Denver, the Summit provides the setting for each city department to set a goal (i.e. reduce carbon emissions) and send their individual sustainability managers to put a plan in motion to reach it, according to one observer familiar with the situation there.
Cleveland’s Summits have remained more aspirational—helping those who attend to follow up on their ideas. This year, the Summit partnered with ioby, which will provide a $5,000 grant to the idea that resonates most, like CiCLEvia or other “graduates” of the summit that Grey mentioned. (TODAY IS THE DEADLINE TO SUBMIT YOUR SUMMIT IDEA TO ioby).
Larger Cleveland funders have taken a strong interest in sustainability as well. Cleveland Foundation President, Ronn Richard, pressed the State of Ohio to become a stronger partner in his opening remarks. Last year, the legislature took a step backward, said Richard on its commitment to renewable energy. Richard joined those in calling on the General Assembly to set aside its partisanship and re-start the market for renewable energy projects.
“To add sources of advanced energy and encourage alternative fuel vehicles we must work with our legislators to unfreeze the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS),” Richard said. “All other states are moving toward progress. We can’t let the legislature permanently freeze the RPS.”
Richard mentioned the importance in having the state as a partner in Project Ice Breaker, a project the Cleveland Foundation funded through non-profit group, LEEDCo, to build six, 3.45-megawatt wind turbines off the shore of Cleveland.
“We hope to have the new turbines spinning in 2019,” said Richard, who mentioned that they won a very competitive, $42 million federal grant after 12 years. “It’s about not giving up, and working across different sectors even though it will be an uphill climb.”
The Year 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the last fire on the Cuyahoga River, the one that inspired the federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts.
“Every ten years the media swoops in to do a retrospective,” Grey said. “2019 is an anniversary, but also a deadline to have a story to tell about the transformation from mistake on the lake to green city on a blue lake.”
A twin pillar in the priorities from the Summit this year was low-carbon alternatives to driving. Cleveland, like most American cities in the last 50 years, was really hollowed out by investments in highways and other incentives to sprawl. The City is at the center of a region that shifted to an unsustainable amount of driving. Grey showed a slide of the “mode split” in Cleveland where 82% of residents drive alone (the region’s drive-alone rate is 89%). Mode share for biking (0.8%) has grown imperceptibly in ten years. It has shrunk for transit.
“In 1969, forty eight percent of kids walked and biked to school,” Grey said. “By 2015, that number dropped to thirteen percent.”
A lack of investment in alternatives such as transit, walking and biking has hurt the economic competitiveness, the health and environment in the Cleveland region, said keynote speaker, Gil Penalosa.
“This is about how to adapt and improve,” said Penalosa. “To allow the possibility to downsize from two to one car would be like winning the lottery. Allow them to downsize—the money stays in the local economy.”
Grey offered that the city is building off its progress like the 16 miles of bike lanes that Cleveland will add this year on its 70 Mile Bikeways Implementation Plan. Multiple partners in Cleveland cut the ribbon on a citywide bike share system, UHBikes, last week. The city’s first complete and green street, Fleet Avenue, in Slavic Village was completed this summer. And a major federal (TIGER) grant was won to continue building bike trails, like the RedLine Greenway from W. 65th Street to the Flats.
But, he agreed with Penalosa that the city’s “mode split” is not equitable and there is a lot of work to be done.
“Much more investment is needed,” said Grey. “The investment (in transit) from Ohio has decreased for 15 years. Rate payers cannot shoulder cost of increases.”
During a break out session on funding transit, an agreement was reached on the need for a campaign to make people aware that Ohio’s 63 cents per capita/per year on transit funding is holding Cleveland—and urban areas like it—back.
Toward the end of the day, consensus seemed to be building at the summit’s transit break out group for a massive show of support for the regional transit authority and a city led transportation plan that calls for real investment in growing transit around dense nodes of walkable development. The state could fund the $300-500 million it will take to bring Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority into “a state of good repair,” and another $500 million for the first three bus-rapid transit lines that the Northeast Ohio regional transportation agency, NOACA, has identified in its transit-oriented development plan. Rather than asking for a blank check for more transit, this approach combines sustainable land use and transportation and matches it with market demand. Concluded one participant: “That is 1 billion of the $13 billion NOACA plans to spend in its 20-year plan. It is a reasonable ask.”